The recent announcement that the United Kingdom will increase its defence engagement with the Sultanate of Oman reinforces a historic strategic alliance between the two states, highlighting a relationship dating back to the 18th century.

Robert Clark is British military veteran currently studying at postgraduate level at Kings College London. As a researcher he has experience within both private think tanks and the UK government, including submitting evidence for the Defence Select Committee. His expertise includes UK foreign policy and Anglo-American military relations.  

Christopher Galvin has served as a British military officer and is currently pursing postgraduate study at the University of Nottingham, reading International Law. With research interests in international security, Christopher’s previous work has explored UK foreign policy and the role of NATO. 

Based around a respect for national sovereignty and access to critical trading routes, it is with one eye to Britain’s global posture post-Brexit which London should seek to build upon the already strong Anglo-Omani alliance, in an effort to re-affirm the UK’s geostrategic position for future years to come.

The establishment of the new UK Joint Logistics Support Base at the deep-water port in Duqm, to be completed by March 2019, allows the UK basing rights for both submarines and, crucially for its size, the new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers – the flagship of the Royal Navy and a statement of British maritime prestige. The announcement by the UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson of the UK base, in addition to the bilateral Memorandum of Understanding and Services Agreement signed last August, underscores the deepening defence engagement emerging between Muscat and London.

With the British historically keen to maintain a presence around the strategic shipping lanes across the Arabian Peninsula, both at the Red Sea and at the Strait of Hormuz, it was with a view to the protection of India, the crown of the British Empire, which Britain regarded its relations with Oman. Relations between the two states were strengthen during the British defence of the Sultanate throughout the Cold War period, in particular the SAS and Royal Air Force campaigns during the 1950s against rebels financed and supported by both the Soviet Union and China.

Fast forward half a century into a region witnessing an increasingly assertive China, which shows little regard for international norms and values, in which approximately 80% of global oil is transported, and it is with one eye to the Indo-Pacific, and to the emerging markets in east Asia, which the UK must firmly look, ensuring both economic growth and, crucially, maintaining its central role in upholding the rules-based international order. Whilst the UK maintains sovereign territory on Cyprus, including at RAF Akrotiri, and military basing rights at both the UAE and Bahrain, the addition of the port facilities at Duqm solidifies a triangulation of British power projection across the Middle East.

This triangulation of British military bases is important for maintaining national interests further afield. Duqm, crucially, located at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, allows the Royal Navy a springboard into the wider Indo-Pacific region, fulfilling several key strategic objectives. The necessity of maintaining maritime freedom of navigation patrols; ensuring access of the vulnerable shipping lanes crucial to global trade; and conducting anti-piracy operations with international allies are all of national interest to the UK. These interests should be reinforced once the UK leaves the European Union, seeking to strengthen old alliances whilst establishing new ones throughout the Indo-Pacific; a region of increasing geopolitical significance including the prominent maritime choke points and strategic shipping lanes.

Due to the current geopolitical realities in the region, states are pursuing their own national interests, often in direct competition with one another. China’s pursuit for hegemony within the Indo-Pacific has become profoundly evident in recent years – particularly Beijing’s willingness to deploy its military to project its power within the region. Coupled with, and often at times in support of this ambition, China has shown a reluctance to adhere to the rules of international law; increasingly displaying a Machiavellian approach to its regional foreign policy, to ultimately enhance its global position.

In 2013 the Philippines forwarded a claim to the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) regarding China’s illegal acquisition of maritime features within the South China Sea. This case set a significant legal precedent, where in 2016 the court unanimously concluded that China had indeed acted illegally. The PCA made clear that Chinese assertions regarding intrinsic historical rights to resources within the region, specifically those within the ‘9-dash line’, were ill-founded and held no legitimate legal grounding. However, with the absence of a suitable mechanism for the enforcing the PCA’s legally binding decision, China has been able to act in a manner which best suits its intentions. Consequently, China publicly rebuked the PCA’s conclusion and disconcertingly, adopted a retaliatory stance with belligerence in defiance of this globally important and eminent legal institution.

Such behaviour corroborates Beijing’s willingness to defy the rules-based system in order to enhance its own geopolitical position within the Indo-Pacific region. Although such an approach to the global world order may be perceived as unsurprising, it should be noted that China has not always been so happy to defy the institutions of international law. Previously China had largely been regarded as an abiding state of international law, namely that of sovereignty and the principle of non-interference, lesser that of universal human rights. However, with disregard for the PCA’s landmark ruling, it is clear that China has adopted a new approach in its international relations.

Importantly, it is not just the South China Sea where China has displayed a propensity to display such tactics. This has been evident throughout the Indo-Pacific. Specifically, this regards the String of Pearls theory, a geopolitical concept referring to China’s ambitions and conduct in the Indian Ocean. Here, China has utilised a synthesis of military assets and commercial outlets to dominate sea lines of communication stretching from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. Although Beijing has strongly argued that its actions are nothing more than necessary moves to encourage and enhance trade partnerships, commentators have disagreed. Instead, such behaviour exposes a clear geopolitical agenda to dominate major maritime choke points, furthering China’s military reach within the Indo-Pacific, further risking regional instability.

