As we come to the close of a fractious decade, and as the UK plans its future outside the European Union it is vital that we pick our allies carefully, especially when it comes to the world’s most unstable regions. 

This article was written by General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff from 2003 to 2006.

In Africa, the next frontier continent, Morocco’s enduring political stability and economic development stands as an impressive feat, as neighbouring regimes have been gripped by violent protests and jihadist terrorism. Meanwhile, in a troubled Middle East, countries like the UAE and Jordan have stable security structures that are leading the way in the struggle against religious extremism. Through investment in counterterrorism, a moderate brand of Islam and ambitious economic policies, these countries are on an upward trajectory – and importantly they present a good opportunity for strategic collaboration for Britain post Brexit, especially Morocco where historically the UK has less influence.

We are going to need dependable partners. In terms of security, the Sahel region is fast becoming the new front in the war against Islamic extremism, while the Horn of Africa and Yemen have also been the source of numerous jihadist plots in recent years. The British government needs allies in expanding its intelligence network in these areas. By regional standards, Morocco has a sophisticated army, and reliable intelligence services. Rabat’s security forces have broken up more than 45 terrorist networks linked to ISIS since 2013. Similarly, the UAE has an extensive counter-terrorism programme, including special measures for the choking of terrorist funds for extremist groups, which has been praised by the UN. These are certainly encouraging signs for any foreign government looking to develop its intelligence network.

Fundamentally, the UK needs allies which share our sense of the bigger picture on security. That’s why I am reassured to see Abu Dhabi develop a long-term strategy in the Horn of Africa. By its recent investment in Eritrea’s Assab port, as well as by the building of a string of regional bases, the UAE has demonstrated its commitment. It will not allow Somalia to fall back into chaos, and Emirati officials were alarmed by revelations that Qatar appears to have engineered terror attacks against Emirati interests in the country. Abu Dhabi understands that stability in the Horn is vital to the safety of its own borders – and indeed, this level of strategic rationale is what the British government should want to see in an ally. With our former Defence Secretary recently suggesting that the UK could build new bases in the Caribbean and the Far East, similar initiatives in North Africa or in the Horn could go a long way in cutting off terrorist plots at their source.

In North Africa, we should support the Moroccan efforts in providing logistical support and training for the militaries of the G5 Sahel countries (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso), areas long troubled by jihadist insurgency. At the time, Rabat had called upon foreign governments to throw their weight behind the initiative, but sustained support never came from the UK, whereas our Gulf allies, and France are extremely involved. With a growing number of terrorist threats to our country now originating in Africa, it is in the new Prime Minister’s interest to respond positively to Saharan security initiatives. It is unwise to let other countries lead on these issues, especially as we are leaving the EU.

And finally, the UK defence industry should seize the many commercial incentives to a security partnership. Last month, Morocco purchased a $250 million support package from the US government in order to help sustain its F-16 aircraft fleet, while the UAE has long been a client of British defence firms. These contracts are a big opportunity for the British government. In recent years, bilateral deals over the sale of BAE Systems’ Typhoon jets, for example, have brought billions of pounds in revenue to our economy. Closer cooperation would consistently make the UK the first port of call, rather than Paris or Washington, for future military upgrades. The forging of new trading partnerships will also be key to securing the success of the UK’s post-Brexit future. With strong records on terrorism and high levels of economic development, Rabat and Abu Dhabi are obvious candidates for enhanced cooperation.

Over the past twenty years, through investment in security infrastructure, as well as by championing outward-looking anti-radicalisation agendas, certain countries such as Morocco and the UAE have enjoyed continued stability and development, while also successfully negotiated the perils of religious extremism in troubled regions. As Boris Johnson seeks to build the strategic path for Global Britain in the next ten years, these are the kinds of allies that our country needs.

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Not sure what to say. Thought this was to be a heavy hitting big game / 5 eyes, Scandinavia and Japanese v EU type discussion and instead its a proposition for the western sahara which has never been an area of uk interest. Why get involved now.? Let France and its euro buddies focus its efforts there.. Let the UK focus its limited resources where it has had prior influence and current dependance of which the Gulf is indeed important. Yes provide logistical support to the French to fill gaps but no more, or is this about building a case… Read more »


The Islamic terrorists in the Sahel impact on many of our Commonwealth partners such as Nigeria, Ghana & The Gambia. So we do have links & interests there in addition to proactive compassion for the insecurity & terror they cause. It is also a big factor leading many Africans to cross the Sahara & Mediterranean to Europe.


Reliable allies – precisely why we should stop looking to the French and Germans to assist us in times of need and ensure our real allies in the US, Australia and Canada are at the top of our priorities.
Note of clarity however on the French – usually more reliable than the Germans – though with Macron and his EU fundamentalism not so at the moment.


Agreed we should be looking to flesh out Five Eyes and various other bilateral agreements within the Anglosphere; USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, U.K., to build a fully fledged military alliance with NATO style integration and commitment.

Steve Martin

I echo this and quote the previous defence secretary who today posted on her last days in office, “On Tuesday, at the request of the Foreign Secretary, I make further calls to help find more support for freedom of navigation. Thank God for America.” The implied lack of interest from European countries speaks volumes.


Sounds like a ploy to get us involved with French and thus EU spheres of interest they never stop do they,and speaking of reliable, why illustrate the article with a picture of a type 45?you have to laugh.

Sid Morley

Well Germany has shown her true colours, by not signing up to provide assistance in the Gulf. Think it is time as we leave the EU, to address who our true friends and allies are.


