INP0002

Written evidence submitted by Dr Jie Sheng Li

 

Author: I am Dr. Jie Sheng Li, a freelance research analyst in international relations, political economy, defence and like-minded topics. Disclaimer: This uses evidence I submitted to the previous Defence Committee’s inquiry titled UK Defence and the Far East. See:

 

Why is the Indo-Pacific important to the UK? What are its political, diplomatic, economic and operational interests in the region?

 

1 The UK is a middle power yet has a history of a large empire covering a sizeable portion of East Asia. The historical trend forms a long-standing political and diplomatic interests with Commonwealth countries. These include key member states such as Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. The UK also has political links with other smaller Commonwealth nations such as Kiribati, Nauru and Vanuatu.[1] The UK has a single British Overseas Territory, the Pitcairn Islands, govern by the British High Commissioner to New Zealand.[2][3] The region is historically an economic powerhouse, famous for the contain the four Asian Tigers, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. These countries and others not only grew spectacularly post-World War Two but also waithood the impact of the 1997 and 2008 economic crises.[4]

 

2 The MOD’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) Global Strategic Trends (GST) series have highlighted the region’s economic power and political flashpoints. The fifth edition argues that “China and India will almost certainly continue to be the dominant powers in the region by 2045” in terms of economic power and demography. South East Asia and Oceania will also be dominant in terms of population size and contribution to global GDP.[5] With population rising, there may be possible strong increase in demand for energy sources. There may also be disputes as citizens increasingly join different religion groups. Other causes of strife may be due to water, food and natural sources. These possible strifes may not concern the UK’s defence but may affect exports, imports and British dual nationals. The sixth edition of GST more explicitly indicate how topics like the environment, human development, economic growth and governance might positively or negatively shape East Asia. Likewise, South East Asia, contain the busiest shipping lanes in the world, has a GDP of nearly US$3 trillion and as a region ranks as the seventh largest economy.[6] All this are not relevant to the UK’s Defence, yet as it is crucial to the UK’s trade, economy, science and technology. The 2021 Integrated Review (IR) sums this up, stating that “the Indo-Pacific already accounts for 17.5% of UK global trade and 10% of inward FDI.”[7]

 

3 I define ‘operational interests’ as defence and security interests between the UK and the Indo-Pacific. There are two main historical interests, first the Five Powers Defence Arrangements (FPDA). This pact draws the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore to ‘consult’ should there latter an attack on the latter two countries.[8] Although neither country is most definitely not susceptible to large-scale attacks, the FPDA remains a useful defence pact for the five Commonwealth countries.[9] The second colonial defence arrangement is the United Nations Command (UNC), the component left after the Korean War. The Korean War has officially not ended and the UK is a key contributor, having contributor during the conflict. It continues to provide staff officers to the UNC and the defence attaché “s the UK Member of the Military Armistice Commission.”[10][11] The UK is also a signatory of UNC-Rear, allowing member countries to provide logistical support to UNC.[12]

 

4 Beyond these, the UK recently is growing closer with Japan in areas such as defence, trade and technology.[13][14] Beyond this, the UK has interests to compete with its Western allies to be explicitly present in the region. In the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue session, French Defence Minister Florence Parly joking told then Secretary of State for Defence Penny Mordaunt that she came with not just a delegation but with an entire Carrier Strike Group.[15] France has previously published a Defence White Paper that centres on the Indo-Pacific, detailing how it will secure its Exclusive Economic Zone there.[16][17] The US Defence Department also published a policy paper on its defence in the  region and the Biden Administration most recently published its strategy in the region.[18] Germany, despite not having any EEZs in the region, has deployed a frigate for long-term security reasons.[19] The UK thus has competing Western allies in the region and must has a case to be present there.

 

4 It is therefore clear that the UK has substantial interests in this geographically-distant region.

 

What progress has been made on the goals for UK Defence as part of the Indo-Pacific Tilt as set out in the Integrated Review and the Defence Command Paper?