The ability for the UK to launch a revamped and modernised Royal Navy into such a clearly important region, premised on the necessity for ensuring an inclusive Indo-Pacific for the maintenance of global trade flows, is of such significance to British national interests, especially post-Brexit, that the deepening Anglo-Omani partnership is an example of what a truly Global Britain strategy should seek to encompass.

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Geoffrey Roach
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Geoffrey Roach

Now ALL we need are the ships!…and sooner rather than later.

maurice10
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maurice10

Depending on how the final Brexit deal goes because it’s far from sealed, regardless what the EU says. If by chance we do leaved on the “29th March 2019, then as I’ve said before a free, to openly trade policy, cannot be truly successful without a navy of truly global reach. Placing a solitary frigate or destroyer in a far-off ocean is not global. We need to have a surface fleet capable of stationing three or four ships in certain sensitive zones, for a considerable amount of time. New trade deals will in many cases come with an element of… Read more »

Levi Goldsteinberg
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Levi Goldsteinberg

Really interesting article, cheers

David Steeper
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Seconded Levi.

Cam Hunter
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Cam Hunter

Well we did once protect that whole region up untill 1971 when we decided to pull out, even when the UAE Emirates (kingdoms) said they would pay the cost of Britain protecting them, Royal Navy costs and everything but the then UK government said no and pulled out of the area, I bet we aren’t being given the money it costs this time lol. And who came knocking straight after Britain left the UAE/ Oman region and when they became independent IRAN with Navy destroyers.

Gavin Gordon
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Gavin Gordon

TH must be a very poorly designed BOT. God help it if it’s human.

Dick Steele
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Dick Steele

With a former protectorate?

David Steeper
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Really enjoyed the article. Thank you sir. Have one point in relation to the Brit academic ‘detained’ by UAE. I have a feeling this could be related to our stengthening relationship with Oman. The UAE has a claim on Omani territory that they’ve been pushing increasingly strongly in the last year or so.

captain P Wash.
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captain P Wash.

Christ , You just got to love a determined Troll/Keyboard warrior. ( Having typed that though, I do see where he Is coming from, ((to a degree)), It’s not like we are really making any difference in real life Defence circles or decision making, Is It ? but there are better ways to express freedom of speech on a public forum without having to lower yourself to such an extent that you just make yourself look like a prized Twat.) Wonder If He/It/she would be the same on somewhere like FB If His/It’s/Her name and Profile were Visible ?

Geoffrey Hicking
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Geoffrey Hicking

I know I should join up, as should everybody on this forum. If we did, then the RN would man more ships and the numbers would increase. That is the only contribution we can make- putting our money where our mouths are.

Then again, I am an incompetent coward and I only just got in a stable relationship with a prospect of a stable career ahead.

There is no excuse. Hopefully I will take the plunge at some point.

captain P Wash.
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captain P Wash.

Some of Us, have done our stint already.

Geoffrey Hicking
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Geoffrey Hicking

I didn’t mean to insult you. I apologise for my comment.

captain P Wash.
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captain P Wash.

Geoffrey, No Insult detected, just stating that some of us have Served and suffered or enjoyed the experience.

Geoffrey Hicking
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Geoffrey Hicking

Ah heck. I give in. Its impossible to make a comment on any forum without being tripped up by something. Even when i think things through, there’s always something that goes wrong. I give up. I won’t post on these forums again. My inferiority is always exposed. I apologise for bothering everyone. You are all wise interesting people to read. I’ve exposed myself as an immature millennial that needs to grow up and who s an absolute embarrassment. I shall think about my actions and try to improve, no matter how impossible that may be. Mr Wash, i have slurred… Read more »

Geoffrey Hicking
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Geoffrey Hicking

I know there is nothing I can do to make up, but please understand that I am sorry for insulting you with my generalised slur. My apology should be rejected because I am a coward and I will never measure up to you, even if I served I will be younger and more foolish, and there is no way to right that. I shall deliver an apology to you when you are on this forum again, and then i shall leave you alone.

captain P Wash.
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captain P Wash.

Bugger me mate, don’t go overboard, It’s only Banter.

Steve
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Steve

I tried. I applied to join the army but unfortunately failed the medical due to a childhood hip problem which they said could have problems later. Which it has, sadly.

Steve
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Steve

It would be good if our government stopped trying to booster military sales to countries that have questionable human rights records.

