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.

77 COMMENTS

    • @Geoffrey Roach – so what will YOU be doing to ensure ‘we’ have the ships? Will YOU and your group be offering to make extra personal tax payments to the UK Government to finance them? You are fully entitled to over pay your taxes as are your supporters (indicated by your use of the word ‘we’)

      • Your use of caps lock on certain words is enchanting. It makes you come across so masculine and really assertive. Without it I’d have struggled to get the jist of your statement. So thank you.

        To address your point… As you know, there’s not an awful lot we can do to effect change as no government for at least 30 years has taken defence seriously in this country. It’s been repeatedly treated as a chest of treasure to raid as politicians deem necessary, knowing full well the majority of the public assumes functionality or cares not about our defence capabilities.

        I do care. I also pay my taxes. So if I want to moan on UKDJ about it then I will. As I’m sure many here will agree. F*ck off to Mumsnet if it bothers you. Your contributions are negligible.

        • @Rfn_Weston An interesting response. Will YOU and your group be offering to make extra personal tax payments to the UK Government to finance them? You are fully entitled to over pay your taxes as are your supporters (indicated by your use of the word ‘we’) Or are you just making worthless chat on a little read forum?

          • Ahh, back with a vengeance then TH. whilst you have every right to state your opinions on this forum, please don’t revert back to antagonising people joining in the discussions. That was sooooo last year. Give constructive opinion or shut it. Not interested in your over inflated superiority complex and persistent monotonous attempts to treat us like children. However, we are happy to engage in proper discussion with you any time you fancy growing up.

          • Funnily enough that’s the same response word for word you left Maurice10 further down this page.

            In fact it’s the only thing that comes out of your mouth (fingers). I’d happily increase tax contributions if it was ringfenced for defence.

            The difference is this country is wealthy enough to increase defence spending without additional revenue. It’s elected officials choose not to. God forbid the day comes that they live to regret it.

            I have to laugh at the treasury patting themselves on the back for releasing so called additional funds for CASD after that same treasury lumbered the MOD with the entire program costs under Osborne. Deceitful w*nkers the lot of them.

            Foreign aid at 1/3 of the defence budget is not sustainable and which ever party at the next election recognises this will get my vote. It’s a vanity project for career politicians and nothing more and needs ending immediately.

      • Ah I see the Muppet is back with the same regurgitated piffle. What will YOU do when JD Weatherspoons stops it’s 2 for 1 deals? Maybe you will have to go and get a job and stop spending the handouts that us tax payers allow you.

        • @Airborne I have no interest in Weatherspoons nor do I frequent the premises. I have a job and pay taxes as well as extra contributions to certain causes I believe in. Do YOU?

          • a ‘friend’ in that part of the world is a major ace in the hole,oman however is not overly popular in the middle east because of its liberal approach to its people saudi arabia arabia is vocal in its dislike of the omani westernisation

          • Me, yep, great job son, thanks for your concern about my wellbeing, so nice. And now in the 40% tax bracket, most of which goes to Scotland to be wasted on benefit payments, fried food and SNP propaganda to buy off the deluded and week minded in order to gain support.

      • Interesting and impotent responses. Personal taxation or rather the over payment of it is the best way for you and your group to part action your aims. It’s called ‘putting your money where your mouth is’. I do with the campaign to free Scotland from the chains of the United Kingdom, for example, where I financially contribute to the cause.
        Your only other alternative is to make impotent posts on a forum which will achieve absolutely nothing.

        • a ‘friend’ in that part of the world is a major ace in the hole,oman however is not overly popular in the middle east because of its liberal approach to its people saudi arabia arabia is vocal in its dislike of the omani westernisation

    • @Airborne Well, a big thanks for paying 40% of your money in tax and may your right hand never stop giving. We do appreciate that one day when we are free, we shan’t be receiving your hard earned cash any more but then, we shall manage. You ust be really sad that you can’t divert a percentage of your taxes to weapons and the promotion of your England as something it no longer is.

        • @Airborne Easily bored and demonstrating a complete lack of persistence and propensity to childish remarks. So bar posting on a forum, you’re not really up to pursuing any campaign nor do you show any offer to pay out money to pursue a cause. In short, a waste of time.

          • As opposed to you. Pursuing a outcome that is dead in the water. The SNP had their chance and have proven themselves useless in every regard. Yeah you’re much more savvy with your efforts Aren’t you TH.

          • For someone who says he doesn’t really care about this website and how impotent it is, you do seem to respond rather quickly and spend a lot of time on here. And how easy do you bite, you are owned son! How sad!

  1. 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 British Government guarantees, of which, military support will most likely head the list? A modest increase in the surface fleet over the next fifteen-twenty years, will be almost essential if the UK is to make headway as an independent country of note.

    • @maurice10 – so what will YOU be doing to ensure ‘we’ have the ships? Will YOU and your group be offering to make extra personal tax payments to the UK Government to finance them? You are fully entitled to over pay your taxes as are your supporters (indicated by your use of the word ‘we’) Or are you just making worthless chat on a little read forum?

