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Britain, France Sign Historic Defense Pacts

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L), and British Prime Minister David Cameron exchange copies after signing a treaty during an Anglo-French summit at Lancaster House in central London, 2 Nov 2010

France and Britain have signed treaties that will see the two nuclear-armed powers cooperate on defense, including a joint rapid deployment force and shared use of aircraft carriers.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameroon signed the treaties in London, during the press conference that followed, Mr. Cameron said it was a historical step.

"And so today, we open a new chapter in a long history of cooperation on defense and security between Britain and France," said Prime Minister Cameron.

He said the treaties will see Britain and France form a joint army expeditionary force and share aircraft carriers. A nuclear treaty will see the establishment of a center in Britain to test nuclear technology and a center in France to carry out the testing.

"The result will make our citizens safer, more secure and better protected in the global age of uncertainty in which we now live," added Cameron. "This will also help us to maintain and strengthen our defenses at a time when national finances are severely challenged."

London School of Economics British defense expert John Kent says the deal has become a necessary result of defense spending cuts.

"It will deal with the issue which we have been facing since the 1950s whereby escalating defense costs cannot be met without a significant reduction in the commitments that either or both countries undertake," noted Kent. "So it will have the advantages of reducing expenditure and enabling hard choices to be avoided."

Two weeks ago the British government announced cuts to its armed forces in a bid to rein in a mammoth national deficit.

Kent says the deal struck between France and Britain does not necessarily signal a broader move across Europe.

"I would be very surprised if it is the first step to wider deals because there has been a far greater match between Britain and France in terms of capabilities and approaches to defense and defense cooperation has been on the agenda," added Kent.

Britain and France are long-time allies, but their political and military aims have not always been in unison. Most recently, France refused to support the British-backed invasion of Iraq in 2003.