T.H
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Can I please apologise, i just don’t know why I behave in this manner. I now ask myself, what SHOULD I be doing to sort my issues out? I will write to my MP and Lobby to increase my size and deal with my small man complex and very tiny penis. If I can just learn to feel happy about myself, I might stop spending my sad little life winding honest, knowledgeable folk up and sites such as these. Please, please will my penis grow just a bit bigger…

TH
Guest

Can I please apologise, i just don’t know why I behave in this manner. I now ask myself, what SHOULD I be doing to sort my issues out? I will write to my MP and Lobby to increase my size and deal with my small man complex and very tiny penis. If I can just learn to feel happy about myself, I might stop spending my sad little life winding honest, knowledgeable folk up and sites such as these. Please, please will my penis grow just a bit bigger…

captain P Wash.
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captain P Wash.

I like the Idea of Farming Trees though, Sounds like a really relaxing job. Walk around a hillside for a few months planting a few thousand Saplings and spend the next 5 decades waiting to cut them down, well It sure does sound a hell of a lot better than working. Is that why Whiskey was Invented ?

Cam Hunter
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Cam Hunter

And shotguns!

BM
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BM

First Off Superb article, links also helpfully to additional useful articles. Thank you. Now. Dear TH, (I take the liberty of assuming you have an interest in the military or otherwise why would you waist your time on this forum.) I would be interested to here your hypothetical view on what you think: 1. The UK military should be like/reformed to meet your assumed preference, on all aspects ranging from training types/levels and locations, logistical bases, unit types and quantities of said types, command structure, weapons loadouts, R&D investment focused on?, leadership figures to fill key positions generals, admirals, air… Read more »

OOA
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OOA

Oman is along-standing ally and the strength of the relationship between us is evident. There’s a tangible mutual economic benefit as well as it being a shining example of how middle-eastern and western nations can interact well.

Steve
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Steve

Tangible economic benefit. Can you expand on this, I have never seen Oman on our list of top export countries other than military goods and that adds almost nothing to the country economically. What am I missing, what are they buying?

http://www.economywatch.com/world_economy/oman/export-import.html

Steve
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Steve

For sure there is a lot of history between the 2 countries and they partially rely on us for their security in a risky area of the world, but we should be doing more to encourage countries like this to up their game when it comes to rights of their people.

OOA
Guest
OOA

Mainly oil and gas. Shell and BP and many in the supply chain have a significant presence there. Oman is traditionally a place where many technologies in the sector are trialled which has benefits way beyond their immediate value. For one thing, it means we don’t need to trial drilling technologies in eg. Sensitive waters like our own.

Ref. The point on how they treat their people, their people are generally very happy and we would do well to mind our own business. Trade yes, influence on their internal politics, no.

Steve
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Steve

People need to stop thinking historically British multinationals bring money back to the UK. BP being mainly owned by American shareholders now and taxes would be paid on the profits locally and not in the UK and Shell paying tax in netherlands, so neither adds much to the UK economy when it comes to their overseas earnings. On their own people, i have no idea what your basing this on, all the views from every humans rights group states the complete reverse and yes we should be trying to influence human rights world wide. There is a difference between what… Read more »

OOA
Guest
OOA

0.5% of the UKs entire GDP is linked to BP alone so I disagree with your assertion that these companies somehow don’t count any more, part of their success is based on the ability to leverage overseas assets such as those in Oman. The point you also missed was around the supply chain where UK plc does very well. The original point I was trying to make is that there is a meaningful economic linkage between these two countries and the oil and gas sector is a big part of it but defence engagement supports that. The idea that we… Read more »

Steve
Guest
Steve

On the BP front, yes it brings money to the UK but that is mainly from its UK operations and not its overseas ones. I wonder how much of our economy has gone to wars to help the likes of BP, and i do wonder if 0.1% is really a positive figure. If you look at Oman exports, most of it goes to other EU countries like Germany, whilst UK doesn’t even rate in the 1% of their tiny economy (including oil/gas exports), so not really sure there is much value there. There is some value but hardly huge. Our… Read more »

R Cummings
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R Cummings

I like the Omanis and have chums who served in the SAF way back, but this is a wafer-thin political con exercise. Oman has a small population and we do very little trade with it, so there are no obvious economic benefits. We don’t have enough ships to guard the carrier and look after the North Sea, our presence east of Suez is a minimal, token gesture that we could neither reinforce nor defend if push came to shove. We already have a base at Diego Garcia, manned by the USN, which would be key if we had to defend… Read more »

SeekTruthFromFacts
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This article reiterates the broad strokes of UK foreign policy, but does little to fill in the detail of the relationship with Oman. Contrary to the impression given by the article, Anglo-Omani relations weakened, not strengthened, during the Cold War, as an intrinsic part of decolonization. Up until the 1970s, many of Oman’s military leadership were seconded British citizens; that era has gone forever. The authors completely fail to mention the keystone of post-Cold War Omani foreign policy: that Oman wants to be friends with everyone. During the 1990-91 Gulf War, for example, the Omanis allowed the UN Coalition to… Read more »