A New Chapter in US-Cuba Relations
Jan 24, 2019
By Allison Fedirka
During a speech outlining U.S. policy in Latin America in November, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton branded Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua a “troika of tyranny.” Bolton criticized the prevalence of poverty, violence and oppression in these countries, stressed that the U.S. would increase pressure on their autocratic governments, and vowed that Washington would stand with those fighting for freedom. It was no coincidence that he delivered the address in Miami, the home of many expats from these nations.
For Cuba, the United States’ new hard-line approach has meant intensifying economic pressure, and, in many ways, the timing couldn’t be worse. The Cuban economy has been struggling for the past few years with sluggish growth and disappointing investment levels. Its closest allies are also struggling with their own domestic challenges and disputes with the U.S. and are in no position to come to Cuba’s aid. This Deep Dive will look at the history of U.S.-Cuba relations and the new efforts of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to squeeze the Cuban government.
Cuba’s Strategic Value
Cuba is an island that stretches 780 miles (1,250 kilometers) long and lies about 100 miles south of the U.S. state of Florida and 125 miles east of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Because of its location, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, it plays a major role in U.S. maritime interests. Cuba, or whoever controls it, could block access to the Gulf of Mexico and leave exports departing vital ports like New Orleans with no way to access international markets. The prospect was dire enough that in 1823 U.S. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams told U.S. diplomats Washington intended to annex Cuba within half a century for fear that another foreign power would claim it.
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Cuba’s location cemented its status as a subject of competition among regional and global powers. As a Spanish colony, it served as a major port for ships arriving from Spain whose cargo needed replenishing and whose crews needed rest before moving on with their journey. It also served as a military hub in Spain’s quest to fend off other powers, such as Britain and France, that wanted to establish colonies in the Americas. When anger against Spain started growing in Cuba, the U.S. and Mexico began to court pro-independence groups on the island. Mexico was already much weaker than the U.S. by this time, and Washington managed to align with independence movements to more or less control the island in the early years of its statehood. After Cuba’s revolution, however, Cuban leader Fidel Castro allied the country with the Soviet Union to dry to deter U.S. aggression and influence.
With the end of the Cold War, Cuba’s place in great power competition diminished. Russia was a shadow of the former Soviet Union, and the U.S. solidified its dominance in the Americas, turning its attention and resources to other parts of the world. But nearly three decades later, countries outside the Western Hemisphere, particularly those the U.S. sees as rivals, are once again looking to project power and influence in the Americas. Though they don’t represent much of a challenge to U.S. ascendancy in the region, they are nonetheless a source of frustration that Washington can’t afford to ignore. The scenario may well lead to a revival of the Monroe Doctrine, the 19th-century U.S. policy of opposing foreign (at the time, European) interference in the Americas.
U.S.-Cuba Relations Over Time
Economics have always played a key role in U.S.-Cuba relations. Trade ties between the two, in fact, were a decisive factor in ending Spanish rule over the island. As a colony, Cuba officially traded with only Spain (though it carried out illicit trade with other countries), but as Spanish control over the island declined, it opened up trade with the United States. Their economic ties boomed in the 19th century, so much so that some Cubans pushed for U.S. annexation of the island.
Once Fidel Castro’s Communist Party took power in Havana, relations between the U.S. and Cuba deteriorated. Washington imposed a range of sanctions against the Cuban government starting in 1960, when President Dwight Eisenhower cut Cuba’s sugar quota to the U.S. in response to the nationalization of U.S.-owned refineries on the island. Eisenhower then banned all exports to Cuba except for food and medicine. President John F. Kennedy expanded the embargo, banning all imports from and business transactions with Cuba unless explicitly approved by the executive branch. Trade with the United States fell from 68 percent of total Cuban trade in 1958 to zero percent in 1962, while trade with the Soviet Union jumped from less than 1 percent to 49 percent over the same period. President Lyndon Johnson then led a broader effort to isolate Cuba from Western Europe and Latin America.
