The leaders of Britain and France have sealed agreements on a defense partnership between their two nations which is unparalleled in scope.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicholas Sarkozy signed two treaties, one establishing among other things a joint brigade of up to 5,000 troops with air and sea backing, the other allowing the two NATO nuclear powers to share nuclear research facilities.
The cooperation, which both sides insist will not affect their sovereignty, is designed to help them remain global powers at a time of severe cuts in defense spending due to the financial crisis.
"It is about sharing development and equipment costs, eliminating unnecessary duplication, coordinating logistics, and aligning our research programs," Cameron explained at a joint press conference with Sarkozy. "If we do all of these things, then we can expand our sovereign capability even at a time when resources are tight."
The French presidency said in a statement that a joint nuclear test simulation center will be built at Valduc in eastern France and will start operating from 2014.
It will enable French and British scientists to model the performances of nuclear materials in order to ensure the continued viability and safety of nuclear warheads and other materials.
They will also share equipment and facilities at the U.K. Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston in southern England.
In the non-nuclear sector, officials say Britain and France will work together to develop parts for future generations of nuclear submarines, new missiles, and unmanned aerial drones, as well as a system to counter mines at sea, military communications satellites, and cyber security.
They will also seek to strengthen their cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
In addition, the navies of the two countries will develop interoperability of their two aircraft carriers, to allow the jets of both nations to fly from each.
Historically, Britain and France have been military rivals, with great sea and land battles behind them like Waterloo and Trafalgar.
But, as British officers point out, there is also a more recent tradition of friendship between the two military forces, from the Crimean war in the mid-19th century through the First World War and up to the present.
By. Breffni O'Rourke
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.