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Global Britain in the Indo-Pacific

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Henry Jackson Society,  22 May, 2018

The weight of the global economy is going to Asia, it is going by sea – and the United Kingdom must act now if we are to build a truly Global Britain, according to a new report from The Henry Jackson Society.

Global Britain in the Indo-Pacific notes how the future of both the economic order and the rules-based international system will be decided in the Indo-Pacific. China’s growing naval power, its militarisation of sea lanes and its Belt and Road Initiative indicate not only a power determined to become wealthy, but one determined to set the rules of the coming age. However, many of China’s Asian neighbours seek to defend rules over power.

With Britain looking for new opportunities abroad in the wake of Brexit and the economic and demographic realities pointing east, the report argues that the UK must reinvigorate its partnerships with historic allies in the region, not least India and Japan – while also redeveloping new “special relationships” with Commonwealth countries such as Singapore.

The report highlights that:

  • The global middle class will grow 50% by 2030, with much of that growth taking place in the Indo-Pacific – spawning hundreds of new cities, industries and opportunities.
  • Over 90% of global trade is carried by sea and that maritime trade will only increase as regional powers struggle to bring consumer goods and energy to these new cities.
  • China seeks to exert control over these sea lanes in order to protect its own sea lanes, constrain India’s rise and set the rules for the coming era.
  • The Indo-Pacific is becoming a forum for competing visions of international relations – with many of Britain’s historic allies beginning to align in loose security groupings based on respect for maritime conventions and law.
  • The UK, dependent on the rules-based order and the sea lanes in the region, will ultimately have to adopt the “engage and balance” approach that most Asian powers have adopted towards China.

While endorsing the ‘cautious engagement’ approach of Prime Minister Theresa May to China, the report recommends that Britain should:

  • Seek a number of overlapping security relationships across the Indo-Pacific with large numbers of partners – including the ‘Quad’ of the United States, Japan, India and Australia.
  • Create “special partners” in ASEAN – not least Singapore, where Britain should explore the possibility for regular ‘2+2’ meetings between the two countries’ defence and foreign ministers.
  • Renew her security relationship with Australia – a useful “node of access” for the UK, as Australia is developing closer relations with key allies including the US, Japan and France.

Standing up for the rules-based international order in the face of the challenge from China should also involve:

  • An incremental increase in Britain’s defence spending, from the current 2% of GDP to 3%. This, with a particular focus on the future of naval and air power, would equip the UK with the requisite tools to have a truly ‘global’ influence.
  • Invest in soft power diplomacy to improve ties with Asian countries. These should involve a rise in funding for language programmes at British universities, particularly in Japanese, Chinese and Hindi; and providing help financing infrastructure development across the region, to counter the Belt and Road Initiative.

Read the full report here.

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Global Britain and an emerging India in the backdrop of the Commonwealth Summit

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Observer Research Foundation, with Tanya Sen, 4 May, 2018

British civil servants responsible for the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in London breathed a sigh of relief seeing India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi walk down the aircraft stairs. Waiting alongside the High Commissioner to greet Modi was Boris Johnson and a retinue of senior officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. There had been a lot riding on Modi’s attendance; after all, the leader of India represents more than 50 percent of the Commonwealth’s total population. It is as much an Indian endeavour as a British one, in that sense. Certainly, London’s diplomatic corps were out in style to greet leaders from 53 countries and to explore the future prospects of an institution — the Commonwealth — that might be a key plank in Britain’s global posture. Modi’s attendance was crucial to the event, and given the fact that no Indian leader had attended in 10 years, his acceptance was a significant message to London. Back in India, the media portrayed Modi’s attendance as an effort to step up its role across global forums. While the overall summit has been judged largely a success, the real significance is where an emerging India stands in relation to a Global Britain.


Modi’s attendance was crucial to the event, and given the fact that no Indian leader had attended in 10 years, his acceptance was a significant message to London.