In the 1970s, the U.S. began to ease these efforts after realizing they weren’t having the desired effect, since the Soviet Union continued to prop up the Cuban economy. President Gerald Ford started backdoor talks with Cuba to try to normalize relations, exempting foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from the embargo and helping to relax restrictions imposed on Cuba by the Organization of American States. U.S. President Jimmy Carter also tried to normalize relations – even though Cuba sent troops to Angola to back a leftist movement there – and eased measures such as a ban on U.S. travel to the island. But in the 1980s, as several leftist revolutions in Central America turned the tide of U.S. foreign policy, these efforts stalled. President Ronald Reagan reinstated the travel ban, restricted the flow of hard currency and remittances, and banned the import of products containing nickel (one of Cuba’s top exports) from Cuba or the Soviet Union.
Following the Soviet Union’s collapse, Cuba’s economy became more vulnerable to U.S. economic pressure. From 1989 to 1993, Cuba’s gross domestic product fell by 35 percent, its real income decreased by 75 percent and its capacity to import fell by 74 percent. The U.S. decided the time was right to intensify the pressure in an attempt to bring down the government. President George H.W. Bush once again barred overseas subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba and restricted access to U.S. ports for ships that had docked in Cuba. During his administration, Congress passed the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act, which promoted “a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba through the application of sanctions.” The administrations of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush redoubled measures to limit business ties, remittances and tourism to Cuba before Barack Obama’s administration reversed many of them. Obama opened up travel between the two countries, allowed for business and remittance flows, called for an end to the embargo, and removed Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Trump Changes Course
Over the past two years, the Trump administration has, in turn, reversed the Obama-era moves to warm relations with Cuba. Trump outlined his position on the country in October 2017, stating that the purpose of his Cuba policy was to further the United States’ national security and foreign policy interests and to empower the Cuban people. He introduced two major changes targeting Cuba’s tourism sector, one of the country’s most lucrative industries. First, he restricted travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens. Second, and more important, he restricted U.S. companies from doing business with certain firms linked to the Cuban military – which is heavily involved in tourism. (The initiative built on legislation – introduced in 2015 but never ratified – that would have prohibited dealings with companies tied to Cuba’s military and government.) The U.S. State Department released a list of firms banned from doing business with the U.S. in November 2017 and updated it last year. All of them are tied to tourism.
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Just last week, the U.S. also signaled that it may implement the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. The controversial legislation enables U.S. citizens to sue companies profiting from property the Cuban government seized from them after the 1959 revolution and also allows those who were Cuban citizens when their property was confiscated to sue. When the bill – whose implementation could affect all businesses operating in Cuba, including cruise companies that dock there – first passed, major U.S. trade partners that still do business with Cuba, such as the European Union, Canada and Mexico, condemned it. Every administration since its passage has suspended the key clause, Title III, to avoid angering allies. Then on Jan. 16, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that the Trump administration would suspend the clause for only 45 days, instead of the usual six months. Pompeo added that the government would use the waiver period to carry out a review of all articles of the law “in light of the national interests of the United States and efforts to expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba.”
These moves come at a time when Cuba is undergoing a political and economic transition. Its president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, became the first person outside the Castro family to lead Cuba in nearly six decades, after taking over for Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, in April 2018. The Diaz-Canel administration has proposed a series of constitutional reforms, including measures to introduce a prime minister to oversee the government’s day-to-day management, along with provincial governors, who would replace the presidents of provincial assemblies. Under the proposed changes, which will be put to a referendum Feb. 24, the president could serve a maximum of two five-year terms and would have to be under 60 years old on taking office. (Raul Castro was 76 when he stepped in for his brother in February 2008.)
One of the goals of the changes is to move the country away from a governing style dominated by one leader while still maintaining a single-party system – similar to the systems in place in China and Vietnam today. (The new constitution, if passed, may increase the military’s role in government, too, which explains why the Trump administration has targeted firms with ties to the armed forces.) In addition, many of the changes aim to improve efficiency in the economy. The draft constitution acknowledges recent economic reforms aimed at improving the business environment, streamlining government and reducing debt. It also allows for more transparent foreign investment, gives state-owned companies more autonomy and introduces a tax system. It even recognizes private property and the role of markets, though it maintains the primacy of the state in land ownership, production and economic planning. According to the government, these changes will help Cuba attract sorely needed foreign capital.
Many of these changes build on reforms that Raul Castro introduced in 2011, to little avail. Diaz-Canel hopes his government can succeed where its predecessor did not and is shooting to achieve 1.5 percent economic growth in 2019 by boosting foreign direct investment, increasing exports and reducing imports. (Annual imports are already on the decline, down to $11.3 billion in 2017 from $15.6 billion in 2013.) He also wants to pay down Cuba’s external debt – which hit $15.8 billion in 2015, the last time official figures were released – by implementing austerity measures and using inventory and emergency reserves. And to reduce fuel imports, the government plans to cut fuel consumption, a risky move considering that energy helps drive the economy.
