2012/03/21 - Franco-British Council 2012 Defence Conference

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech delivered by Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology at H.M. Ambassador's Residence, Paris on Wednesday 21 March 2012.


Je vous remercie pour l’opportunite d’assister a cette reunion du Conseil et d’avoir l’occasion de vous presenter une ou deux de mes pensees a propos de la cooperation franco-britannique dans le domaine de la defense.

Je suis toujours enchantes de visiter Paris et je suis particulierement content d’etre ici dans un contexte pareil; le succes de notre cooperation en Libye, le succes du Sommet le mois dernier, l’arrive d’un nouveau Ambassadeur et surtout l’approfondissement rapide de la cooperation entre nos armees et dans le domaine des equipements depuis la signature du Traite en 2010 [deux mille dix].

And I’m delighted to be here in the year that the Franco-British Council celebrates its 40th Anniversary.

This is an organisation which has grown in influence and stature over the years.

It has a well established reputation for exploring the issues of the day.

I’m pleased to see that Defence is recognised as an integral part of this ongoing dialogue.

Indeed, I see you also have your own web page on the Franco-British Council site - [www.francobritishdefence.org] which acts as a really useful information hub.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the President D’Honneur, Madame Chairman and Council Members for their work in supporting - and promoting - this defence relationship.

I must also thank our Ambassador, (H.M. Ambassador Peter Ricketts) for so kindly hosting our conference. Given his previous role as our National Security Advisor, I am confident that deepening of our Franco-British Defence relationship will be a priority for him.

UK-France - the importance of our Defence relationship

Defence is central to the values the UK and France share.

Today, I want to talk about our Defence relationship, and why it is important to seize this historic opportunity.

About why it is important to drive forward this process of collaboration.

And how we are doing this.

But let me start with looking at why co-operation makes sense for lots of us.

His Excellency Bernard Emie, in a recent speech to the British defence community cited Professor Robert Tombs - the noted Cambridge academic - who I think summed it up pretty well. He said:

‘Franco British relations over the two centuries since Waterloo could be seen as a transformation from enmity to alliance and finally partnership…Today they are the only European states that maintain ambitions for a world role. Conceivably, both might prefer other partners, but in the world of the 2010s the reality is that we have only each other’.

This eloquently defines the strategic necessity for our bilateral relationship.

A partnership which makes sense because:

  • We are both outward-looking nations, with experience and knowledge of almost every-part of the globe
  • We recognise we live a dangerous and uncertain world in which taking shelter behind some mythical Fortress Europe just isn’t an option
  • We both understand the importance of a strong defence - not only to ensure that our territory is secure - but to contribute to international security
  • We invest in Defence and meet our NATO responsibilities
  • We have battle winning capabilities and highly trained and effective Armed Forces
  • And crucially - we share the political will to act - and have the deployable defence capabilities to do so
  • Anyone who doubted that by the way only has to look at Libya. President Sarkozy was absolutely right when he described the UK and France as the ‘heavy lifters’ of European defence

We share the same responsibilities on the international stage.

As permanent members of the UN Security Council - as nuclear powers -as leading members of the G8, the EU and NATO.

We share a similar world view, we share the same geographic space, we are of similar size.

With us there is no grand frere et petit frere - although the way our respective media portray our relationship you would think we are more like quarrelling siblings..

In reality, this is a collaboration of logic and sense.

The forces that pull us together are far more powerful than the forces that seek to drive us apart.

Libya and NATO

Libya was a real turning point and an affirmation that forging a new and stronger partnership was the right thing to do.

The Libya campaign was assisted by operating in a NATO framework.

NATO provided legitimacy, a Headquarters; as well as a common language and set of procedures.

It is established, proven and based on shared values. It is a uniquely capable organisation as Libya - and indeed Afghanistan - have demonstrated.

And we need NATO to become stronger.

As Libya showed us, there were a number of capability gaps which were highlighted by the Libya campaign.

We - the UK and France are now prioritising our joint work in light of lessons identified in areas such as Command and Control; Information Systems and targeting and reconnaissance.

And of course across the Alliance it is ever more essential to ensure nations give priority those capabilities NATO needs. I commend the NATO Smart Defence Initiative. The UK is a keen supporter.

Co-operation in Austerity

As our economies and defence budgets are under pressure, the rationale for co-operation in these times of Defence austerity becomes ever stronger.

It makes sense, for example, to develop our Combined Joint Expeditionary Force. We hope the CJEF will be up and running by 2016.

French and British units and ships have been undertaking reciprocal training exercises as we continue to develop the new force.

I’m told our forces - like the true professionals they are - operate very well together.

However, there does appear to be some friendly rivalry over who has the best ration packs.

For the UK, collaboration is an important principle of our approach to Defence equipment and support.