Brexit is occurring at a not⎯auspicious time. The current international political order is in flux, perhaps the victim of its own success. As this ORF paper notes, it is a “period of unprecedented global structural changes and shifts in balance⎯of⎯power equations.” While some have portrayed this as “the rise of the rest,” this has evolved into a more traditional binary — with the rise of China and India falling into geostrategic, Mahanian patterns over the future of what is now being called the Indo⎯Pacific. The New Great Game is manifesting itself in both maritime and naval interconnectivity — and the implied control of sea lanes and ports — and in “development diplomacy.” Xi is redrawing the map of the Asian landmass with the Belt and Road Initiative, while securing China’s energy and trade routes through a ‘String of Pearls’. India, surrounded — and some might even say “contained” — by China’s grand projects, is wary of Beijing’s ambitions in its near⎯abroad. Are these projects built to extend Chinese power or diminish India’s? Of late, view from India has pointed toward the latter of these two options.

The New Great Game is manifesting itself in both maritime and naval interconnectivity — and the implied control of sea lanes and ports — and in “development diplomacy”.

In response, India has turned East with its Act East Policy under which it is improving relations with countries like Vietnam that Beijing might view to be inside its own 9⎯dashed sphere of influence. Paralleling Beijing’s own tactics in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and others, New Delhi is using trade and diplomacy as a basis for these relations, and interestingly promoting Buddhism as a unifying element. In direct response to China’s apparent encirclement, India has also been working to become more active in its own maritime domain by initiating agreements and projects with its neighbours and allies. One major project, which might push Indian life into the Asian continent is the new International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) linking India, Russia and Iran by a land route through 13 countries. This year will mark the official operation of this trade route, potentially leveraging Indian soft power in the region. While the recent Xi⎯Modi meeting was designed to press the “reset button” on bilateral relations, structuralists will argue that the two Asian powers are bound to continue to compete as they rise.

No longer the great imperial power it once was, Britain has a delicate dance to perform in this grand sweeping maelstrom of events. Global Britain remains an aspiration, a dream, and perhaps even — a slogan for UK trade missions. But there is room for optimism as well as cynicism, given the UK’s own government language on the “rules⎯based order.” In freeing itself from the European continent, Britain’s primary concern remains Russia. But there is a genuine search for a new global role among London’s foreign policy elites. One saw this in the miles of red carpet rolled out for its historical partners in the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere. The dynamics in the Indo⎯Pacific are far away, but they remain of deep strategic interest to London because of the maritime and trading aspects. After all, many of the region’s newest powers are merely mimicking what Britain perfected over 300 years — the synthesis of great power strength through a maritime trading empire.

In the modern era, the Sino⎯Indian competition compels Britain to a certain posture. While China remains an important trading partner, its links to India are much greater, across the political, legal and civil sectors, and across peoples. Lest we forget, 1.5 million Britons are of Indian ethnic origin; the largest minority in the UK. The presence of such a strong diasporic network enriches cultural exchange, forming a ‘living bridge’ between the two countries. While there is a large scope of improvement in the areas of trade, business and economy, there seems to be hints of optimism pointing to the outlooks. Modi’s April visit saw the two agree to a new Tech Partnership and a Trade Partnership, with the motive of driving a 15 percent jump in trade. Given India’s population, its rapidly advancing economy and its growing importance in the world order, Theresa May’s government is only one of a long line of recent Prime Ministers who view the bilateral is punching below its weight.

While it is too early to tell, the possibility that over the next few years the Commonwealth might become an Anglo⎯Indian project, is now in the air. After all, if the UK gives a greater role for India, it becomes a tool for Delhi to exert a global leadership that it has yet to satisfy through BRICS and the SCO. For its part, by aligning with Delhi, London takes a major step into the Indo⎯Pacific as a strong partner to the rising power that respects democracy and human rights. It also enables the UK’s elites to refashion rhetoric around the rules⎯based order, into a framework for Global Britain. On the other, India would have to itself ‘a prospective forum for its power projection’ in which China is not a member. The India⎯Commonwealth Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Trade Summit hosted in 2017 is an example of the scope of integration the Commonwealth could achieve in the future should member countries be given a greater say. One cannot disregard the political scope of an institution with 53 member countries spanning five continents in today’s increasingly interlinked and complex world order. Britain and India are both in need of ways to further their foreign policy agendas and strengthening bilateral ties. As an international platform, the Commonwealth could play a pivotal role in the pursuit of their short⎯term and long⎯term strategic goals. To quote Modi, “Once we have decided to do something, we can go miles ahead.”