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The U.S. plans to target the tourism sector, one of Cuba’s top sources of foreign currency, could damage the Cuban economy. The Cuban government made an estimated $3 billion through tourism last year, while private businesses related to the sector, such as taxi services and restaurants, pulled in an estimated $1 billion. Canada and the U.S. were the top two tourist markets for Cuba, followed by various Western European countries. It seems the Trump administration’s moves to tighten travel restrictions haven’t deterred U.S. tourists yet: U.S. visitors to the island increased last year by about 20,000 – admittedly a more modest bump than in previous years – to reach 630,000. Still, restrictions on business with certain companies in the tourism industry and the uncertainty surrounding the Helms-Burton Act may make U.S. tourists and businesses think twice about spending their dollars in Cuba.
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Complicating matters for Havana is the lack of an external benefactor it can rely on for financial support. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia was too weak to be a reliable economic partner, and courting the U.S. wasn’t an option. Cuba thus looked to strengthen ties with an array of countries, rather than to depend on a single power, as it had for much of its history. It maintained good relations and economic ties with Russia, as well as with like-minded nations such as China and Venezuela. It also increasingly opened up to Western Europe. The problem now is that many of Cuba’s allies are dealing with political and economic problems at home that prevent them from being the country’s patron.
Venezuela, for example, is in the midst of a crisis. Its oil exports to Cuba have fallen by at least 40 percent since 2014, and that’s a generous estimate. Meanwhile, a political scandal in Brazil, and the election of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, mean that Cuba can no longer rely on the country for support. Brazil has scrapped plans for new investments in Cuba and has sent the thousands of Cuban doctors it hosted, whose salaries went to the Cuban government, back home. Making matters worse, Cuba recently defaulted on a loan from Brazil’s development bank.
Though Russia has stepped up to help Cuba with oil shipments and small loans, these measures have had a limited effect. Russia is facing economic problems of its own and can’t offer to sell Cuba large amounts of oil at a favorable price. Of course, it wants to support Cuba as much as it can so that it has an ally in the United States’ backyard. Moscow, in fact, sent a delegation of advisers to the island just a couple of months ago. But it has too many bigger concerns, in places like Syria and Ukraine, to spend much of its time or resources propping up the Cuban economy. Similarly, China is too busy managing the fallout from its economic slowdown and the U.S. trade war to come to Cuba’s aid.
As for the European Union, it has taken a renewed interest in Cuba over the past couple of years. Western Europe is Cuba’s leading source of FDI, and many Spanish companies, in particular, are involved in Cuban tourism and infrastructure. Europe, however, may be one of the regions most affected by the Helms-Burton Act, if the Trump administration decides not to suspend it past March. Furthermore, the European Union is already engaged in disputes with the U.S. over trade, the Iran nuclear deal and energy projects involving Russia. It likely wouldn’t want to put a possible deal on these issues at risk by backing the Cuban government against Washington’s wishes. Cuba, then, will have to hope its political and economic reforms will help it weather the storm of the U.S. crackdown on the “troika of tyranny.”
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The UK and France: A Less Cordial Entente?
Jan 17, 2019
By Ryan Bridges
Can a single public vote undermine a century of cooperation and friendly rivalry? Was the Brexit referendum indicative of a long-running shift in the United Kingdom’s relationship with the Continent, and especially with allies like France? Britain and France were competitors, and even enemies, for almost a millennium before they allied, first to contain Russia in the Crimean War, and then to prevent German dominance of Europe in the two world wars. But now, France is taking the hardest line among European Union members in Brexit talks. French President Emmanuel Macron has called Brexiteers “liars,” while the British press has accused France of trying to inflict maximum pain on British citizens and trap the U.K. in its orbit.
Those in favor of Brexit saw the vote as an opportunity to escape what they perceived to be an increasingly authoritarian, German- and French-dominated bloc – one that they believe is determined to punish the U.K. for the trouble it’s caused on the way out. The pro-Europe French perspective, on the other hand, sees the British departure as opening avenues for deeper Continental integration, especially in foreign policy and defense, in which Paris will be the leading voice. But beneath the daily scuffles over the backstop or backdoors into the EU single market, France and the U.K. have remained close on foreign policy and defense. They have too much strategic overlap, and too few alternatives, to drift apart.