      • A touch obnoxious TH. The idea that personal taxation alone pays for all government spending, is somewhat nieve, on your part. If you bothered to read what I said, you would see that the ability to trade with greater freedom, would in itself bring home much-needed foreign income, which could help hugely in creating a larger more enveloping Royal Navy. An increase in global trade = more budget depending on, which political party is in power?

        • @maurice10 – I believe ‘naive’ is the word you were looking for and personal taxation or rather the over payment of it is the best way for you and your group to part action your aims. It’s called ‘putting your money where your mouth is’. I do with the campaign to free Scotland from the chains of the United Kingdom, for example, where I financially contribute to the cause.
          Your only other alternative is to make impotent posts on a forum which will achieve nothing.

          • Ha ha ha ha ha hilarious, now I see why you have such a chip on your shoulder, your a supporter of the the children’s party, the SNP. And you put your money where your mouth is do you? Is that Barnet formula extra cash which Scotland wastes on fried food and benefits payments. Please keep the reply short and try to make it at least slightly interesting and not so repetitive. Damn I bet your a great party guest…..

    • @Airborne And where do I say my extra financial donations go the SNP? They are but one political party which will eventually lead us to freedom from England. Howver there are many more and a plethora of organisations which campaign for independence. Meanwhile, thanks for sending us your English taxes.

      • Like I said to your other repetitive reply, yaaaaaaaaaaawn. But a quick interesting point for someone who whines about people being on this “little read” site, you seem to be on here quite a lot.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 ?

    • @captain P Wash I don’t live in a dream world listing ‘wannabe’ military assets and so on which don’t exist. I also financially support causes I believe in although there aren’t many of them and they are linked mainly to Scotland’s freedom. Nor do I fritter away time on Facebook or other childish social media. Now, bearing in mind I donate time and money to campaigns and causes close to my heart and that of many others, what do YOU do to promote your cause of increased military spending over and above paying basic taxes and making postings on a forum?

  5. 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.

      • 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 you and everyone else on this forum who served with my ignorant idiotic comment. I deserve everything I get. Now I shall carry the guilt of what I have done, deservedly. I am not being ironic or over the top, the vast disparity between the experience of others here and me has been exposed again, with a single comment. I thought I’d dealt with this. I’ve had enough. I’m sorry.

      • 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.

    • 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.

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

      • The parrot strikes again.

        Shouldn’t you be busy preparing plans for fingering salmon and farming trees if your increasingly unlikely preference for independence comes off? You certainly won’t be shipbuilding anymore if it does.

        • Exactly, the only thing they will be building is an increase of debt and blood pressure! You have to admit, this sad muppet is slightly entertaining and I pretty much guarantee they have asked for a SNP calendar for Xmas, full of pale overweight SNP politicians hiding there lard behind a sad haggis.

          • @Airborne So, impotent in terms of running a campaign to improve military spending and unwilling to place your money where your mouth is, you resort to crude jokes. How very English of you.

            It will be grand fun watching the cuts in military spending occur, as inevitably they will as the Brexit bill finally hits home.

            By the way, it’s ‘their’ not ‘there’. Do try to improve your command of your own language.

          • TH you are owned son! Owned! And TH comment Dec 07th @16:06, its “however” not “howver”. Do try to improve your command of your own language. Owned son, totally owned.

  7. 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…

  8. 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…

  9. 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 ?

  10. 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 chief marshals etc. Or the new positions you will form. Reserve personal. Budget for defence spending.
    2. The same as point one but hypotheticaly if Scotland where independant, what it’s military should be like under your leadership/your viewed ideal leadership. Any military alliances you would form/joint (NATO for an example).
    3. Any consecuances that you feel NATO countries paying below the Minimum % should face?

    I accept your view that typing on his forum is unlikely to improve the situation of the UK or Scotish Military, however I would like to point out it does do two things, one increases/renews the knowledge of those reading; Two last people rant and let out their frustration at the fact that defence is neglected to a point of negligence by most government’s most of the time, key word being most.

    I am also an accountant and have knowledge on the UK tax system (England and Wales), Scatland has its own tax system which differs from England and Wales.
    Please not that the UK tax legislation is very complex and I will not generalise on the easiest form for the Government Raising additional funds as this would fall short of adequate. But Income Tax does at present account for the highest portion of Tax Revenue to my Knowledge.
    I would be grateful if you listed your occupation to allow others to have an rudamentry understanding of your key knowlage areas?

    These questions are aimed at your level of understanding/interest in defence, your purpose on this forum and to understand how you would reform the military if you where put in charge of the country hypotheticaly speaking.

    If you wish to expand on any of these points please do so.
    A detailed reply would be most helpfully if you have the time.

    I do not currently contribute to any extra tax more than the usual, and don’t intend to in the near future, so dp nothing to improve the situarion at present, though if a new voluntaey ringfenced defence tax where introduced I would consider it. This I hope will save you the time of asking the question asked of all the rest of the posts above.