 

1 There has much defence-related activity besides the deployment of Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG 21). One of the objectives in the IR is: Strengthening security at home and overseas. This follows with a sub-section titled: Countering state threats: defence, disruption and deterrence.[20] Similarly, one of the objectives in the 2021 Defence Command Paper is: Strengthen Security at home and overseas. Two River-Class Batch 2 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) have deployed to the region on a five-year mission.[21] HMS Spey as widely broadcast, is providing Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) to Tonga.[22] HMS Spey has recently visited the Pitcairn Islands, the first Royal Navy ship since 2019.[23] HMS Tamar has been placed under command of UNC-Rear, enforcing sanctions against North Korea.[24][25] Furthermore, the UK has appointed a Lieutenant-General as the Deputy Commander for the UNC, the first British deputy since its formation.[26] This appoint is supplemented by providing additional staff officers to the UNC.[27] These show the UK meeting the objectives in the IR and the Defence Command Paper. The Royal Navy also aims to meet the goals by deploying a Type 31frigate to complement to two OPV deployment. There’s plan to deploy a Littoral Response Group (LRG), titled LRG (South), based at Duqm.[28][29][30]

 

2 The British Army has formed the ‘Future Soldier’ concept where it plans to operate in wider areas, forming ‘land regional hubs’, a ‘Global Response Force (GRF)’, a ‘Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB)’ and an ‘Army Special Operations Brigade (ASOB)’. The SAFB could assist in meeting the IR and Command Paper goals of countering threats and providing security by engaging with Indo-Pacific forces. Ranger battalions under the ASOB might aid in enhancing regional armies.[31] The 1st UK Division under Future Soldier is aligned towards global engagement.[32] The UK and Japan signed an agreement to work on a multi-function radar antenna with would likely be adapted on Britain’s future Tempest fighter and Japan’s FX programme.[33]  

 

What impact has the Carrier Strike Group deployment had in the region?

 

1 The Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) has displayed a relatively good military impact and a strong political impact across the Indo-Pacific and beyond. A recent parliamentary answer provided the full range of exercises and port visits that ships of CSG21 made.[34] It indicated that the UK could exercise its forces on a large-scale with far away allies and like-minded partners as will and non-Pacific allies.[35] It also showed that the UK could operate seamlessly with two allies – the US and the Netherlands – using fifth-generation aircraft. For the first time in decades, a Royal Navy attack submarine sailed to Pacific waters, all the way to Busan, South Korea and Perth, Australia, the latter to signify the UK’s commitment to AUKUS.[36][37]

 

2 CSG21’s deployment was, however, not without controversy. HMS Diamon’s engine broke down and had to leave the Strike Group for repairs in Italy.[38] Diamond was supposed to participate the FPDA’s 50th Anniversary however withdrew due to ‘technical difficulties.[39] A F-3%B launched and crashed into the sea with leaked footage of the crash.[40][41] Equipment are not fallible but the MOD’s press response could be much more transparent.

 

Are the goals set out (for UK Defence as part of the Indo-Pacific Tilt) in the Defence Command Paper appropriate and achievable?

 

1 As noted, one objective in the Command Paper is ‘Strengthen Security at home and overseas.’ The deployment of the two OPVs, the existing and likely expanding British Defence Singapore Support Unit (BDSSU)[42] and the appointment British Deputy for UNC would surely meet this objective in the short term. The planned deployment of a Type 31 and LRG will definitely assist in meeting the objective. Another objective is ‘Shaping the open international order.’ The above and plan deployments may also meet this objective. There are academics such as Sebastian Vandermeersch echoes that British presence in the region is addressing security and economic concerns.[43] Commander René Balletta article also indicates how small OPVs are still effective in meeting the UK’s security interests.[44] In the longer term, the Command Paper’s objectives and plans for the region would be quickly outdated. As noted, the Indo-Pacific region, as with others, will change in an uncertain manner. State and non-state based may arise or lessen as will social-cultural and economic flashpoints.[45] The IR and Defence Command Paper Indo-Pacific section will thus be obsolete quickly. There should be a refresh of that section, akin to publishing periodical reviews of SDSR 2015.[46] More importantly, there should be a UK Indo-Pacific Strategy akin to the French and US versions, see above.

 

Who are the UK’s key regional allies and how effective are UK Defence’s current engagements attempts and future engagement plans both in terms of operational and non-operational areas (such as science and technology)?

 

1 The UK’s obvious allies in the region are Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan. Singapore is definitely a key ally, not just a member of the FPDA but a leader in STEM and has signed science and security-related agreements with the UK.[47][48] Japan and the UK as noted are get close in defence, security and technology. South Korea recently held a cyber dialogue with UK.[49]  

 

What is the benefit of closer defence co-operation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states and how can this best be achieved?

 

1 The Defence Command Paper pledged to “pursue closer defence with ASEAN member states.”[50] ASEAN is more of an economic pact and loose political organisation. It definitely has no military doctrine or structure like NATO or agreements like the FPDA. Most significantly, ASEAN is a non-interventionist organisation.[51] It is best for the UK to pursue bilateral agreements with ASEAN member states but should be an observer of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus).[52]

 

Does the UK need bases in the region? What challenges are there for UK Defence in its Indo-Pacific tilt, both in terms of achieving its goals and operating in the region? How will the UK manage or balance resourcing, in particular deployment of personnel and capabilities, the tilt to the region alongside NATO and other commitments?

