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General Jon Cresswell: "A bilateral relationship requires constant work".

This British officer is currently serving in the French army as part of a unique defence cooperation. On the occasion of this week's visit by King Charles III, he explains the practical benefits.
Général Jon Cresswell : « Une relation bilatérale nécessite un travail constant »

Since the summer of 2021, Brigadier General Jon Cresswell has been Deputy General Operations at the 1era division of the French Army, based in Besançon; as part of the exchanges of officers that have been strengthened since the Treaty of Amiens in 2016, a French general is at the same time deputy general of the 1era British Division, York. After completing his initial training at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, Jon Cresswell served mainly in the naval artillery, in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Norway, but also in the armoured corps in Iraq and then in the Sahel as part of the Mixed Multinational Force deployed against Boko Haram.

It was in France that this French-speaker received his higher education, at the École de guerre and then at the Collège des hautes études militaires (CHEM), while studying at the 72nd Military Academy in Paris.e session of the IHEDN, where he was an auditor in the "defence policy" major. This history enthusiast, who holds a master's degree in this discipline, is also president of the Société historique de l'artillerie royale.

- WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO TAKE ON THIS DEPUTY DIVISIONAL COMMAND IN THE PARTNER COUNTRY?

Although I did all my higher military training in France and was involved in operations in French-speaking Africa, I had never actually served in France itself. So it was quite natural that I wanted to do this exchange within the French armed forces. In itself, this post also offered an excellent opportunity to work at divisional level. I had previously served at brigade level and in the field of defence policy, but never at divisional or corps level. Having specialised in targeting (effects, intelligence, fires), this post of Deputy Commander Operations includes responsibility for the divisional deep battle, an area in which I wanted to develop my skills. And for the soldier in me, there's also a real pleasure in finding myself at tactical level.

- WHAT ARE THE CULTURAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE ARMY OF THE FRENCH REPUBLIC AND THAT OF THE BRITISH CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY?

I find it fascinating to compare the two democratic systems, because in my view, the constitution of your Fifth Republic is monarchical, with its strong executive clearly mandated by a two-round election. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, is a parliamentary democracy within a constitutional monarchy. In both cases, the armed forces accept their subordination to the democratically elected civilian power, although in the case of the French it is in the name of France, whereas in the case of the British it is in the name of the sovereign. The latter system can be seen as an effective way of demonstrating the apolitical nature of the armed forces.

More broadly, the cultural question fascinates me because our two armies are the result of the history of their respective nations, France being both a land and a sea power, whereas Great Britain was primarily a sea power. Moreover, the social characteristics of the two nations have also shaped their relationship with their respective armies. Finally, it is interesting to note the differences between our two high command formations: at Higher Command and Staff Course (HCSC), the British prepare their senior officers to command in operations, while at the Centre des Hautes Etudes Militaires (CHEM), France trains its future generals to be politico-strategic actors in the service of the government.

- WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BENEFITS OF SUCH COOPERATION FROM AN OPERATIONAL POINT OF VIEW?

It has often been said that the UK and France have similar views and interests in the world, as well as security responsibilities in Europe. As your President remarked recently during our Prime Minister's visit, our two nations are "endowed" in terms of nuclear deterrence. There are therefore useful synergies to be exploited, under the aegis of various initiatives such as that of Lancaster House in 2010, which will no doubt not be the last. Our bilateral relationship has worked in this way since the Entente Cordiale of 1904, and British officers began studying at the École de Guerre shortly afterwards.

However, to come back to the cultural question, we remain very different, and so working together implies technical, conceptual and human interoperability. Functions such as mine help to improve the latter, while supporting the first two. A bilateral relationship requires constant work to build trust, to ensure understanding, and also to find areas for future cooperation.

- HOW WILL THIS EXPERIENCE HELP YOU IN YOUR FUTURE CAREER?

It already is, because my work with the 1era division in Besançon has enabled me to improve my tactical training, particularly in terms of deep battle, as well as at a broader operational level. It has also given me real depth in defensive combat, with France of course, but also with American, Belgian, Dutch and German partners, as is my job. More importantly, I think experiences like this open up our intellectual horizons, allowing us to see things from a different angle. And that's invaluable in any professional field.