Rule, Britannia? UK ‘shadow military’ may return to Gulf over instability fears
The UK army is planning to build up a strong “shadow presence” in the Gulf, marking a return to the seat of its old imperial power, a UK think tank said. The Arab Spring and security fears over a nuclear Iran are among the reasons for the move.
The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) published a report
titled ‘A Return to East of Suez? UK Military Deployment to the
Gulf’ on Monday morning, analyzing a shift in UK policy that is
driven by a “fear of what is happening in the Middle
The report stressed that on the surface, the increased military
presence would not mirror the imperial foothold Britain once held
in the region.
The military intends to build up a strong shadow presence
around the Gulf; not an evident imperial-style footprint, but a
smart presence with facilities, defense agreements, rotation of
training, transit and jumping-off points,” the report
The British withdrew troops from the Gulf region following the
East of Suez decision in 1971; the drawdown of Britain’s imperial
military influence allowed many Gulf nations to declare their
RUSI maintains that the UK government has no intention of
“deploying” military might into the region anytime soon, but
emphasizes that an increased presence would be wise due to the
“swirling social storms across the region in the wake of the
The report outlines the primary motivations behind the UK’s
policy shifts as security-based, citing the alleged nuclear threat
of Iran as a predominant factor.
“Clearly, the immediate security concern to the entire Gulf
region is the future direction of Iran’s nuclear program,” the
document notes. “The international community, and especially
Israel and the Arab Gulf states, remain fearful of Iranian nuclear
ambitions. Iran, too, is entering a volatile period in the run-up
to national elections.”
The paper also identifies embattled Syrian President Bashar
Assad as a significant factor in regional instability.
The Institute based its conclusions on analysis of recent government policy, which “appears to be approaching a decision point where a significant strategic reorientation of its defense and security towards the Gulf is both plausible and logical."
With regard to the practical applications of a return of
military presence to the Gulf, the report said it is more
cost-effective to transfer UK military equipment from Afghanistan
into the Gulf than back to Britain. Referencing the strategic
advantages of a military presence in Oman, the report calls country
“terrain ideally suited to the training of military units in the
skills of desert warfare.” In 2001, Oman played host to the
largest UK military drills in recent history.
Important trade links with the United Arab Emirates, worth some £14 billion ($21.7 billion), will also influence the return of the UK military to the region. The UK struck a massive deal with the UEA and other Gulf nations to sell 100 Typhoon fighter jets last year, and has pledged “joint collaboration” with the UEA.
Dr. Saul Kelly, the author of the briefing paper, told RT that
Britain’s increased presence in the Gulf would be done via a
combination of a formal, physical return to bases as well as
intensified cooperation with Gulf States, albeit “on a low
Kelly argues that as the British military presence has grown throughout the region, “particularly over the last decade or so,” financial incentives coupled with broader strategic goals will ensure that the UK’s long-standing practice of defense cooperation in the region will continue.
“One of the latest defense packages has to deal with the sale of Typhoon jets to various Gulf Arab countries, and that ties in with these continuing defense agreements with local governments. And in an age of austerity in Europe, these defense contracts are important to the British economy, and that is certainly an element of it. But there are [also] long-standing strategic interests that Britain, as a member of the Western Alliance, has in the Gulf area.”
In a briefing accompanying the RUSI report, Director General
Michael Clarke stressed the importance of the UK solidifying
friendships in the region. “It would make sense for the British
to have more of a capacity to cooperate with the Americans”
whose policy is rapidly changing in the region, he said.
“The Americans will not leave the Middle East, of course they
won’t. But they will express their power differently in the Middle
East,” Clarke said.
He warned that the press may seek to brand the plans as linked
to an “imperial notion of grandeur.” However, he insisted
that this was not the case, and that the UK was merely following