It is an efficient way of delivering a balanced and affordable equipment programme. It means we can look to exploit economies of scale when it comes to harmonising British and French requirements and sharing overhead costs.. It also helps to boost export opportunities.

It allows us to maximise our capabilities - particularly when it comes to sharing technologies, and it allows us to spread the cost - and the risk - of research and acquisition.

And of course in the case of the UK-France partnership all of these factors also support interoperability.

Working with France is not detrimental to our national sovereignty, provided that we retain operational advantage and freedom of action.

Our view is that it can help to consolidate our equipment programme and sustain aspects of our operational advantage and freedom of action.

In the UK we spend around 40% of the nation’s defence budget every year - a figure of around £13 billion - on equipment acquisition, support and technology.

By getting together we can make this money - and indeed both our budgets - go further.

And we do have the spending power - together the UK and France account for around 50% of European spending on defence.

It makes sense for us to collaborate. Work together and plan together.

This means we have to look ahead, horizon scan and develop capabilities to meet future challenges…

That is why Research and Technology is an area where investment is absolutely key.

Our commitment to an annual target of 50 million Euros each from the UK and France on joint research shows we’re serious about this.

And in particular when it comes to critical technologies where the market, civil or defence, may not be sufficiently strong to meet UK and France defence needs.

We will be looking to industry to work with us on this - we need their expertise when it comes to identifying vulnerabilities. As well as spotting opportunities.

Libya and Afghanistan demonstrated the usefulness of Unmanned Air Systems, more commonly known as drones.

Last month’s UK-France summit committed us to taking forward our planned cooperation on UAS. In the longer term these will develop into unmanned combat air systems.

Joint funding and interdependence should help sustain industrial capability and deliver cost savings.

Another programme is A400M.

France is taking delivery of this transport aircraft in 2013 and we in the UK get ours in 2014.

We’re developing a common support plan - including spare parts for our future fleets of these aircraft.


The UK-France project is a mature cooperation between democratic nations.

Therefore we can be open about areas of disagreement and where we have different agendas.

Traditionally, the UK has preferred to look to NATO first and then the EU, whereas France has leaned towards the EU.

We were delighted when France rejoined the NATO military structures in 2009 and became a full player in that vital organisation.

There has been significant convergence between our national positions over the years.

For example, the French preparatory work for their next Livre Blanc shows a balance between multi-lateral engagement with the EU and NATO, and bilateral engagement with key partners such as the UK.

Of course the publication of that document in the month after the elections will set the strategic direction for France on a whole range of issues.

A bigger challenge for European nations is not should our forces work under NATO or the EU but how do we maintain capable forces?

This will no doubt be the subject of some lively debate for those taking part in this morning’s workshop .

Making it Work

In the UK we have changed our institutional architecture to support the deepening of our bilateral relationship with France.

Our International Policy France team in the Ministry of Defence provides us with a central hub covering a range of activity - from equipment and procurement to political and military cooperation.

And yesterday evening it was my pleasure to announce that the defence staff in our embassy here in Paris now have a new name: British Defence Staff-France.

This is a move which acknowledges the increase in the Exchange and Liaison Footprint in France, as well as the Defence Section here in Paris.
This is a highly symbolic move.

There is only one other British Embassy across the world which has been accorded similar status, and that is our Defence presence in Washington - known as British Defence Staff - US.

The new organisation recognises this change in dynamic and will be a ‘one shop’ stop, co-ordinating the expanding areas of activity and development across our partnership.

This will include taking forward our portfolio of co-operative equipment programmes.

This is a significant move, and reflects the UK’s commitment to a partnership which is dynamic, and rapidly gathering pace.


Winston Churchill said that ‘difficulties mastered are opportunities won’.

And that ethos is - I believe - what our defence relationship - is all about.

It’s about working together on the challenges we face.

Finding and exploiting opportunities in more areas where we can work together in a smarter, more cost effective way.

There may always be differences in our styles or our methods.

This is invariably true of any successful partnership.

These differences will often play to the particular strengths of each country. To the way we complement; balance and develop our defence capabilities.

What is going to be very important - and what I know we can achieve - is harmonisation of approach. Three areas in particular are vital to ensuring that we work successfully together over the longer term:

Political commitment: we will continue to signal the importance that both Governments attach to the defence relationship;

Co-operation between our Armed Forces; a combined Joint Expeditionary Force is a sign of progress but co-operation needs to be embedded throughout the two organisations and in military doctrine;

Joint investment in research and technology; this is essential in creating the future capabilities for fighting together.

This conference is a really useful chance to stocktake, challenge some of our assumptions and assess progress.

I for one am looking forward to ‘having my feet held to the fire’ this morning when I chair the workshop which I see has the slightly ominous title of ‘Franco-British Defence Co-operation: the balance sheet’.

Thank you. And now, the floor is yours - any questions?