The Telegraph: Brexit Britain should be wary of striking quick trade deals with China, Indian CEO says

The Telegraph, James Rothwell, 5 March, 2018

“Experts pointed out that several countries have forged close trade links with China while co-operating with India on security issues without running into major trouble.

‘There is no contradiction in strong economic ties with China on the one hand, and strong security ties with states like Japan, India, and the United States,’ said John Hemmings, the director of the Henry Jackson Society’s Asia Centre.

‘Indeed, all of those states have themselves very robust economic relationships with Beijing.'”


Japan is Back on the World Stage

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The National Interest, Nottingham_iAPS, 4 February, 2018

Just over a month after the foreign and defence ministers of Britain and Japan stood side-by-side in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in December 2017, Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kano, and defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, were standing with their French counterparts in Tokyo. As with the UK-Japan 2+2, the meeting focused on maritime security, with their joint statement calling for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and reiterating their “common interest” in the rules-based order. The two meetings are in themselves striking by the number of nodes that match: the United States and Japan are strong allies; the United Kingdom and France have strong defence links; France, the United States and the United Kingdom are strong NATO member states; and the United Kingdom and the United States are in the Five Eyes with Australia, a country that now has defence bilateral links with Japan, the United Kingdom and France.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the much-vaunted diminishment of the liberal rules-based order—much of it at the hands of Beijing and Moscow—has become a defining feature of the age. Just a few years ago, pundits sought to frame international relations with the more prosaic-sounding “rise of the rest” and there were suitable and necessary debates on how the rules-based order should evolve to match the new power realities. Those debates were right and proper, and even morally necessary for the system to maintain coherence and legitimacy. After 2014, much of what should have been about rules-based evolution became power-based revolution. In February 2014, Russia “annexed” Crimea, and their “Little Green Men” marched into eastern Ukraine, breaking the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. In early September 2014, Chinese vessels began “reclamation” work on Johnson South Reef, a part of a busy shipping route to which they had no legal right.

While statements have been made to condemn these events, the fact is that the West is dismayed and confused in how to react. The election of a nonconformist president on trade and Brexit have not helped. Nonetheless, it is clear from the France-Japan 2+2 and the UK-Japan 2+2 that liberal democracies are beginning to band together. Not, as some would have it, to “contain” China, but rather to attempt to deter further adventurism and to buttress the rules-based aspect of the order. One can also see this in the scope and content of the U.S.-Japan-Australia trilateral and the U.S.-Japan-Australia-India quadrilateral.

What has perhaps been most remarkable about these groupings is the pivotal role played by Japan in them. After all, as recently as 1991, Japan had no close security partners besides the United States, and remained entrenched and immobilized by the pacifist Constitution and foreign policy that it had inherited from the postwar settlement. China and the Koreas notwithstanding, the revival of Japanese hard power and diplomacy has been welcomed and encouraged by the United States, Australia, and India as a return to normalcy—an unsurprising reintroduction of Japan to the family of nations. This has also characterized the views of many of those Japanese leaders inside the LDP, Japan’s ruling party, including Junichiro Koizumi, Taro Aso and Shinzo Abe. While Koizumi is the first post-Yoshida Prime Minister of Japan, Abe has been in many ways, the most revolutionary and dynamic in terms of Japan’s security policy regionally but also in Europe.

Under Abe’s watch, Japan has not only passed significant legislation developing a national security apparatus, he has also passed legislation allowing for collective security with regional partners and introduced intelligence reforms that inhibit espionage inside the country. It is said that Japan is on the cusp of far-ranging intelligence reforms as well, particularly centred around the creation of a civilian-led intelligence agency, overseen by some sort of parliamentary process. Much of this has been done in consultation with those countries that Japan considers partners if not allies, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and of course, the United States.

