Why it isn’t just Franglais shared between Britain and France

By Joseph Perry

The recent French Defence White Paper signals a further continuation of deepening Anglo-French ties. As budget constraints squeeze defence spending there was concern amongst British officials that French capabilities would be significantly reduced, hindering not only French, but British foreign policy and the ability for France to uphold major aspects of the Lancaster House Defence cooperation treaties of 2010.

However, underlying the immediate damage of the French defence budget being reduced from 1.7% to around 1.5% of France’s national income and some 34,000 military related jobs being cut between now and 2019, the capabilities of France are simply realigning with different priorities. Mainly, a re-emphasis on expeditionary warfare rather than armed forces geared up for long sustained ground war interventions. Thus, maritime and amphibious projection capabilities have largely been protected whilst an increase in Special Forces will plug the gap of rapid reaction troops being cut from 80,000 to 66,000. Coinciding with the restructuring of France’s ability to project meaningful force across the globe will be an increased emphasis upon intelligence, guided-missiles, remote-controlled air systems and further cooperation with the UK, particularly including missiles, drones and maritime and amphibious projection.

The further strengthening of cooperation between the two major players in European defence is welcome. With shrinking defence budgets across the continent, whilst Asian counterparts are increasing theirs, how long can this trend continue before Europe shrinks into geo-political irrelevance? Additionally with the US currently looking impassive – especially regarding any notion of intervention or engagement – in the European periphery, the Anglo-French alliance is next in line to uphold the brunt of security concerns. This goes some way in explaining the importance of both countries’ military structures and arrangements that are in place throughout North Africa and the Gulf – two areas of strategic importance and great security concerns.

Yet with both economies strewn with problems and defence budgets having to make sacrifices, it is increasingly necessary for certain capabilities to be pooled in order to match the similar ambitions of two nuclear armed global players. Contemporary examples of Anglo-French cooperation in this manner include both Libya and Mali where crucially both missions were conducted without major American assistance, much to the credit of the UK and France. Not since the Suez debacle in 1956 have the two powers cooperated so closely when it comes to security.

Nevertheless this is where this necessary alliance draws criticism. Mutual interests for the moment may be compatible, but what if they were to diverge over an event concerning the Falklands? Would France respond to a crisis concerning a relic of a past rival empire? Also, how would France react to the UK leaving the EU? This is not beyond the realms of possibility after recent events.  Where would NATO and Britain’s ‘special relationship’ fit into the equation?

There continues to be elements of doubt in an everlasting friendship due to the occasional trivial jibes at one another. Cameron’s remark regarding French proposals of increasing the top rate of tax to 75% where he said he would ‘role the red carpet out for French business’  is just one example of either side upsetting the other.

France is also suspicious of the UK’s transatlantic ties and the enduring emphasis of the importance of NATO to British foreign policy. On the other hand the UK ponders over whether France still desires European grandeur and dominance over the continuing development of a European security framework separate to NATO.

Nonetheless, these reservations are irrelevant, or at least forgettable, if either power wishes its capabilities to match ambitions and global responsibility. William Hague recently remarked that the world is less safe than three years ago when the Coalition was formed. Consequently it would appear that the double entente is currently indispensable, regardless of politics, especially for the UK who is now reliant upon the French for an aircraft carrier should it need one for the years to come. Calculatedly what needs to happen is for both London and Paris to gradually fuse strategic thinking together whilst aligning militarily and logistically where possible. Therefore, then reducing the risk of strategic and military mishaps whilst responding to a potential crisis in an operative, co-ordinated and commanding fashion.

The fact that Peter Ricketts (British ambassador in Paris) sat on the Defence commission, something unprecedented, suggests that it is now accepted on either side of the Channel that one of the past great rivalries of Europe is now a pivotal (unbreakable) alliance for its security, and maintaining the global presence of the UK and France. Despite both of their military’s being cut to the bare minimum their capabilities seem just about intact, though further cuts could result in the shrinking of capabilities and global power on par with how quickly their empires receded.  It increasingly seems the case that whatever the future holds for the UK and France, they will either tackle it together, or decline together.

Britain needs India more than India needs Britain

By Joseph Perry

This will be David Cameron’s second trip to India since becoming Prime Minister in 2010, and it is unlikely to be his last. Over his three day visit Cameron has talked of the many things that Britain can offer India whilst also hinting at how India can help Britain. Cameron has stated he wants the UK to be India’s ‘partner of choice’.  The UK has much expertise to offer regarding infrastructure, universities, and helping India liberalise its economy whilst the UK simultaneously benefits, Cameron has been driving for this in order to meet his promise of doubling trade with India by 2015. For Indian students the UK is still the number one destination to study. Despite recent fears over tighter visa restrictions Cameron has been quick to assure Indian students this will not be a problem for them. Both countries share cultural links from remnants of the British Empire; Indians are the single largest minority in the UK, and Chicken Tikka Masala is the UK’s favourite dish. However, the most noteworthy line to come from the Prime Minister was that he wants Britain and India to forge one of the great partnerships of the 21st century. I would argue this is a one sided hope.