This Deep Dive will consider the forces that pushed the two nations together and kept them close. Despite the U.K.’s effort to redefine its relationship with the Continent and secure its autonomy from Europe, and despite European efforts to deepen integration historically blocked by the U.K., Franco-British strategic cooperation will continue, mostly uninterrupted.
The United Kingdom is an archipelago of thousands of islands off the northwest coast of the European peninsula. It boasts an impressive population (66 million people in 2017), wealth (a gross national income of $2.58 trillion), nuclear weapons and one of the strongest armed forces in the region. These assets, paired with the advantage of physical separation from Continental challengers, once allowed the British Empire to rule the seas – and a quarter of the Earth’s land, too.
Yet, even at the height of its power, Britain had to stay abreast of developments across the narrow English Channel. It needed to maintain allies and a military able to prevent any single power from consolidating control of Europe and marshaling the Continent’s superior resources to threaten the British Isles. Its alliances shifted to balance whoever was most powerful, from Napoleon Bonaparte’s France to the Russian Empire. Containment of Germany has been the center of this balance of power strategy since 1870, when the German states unified (with a brief interlude during the Cold War). Germany’s population was larger than those of France and Britain. Its economic capacity outstripped France’s. And its geographic insecurity pushed it to expansionism.
But in the days after World War II – in the beginnings of the Cold War – something interesting happened. The largest Western European powers, France and Germany, and four other states decided to experiment with pooling their resources. Though initially surprised, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee welcomed the news. He saw it as a way to solve the German problem and help Western Europe’s economies rebuild from years of war. But over the next few years, as the European project trudged along, Britain’s economic interests and its concerns that it was being left out of important decision-making in Europe prompted it to reconsider its relationship with the European bloc. The United Kingdom decided it needed a seat at the table.
French President Charles de Gaulle thought otherwise. In 1963, and again in 1967, de Gaulle blocked British accession to the newly formed European Economic Community. For the French president, the EEC was designed in part to liberate Europe from Atlanticist hegemony. He would not open the gates to an American Trojan horse draped in a Union Jack.
The U.K. would eventually get its seat in 1973 – a few years after de Gaulle’s resignation. But the U.K. never fit comfortably at the table. And, realizing both de Gaulle’s fears and Britain’s grand strategy, the U.K. was able to disrupt European integration, to an extent. (A study by a group at King’s College London found that the U.K. voted against the majority on foreign and security policy more than any other member state. It blocked efforts to increase the European Defense Agency’s Budget and, even after the Brexit vote, threatened to veto various initiatives.) The U.K. held a referendum on its European Community membership just two years after joining, and it always strove to keep one foot in and one foot out. The beginning of the end came in the early 1990s. The U.K. accepted an opt-out from the Economic and Monetary Union in exchange for signing the Maastricht Treaty, which established the European Union. Two decades later, London was left out of key decisions on the eurozone and Europe’s future. A major argument for British membership in the European project had evaporated; the union increasingly belonged to Berlin and Paris.
So, Prime Minister David Cameron called the vote, and a slight majority of voters expressed a desire to leave. Selling a vision of life after Brexit was easy. The U.K. would re-emphasize its “special relationship” with the United States, deepen ties with NATO and expand its global presence through new military bases and trade agreements with the world’s most dynamic economies. Besides, it wasn’t certain that the EU would survive the U.K.’s departure, especially once other euroskeptic countries saw what life could be like on the outside.
That post-Brexit vision was flawed for two reasons. First, the EU has maintained a more-or-less united front in the Brexit negotiations. And the EU’s demise doesn’t appear imminent, especially not as a result of Brexit: The bloc’s remaining euroskeptics have, at least for now, almost unanimously ditched the idea of leaving the EU in favor of trying to reform it from within.
Second, and more important, complications arose in the special relationship. For example, the U.K., like the U.S., has an interest in fighting jihadist groups in the Middle East and Africa and maintaining Mideast stability. But as the U.S. is withdrawing from Syria and adopting a more hawkish policy toward Iran, the U.K. has special operations forces deployed in Syria, has said the fight against the Islamic State is not over and, along with the EU, is working to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive. And in some ways, the Iraq War altered the U.K.’s ability to follow America’s lead in the Middle East. Afraid to repeat the mistakes of that war, and wary of being seen as too obedient and eager to do Washington’s bidding, the House of Commons in 2013 voted against joining U.S.-led strikes in Syria.