Japan’s push into Europe is now said to be beginning in earnest and one can see this in a number of ways. First of all, Japan and the EU are going to sign a free trade agreement—it is said, by the summer. This will immediately push Japan past China, South Korea, and even the United States, in the EU’s estimation as an economic partner of significance. China is currently the second largest partner, while the United States is the first largest partner, with Japan coming in at a modest seventh place. Layered atop this new economic importance to Europe, Japan’s ties with France and United Kingdom are proceeding steadily.

The France-Japan 2+2 began in 2014, the same year that China and Russia began to use military force to challenge the rules based order. The following year, the UK-Japan 2+2 began meeting. Both bilaterals bear more than a striking resemblance to the Japan-Australia bilateral in that they remain noncommittal, but nevertheless seek to institutionalize cooperation in the types of sectors traditionally reserved for close allies. Thus, both London and Paris have agreed to Arms Transfer Agreements with Tokyo, allowing for greater defence collaboration at the defence industrial level. With France, the Japanese are exploring a possible undersea mine-clearing UAV, while with the United Kingdom, the Japanese have looked into putting Mitsubishi Electric sensors into the British Meteor missile. Since both are top-tier partners on the American F-35 programme, they are now carrying out a study to see if the resulting missile will be interoperable with the fighter.

There have also been a number of other small steps. The United Kingdom, for example, signed a logistics agreement in 2015 known as an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA). The ACSA enables British forces and their Japanese counterparts to exchange food, fuel, ammunition and carry out other logistical practices together. The defining purpose is interoperability. While France and Japan have not yet signed an ACSA, their joint statement implied that progress was being made on the logistical agreement.

So what are the drivers for Japan in all this? Well, as has been mentioned, insecurity has played the primary role. Tokyo sees these security partnerships and defence industrial collaboration as a way of developing quasi-alliance ties with a number of Western states as a means of balancing against what may become a threatening Chinese rise. But not all is grand strategy. Japan faces—like other advanced economies—defence inflation, that’s to say the growing research and development costs of defence industrial capacity. One need only look at the computing power of the most recent advanced fighters, compared to their ancestors sixty years ago. In moving towards mid-sized defence industrial powers, like France and the United Kingdom, Japan is clearly looking to pick up tips on how to make a leaner R&D process, how to create open tenders and how to structure the acquisition process internally. The question will be of course, whether these security partnerships morph into full-blown alliances. At their present state, it is not clear that they are sufficient to buttress the much-needed rules-based order.


China is tightening its high-tech tyranny. Theresa May should not be rushing to please it

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The Telegraph, 3 February, 2018

We have little to gain from ignoring China’s renewed march towards authoritarianism

From all the photos of the Prime Minister’s three-day trip to China this week, the one which carried furthest was simple: drinking tea with its president, Xi Jinping, in the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.

The image of Xi dressed urbanely in a Western suit, was a far cry from his appearance in military dress earlier this month at a large military mobilization meeting in which he addressed 7,000 soldiers and exhorted them to be “ready for war” and “fearless of death”.

In some ways, the dichotomy between the two images of China’s leader – one of the most powerful since Chairman Mao Zedong – is symbolic of the two Chinas with which we are confronted. On the one hand, China, the major source of investment and imports; on the other hand – if we’re frank – China, the neo-authoritarian power that is now moving rapidly toward totalitarian one-man rule.

The conundrum for “Auntie May” – as she was dubbed by Chinese state media – is how to reconcile these two Chinas. And it is not her problem alone. May’s trip looks no different from that of President Macron’searlier this month, or that of President Trump in November.

Her speech, for example followed the pattern that we are beginning to see in other world leaders when they visit China. First they pay lip-service to the China they wished existed, and then they get to the bottom line: trade. And the lip-service becomes increasingly contortionist. At one point, May mentioned a China that “continues to reform and open up”. One can almost hear the sucking-in-of-teeth in the Foreign Office as those words were written.

In the last year China’s only reforms have been in favour of increased control for the Party throughout society, with more than 30 Communist Party committees being formed across the largest Chinese companies. China’s media and legal sectors having been entirely subsumed once-more under party control; the country is preparing for the 2020 roll-out of a “social credit scoring system” that will create one of history’s most advanced totalitarian societies.