India will no doubt identify some of the key economic and societal benefits the UK can contribute to its, not yet reached, potential. Some of the things David Cameron has said will be acted upon in the interest of both India and the UK. Its growth has recently slowed down, albeit only to 5.3%, but perhaps Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will heed the call to carry on with efforts to reduce red tape and regulation, along with cracking down on problems of corruption. The opening up of its economy would attract masses of inward investment from not just the UK but all over the World. However, this is not something that is all together sought after by all of India’s 1.2 billion populace. Retail liberalisation is just one example where huge opposition across India has led to stalls in reform – the kind of reform David Cameron is talking about. India’s politicians may want to take David Cameron’s advice in order to reignite perceptions of India fulfilling its potential, though it will continue to be a slow and long road ahead.

This said India’s politicians may well be inclined to simply shun David Cameron altogether. One brief glimpse at the UK’s economic outlook is enough to make any politician think twice before listening sincerely to the UK regarding its economy. Along with this, he is not saying anything particularly new, or what many other statesman such as President Hollande who visited last week, have put forward before. The only person who holds real political leverage or influence with India is President Obama. He went one step further than Cameron back in 2010 stating: the relationship between India and the US was destined to become ‘one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century’. The reason being, I would put forward, is that the US is the only country that can help India with its foreign policy objectives. Its key objective, something which it shares with the US, will be to check the growing influence of China. Both camps see strong Indo-US relations as essential for the balance of power in Asia. Relations have indeed been growing steadily for the last few decades, including agreements in defence relations, nuclear co-operation, naval cooperation and Indian support for the US in its ‘war on terror’.

Consequentially, Cameron would have more success in his Indian endeavours if he could help India in ways which the US can. On this point, there has been agreement between Britain and India to share cyber technology and cooperate further in this increasingly important field of security. It is well known that the Chinese are continuous perpetrators of cyber-attacks across the world and so this cooperation will surely be welcome in both India and Britain. However, Britain will struggle to rectify India’s feelings of encirclement as a result of the ‘string of pearls’, meaning the naval facilities China now has in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. China would defend these strategic moves as addressing its ‘Malacca dilemma’, further highlighting the ‘security dilemma’ India now finds itself in with China. Only the US has the military, economic and diplomatic power to assist India. If anything, the UK has been negligible of India over recent years, particularly under the Labour administration who showed very little interest in India whilst busy fighting terrorism. Furthermore, Indian foreign policy makers are sceptical over Britain’s relationship with Pakistan, often citing accusations of biasedness, on Britain’s part, towards their unfriendly neighbours. Also Britain is soon to stop giving aid to India. Likewise what is more bad news for Britain’s weight with India is the questionability of its EU membership.

Of course David Cameron is absolutely right in going to India in the manner he has done so, taking with him the largest trade delegation a Prime Minister ever has. Britain needs all the help it can get in trying to find some actual growth. Tapping into emerging markets is yet to be fully exploited by our service orientated economy, evidenced by the fact that Belgium trades more with India than we do.  Nonetheless, I would argue that Cameron should not expect too much when what he is asking for is nothing relatively new, and yet liberalising India’s economy remains slow resulting from respect for its century’s old traditions and customs. And crucially, Britain can offer only very minimal support to one of India’s prime foreign policy objectives whilst having antagonised India in this area of policy already. Overall David Cameron’s trip to India has merely shown that Britain needs its former jewel in the crown more than India needs Britain.

Originally published 26/2/13 http://newpoliticalcentre.com/2013/02/26/britain-needs-india-more-than-india-needs-britain-by-joseph-perry/

Is Britain’s drinking problem more than just a binge?

By Rochelle Sampy

Copyright Mark Turner

Copyright Mark Turner

In an attempt to rid the UK of its binge drinking culture, the government has proposed a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol for England and Wales, it was revealed today.  It is believed by the government that this proposal would not only save the lives of many but also mean that less money will be spent on policing and hospitals which are used to dealing with public drunkenness.

This might come as good news for many as a recent study carried out by the National End of Life Care Intelligence Network showed that in Britain, there has been a 25% in liver disease with alcohol being the main factor in number of cases.  This study also demonstrated that 60% of those affected are men while death rates were highest in the north west of the country with 24 out of 10,000 people affected.

A separate YouGov survey has shown that 55% of women in the UK aged 16 -24 like getting drunk perhaps indicating that the government are right to hold their fears about young people and binge drinking. In addition, the 2010 General Lifestyle Survey showed that women who are aged 65 or over in Britain and 12 times more likely to drink on near – daily basis than those who are 16 – 24.

Whilst all these statistics are useful in monitoring whether Britain’s binge drinking culture has got progressively worse, especially for women, the bigger question is whether this increase in cost is likely to solve the problems with drinking in the UK. Of course, the effect of the problem is larger than one can contemplate and requires more than simply increasing the cost of alcohol. Read more of this post

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