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"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."
– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
UK, France Sign Nuclear Collaboration Treaty
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Robert Golan-Vilella

The United Kingdom and France have agreed to cooperate in maintaining their nuclear weapons stockpiles, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said last month in a joint press conference.

The Nov. 2 announcement came at the conclusion of a one-day bilateral summit as Cameron and Sarkozy signed two treaties committing their countries to a deeper military partnership. One pact addresses a broad range of defense and security issues. The other states that the two parties will cooperate in nuclear weapons safety and security, stockpile certification, and “counter nuclear or radiological terrorism.”

Under the terms of the latter treaty, the United Kingdom and France will build two joint nuclear research facilities. At one, in Valduc, France, the two countries will perform hydrodynamic experiments on their nuclear warheads. The facility will “use radiography to measure the performance of materials at extremes of temperature and pressure,” British Minister of Defence Liam Fox told the House of Commons Nov. 2. “This enables us to model the performance and safety of the nuclear weapons in our stockpile without undertaking nuclear explosive tests,” he said.

The Valduc site “shall comprise areas for solely national and joint use,” the nuclear cooperation treaty states. Each nation “shall conduct all the trials needed to support its national programmes…without scrutiny from” the other. In addition, each country’s national area is to be staffed by its own personnel, and access to that area “shall be subject to prior approval” by its own national authorities.

The second facility, which will be built at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston, England, will pursue “development work to underpin the technologies used in the [Valduc] facility throughout its operational life,” according to the treaty. No fissile material is to be used in the experiments performed at this location, the treaty says.

In addition to nuclear stockpile management, the two powers agreed to “develop jointly some of the equipment and technologies for the next generation of nuclear submarines,” a joint declaration from the summit said. In non-nuclear areas, the two countries pledged to develop a joint expeditionary force, allow each country’s aircraft to operate off the other’s aircraft carriers, create a framework for addressing cybersecurity issues, and work together to build a new generation of unmanned aerial vehicles, according to the summit declaration.

In his press conference with Sarkozy, Cameron emphasized Paris and London’s common interests as the driving force behind the treaties. He said that the two countries “are natural partners; the third- and the fourth-largest defense spenders in the world, both with nuclear responsibilities and both with permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council.” Sarkozy concurred, stating that “we have common commitments and we will shoulder them together.”

Cameron also highlighted the economic incentives for increased collaboration, saying the policy shift “is about practical, hard-headed cooperation between sovereign countries. It is about sharing development and equipment costs, eliminating unnecessary duplication, coordinating logistics, and aligning our research programs.”

Indeed, the move comes just as both nations are facing severe financial pressures at home. Two weeks prior to concluding the agreements with France, the British government unveiled its Strategic Defence and Security Review, in which it announced that it would cut defense spending by 8 percent in real terms over the next four years. (See ACT, November 2010.) Commentators in the international media immediately identified the need to cut costs as the principal motivating force for the treaties, dubbing the new partnership “the entente frugale.” The term is a play on the Entente Cordiale, an early 20th century agreement between Paris and London that resolved several long-standing disputes and reduced tensions between the powers.

When asked how much money would be saved as a result of the treaties, a spokesman for Cameron said that the British government did not currently have an estimate and that many of the details would be worked out over the next year, according to a press briefing summary from Cameron’s office.

The prescribed duration of the nuclear treaty is the life cycle of the Valduc and Aldermaston facilities, which “shall be 50 years or until such other time as mutually agreed by the Parties,” the agreement says. The defense and security treaty is to remain in force indefinitely.