That this “sharp power” is now drifting into our universities and our societies – witness Australia’s travails last year – should make us pause. Exactly which part of China is reforming and opening up?

May’s speech also mentioned how the UK were working hard together to “tackle global and regional security challenges” like North Korea, climate change, and aviation security. Cough, cough, North Korea? Forgive me, but hasn’t the international community been pressuringChina to uphold the United Nations sanctions that it has been systematically undermining either in the UN or at its borders? To say that we are working with China on North Korea is like saying that we are working with the flu virus to eliminate runny noses.

Granted, it is not always clear that Beijing could have prevented North Korea from developing these weapons systems, but it could have made them struggle to do so. Instead, we saw a building boom in Pyongyang in 2016 as Chinese goods flooded across the border. And speaking of regional challenges, where was maritime security?

The two most disturbing events of the decade have been Russia’s invasion of the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and China’s takeover of the South China Sea. The former, while important, is peripheral to Britain’s direct interests – part of the rules-based order and overall European security. But the South China Sea is a direct interest: 11.8 per cent of the UK’s total trade is said to transit the South China Sea, and China’s take over sets an incredibly dangerous precedent for other authoritarian powers.

Of course, the US has the power to do something, but let’s not remember that only 5.72 per cent of US trade transits the waterway. To some extent, one can forgive the Prime Minister for a lack of action: what can the UK do on its own? But the lack of messaging sends a strong signal about the UK’s vital national interests. A regime that is rewarded with warm words despite its invasion of a major strategic sea lane upon which Britain depends is unlikely to change its behaviour.

Two days before the Prime Minister arrived in China, she pledged to raise human rights in Hong Kong in her talks with Xi. However, a Chinese op-ed revealed this as a ruse, when it commended her “pragmatic collaboration”, and her turning a deaf ear to “radical public opinion”. Perhaps she quietly whispered something to an aide as she was ushered into Xi’s presence, we’ll never know.

As a recent Henry Jackson Society report reveals, the past two decades years have seen a systematic attack on Hong Kong’s Basic Law by China and the arbitrary sentencing democracy activists. In June 2017, Chinese diplomats called a major treaty with Britain a “scrap of paper…no longer in force”. According to one diplomatic source, they quietly walked back on that in subsequent meetings at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

I can only presume the Prime Minister did not mention this apparent diplomatic victory because, well, reasons. Because Beijing might have then reversed its first reversal. Beijing may have given May £5 billion in trade deals instead of £6 billion.

The problem with May’s trip to China – and the problem with how all of us are dealing with China – is that we simply don’t know what kind of state it is becoming. Will it continue to march triumphantly down the road toward techno-totalitarianism? If so, should we still be pursuing large deals with its state-owned enterprises, which are now leading the investment charge into Britain’s energy and digital infrastructure?

In July, President Xi gave a speech to a large segment of Chinese troops on Mongolia’s border. The fact that he used the same space once used by the Kangxi Emperor (1654 – 1722), one of China’s longest-reigning emperors and one credited with conquering Taiwan, should make us at least pause on our rush for investment and trade deals. Let’s just see how this one plays itself out a little first.


Britain can be a power in AsiaMH170004056

The Interpreter. 22 January, 2018 (with James Rogers)

Recently the Lowy Institute’s Aaron Connelly argued that there is not much Britain can do in Asia because British power is diminishing. This is unsurprising.

One of the biggest challenges in international relations is ascertaining a given state’s place in the international system. People often get it wrong, they sometimes confuse power with capability and, like author Paul Kennedy, miss important trends, such as the information revolution.

While it’s true the UK will incur costs from leaving the EU, the numbers reveal a more positive story than Connelly suggests. Furthermore, the UK’s strong set of institutional, governance, and economic capabilities – comprising actual as well as latent power – will mean greater UK engagement in the world. Indeed, the UK already sees itself moving toward the constellation of states, including Australia, concerned with maintaining the rules-based order from would-be revisionists.

As a 2017 Henry Jackson Society report based on 59 indicators showed, the UK’s total geopolitical capability remains very high despite its decision to leave the EU. Indeed, many of the dire predictions made prior to the referendum have simply not occurred. Nor are there indicators that they might yet happen.

