PARIS and LONDON — Leaders in France and the U.K. faced starkly different responses to decisions to participate in an allied missile strike against Syria.

The former was widely credited for demonstrating a suprior airborne nuclear capacity, while the latter was criticized by some for not seeking approval from lawmakers.

‘France plays in the big leagues’

In France, President Emmanuel Macron also said on Sunday night television he had advised U.S. president Donald Trump to limit strikes to Syrian chemical weapons.

“This is an operational capability, which stems from nuclear deterrence,” said Bertrand Slaski, manager of defense and security at consultancy CEIS. Training for an airborne atomic weapon prepares pilots to fly complex missions, with a chain of support that grants France an autonomy to hit distant targets.

“Not everyone can do that,” he said. “There was an operational success.”

That missile capability helped put France on a highly restricted operational map.

“That shows France plays in the big leagues,” said Jean-Vincent Brisset, senior fellow at think-tank Intitut des Relations Internationales et Stratégiques. “The French assets deployed showed a technical capacity and showed its naval cruise missile for the first time,” he added.

France deployed 17 aircraft and five warships, with the latter backed up with an auxiliary tanker.

The French Air Force deployed five Rafale fighters, supported by four Mirage 2000, two airborne warning and control systems aircraft, and six inflight refuelling jets, the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. François Lecointre told a media conference April 14. The Rafales took off from French air bases and were escorted by Mirage 2000. The pilots flew for 10 hours and the aircraft were refuelled five times in flight — three on the way out, twice on their return.

Those Rafale pilots fired nine Scalp cruise missiles, while the French Navy fired three of the naval version of the long-range weapon, he said. The French Navy sailed three multimission frigates, backed by an anti-submarine frigate and an air defense frigate.

The Languedoc frigate fired the naval cruise missiles.

Those French missiles were among the 105 weapons fired by British, French and U.S. forces in the early morning of April 14.

Meanwhile, France claimed a political weight, with Macron saying he had called Trump to limit the airstrike to chemical warfare sites.

“The second thing is that we have also convinced him that he must limit his strikes to chemical weapons, at a time when there was a media furor via tweet, as I’m sure you noticed,” Macron said in a wide ranging interview with BFM TV, Mediapart website, and RMC radio.

The strike risked releasing chemical weapons into the atmosphere, which was “extremely irresponsible,” said Brisset. “That surprised me,” he said, adding that only the heat from a nuclear explosion could guarantee destruction of those lethal chemical weapons.

Macron insisted the missile strikes were “legitimate,” even though the attacks had not been authorized by the UN Security Council.

The French head of state and commander in chief is due to go to Washington as the first foreign leader invited on a state visit to the U.S.

The French parliament held a debate on Monday on the missile strike, with lawmakers from opposition conservative and leftwing parties criticizing the legality of the operation. There is no vote after the debate.

In UK, heated exchange

The air strikes against the Syrian facilities were also the subject of parliamentary debate in the U.K., where prime minister Theresa May defended the government’s decision to join the French and U.S. allies, justifying the action without seeking the approval of British lawmakers.

In often heated exchanges with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and some other opposition lawmakers, May said Britain took part in the strikes because the government could not wait to alleviate further human suffering caused by chemical attacks.

Parliament was in recess last week but could have been recalled for an emergency debate and vote if required.

The British strikes by Royal Air Force Tornado jets against Syrian chemical weapons facilities near the town of Homs were taken without the consent of parliament, sparking a row in the House of Commons over the legitimacy of the attacks.

The government said the attack was legal, though Corbyn said that was “questionable” and called for the introduction of a war powers act which requires parliament to give its approval before the military is committed to action.

British Prime Minister Theresa May attends a press conference at 10 Downing Street on April 14, 2018 in London, England after RAF launched four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s carrying Storm Shadow missiles to hit a military facility in Syria. (Simon Dawson/ WPA Pool/Getty Images)
British Prime Minister Theresa May attends a press conference at 10 Downing Street on April 14, 2018 in London, England after RAF launched four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s carrying Storm Shadow missiles to hit a military facility in Syria. (Simon Dawson/ WPA Pool/Getty Images)


Legally, the government is not required to seek the approval of parliament for military action but it has become the convention since the Iraq war in 2003.

The prime minister brushed aside accusations from Corbyn that Britain had signed up for the rapid action against the Syrians under orders from the U.S.

“Let me be absolutely clear, we have acted in the best interests of the U.K. in taking this decision,” May told parliament.