 

1 I will answer these questions together. This submission is made as Russia has invaded parts of Ukraine. There have been arguments that the IR is flawed to have a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific. Former Chiefs of the Defence Staffs (CDSes) Stirrup, Richards and Houghton all argue against the tilt and prefer simply a focus on the Euro-Atlantic or NATO.[53] Academics such as Dr. William D. James have been cautious regarding the tilt, suggesting occasional deployments, not larger deployments.[54] NATO is most certainly a key military alliance for the UK yet it does not mean the UK should solely focus is defence only to this organisation. The UK has not shied away from its from NATO commitments with the tilt, having constantly led the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (EfP) in Estonia[55] since 2016 and added additional forces in response to Russian aggression.[56] The IR did not dismiss the Euro-Atlantic, in fact stating an increasing in British NATO commitments and reaffirming its commitment to NATO.[57]

 

2 A key challenge for the UK tilting to the Indo-Pacific is definitely committing resources. The former CDSes may have an argument to just focus on the Euro-Atlantic given the shrinking British Armed Forces and the availability of assets. However, these officers served during government defence cuts and also conducted military operations outside the Euro-Atlantic without any complaints.[58] The Euro-Atlantic surely is a region of tension, however, as noted above, the Indo-Pacific has areas of flashpoints and tensions. History further informs us that a narrow focus on the ‘Home Front’ could result in a defence-related failure elsewhere. A ‘fall of Singapore’ scenario is definitely unlikely in the Indo-Pacific, yet however much UK forces have shrunk or reduce availability, it must not result in reducing focus. There have been no calls to withdraw British forces from for example, the Middle East. The UK still must focus on improving capability to provide credible deterrence globally.

 

3 A second challenge is the lack of communications and strategy regarding the tilt. The IR and Defence Command Paper provide details of the tilt yet it still lacks a proper strategy. The possible reason from those against the tilt. Tsuruoka Michito, for example, details what CSG21 and the AUKUS deal mean for the region. John Bradford similarly details how the various Royal Navy vessels will provide strategic value to the Indo-Pacific.[59] There’s an analysis on the future of the FPDA and the UK’s role. There ideally should be a British Indo-Pacific Strategy to spell out the UK’s position there.[60]

 

4 This lack of a strategy links to the question about additional basing. The idea is extremely challenging as forming new bases in the Indo-Pacific requires much negotiation. As noted, there is already BDUSS located in Singapore. The country’s defence ministry has clarified that allied forces use its facilities but there is not any ‘foreign military’ base in-country.[61] BDSSU is co-located with the US CT73, also not listed as a foreign base.[62] The Gurkha garrison is Brunei has exercised with regional forces, but again is unlikely to expand for the tilt.[63] Australian bases might be open to British forces since personnel already work there.[64] More importantly, strategy should be laid out before additional bases should be considered.

 

5 This leads to a further challenge: The need to be transparent. While there was news on CSG21’s deployment, it was not constantly reasoned by the MOD, attracting criticism such as a Brexit theatrical response.[65] There should be continuous MOD responses why British forces are deploying to the Indo-Pacific. There is already little MOD media on defence engagement with Pacific partners, with only sporadic releases of attendance at the annual Shangri-la Dialogue.[66] Few senior British military officials have visited the region and the last FPDA chiefs meeting was attended by VCDS Admiral Fraser while his counterparts were all Chief of Defence.[67]

 

Conclusions and Recommendations

 

1 The UK government is correct to tilt towards the Indo-Pacific. There must be a strategy produced to indicate it is a tilt and not a ‘full swing’ and abandoning NATO. The strategy should emphasise that commitments there are unlike NATO; the FPDA is not a military alliance and does not require the UK to present force.[68] The strategy should not just state military assets but how the whole-of -government can meet UK interests there.

 

2 The UK must quicky lay out what sort of assets it will deploy there. For example, what will be the Type 31 capability be or the configuration of the LRG (South). The inability to quickly present what it will deploy will affect relations with allies and adversaries.

 

3 Defence engagement must as the Command Paper states, increase explicitly. The Chief of Defence or MOD Permeant Secretary should visit the region not just during the Shangri-la Dialogue but also to present the UK’s strategy or vision to the region there.