The UK economy remains the fifth or sixth largest in the world (depending on the indicator), and is among the wealthiest and most technologically advanced. Growth for 2016, recently revised up for a second time, was 1.9%, making Britain the joint-fastest growing economy in the G7. Preliminary statistics show that UK output last year grew by an impressive 1.7%.

As for the predicted exodus of financial institutions from London, this has been far less severe than anticipated, mainly because few understand how difficult transitioning to a European capital would be. London is one of the world’s two largest financial centres, and it is highly unlikely that any single European city could replace the financial ecosystem of commercial law firms, international banks, brokerage firms, and financial services that have developed organically in the City of London and Canary Wharf in recent decades. In terms of financial centrality, London has 27% more capacity than Paris, and nearly 99% more capacity than Frankfurt.

The UK retains a number of structural features that bolster its robust economy. Britain’s infrastructure is up to date and successfully connects a densely populated and urbanised island.

While British research and development spending remains lamentably low, the government has pledged to increase it to internationally competitive levels. In any case, this has not hindered Britain’s universities from becoming among the world’s strongest, ranking third in terms of scientific and medical Nobel Prizes awarded to alumni since 2007.

In terms of ‘connectivity’, the UK ranks fifth in the world (and first in Europe) and has several hubs for tech start-ups, including Cambridge and Shoreditch in London.

In military terms, Britain has just launched a 70,000-tonne aircraft carrier which significantly outweighs the combined tonnage of all surface combatants in the German Navy, while the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (Britain’s naval replenishment service) has more than five times the displacement of all the French Navy’s comparable large auxiliary vessels.

The British Isles may seem a long way away from Australia and South East Asia, but these critical capabilities, combined with Britain’s ‘strategic array’ of naval and air stations linking Portsmouth and Plymouth to the British naval facility in Singapore via Gibraltar and bases in Cyprus, Bahrain, Oman and Diego Garcia, affords Britain the ability to overcome the tyranny of distance.

In 2011, the Royal Navy responded to Typhoon Haiyan with greater speed than most regional powers; today, the UK has a global naval reach exceeded only by the US, and perhaps in the near future by China. And with the commissioning of the Royal Navy’s second supercarrier, HMS Prince of Wales, in a couple of years, as well as a flotilla of larger, more capable replenishment vessels, Britain’s ability to project itself into the Indo-Pacific will almost certainly increase.

The recent trip of British Eurofighter Typhoons to the region shows that the Royal Air Force will not lag behind the Royal Navy in this respect.

Britain also holds latent power, much of it in its military-industrial base, which is one of the world’s largest. British shipbuilding, aerospace, and defence industries bring in revenues of US$40 billion, which is nearly double that of France, and exceeds Russia’s US$31 billion.

What is more, this base is supported by one of the world’s largest military expenditures, at approximately US$56 billion. However, this amounts to only 2.14% of British national output, one of the lowest levels in British history. If this was increased to a still-modest 3% of GDP, considerably less than during the 1980s or early 1990s, the UK would be spending more than US$72 billion per year – more than any power active in the Indo-Pacific, bar China and the US.

To give Connelly credit, he does note Britain’s role in the UN Security Council, as well as its pivotal leadership role in NATO. But he fails to mention that the UK is the only European power other than France to have security arrangements in place in the Indo-Pacific, in the form of the Five Power Defence Arrangements. True, this network is latent rather than harnessed power, but it could be readily enhanced as a locus of regional security cooperation, perhaps involving Japan, as suggested by Shinzo Abe a few years ago.

Connelly also ignores the UK’s powerful position within the Five Eyes network, which is odd given Australia’s own reliance on these jointly pooled intelligence capabilities. In terms of cyber capabilities, of the five allied countries, only Britain and the US have developed significant offensive as well as defensive capabilities sufficient to dissuade and deter attacks.

Furthermore, Connelly overlooks the growing strategic focus of the UK Government on parts of the Indo-Pacific in recent years, even as it has beaten off an attempt to break up the UK and has implemented the British people’s decision to leave the EU. Since 2013 Britain has pursued deeper security and defence relations through a treaty with Australia, and a fast-growing 2+2 defence and security dialogue with Japan, to such an extent that in December, London and Tokyo declared they were each other’s ‘most important partner’ in Asia and Europe, respectively.

