Bosnia gets London and Paris on same side

John Major said yesterday that the British and French armed forces "are closer today than at any time in the last 50 years."

At the end of the Anglo-French summit last night the Prime Minister and President Jacques Chirac made it clear that Bosnia has provided a bitter lesson in the constraints of multilateral action and the limits of the transatlantic alliance.

They agreed that the shared experience in Bosnia was "highly relevant" to the development of credible European defence arrangements, reinforcing this with their public pledge to closer military and nuclear co-operation. Both countries have at times shared an intense irritation at US policy in the Balkans, a feeling only partly mitigated by the recent US peace initiative.

Earlier, at a ceremony to inaugurate the new Franco-British Euro Air Group planning cell at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, the two leaders showed their support for the much-criticised UN commanders in the field by decorating Generals Sir Michael Rose and Bertrand de Lapresle. And they rejected suggestions at their joint press conference that British and French forces could have done more to prevent mass killings in Bosnia.

They are considering closer ties at army staff level, while conducting joint seminars to examine the lessons of Bosnia for future peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

Besides the air agreement other defence links are to be developed. The two navies are shortly to sign a "letter of intent" to facilitate greater cooperation at sea.

The high profile accorded to the inauguration of a planning cell with just 11 permanent staff, overseen by a French major-general and a British air commodore, underlined the determination of both governments to exploit the common interests of two ex-colonial powers in an often unsympathetic world. Speaking at High Wycombe, both leaders stressed the numerous military ties between Britain and France and the fact that British troops were serving under French control in Bosnia, and vice-versa.

Mr. Major said the leaders had two and a half hours of talks on Russia, the Middle East, Bosnia, Europe and a range of defence matters. "What we are beginning to see is an increasing move towards global partnership between our two countries.

"If our predecessors had hit upon this particular idea a few hundred years ago, the history of Europe would have been rather different," Mr. Major added.

"The interests of Britain and France march together, sail together and fly together, both for the security of Britain and France and for the wider security of Europe."

President Chirac said Britain and France had the same strategic interests and must put a "credible European defence identity into practice, based on a strong transatlantic relationship." Since 1989 there had been an increased need, and increased opportunities, for intervention world-wide.

The need to coordinate both tactical and strategic air transport was one of the lessons of British and French involvement in the Gulf in 1990- 1, in Bosnia and in Rwanda, and the new Air Group would help use the available air transport with maximum efficiency.