It was a demanding yet successful summer for British defence, and for the Royal Navy in particular.
Across the Baltic region, the accomplishments of the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Operation Baltic Protector served a timely and pertinent reminder that a stable Europe ensures a secure United Kingdom.
This article was submitted by Rob Clark (@RobertClark87), a Postgraduate Researcher and British Army veteran.
Further afield, the illegal seizure of the Union flagged Stena Impero tanker in the Strait of Hormuz by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), highlighted the crucial work the Royal Navy undertakes safeguarding British interests on a daily basis.
The antagonistic behaviour of the Iranian regime, since the re-imposition of US sanctions in May for Tehran’s continued breeching of the failing Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), resulted in the recently established International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC). Based out of Bahrain, the United States (US)-led international Task Force will seek to ensure the safe passage of its members’ seafaring cargo, whilst maintaining uninterrupted access to the vital sea lanes around the Arabian peninsula.
The international approach of such a task force highlights how both the US and the UK seek collaboration with and support of trusted allies and partners. Australia was quick to announce its participation to the IMSC, deploying both a P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft to the region by the end of this year, and a frigate in January next year on a six-month deployment.
For an increased naval presence in the Gulf, gaining regional legitimacy through the support of regional powers is significant. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have all signed up to the maritime task force with various commitments.
As those heady summer months have now given way to a cooling autumn, the tempo of British defence shows no such regression. Whilst summer showcased the highly successful Operation Baltic Protector, autumn is now set to highlight the biannual Joint Warrior exercise; involving nearly 4,000 troops from 14 allied nations, 58 aircraft, 16 ships and three submarines.
Taking place across Scotland and northern England over the next two weeks, this multinational UK-led exercise will test the defensive capabilities of the UK and its partnered nations; 11 from NATO, in addition to, significantly, the Japanese Self-Defence Forces, and the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces.
Whilst Joint Warrior is conducted over October across the British Isles, the IMSC is now operational, ensuring daily escort duties and safe passage to the Gulf peninsula’s vulnerable sea lanes, including the Strait of Hormuz through which 20% of global oil flows every year. In addition, security is maintained at the Bab-el-Mandeb, a 16-mile-wide strait located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. Vulnerable to both pirates operating in the region in addition to Iranian interference, the strait connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden; a crucial sea lane which links the region directly to the Mediterranean Sea and Europe, via Suez.
What links these two events together, the noticeable and continuous UK lead in repeated European military exercises with NATO partners, and the leading role the UK has in the IMSC, is the dynamism with which London exercises its foreign and defence policy, linked tightly to its vision for a Global Britain. Once the UK leaves the European Union, London will still maintain a strong lead in European defence matters through the proven framework of NATO and the strength of the Anglo-American strategic relationship, in addition to other non-NATO European allies. But crucially, the UK will also look to international partners with which it shares long and significant ties with to sustain and indeed develop economic, diplomatic, cultural and security relations.
Maintaining uninterrupted access to crucial sea lanes including the Straits at Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb, against both state and non-state interference, is central to these British interests. Whilst one eye is locked onto sustaining a secure Europe with NATO partners, it will be in a return east of Suez to which British foreign policy will seek to develop going forwards in 2020.
Advancing already strong historical and cultural ties with regional powers including Oman, the UAE, India, Japan, Singapore and Australia will be fundamental to achieving this exciting vision for Britain.
London shares strong economic and military relations with the above powers. In particular, the UAE has recently displayed highly encouraging signs for future levels of defence and trade development.
Its participation in the IMSC highlights its emergence as a regional military power, willing to engage with security concerns in a multinational forum, whilst bilateral UK defence ties with the Emirates are also growing; this week Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, held talks with the UK Ministry of Defence’s senior adviser on the Middle East, with both Iran and the IMSC likely high on the agenda.
Further, economic ties with the UAE have witnessed rapid growth in the last decade. With a trade surplus of £4.3 billion in 2018, and a 68% growth rate for UK goods exported since 2008, trade with the UAE should certainly be a consideration for further development going into 2020.
Now with an emerging defence and security relationship to back this increasingly strategic partnership, relations with the UAE are a case study for how London can project its foreign policy going forwards to truly make Britain global once more.