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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.

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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.


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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.


Looking to create a ‘Global Britain’? Japan and the Royal Navy might hold the answer

The Telegraph, 15 December, 2017

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The image of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson shaking hands with their Japanese counterparts, Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera in the National Maritime Museum yesterday was heavy in symbolism.

Taking place in Greenwich, resplendent in all its naval glory, pointed not only the two countries’ shared naval history, but to a common naval future. The fact that global geopolitics is increasingly maritime in nature means that a post-Brexit Britain, a “Global Britain”, may need to look increasingly to the sea.

According to Dr Alessio Patalano of King’s College London, it makes sense for Britain to work with Japan given “the nature of their export-oriented economics and reliance on the maritime commons for national wealth.”

Given Britain’s geography and growing naval capabilities, its security posture may be increasingly maritime in nature. To some, this may sound like harking back to Britain’s imperial past, but it is actually about securing Britain’s future.

Around 80 percent of global trade is seaborne at present and predicted to continue increasing.

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In an Era of Brexit and Chinese Power, is it time for a New UK–India ‘special relationship’?

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RUSI Newsbrief, with Jack Wright, 23 November, 2017

At the launch of the Access India Programme in late September, the assistant vice president of Invest India, Vivek Abraham, announced that India hopes to increase UK exports by ensuring that the ‘red carpet is rolled out’ to British small- and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to invest in India. Launched by the High Commission of India in London, together with the India Business Council, the initiative is a hopeful sign that New Delhi is willing to expand its current relations with the UK as the latter continues to negotiate Brexit and reformulate its place in the world.

While it is true that Brexit has seen the UK mired in deep uncertainty at the domestic level, leaving the EU offers a historically unique opportunity for Britain’s foreign policymakers to sit down and think of a new global role for the country at a time of great international flux – a role apart from the Europe-centred approach adopted since the end of the Second World War. It is also a timely opportunity for New Delhi – which has discovered that its traditional non-aligned policy has left it with few allies.

The main cause of the flux in the global order is, without a doubt, the rise of China, which has both the ambition and the means to re-order the liberal, rules-based international order to its liking. As an outward-reaching authoritarian power that is increasingly intolerant of liberal values, China’s ambitions do not bode well for the liberal part of the order. The fact that Beijing seems to view both domestic and international law as subject to Communist Party control does not bode well for the rules-based part of the global order. It has ignored or selectively interpreted aspects of international law – such as Beijing’s sovereignty-expanding interpretation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – or simply sought to change facts on the ground unilaterally, using salami-slicing tactics. Its island-building across a major global trade route is one example, its attempts to shift the Sino-Indian border using troops on the ground is another.

It will therefore increasingly fall to powers such as the US, Japan, India, the UK and the EU to attempt to constrain – and re-direct – China’s efforts to construct an authoritarian global order. India – another rising power within the current liberal order – is an ideal partner in this endeavour. While India does not – strictly speaking – consider itself liberal, Indian society is informed by classical liberal principles and is relatively tolerant, with a secular constitution promising justice, equality and liberty to its nine major religious groups. India also has a strong democratic tradition, a nominally independent judiciary and a (albeit partial) free press, among the most liberal in South Asia. Given that two major economic and security partners of the UK – Japan and the US – are fostering closer ties with India, there is also the possibility of strategic complementarity between London, Washington, Tokyo and Delhi on Chinese efforts to control global trade routes.

Going ‘East of Aden’, a UK shorn of its EU identity will want to redefine itself in ways that complement its strengths. In addition to becoming a bulwark for the liberal, rules based order, the UK also has more pressing business with India in the form of cooperation on cyber and counter terrorism. However, there are many gaps in the relationship that will require work before such lofty strategic dialogues can have meaning. Delhi has not always been open to cultivating such a close relationship with London. During the Cold War, India followed Nehru’s non-alignment posture and also formed a burgeoning security partnership with Moscow, aided by the strong residue of post-imperial resentment. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, India began its own economic reforms of the ‘Licence Raj’ – the excessive regulations on setting up and running businesses – in a bid to escape the economic chaos that had characterised the 1980s; but Delhi remained uncertain of what type of foreign policy it should pursue. The result was non-alignment by default, causing a regrettable absence of a major Asian power in regional politics.

