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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Will Anglo-French defence co-operation be a casualty of the UK's decision on Syria?

Syria will not see a rerun of the Anglo-French Cooperation we saw in Libya
Commenting on Conservative Home's special jury on the events in Syria Open Europe's Christopher Howarth argues that Anglo-French co-operation on defence and foreign policy has taken a knock from the UK's decision to pull out of military action in Syria:

David Cameron’s Syrian fiasco will reverberate through many aspects of politics. But how will it affect the UK’s international standing?

The US may now look at the UK in a different light but, ironically, within the EU the UK’s reputation may improve. Europe tends to dislike what it perceives as rushed and unilateral military action (a UK/US-led operation is seen as unilateral). Parliamentary opposition to military action is something most EU states can easily understand and the UK’s break with the US may seem refreshing.

However, there is an important exception - the French Government. France and the UK are the only two EU states with the capability and (until now) the will to act. Recognising this, the FCO have been at pains to improve Anglo-French defence and foreign relations - UK help for France in Mali being a recent example. The FCO realise that if France and the UK cooperate they can be a powerful force within the EU and indeed the world. The most serious ramification of Syria is that these plans for Anglo-French defence cooperation may have taken a knock.

We have been here before. The last time UK foreign policy went spectacularly awry was in Suez. Then as now the UK bailed on France. We remember Suez as a lesson in the need to work with the US, for the French it was a lesson in the folly of trusting Anglo-Saxons. Things are nowhere near as bad this time but the relationship needs to be repaired.

Of course Syria is not Suez and the lessons will be different. Eden was tripped up by opposition from the US and Tory liberal internationalists, appalled by the naked pursuit of British interests. Cameron’s Tory opposition came from the descendants of the traditional wing who backed Eden, but who fail this time to see a British interest. After Suez, liberal policy makers agreed that the UK’s role in the world had shrunk and that it was a mistake to act without the US.

This time it is important to ensure that we do not accept any further shrinkage and that future US action is not spurned by the UK and an already sceptical EU. Like Anthony Eden, David Cameron has come unstuck on an area of policy that seemed to be his primary interest. Unlike Eden, Cameron has the opportunity to move on and repair the damage.


Rik said...

The French have at the end of the day the same problem as the British (if you call it a problem).
Which is that the local population simply isnot buying into it.

The UK a bit ahead of France, because of Blair/Iraq (public opinion wise that is). And the French anyway slower to react on a political level (because of a different system mainly).

As Cameron has not so much another choice at the moment because he messed up things in other fields (politically that is). But a Blair in his prime might just have got away with it even at this moment.
While in France Hollande is just recently elected and less depending on coalitions. However if they think they have to bring democracy to all sorts of backwaters and if some failures come to light and failures there always will be, they are mistaken. Libya is still a potential risk and Syria has potential disaster written all over it.
Combined with the rise of LePen (also for other reasons) and the European populus increasingly getting fed up with everything Muslim there will be electoral pressure. And likely a lot of it.
And as recent history shows traditional political parties will react to that (usually too late). Hard to see France closer to election time reacting very different from the UK now.

So give it 2-3 more years and they very likely will be very similar.
Hard to see that the UK will return to the old Blairish ways as well.
You need constant success (and no body bags) and no high costs interventions (like Iraq and Afghanistan). The electorate everywhere in Europe simply sees other priorities at the moment.

Looks like Cameron has got the email that this is not likely to win you the next election (to say it mildly). They probably could get away with it in parliament but at a high price to be paid in the next election. Especially if this would become a long term issue (which it has written all over it btw). Parliament not only didnot have a majority by itself on the issue, it also did what the majority of voters wanted. Going for a Lisbon like scenario (voting until approved) would kill a lot of credibility. On the issue itself but also on the way things are done (the elctorate is hardly plreased with that as well).

Again especially as it is a Muslim country:
-where in the past we have seen some huge failures;
-have a history of internal conflict that is often millenia old (which you donot solve with a few cruisemissiles); combined with
-the fact that large parts of the electorate are totally fed up with everything Islam and certainly will not want to make a huge investment in solving problems in those parts of the world at the costs of cuts at home (simply unsellable).

Rik said...

