Saturday 24 Feb 2018 | 19:08 | SYDNEY
Saturday 24 Feb 2018 | 19:08 | SYDNEY

Enemy – thy name is debt!



4 November 2010 13:37

While yesterday's announcement by the UK and France to enter into one of their closest peacetime relationships for over a century had some analysts gaping, others might see a logical progression from preceding months and years.

The 1904 Entente Cordiale – or 'amicable understanding' – saw similar multilevel undertakings for cooperation between what were then the two undisputed world maritime powers, covering borders, basing, fleet movements and foreign policy harmonisation. But this — and the ensuing Triple Entente that included Russia — was a deliberate manoeuvre to outfox Imperial Germany (see cartoon at left of John Bull and Marianne turning their backs on the Kaiser). Whither such a shared enemy today, if not the size of each country's national debt'

France's formal re-entry to NATO last year demonstrated France's clear recognition that it again saw itself among like-minded nations with similar threats and challenges, but also with similar defence capability needs and requirements. Likewise in Britain, even before the cuts in the UK Strategic Defence and Security Review were announced on 19 October, it was clear that a very serious level of rationalisation was underway. 

The UK's 2010 National Security Strategy (nice to see some have these documents) released contemporaneously doesn't actually mention France, but then again, it only mentions the US twice, and each time alongside the EU (don't bother looking for Australia). However, what the Strategy does clearly lean towards is a degree of mutual reliance with partners and allies rarely seen in such a document. The UK's interests are declared as:

...a commitment to collective security via a rules-based international system and our key alliances, notably with the United States of America (US); through an open global economy that drives wealth creation across the world; and through effective and reformed international institutions including the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), as the anchor of transatlantic security, and our vital partnership in the European Union (EU).

And to get there, the Strategy states that Britain must:

...project power and to use our unique network of alliances and relationships – principally with the United States of America, but also as a member of the European Union and NATO, and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We must also maintain the capability to act well beyond our shores and work with our allies to have a strategic presence wherever we need it.

Yesterday, two treaties were signed – one covering collaboration on the development, research and maintenance (but not use) of each country's nuclear arsenals, and another on the development and operation of the two European powers' conventional forces. Both documents have capability effectiveness as stated aims, but there is little effort to hide the underlying rationale of efficiency, making them such unusual documents of foreign policy.

What do these European arrangements mean for us in the Antipodes' Well, the cynic might point out that last time, it drew us into two World Wars. But in this case, the absence of any obvious physical enemy, and the dissipation of those close ties between Australia and Britain, removes any likelihood of recurrence there. 

But the announcement's demonstration of how powerful, developed countries can overcome the hubris of nationalism and see clear security as well as economic benefits in intimate defence cooperation is a good lesson for Australia – particularly in its relations with countries such as New Zealand, but possibly even with its FPDA partners, Singapore and Malaysia. 

When the Australian and New Zealand Defence Ministers last year announced a renovation of ANZAC ties, there appeared to be momentum for cooperative action, which my colleague Kiwi colleague Peter Greener and I supported, but which sadly appears to have been more smoke and spark than substance. 

Certainly, while the just-released New Zealand Defence White Paper waxes lyrical on working closely with its Trans-Tasman buddies, it remains to be seen whether Australia might wish to link arms with other like-minded countries and once again declare war on an enemy that France and Britain have recognised – although this time, it's fiscal!

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