As a result, the world may start to see the UK a bit more like it sees… France: an unrepentant and shameless nuclear power who would not hesitate in trumpeting a nuclear arsenal increase just a few weeks after the Nuclear Ban Treaty came into force and just a few weeks before the NPT Review Conference, an event which takes place every five years. But overall, France is always keen to see its allies take more responsibility for the defence of the continent so is likely to welcome this European contribution to the continent’s overall security. In Paris, the UK will have a friend - and France will gain another champion of greater transparency on nuclear weapons arsenals.
A focus on the Indo-Pacific
The most important shift in the UK’s declaratory posture relates with the Indo-pacific region - which was given prominence in the document issued last Tuesday to the point of being referenced more than thirty times. Yet the so-called "tilt" might be an exaggeration or even a misnomer. The tilt focuses on deepening trade ties, notably by seeking membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and observer status in ASEAN. On the security and defence fronts, HMS Queen Elizabeth’s maiden voyage will take the new British aircraft carrier to Asia and in the longer run the UK will have a persistent presence in the region. But it will remain modest (one warship).
The UK’s attempt to deepen partnerships with key friendly countries such as Japan, Korea, Australia and India also mirrors France’s policies. But whether London will manage to have the "broadest and most integrated presence" of any European nation in the Indo-Pacific, notably by deepening relationship with India remains to be seen - indications may come following Prime Ministers Johnson’s first post-lockdown visit to India next month.
On the return of great power competition, the UK has positioned itself strategically: chart its own path rather than be coerced or defined by it, and work with partners when it can. On China specifically, London’s tone is very similar to that of Paris (although the UK has taken a stronger stance on Hong-Kong and on Huawei than most European countries). They both see it - as the EU does - as a "systemic competitor", but also a country that is too big to be ignored and with which channels of communication must remain open. They will need to cooperate with China on global issues, for instance on climate and biodiversity. Paradoxically, this is one of the reasons why many people in Brussels continue to support the Comprehensive Investment Agreement between the EU and China. They see it as a way of sustaining a regular dialogue with Beijing.
Those goals do not include an avowed "containment" of Beijing and British officials insist on the independent nature of the UK’s contribution to security in the region - music to French ears. The reaffirmed British commitment to upholding the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas is also a key French priority. Overall, one would be hard-pressed to find a radically different approach in London and in Paris.
A complicated relationship with the European Union
The big elephant in the room however is most definitely the absence of structured cooperation with the EU. Ironically, the UK’s vision for Global Britain shares similarities with the EU’s, and by default, France’s foreign policy ambitions. Like the EU, the UK wants to strengthen the power of regulatory diplomacy. Both want to invest more resources into research and development to deal with existing threats of cyberwarfare, climate change and future pandemics. Trade is seen as a tool to promote openness - partly to act as a bulwark against China (although neither the EU or the UK will say so explicitly).
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