While the past two decades have been dominated by the rise of China, the rise of India as an active global power might be no less important: of the original four BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), only India and China have realised the growth predicted by economist Jim O’Neill – who coined the term ‘BRIC’ – in the early 2000s. As a consequence of its ongoing rise, India has gradually recognised the need to play a regional and diplomatic role on the international stage. Delhi has either strengthened or built strong relationships with a number of middling powers across Asia, including Vietnam, South Korea and Japan, as part of its ‘Look East’ policy. The visit to India in early September by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was hailed by many Indian broadsheets as the start of a potential alliance with the world’s third largest economy. It came almost exactly three years after the two states agreed to double by 2019 both the amount of Japanese direct investment in India and the number of companies working there. When it comes to China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was elected in May 2014, has sought a nuanced approach, balancing a firm line on India’s northern borders with an openness to Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI); Chinese FDI increased in 2014 and 2015, with the May 2015 signing of cooperation deals worth £14 billion the most obvious success.

By comparison, London has failed to capitalise on India’s rise from middle to regional power: although former Prime Minister David Cameron secured rising levels of investment before his resignation in June 2016, the UK remains only India’s 12th biggest trading partner — and there are signs that this ranking may drop even further. The inability by Theresa May to secure a comprehensive economic bilateral agreement during her visit to India in November 2016 was regarded by many British commentators as a relative failure, caused mostly by an inability to exchange continued visas for Indians to the UK for UK access to India’s growing services sector. Now many young Indians are choosing to turn towards Germany, Australia and the US – rather than the UK – for educational and employment opportunities.

Despite this, there is much to gain in attempting to foster closer ties. A Commonwealth report entitled ‘Brexit: Opportunities for India’ asserted that a free trade agreement between the UK and India could see the value of British exports to India increase from £4.2 billion (in 2015) to £6.3 billion, an increase of 33%. Much of this bump would simply come off existing trade, since a UK–India free trade agreement could dispose of the high tariffs that currently exist (British exports into India average around 14.8%, while Indian exports into the UK average 8.4%). The UK has significant human resources that might help to develop this new relationship with India. There are approximately 1.5 million Britons of Indian origin, and so the UK has a strong diaspora that can act as human bridges in a policy environment where trust is pivotal. Key policy leaders – including Alok Sharma and (despite her recent fall from grace) Priti Patel – reveal the depth of this growing network, which could prove instrumental in efforts to mutually enrich the ties between India and the UK.

Moreover, according to a British Council report, young Indians continue to identify with British culture, ranking the UK as the second-most attractive global economy after the US. With an immediate application rate of 4,000 in 2014 alone for the Generation UK–India programme for shortterm study and work placements, it is clear that the UK should tap into the diaspora to strengthen its longstanding historical connections with India in the era of ‘Global Britain’.

In a recent report on global capabilities, James Rogers, Director of the Global Britain Programme at the Henry Jackson Society, created a power index using seven key indices, including economic clout, diplomatic leverage and military strength. With its strong assets, unique geographical advantages, far-flung network of bases and strong defence-industrial complex, he argued that British hard power could be formidable. The UK has clearly looked to bolster its ‘strategic ambition’ in the Asia-Pacific through its naval capacity: in an address at the Defence Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair in September 2017, First Sea Lord Sir Philip Jones insisted that the implementation of the National Shipbuilding Strategy (published by the Ministry of Defence) would be a vital precursor to any substantial future regional presence. Although the UK currently has established defensive relationships (Five Eyes, ANZUS, FPDA) with a string of US allies (including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei), India should be considered as a future security partner of the first order.