It partly also will depend on the US approach on these issues.
One thing certain about that is that the present ways are simply not sustainable/affordable:
- makes you too many enemies;
- alienate you from your usual allies (as support overthere is eroding);
- is financially unaffordable;
- (summarised in general very little value for your bombing buck);
- has a rapidly decreasing political platform at home as well (very similar, only delayed, to the UK).

The US will have to change its policies in this respect. Whatever the outcome will be is partly uncertain. My thoughts.

Likely a different mix.
The US simply cannot afford financially but also longer term electorally to go on like this.
So less the world's policeman. And as there are no others that could replace it very likely less interventions. Which is probably not a bad thing.
Effectiveness of the Florence Nightingale attempts to democratise stoneage societies has been very low if not negative.

Better decisionmaking necessary as well imho. Going in when there is real added value in that and not going in as a standard procedure like now or to save the face of a President who clearly is in no way on top of the issue and the context in which they play.

No politicl nonsense attached at least less. All interventions went well militarily but as soon as it became political (also longer term occupations) it went wrong to terribly wrong. So if a militarily intervention without follow up would do the job it might work. If like in Syria problems are almost certain to continue stay away from it.

Countries like the UK or France will have to react to that (and the timing of it). The US is in one way the main security partner for both, but longer term going against popular opinion in important issues (as seen by the electorate) would also be unsustainable for traditional politicians like Cameron or Hollande especially if in their hometown populist parties are on the rise.

jon livesey said...

I think you are going way overboard on this topic. All that has happened is that the UK isn't going to participate in immediate military action. In fact, neither is the US, since the President is going to try to get the backing of Congress. If things change, as they almost certainly will, Parliament can change its mind, and if new events give it an excuse, it will change its mind.

So that's the first defect in this column; the assumption that there has been a final decision, when there has not.

The second problem with the column is the apparent assumption that the UK staying out of immediate military action will have an affect on relations with either France or the US.

You raise Suez, but there is a more recent example, which is VietNam. Wilson kept the UK out of VietNam and as far as I know that had no affect on relations with either the US or France.

You are thinking of this stuff from the wrong perspective. Nations that have similar interests don't throw tantrums if they don't get immediate cooperation from allies. They wait until their allies see things the same way as they do themselves.

That's why the reaction from Washington has been so muted. The US knows that any over-reaction will make things worse, not better. In other words, the US is being careful to preserve its relationship with the UK. Syria is not the last occasion on which they will need UK political support.

Overall, this affair has been a net win for the UK, especially as it has shown Parlaiment to be a more healthy institution than perhaps some people had assumed it was.

Rollo said...

Our relationship with every one in the whole world is degraded by this disgraceful political posturing. Our relationship with the US will take years to mend if ever it will. For the first time ever I feel ashamed to be British.

Anonymous said...

The UK got it right this time, there is at this time no irifutable evidence that chemical weapons were used, and if it turns out they were which side used them Assad or the Al qaeda supported rebels, it makes sense to wait until there questions are answered before the decision to act is made.

Average Englishman said...

Dave has just been reminded that he is the temporary leader of a democracy and not before time. He had better get used to such failings with an election coming up on the horizon.

Denis Cooper said...

It's certainly disappointing for some people that apparently we've missed the bus on this war.

But they needn't worry too much, because there's likely to be another one along soon; and then we will have the chance to fight shoulder to shoulder with our splendid French allies killing and maiming people in another country for a rather unclear but probably immoral and almost certainly unachievable purpose.

Of course, when I say "we will have the chance to fight", I certainly don't include me or mine in that "we", and nor indeed do Cameron or Hague or any of the other vociferous warmongers.

As my father used to say "Making bullets for other people to fire", and he was no pacifist.

Freedom Lover said...

You say: "Cameron’s Tory opposition came from the descendants of the traditional wing who backed Eden, but who fail this time to see a British interest." Nonsense! Instead his opponents (including me) definitely & quite rightly do NOT see any British interest in once again getting caught up in another Middle Eastern quagmire - both of whose reasons for it & aims are obscured in deep fog.

'Cui bono?' Who benefits from this probable Syrian mess? Only Saudi Arabia to see their Shiite enemy, Iran's, Alawite proxy fall. And Qatar who hope to build a gas pipeline bypassing Saudi Arabian territory because the Saudis won't permit their competitor's product, natural gas, crossing their land. And both being Sunni want the demise of competitor Shiites.

So why would we in Britain want to have anything to do with that? And why also would France & the USA too, if they had any sense?