    Many thanks in advance TH, as I do not post often.

    If anyone else would like to answer the two hypothetical questions at the start please do so, even if rewritten to:
    1 Uk
    2 UK with No Scotland.

    Sorry if this post is like War and Peace. Hopefully it is food for thought.

    P.S. Sorry for any spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors which may have arisen. Please refrain from correcting them.

  11. 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.

      • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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 happened during the cold war, where we were propping up corrupt government or overthrowing perfectly good ones because they didn’t work economically for us or what we did in iraq/afgan, and trying to influence our allies to be more open in a more passive manor through carrot and stick trade deals to make a better world (difference being doing the right thing vs influencing others purely for money).

          • 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 should intervene to ‘improve’ governance in the Middle East has been, and still is, the single biggest cause of tension and is something which history has shown we get wrong time and again. In my experience we should trade and encourage foreigners to study in our universities so when they go home, there is a lasting bond – and that’s it. With regard to Oman, I base my comments on the fact I spend a lot of time there.

          • 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 interfering in the middle east has always gone wrong, because we have interfered for the benefit of the oil/gas companies and not doing the right thing (sometimes we have tried to hide wars behind guise it, but generally its easy to link back to oil/gas, even the likes of Iraq/Afgan can be linked to it). In fact generally interfered for the reverse of world peace/improvement of the world, propping up corrupt governments that suppress their people but are happy to trade with our big companies. If you look at the history of the empire and it wasn’t really britain that ruled half the world, it was companies with private armies like the east india company.

            I am not saying it would be easy to do and maybe its already happening in the background, but it frustrates me that we keep dealing with very dodgy countries like Saudi (we really should have immediately ceased all trade and slapped sanctions after that embassy case until they admitted what they did and took actions) or Russia and its poisoning (we still massively trade with them) and lessor extent Oman but still questionable.

            I guess in the end we have no choice, these guys have the money and we need it with our huge debts as a country.

  12. 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 allied shipping in an emergency, if we had the ships, which we don’t and are not likely to get.

    This seems to me just cheap, contrived PR by Williamson, playing to the ‘Global Britain’ gang, when the reality of that is shortly to be tested severely and we anyway have no defence muscle to back it up. I wish he would concentrate on defence, where he needs to come up with some tangible, early answers and funds, rather than playing to the tabloid gallery about us being some great maritime power. The RN has pretensions far beyond its capabilities and budget, Williamson needs to rein the bleeders in, not encourage delusional defence policies.

  13. 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 use their territory as a staging base, and contributed a brigade-sized force. But they also kept in close touch with Baghdad (they acted as the intermediary between Iraq and Kuwait for the exchange of civilian captives IIRC). More recently, they have tried to develop economic ties with Iran, continue to recognize the Assad régime in Syria, and have been strictly neutral in the Qatari-Saudi stand-off. For those more familiar with European diplomacy, you could roughly compare Muscat’s role to Austria, Finland or Switzerland during the Cold War: they were in the Western camp, but not part of NATO, and careful to respect the USSR’s concerns. So Oman has also looked after Iranian interests in the UK when relations broke down, just as Switzerland has acted as the Protecting Power for US interests in Cuba, the DPRK, etc. Oman wants to be friends with the UK, but not at the expense of any of its other connections. Because Britain is so far away, so weak, and has no particular reason to muscle into Muscat, that generally works well for both sides.

    Access to Duqm is useful for the UK, largely because the QE-class carriers are too big to dock at HMS Juffair (which suggests that HMG’s investment there is more about Bahrain buying an insurance policy than the UK getting an effective naval base). But we need to be realistic about the Omanis’ intentions. They want to develop Duqm into a Dubai- or Rotterdam-style international trade port. Chinese firms are investing billions of pounds there, and earlier this year the Saudis agreed to put in about £300m. The UK is welcome to rent warehouses, just like any other valued customer, and it doesn’t hurt that a RN presence will reassure other customers that this isn’t just a Chinese colony. But this isn’t going to be Akrotiri on the Indian Ocean.

    The article’s assertion that the RN will use the base to resist Chinese domination of maritime choke points is very curious. Beijing would be delighted if maritime hegemony was on the horizon, but it isn’t. Most of the major maritime choke points are currently dominated by the USN. In the Gulf in particular, the UK shares in the costs & benefits of that dominance. China buys the vast majority of Omani oil and would like those supplies to be free from Western control, but the Omanis could only lose out from a Sino-Western stand-off in the Straits of Hormuz region. They have not invited the RN with the intention of blockading their best customer.

    What do we learn from the Omani example about Global Britain? We learn that sometimes there are niches where a smaller player like the UK can fit in; it’s understandable that mice prefer not to get into bed with elephants. But we also learn that London is prone to overestimating its own importance and underestimating the extent to which other actors have their own agendas. One of the major causes of Brexit was the British elite’s unwillingness to understand and engage with its’ European partners’ concerns. Repeating those mistakes in another part of the world seems unlikely to result in improved outcomes.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here