The more fundamental problem with London’s shift toward Washington is that the U.K. is seeking deeper ties with the U.S. just as the latter is urging Europe to take responsibility for its own defense so that the U.S. can turn its attention to Asia. NATO is losing its purpose, and just this week, The New York Times reported that U.S. President Donald Trump privately discussed withdrawing from the alliance several times in 2018. NATO or not, the U.K. and U.S. still share concerns over Russian revanchism, and the U.K. will be a vital American partner in the region. But what the U.S. really wants is to convince the rest of Europe, especially the Germans, to build up their defenses on the Continent so the U.S. can reduce its own contributions. It’s doubtful whether the U.S. or U.K. could change minds in Berlin, but this painful separation between the U.K. and EU is unlikely to improve their prospects of doing so.
The U.K. also faces the challenge of being able to afford a military designed to fight America’s wars. When Cameron announced an 8 percent cut to the military budget in 2010, he described a force that was “overstretched, under-equipped and deployed too often” and “ill-prepared for the challenges of the future.” It’s one thing for the U.K. to fight terrorism alongside the U.S. in the Middle East or Africa; it’s quite another to increase engagement in Pacific theaters, especially for a navy that went seven years without an aircraft carrier in service and that has only 19 destroyers and frigates in service, a historic low for the Royal Navy. (Budget aside, it would be awkward for a post-Brexit U.K. to seek a free trade agreement with China while the U.S. is ramping up its activity in the South China Sea.) The National Audit Office warned last year that the Defense Ministry’s long-term spending plan was “unaffordable” and that the armed forces had serious personnel shortages. It also cautioned that the equipment program could face a 14.8 billion-pound ($19 billion) funding gap – roughly the cost of five Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. And the country’s former chief of defense staff said in June that the government had “slightly deluded the public” with a defense program it can’t afford. Notably, the NAO’s latest report makes no mention of Brexit or its potential effect on the U.K.’s economic situation.
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These issues aside, part of the value of the U.S.-U.K. relationship for Washington was that London provided a trans-Atlantic bridge to the EU. The U.K. served as a de facto representative of U.S. interests in Brussels, helping to keep the EU economy open and shape foreign policy objectives. Long before the Obama administration opposed a move toward Brexit, former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson remarked that Britain’s “attempt to play a separate power role apart from Europe, a role based on a ‘special relationship’ with the U.S. and on being the head of a ‘commonwealth’ which has no political structure, unity, or strength” was “about played out.”
The notion that the United Kingdom can expand its global influence outside the structures of Europe is flawed. And, ironically, the nation with whom the U.K. is perhaps best aligned, the country best positioned to be a partner post-Brexit, may not be the U.S., but rather the new undisputed leader of European defense: France.
France and European Integration
France is not isolated the way the United Kingdom is. But its geography – walled in by mountains to the south and oceans to the southeast, north and west – affords it a semblance of protection on several sides. Its greatest strategic threats, therefore, come from the east. From its perch at the end of the North European Plain, France would be the last stop of any European force seeking to threaten the British Isles. Germany’s unification, then, was a natural boon to the Franco-British relationship.
After World War I, France tried (and failed) to cripple the German state. After the second world war, they opted instead to tie their futures together. French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman and diplomat Jean Monnet proposed the European Coal and Steel Community, binding together the coal and steel sectors of France and West Germany. The rest is history.
Almost 70 years later, a war threatening France along the North European Plain is unthinkable. France’s greatest strategic threat today is Russia. Russia’s recent moves in the Black Sea (and to a lesser extent in North Africa) and the threat that the Russian navy could break out into the Mediterranean demand France’s attention. Beyond Russia, France’s national security priorities are concentrated on the Levant and Sahel-Sahara regions. While Paris knows it can’t be everywhere at once, it is the de facto military leader of a supranational entity with well over 1 million troops at its disposal. (Though in 2016, the European Defense Agency estimated that barely 400,000 EU troops were deployable, and it’s up to member states if and when to deploy them.)