The 3 CTF groups in the ME region are multi national. EU NavalFor is there along with other eastern and western nations. Germany is part of the CTF and has various units in the CTF organisation from time to time.
OK so they are not there all the time but there are German Naval units from time to time along with lots of other navies.


Germany had just flat out refused to send ships to the Gulf.


They have refused to assist in doing Convoys for shipping. Germany has sent vessels to the various CTFs and the EU Force this part of the world previously. Heck I have seen the things alongside in BHR.
The fact that a lot of German vessels are Kaput probably has a lot to do with it!


Reliable allies, lets look at the issue with Iran, the EU implements sanctions against Syria, the UK enact these sanctions by escorting a tanker with Iranian oil on its way to Syria into Gib. The EU then does not back or support the UK when one of its tankers is taken. So the EU is not very reliable. The US and Trump cause the hightened tensions with Iran when they pulled out of the nuclear weapons freeze deal. Then tells the UK your on your own, thanks for the help US. The RN has a large deployemnt of ships to… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

I’m not getting into let’s bash the Europeans mode as frankly I’m tired of it, even though I understand the frustration and am a brexiteer. It’s all very sad, we are all allies if nations decide to send ships or not.

But I agree with 5 eyes, Japan as our future natural partners. I also believe Scandanavian nations are reliable allies, and the Dutch too.

As always, the UK is torn between two camps.


Daniele, I am not into European bashing but like you I am tired of the UK being caught in the middle, we seem to implement laws then get hung out to dry.

Daniele Mandelli

Agree. And just for the record my “bashing the Europeans” comment was not aimed at you Ron, but generally.

Robert Stevenson

Not sure how the eu gets the blame, as they are being forced by US DT to implement sanctions or face sanctions themselves. Our gulf commitments are NATO and local agreements. Absolutely nothing to do with the EU

Ps Germany are have major problems with their new naval ships/submarine, other than their support ships


Robert, the reason that I mentioned the EU is that the tanker that was halted was on its way to Syria. The Eu have placed sanctions on Syria for such things as oil. That the oil was from Iran made the situation even more complicated. So the Royal Marines was implementing EU sanctions not US sanctions. God the world is complicated, would it not be better if we could all go down the pub and have a cold beer.

Nick C

I think that it is quite thought provoking. The point that is being made is that we have to look where the next threat might originate, not just at where they are now. So we need to get our heads out of the Middle East and look elsewhere, not being reactive but proactive in nipping things in the bud before they develop into a Bin Laden sized problem. I suspect that the deployment of three Chinooks to help the French in Mali might be an example of this. That said we also need to look at where threats may develop,… Read more »


I think we can safely assume a CANZUK alliance will happen.

Good point on China there. Morocco is a bit odd, as others have pointed out.

I would’ve thought Kenya and Nigeria would be the first allies to help? They have a bigger terrorism problem and are suffering greatly.

South Africa is obviously very strategic and their depreciated currency makes investment into the Western Cape more affordable.

This would be a good way to repair Commonwealth ties. Perhaps start giving some value to the members?

Nick C

Agreed that Morocco is not an obvious choice, I think that Jackson was holding it up as being much more stable than others. I take your point about Kenya and Nigeria, and we should be doing more if we can, but we have to be asked, and I suspect that national pride plays a part.
Also, guess what, the Chinese are in both countries, lending money, building infrastructure, and generally getting their feet under the table. I think we are in for an interesting few years.


Yes that’s a good point – we can’t compete economically.

However, the Chinese strategy seems to be a ball and chain of debt… rather than anything helpful.


It’s worth noting that the Germans probably have no spare assets to send to the gulf, they can barley cover their own coast. The French are as stretched as us.

This is a time to start trying to build bridges with China, propose a joint mission, would also have the added benefit of puttting the Trump administration in its place showing them we have other options. Also look to work with CANZUK countries and smaller European nations like Denmark, Norway and Netherlands.

If China is not onboard then got to japan and South Korea.

Rob Young

I can think of one long term benefit/disadvantage to Morocco depending on how things go. For example, every time Spain starts on about Gibraltar the UK sends a ship on a curtesy visit to a Moroccan port near Ceuta and someone leks to the press that perhaps it’s about time Spain gave up it’s own ‘colonial empire’… But as I say there are both advantages/disadvantages to such an option.


Good point. We gave up our empire decades ago. All that remain are those who choose to remain, I think.


You can’t build relationships with a country that suppress millions of their own people and are still a communist dictatorship. They also threaten their neighbours. Sadly we seem to have forgotten that sometimes you have to be prepared to fight to protect what you believe is important and a reliance on allies can go too far.


Global Britain did very well last year in defense sale to allies.

The UK must have SOME reliable partners out there to set a record! 😀



Thankfully we have a great many allies worldwide. Of course we should choose them carefully. I wonder where in the Far East is available for a potential UK base? It would be great if we helped eradicate Islamic terror in the Sahel. That would be a service to humanity as well as reducing those fleeing to Europe from that dire situation.


Forgive me for coming into this discussion, but I can’t let it be said that France is not an ally of the United Kingdom. France has declined the offer, because we don’t want to be associated with the policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran of President Donald Trump, because we seek to preserve the agreement limiting the Iranian nuclear program. Tensions have risen steadily in the Gulf since the American withdrawal in May 2018 of the Iranian nuclear deal, followed by the reinstatement of heavy US sanctions against Iran, which cause it to lose all of its buyers of oil.… Read more »