Rik said...

Fully agree Cameron basically tries to copy Blair in his prime in the way he presents these kind of issues.

Forgetting in the process that he isnot Blair. Blair in his prime days knew exactly how to adress the masses.

And even more important the 'Blair ways' would probably not work anymore these days.
Not for Blair himself now. He clearly has been found out. No better anti-war commercial than Blair publicly stating to bomb the thing.
And the electorate has moved on as well. Effectively Blair was probably the last pre-internet PM.
In the way that at the moment the main source of info/news is nowadays the unternet with all sorts of media and with people having access to media from all angles of the political spectrum. And thisa has changed things.

Next to intervention wars having showed themselves as pretty ineffective and very little buck for your bomb dollar. Copying without further study a few successful earlier ones hardly has hardly been a recipe for success. You should pick the right battles to fight and politics clearly didnot (probably wasnot able to).

Add Blair being a much better salesman than Cameron and you get this recipe for disaster.

On top of managing things pretty unprofessionally. And time and time again. The EU file being another example. The referendum issue could have been an add for Dave the Democrat. Iso that it was an add for Calamity Cameron.
This is very similar again. Relying on a very soft agreement with a guy that changes his mind more than the average woman on which bag goes best with a certain dress is plain stupid. Not going for certain and have the own troups properly mobilised.

All ad hoc and last minute. And things go wrong that way. Not all of course but quite a lot and totally unnecessary.

Next to completely missing that like the EU is an issue on which people decide for whom to vote. Combined with the fact that it is highly unpopular.
Highly doubtful if Cameron has the mandate from his voters to start another project that has in it to become the next Iraq or Afghanistan. With very little or no upside risk for the UK itself.

At the end of the day he is kept alive by his main opponent Mr Ed being even a poorer candidate. Which says a lot about the UKs present political system (it simply sucks) and the chances for newcomers (very high).

For you as an IP supporter that is not bad at all. It has given Farage another issue to campaign upon and likely make its potential electorate less bored witht he EU thing. And pushes the one issue party argument largely from the table.

Rik said...

Fully agree.
The 3 local parties that have an interest in the war on the topple the regime side has completely other interests than the UK.

Quatar thinks mainly on its pipeline. Which is totally unrealistic. Even if Assad is thrown out the country has Iraq or worse written over it. And any opponent can by using a 1 USD handgrenade plus 1 molotov properly in October cause Bns of USD damage. A pipeline cannot properly be defended.

Israel. Probably sees it as a way to reduce an existential opponent Syria with a least dangerous one that however likely is causing more daily problems. And before Iran might require action. Matter of judgement. They re better informed than me.

KSA. They see it as enemy number 2 for them after Iran. And like to take it out. Better a failed state than a clear powerful enemy.

The UK is basically only interested in the energy flow. people not moving to their country and it becoming a terrorist base (or better a worst one it is now).

On those points:
Starting a war or increasing thescale thereof likely increases the chance of a disruption in energy supply.

The longer the war takes the more refugees. Who ever is in power. And the more will end up in the EU/UK. In that respect any solution that makes life for the main groups not totally impossible will be helpful. With probably more downside with a successful uprising as religious nuts might go for the minorities. Like Muslim B in Egypt when they came under pressure.

The country falling apart gives as history is a judge more rise to terrorist (safehavens) than the present situation. Now it is relatively small scale compared to what is happening in semi-war zones like Pakistan and Iraq.

Iran. Might have to be taken care of one way or another. But the fall out will be some terrorist attacks, energy disruption (Straight of Hormuz) which will happen anyway.
Plus likely some attacks on Israel and possibly Gulfstates and KSA. But those do only very limitedly affect the UK.

So very little to gain on pure economic terms and a lot to lose (as it has the next Iraq written all over it).

France had one successful intervention in Mali where you can fight a more conventional battle all sand and very little collateral damage walking around. And is thinking this can be copied in a completely different theater of war. Plus it gives a nice distraction.

Obama is simply trying to save his face. For the xth time he has messed up his calls in the Arab spring and now is doing a damage limitation act. And possibly the US has to go with it to avoid the POTUS institute suffers more damage. While overthere a tomahawk on Congress is probably more popular than one on Damascus (no exageration btw).

WORLDwrite said...

Please take a look at this video showing the British public's views on this.