Franco-German Defense Relations Unlikely to Deepen

Enhanced Franco-German military cooperation would effectively shut Britain out of Europe.

A Eurofighter Typhoon jet pulls away from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, England, August 29, 2007
A Eurofighter Typhoon jet pulls away from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, England, August 29, 2007 (Defence Images)

A think tank that advises the German parliament and policymakers on foreign and security policy recommended the creation of a joint Franco-German air force last month.

Members of the Deutsches Institut für Internationale Politik und Sicherheit believe that enhanced military cooperation between Europe’s two major continental powers would “prove their sense of responsibility as guiding states in Europe’s defense.” It could also drive a wedge between Anglo-French defense relations which were deepened when Nicolas Sarkozy was president.

France and the United Kingdom currently account for half of European defense spending in NATO. They are also the only European nations to field aircraft carriers and assumed a leading role in last year’s military intervention in Libya, even if American air support and weaponry proved critical to toppling Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Tripoli.

In February, the two Atlantic states pledged to be able to deploy an integrated carrier strike group in the 2020s. Last year, they also agreed to establish a joint expeditionary force.

Shared Anglo-French interests extend beyond the Mediterranean — where the emerging democracies in Libya and Tunisia could prove instrumental in bringing about Sarkozy’s hopes of Mediterranean Union — into French-speaking West Africa — where France intervened last year to settle the presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire and is presently engaged in stabilizing Mali — as well as the Gulf of Aden, where European maritime patrols defend oil tankers from Somali pirates.

Germany’s interest in deepening military relations with France has less to do with projecting European power beyond the continent than maintaining a favorable balance of power within it.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government recently appears to have cooled to the prospect of a German-Russian condominium, even if her country is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas imports, because it threatened to alienate neighboring Central European states like the Czech Republic, Poland and the Baltic republics.

The Deutsches Institut für Internationale Politik und Sicherheit refers specifically to a revival of the “Weimar Triangle,” the loose grouping of France, Germany and Poland, as a rationale for enhancing Franco-German military cooperation. Such a bloc could eventually admit Italy, which shares many German foreign policy priorities, and shut Britain out of Europe altogether.

Which is exactly why France would be ill advised to entertain the notion of creating a joint air force. Since the German reunification and the accession of Central European states like Poland to the European Union, it no longer enjoys parity with the Germans. Its influence in a Weimar Triangle, which would enable German domination in Europe, would be further diluted.

Just as the Germans should want to keep Britain engaged with Europe to provide a counterweight to Southern European spendthrift and protectionism, the French are more interested in a close military relationship with the United Kingdom to prevent European isolationism under German leadership.