Britain has also fostered slightly deeper ties to Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea and India in key areas, such as counterterrorism and cybersecurity. At the western edge of the Indo-Pacific, the UK has boosted its presence in the Gulf and the Arabian Sea with enhanced or new naval facilities in Bahrain and Oman, backed up by a tour of the region by the British Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, and Secretary of State for Defence in December 2016.

The UK’s decline is no more pronounced than that of any Western nation, including the US. Although Connelly is right to point out that efforts to deal with the consequences of withdrawal will take up much bandwidth in the short term, the UK is almost certain to remain one of the half-dozen most capable nations in the world, and one that remains invested in the rules-based and maritime order.

It may well be that Connelly is concerned with political will; but as he should know, this is as changeable as a referendum or presidential election.

The fact is, Britain has the ability if it chooses.

Although it is unlikely Britain will place the Indo-Pacific at the centre of its national strategy, it will look to buttress some of the groups now being formed in the region, such as the US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral, not least to help shore up the rules-based order. It is well within its capabilities to seek a constabulary role over its trade routes, even beyond Singapore.

As the UK’s focus moves away from the European continent and back to its traditional maritime space, its hard power will follow. In the face of rising maritime trade and maritime security challenges, the UK is destined to look at trade, economy and security in a far more unified way than in recent years. This isn’t Britain pining for an imagined imperial past; this is a Britain prepared for a rules-based maritime future.

So, while we don’t wish to sound triumphalist, we do wish to assure Aaron Connelly that Britain has the hard power capabilities to drive ever-closer engagement with Australia and other regional powers, and we look forward to working together on the high seas.


UK-Japan Cooperation in Preserving the Liberal Order

Asia Pacific Bulletin, 11 January, 2018

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While much has been written on the apparent diminishment of the liberal global order, and on the rise of Chinese and Russian revisionism in Ukraine and the South China Sea, comparatively little has been written about how liberal democracies around the world have responded to these mini-attacks on the international system. One of the most prominent and interesting trends has been in the security realm, where new “virtual” and “quasi-alliances”, trilaterals, and quadrilaterals have sprung up between states with previously-weak security ties. While few of these relationship can be defined as actual alliances – they lack mutual defense commitments after all – they have many “alliance-like” features, including cooperation in sensitive intelligence and defense sectors. Australian scholar, William Tow, calls them a “unique theoretical challenge” for international relations theorists since they do not accord with our traditional understanding of what constitutes an alliance.

The foreign and defense ministerial (2+2) meeting between Japan and the United Kingdom is one such grouping, and shares a number of common features with its counterparts in the Indo-Pacific region. The first of these is the evolving nature of security cooperation, with London and Tokyo developing ever-closer levels of strategic dialogue and interoperability. A second feature is that both countries are in formal alliances with the United States, and theses dyads lead to trilateralism with Washington across a range of sectors. However, one key difference between the UK-Japan, UK-Japan-US, US-Japan-Australia trilateral, and US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral, are that the latter two are both centered in and around the Indo-Pacific region. It is therefore, worth examining the strategic rationales for the UK-Japan bilateral as well as the UK-Japan-US trilateral, while also discussing challenges to future cooperation.

So, what exactly are the strategic rationales and challenges for closer UK-Japan and UK-Japan-US security cooperation? As has already been mentioned, the driver for much of this is the insecurity created by Russian and Chinese challenges to the traditional rules-based order. Beijing’s military takeover of the South China Sea – a major global trade route connecting Europe and Asia accounting for 12% of total British trade and 19% of total Japanese trade – has promoted strategic discussions between Britain and Japan. The Joint Statement of the 3rd UK-Japan 2+2 explicitly raises concerns over the South China Sea as well as a commitment to a “rules-based order in the maritime domain based on the principles of international law, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and to the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes through diplomatic and legal means.” Such messaging is an important component of showing the resolve of states, and could potentially check or at least slow future Chinese expansion.

