Is bilateral defence cooperation too obvious to matter? While IR theory is rich when it comes to identifying the characteristics and challenges of multilateral cooperation, it has thus far remained patchy and contradictory when it comes to the narrowest form of cooperation: bilateralism. The paper will seek to fill that gap by questioning the assumed ease of bilateral cooperation as the ultimate form of minilateralism, and will propose a contribution to a middle-range theory of bilateral defence cooperation. Notably, it will present a set of four interrelated concepts, the cooperation challenges. The challenges form as many variables that tend to impede the conduct of cooperation between two states, but also provide opportunities for getting to effective cooperation. The theory will be tested against developments in Franco-British defence cooperation in the context of the implementation of the 2010 Lancaster House Treaties. The paper will present the results of three case studies of UK-French cooperation: the military intervention in Libya in 2011, the development of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF), and armament cooperation in the missile sector. For each case, the paper will present the effects of cooperation challenges, as well as the mitigation strategies and the ensuing transformative dynamics, in order to enhance our understanding of the processes of bilateral defence cooperation.
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