The global landscape is reconfiguring itself as a number of states gain increasing power and as the US, Japan and Europe decline in relative terms. One outcome of this shift has been the cross-fertilisation of US partnerships and alliances across the Asia-Pacific region in what was once a traditionally bilateral system. Japan– India defence ties have been growing on the back of close US support and engagement; the relationship between the two states is now a quasi-alliance in the fields of defence industry and defence cooperation. While China and Russia have viewed such alliance networking with suspicion, their actions in the South China Sea and Ukraine have to some extent fostered these new relationships. Concerned with what they see as piecemeal attacks on the current rules-based order, Washington, Tokyo, Canberra, and New Delhi have begun to engage in closer strategic cooperation, not to contain Beijing or Moscow, but to deter them. Indeed, the four met on the sidelines of a recent APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in a rebirth of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. This reshaping of the strategic landscape is something that the UK might lend itself to as it disengages from the strategic passivity of the European project.

At the 2017 DSEI in London, Sir Philip stated, ‘Having invested so much practical and political capital in [the development of British carrier strike capacity], our American friends will be watching closely to see if the UK is serious about remaining their partner of choice’. As the Trump administration looks to firm up US comprehensive national power through tax reforms and new economic bilaterals, there is a sort of logical symmetry in London joining other nations engaged in this high-level security cooperation. Indeed, London already has historically deep ties with Washington, has fairly strong ties with Tokyo – including a 2+2 strategic dialogue – and has similar concerns about the future of the global order. A strategic bilateral with New Delhi would foster both this strategic socialisation and an overall deterrence strategy, as well as build on areas of cooperation already in existence, such as cyber security and international counter terrorism. Debates on the rights and wrongs of Brexit are beside the point now. Now is the time for London’s foreign policy community to be debating about the future of Britain’s global posture at a time of great flux. Of course, there will be many short-term challenges, particularly regarding London and Brussels; however, there will also be many more long-term opportunities.

The flux in the global order, China’s attempts to shape that order, India’s rise as a new power in that order and the relative decline of liberal democracies mean that there is a desperate need for a new British strategy on how London will confront these major events. Confronting the collective rise of Asia, it would be foolish for the UK to view its ejection from the European project as a net loss. It is now able – if indeed it chooses – to become a truly global power with relationships and partnerships across the world. Since the UK is better poised to enhance relations with powers that share common values than with aggressive competitors, it would be odd if India – with all its potential as a democratic power – were not at the top of the list of future partners in the Asia-Pacific.

In April 2018, the UK has a unique opportunity to begin strengthening its relationship with India in the form of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which will take place in London and Windsor. Not only should Modi be invited, but he should be welcomed with the ‘reddest carpet’ possible. While there is scepticism in India on the UK’s attempt to re-engage using the Commonwealth, Delhi is also confronting its own challenges – not least from Islamist terrorism and an increasingly assertive China – and should not neglect an opportunity to reshape its own international isolation. As China’s economic diplomacy slowly brings states around India into Beijing’s orbit, Delhi could do with shaking off its nostalgia for a nonalignment that never really existed and adjust to the fact that the global order is changing. Now is the time for a ‘Golden Era’ of bilateral relations; now is the time for London and Delhi to develop a new ‘special relationship’.


Analysis: The specialist role Britain could play in a new Korean War

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The Telegraph, 11 October, 2017 (with James Rogers)

The news that British war planners are working possible scenarios for British involvement in a North Korean contingency is both disturbing and an indication of how serious the Ministry of Defence is taking this iteration of the North Korean crisis.

It also comes as Whitehall’s civil servants consider new defence cuts for the re-appraisal of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

The ghost of Iraq 2003 continues to stalk Whitehall

We say “this iteration” of the North Korean crisis because this crisis did not just begin, but really has been percolating since May 1992. That year, a team of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors led by Hans Blix found inconsistencies in North Korea’s initial declaration and their findings.

The past 25 years have been about the United States, South Korea, Japan and other regional states attempting to reassure, cajole, bully, and buy North Korea into giving up its nuclear ambitions.