Another strategic rationale for both nations is to relieve some of the pressure on their defense industries. Given defense budgets must deal with ever-increasing defense inflation and rising research and development costs, cooperative ventures are touted as cost-saving. They can also exploit pooled technologies. A UK-Japan study on a new Joint New Air-to-Air Missile (JNAAM) Phase 2, promises to put a Japanese engine in British Meteor missiles, creating what some experts predict will be the best missile in allied inventories. There is also ongoing research in chemical and biological protection technology, and there could also be further cooperation in amphibious capability, giving UK forces – slated for cuts – an urgently needed lifeline. Then there is cyber security cooperation that becomes more urgent as each year passes, as advances in technologies like artificial intelligence create new emerging threats to national infrastructure and national economies.

Finally, there is the ability for closer UK-Japanese cooperation to pave the way to trilateralism with the US, creating a healthy synergy between three liberal democracies vested in the current global order. There is a sort of geostrategic logic to this, with all three sharing intelligence about their respective hemispheres. There are also other drivers. The United States and the UK are part of the Five Eyes intelligence group, and can help shape Japan’s ongoing quest to develop a strong intelligence community institutionalizing cooperation and socializing Japan’s intelligence agencies in Five Eye’s standards of intelligence-sharing, operations, and classification. The three also rely on the maritime global commons for trade. The signing of a trilateral naval agreement in November 2016 indicates increasing attempts to control such spaces, and a willingness for the three to resist such efforts.

Despite the apparent strength of these various drivers toward cooperation, sceptics of the budding UK-Japan bilateral point to the disparate set of security goals and the geographical challenges. London and Tokyo differ, for example, in how they regard Russia and China. Post-Brexit Britain, for example, still views China as an important trade partner, and Russia as its most pressing security issue. Tokyo, in nearly perfect contrast, views Russia as a diplomatic opportunity, and China as its most pressing security challenge. Other naysayers point to the scarcity of resources that each can commit to the other’s region. The visit of four British Eurofighters to take part in the Guardian North 16 exercise in Japan seemed underwhelming, while Japan – for its part – has tended to view the relationship as a means of bring Britain to Asia rather than helping to contribute more to Britain’s own regional security. For those policymakers at the forefront of such debates, justifying the time and resource expenditure seems to push bureaucracies toward short-term, “low-hanging fruit” objectives, but states must start somewhere, and these relationships allow for incremental evolution.

Perhaps the largest challenge to future UK-Japan-US trilateralism is a lack of sustained interest in Washington. Part of this is geostrategic – American policymakers are yet to grasp the benefits of such a partnership  – and part of it is bureaucratic. It may sound simplistic, but the co-location of regional desks in the Pentagon and State Department made Indo-Pacific trilaterals (under PACOM leadership) much less troublesome than a trilateral that stretches across two different regions and unified combatant commands. The original trilateral – the US-ROK-Japan variant – was relatively easy to do since DOD desk officers who worked on Japan and Korea shared an office. Similarly, Washington think tanks tend to frame research by sector or geographic region. So few of the influential think tanks that currently research trilateralism (like CSIS, Brookings, and AEI) have researchers with a background in both UK and Japanese security policy. It is a larger leap than Japan–India security policy.

Despite these challenges, it is clear that US-Japan-UK and UK-Japan security cooperation will continue to be a growth business. This is primarily because the international system is going through a deeply unstable period, and insecure states naturally seek out allies and partners to help alleviate their insecurity. As long as Russia and China continue to use salami-slicing tactics and the threat of military force to break down the liberal rules-based order, democratic allies of the United States like Britain and Japan will continue to develop these loose security ties. The real question is whether such relationships are sufficient. Will they actually deter would-be aggressors when all is said and done? It is a truism of modern history that alliances caused the First World War. In actual fact, we know that Great Britain remained uncommitted to its Triple Entente partners, France and Russia, in 1914 and to France, again, in 1939. In both cases, London was compelled to go to war despite its wishes. It all depends on the level of commitment and the level of messaging that status quo powers are willing to commit. The more committed the UK and Japan are, the stronger the message.

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

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