If a global Britain is the U.K.’s unrealizable dream for life after Brexit, France’s might be a European army. The fulfillment of a Gaullist vision of a France-led European foreign policy and of Europe as an amplifier of French influence has not been this close in decades, but it’s still far away.
EU defense cooperation started, ironically, with a Franco-British summit. Frustrated with Europe’s inability to keep the peace in the Balkans without the United States, London and Paris signed the St. Malo declaration in 1998, which stated the EU “must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises.” Out of St. Malo came the Common Security and Defense Policy, the framework for all the integration that followed. Throughout the process, however, the U.K. stressed that European cooperation could not conflict with NATO.
Brexit prevents the U.K. from blocking initiatives it doesn’t like, including the one it fears most of all: a European army. To be clear, the challenges to creating an EU army are so immense that it is frankly an impossibility for at least decades – and probably longer. But it’s also true that common defense initiatives that the U.K. had blocked are now getting off the ground. And it’s reasonable to conclude that, should the U.S. ever leave NATO, the infrastructure it left behind could be absorbed under the umbrella of the EU. It wouldn’t even have to move its headquarters.
In June 2017, the EU set up a small military headquarters, the Military Planning and Conduct Capability, responsible for planning and executing missions. It has training missions underway in Mali, Somalia and the Central African Republic. In November 2018, the European Union agreed to expand the MPCC’s force size and mission scope. In June 2017, the EU established the European Defense Fund to coordinate and boost member states’ investments in defense research, development and acquisition. (The fund is still small: Its 13 billion-euro, or $15 billion, budget in the EU’s next seven-year budget is roughly a quarter what France spends on defense in a single year.) The initiative that has generated the most buzz, the Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO, was launched in December 2017, enabling member states to voluntarily participate in joint projects ranging from development of a new armored infantry fighting vehicle to a school for intelligence personnel. This is a far cry from an EU army, but it was close enough that the U.K. had resisted before Brexit.
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These initiatives are attractive to France, especially the ability to share the costs of weapons R&D and manufacturing and to use Europe’s economy of scale afforded by PESCO and the EDF. France’s defense companies stand to benefit, especially since Brexit, in theory, disadvantages a primary competitor. This is why the French have resisted calls to permit third parties to participate in PESCO. While they finally acquiesced, the limits of participation have not yet been decided. For the U.K., joint weapons research and development would help overcome the country’s budget constraints. Some have speculated, for example, that the Future Air Combat System under development by France and Germany within the PESCO framework could eventually be combined with the U.K.’s Tempest project.
But on operational effectiveness, European cooperation is no substitute for what the British can provide. In June 2018, France, the U.K. and seven other European countries signed a letter of intent to set up a common intervention force, the European Intervention Initiative. (Finland became the 10th member in November.) In addition, the Franco-British Combined Joint Expeditionary Force, founded in 2010 with the Lancaster House treaties, is forging ahead despite Brexit and is expected to be combat capable by 2020. The U.K. is also moving forward with another joint expeditionary force involving Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden. France agreed to send troops to support the force in exchange for British help transporting French soldiers in Mali.
A hiccup in Franco-British strategic relations in the next few months leading up to and after the U.K.’s official departure date from the EU would not be a surprise. Indeed, last spring the U.K. withdrew its pledge to lead an EU battlegroup in 2019. But Franco-British relations have survived serious disagreements in the past, such as when France refused to join the invasion of Iraq. At the same time that was happening, Paris and London were working on plans for a European rapid reaction force, which became the EU battlegroups, and working to jointly manufacture an aircraft carrier, an ambitious effort that ultimately failed.
The U.K. and France need to maintain good relations. They have some common interests, particularly in the fight against jihadist terrorism in places like Syria and North Africa. (While the U.S. is drawing down its forces in Syria, France has said its special operations soldiers will stay, and the U.K., which also has special operations forces in the country, has said that “much remains to be done.”) For the U.K., giving France the help it needs would reduce Paris’ interest in fighting for more defense cooperation from EU partners. And it’s in the U.K.’s interest not to become too reliant on one ally, especially one going through the strategic rethink that Washington is currently in the midst of. For France, seeking out help from a military equal next door is much more hopeful than trying to change German domestic opinion about the armed forces. Despite the bumpy road to Brexit, we haven’t seen the end of French and British defense cooperation.
The post The UK and France: A Less Cordial Entente? appeared first on Geopolitical Futures.