Fast-forward to 2017, and not only does Pyongyang have nuclear weapons, it is perfecting the means for long-range delivery. Because of its bellicose attitude toward the South – a democratic country it still claims to own – there is a very real possibility that British forces and personnel might be drawn into a second conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

As the UK thinks of what Global Britain means in strategic terms, what would or should Britain do if such a conflict were to occur?

Of course, all of this depends on how the conflict began.

If a conflict occurred because US Forces took unilateral action in what is being termed a “preventative” war, the chances of UK forces taking part alongside them are nil. The ghost of Iraq 2003 continues to stalk Whitehall and British leaders were reminded of this when Parliament – sensing the mood of the country – refused to authorise an intervention in Syria in 2013.

However, if North Korea were to instigate a conflict, there might be a moral and strategic compulsion for Britain to take action. After all, it is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a close treaty ally of the United States, and has growing economic and security relationships with South Korea.

South Korea has recently built four Tide class replenishment vessels for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the Royal Navy’s logistics arm. London also has an annual security and foreign policy dialogue with Seoul, and last year sent a small contingent of British troops to take part in US-South Korean annual exercises Ulchi Freedom Guardian.

Despite the very slim possibility of a long conflict with North Korea – security experts often stress that such an event would be swift and brutal – it does present military thinkers with questions over what the UK could do in such a conflict, particularly in light of the sheer magnitude of forces arrayed on both sides.

Despite some pointing to the possibility that the HMS Queen Elizabeth might be rushed out to the region with a handful of British F-35s (which may or may not yet be fully operational), this seems unlikely. After all, the US has two carriers within the Pacific already with a total of 90 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike fighters.

Peter Roberts, Director of Military Sciences at Rusi, states that if the US were to push for British involvement, it would likely ask Britain for some of its most-prized capabilities. These include space-based communications capabilities, hydrography and mapping capabilities, mine-sweeping, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms, specifically, the UK JSTARS platforms.

Britain’s specialist capabilities

According to Bruce Klingner, a North Korea weapons expert at Heritage Foundation, North Korea still fields an impressive arsenal of anti-ship cruise missiles, including a modern version of the Russian Kh-35, which has a range of 70 nautical miles and houses 320-pounds of high explosives.

The Type-45 Destroyer is equipped to deal with exactly this kind of surface-skimming airborne missile threat using its PAAMS air defence capability, and could provide cover for US, South Korean, and other allied naval forces as they concentrate on air operations to take out North Korean missile ballistic missile targets.

While North Korea’s submarines are often derided as antiquated and poorly serviced, the fact is that one sunk one of South Korea’s corvettes, the ROKS Cheonan, with a CHT-02D torpedo from about 3 kilometres away. Therefore they should not be taken lightly by any allied fleet operating in waters near North Korea.

The Royal Navy might deploy Type 23 frigates which were built particularly with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) in mind. With thirteen in operation, the UK could conceivably deploy a small number to fence the perimeter of any allied fleet.

Filling the gaps left elsewhere

Another role that the Royal Navy could play is that of backfilling. If US forces were to rush to the Pacific in order to bolster operations there, they would leave a vacuum in the security of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf. The UK could fill such a vacuum until such time as US forces could return to their regional bases.

While there is a chance that a “preventative war” that aimed to bring down Pyongyang might bring in Chinese involvement, it is not clear that Beijing would takes sides if North Korea initiated hostilities.

Earlier this year, a Chinese professor, Jia Qingguo, wrote openly about China holding talks on contingency planning with Washington and Seoul in East Asia Forum, a regional blog. It is not clear whether his article was authorised or merely personal.

Let there be no question: a war with North Korea would be brutal and involve many tens of thousands of dead and should not be initiated on a whim. However, if North Korea were to strike first and the international community were compelled to respond, the UK should be able to help with the response.

While Korea and Japan would be under more pressure to help, the UK must consider its own role as a global power, both in terms of protecting its own interests and supporting its allies. As we approach the re-appraisal of some parts of the 2015 SDSR, it is hoped that Whitehall is broadly aware of these issues.

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

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