 

 

24th February 2022


[1] https://thecommonwealth.org/our-member-countries

[2] http://pitcairn.pn/

[3] https://www.gov.uk/world/pitcairn-island/news

[4] https://www.investopedia.com/terms/f/four-asian-tigers.asp

[5] DCDC, 2014, Global Strategic Trends, Fifth Editon, Shrivenham, Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, South & East Asia and Oceania section, pp.147-153 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/771309/Global_Strategic_Trends_-_The_Future_Starts_Today.pdf

[6] DCDC, 2018, Global Strategic Trends, Sixth Edition, Shrivenham, Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre. East Asia and South East Asia section, pp.174-190

[7] UK Cabinet Office, 2021, Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, London: Cabinet Office, p.66 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/975077/Global_Britain_in_a_Competitive_Age-_the_Integrated_Review_of_Security__Defence__Development_and_Foreign_Policy.pdf

[8] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131104/text/131104w0002.htm#131104w0002.htm_wqn18 See column 173511

[9] Pek, Wee Kian, 2017, The Five Power Defence Arrangements: A Contemporary Assessment, Singapore, Ministry of Defence, Pointer Journal Vol 42.4 https://www.mindef.gov.sg/oms/safti/pointer/documents/pdf/V42N4%20A1.pdf

[10] See answer to https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2018-06-13/153214

[11] The history and details of UK contribution can be found here https://www.unc.mil/Organization/Contributors/United-Kingdom/ 

[12] https://www.unc.mil/Organization/UNC-Rear/

[13] https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uk-japan-agree-strengthen-trade-security-partnership-2021-05-03/

[14] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-and-japan-begin-talks-on-deeper-defence-relationship

[15] See session Asia’s Evolving Security Order and its Challenges, Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces, France https://www.iiss.org/events/shangri-la-dialogue/shangri-la-dialogue-2019

[16] https://franceintheus.org/IMG/pdf/France_and_Security_in_the_Indo-Pacific_-_2019.pdf

[17] France’s foreign ministry has recently published a White Paper on its interests in the Indo-Pacific https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/en_a4_indopacifique_v2_rvb_cle432726.pdf

[18]

https://media.defense.gov/2019/Jul/01/2002152311/-1/-1/1/DEPARTMENT-OF-DEFENSE-INDO-PACIFIC-STRATEGY-REPORT-2019.PDF and https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/U.S.-Indo-Pacific-Strategy.pdf

[19] https://www.bundeswehr.de/en/organization/navy/news/indo-pacific-deployment-2021 and https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/en/aussenpolitik/regionaleschwerpunkte/asien/frigate-bayern/2502176 and https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/01/03/german-navy-indo-pacific-frigate-china-policy/

[20] Integrated Review, pp.69-70

[21] https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2021/september/07/210907-spey-and-tamar-deploy

[22] https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2022/january/26/20220126-spey-in-tonga

[23] https://twitter.com/air_intel/status/1495548167034740736

[24] https://twitter.com/CDR_UNC_R/status/1489510438547369986

[25] https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2022/january/20/20220120-hms-tamar-enforces-un-sanctions-against-north-korea

[26] https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/63576/supplement/23984

[27] https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2022-01-12/102631

[28] Defence Command Paper, paragraph 5.22. p.31

[29] https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2021/november/03/210311-royal-marines-complete-desert-exercises

[30] https://editions.shephardmedia.com/2022/02/16/mt-01-22-rn-training/pugpig_index.html

[31] Future Soldier Paper, 2021, p.18 https://www.army.mod.uk/media/15057/adr010310-futuresoldierguide_30nov.pdf

[32] This was confirmed to me in a FOIA request. A previous request informed me that various Army brigades would be aligned towards different regions.

[33] https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2022/02/15/new-warplane-sensor-team-boosts-uk-japan-defense-agenda/

[34] https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2021-12-13/91830

[35] See for example UK and US joint strikes against Daesh from CSG21 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/stealth-jets-fight-daesh-in-first-combat-missions-from-hms-queen-elizabeth

[36] https://twitter.com/BOSS_1105_/status/1432676275999571968 and https://www.submarinersassociation.co.uk/images/SA/Pages/In-Depth_Newsletters/In%20Depth%20No%2075.pdf p. 15

[37] This is commendable as I recommended this in the previous inquiry (see above) and the IR call of evidence https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/integrated-review-call-for-evidence

[38] https://www.forces.net/news/csg21-hms-diamond-suffers-technical-issues-and-leaves-group-repairs

[39] https://www.shephardmedia.com/news/naval-warfare/technical-issues-force-hms-diamond-to-miss-final-d/

[40] https://news.usni.org/2021/11/17/u-k-mod-f-35b-from-aircraft-carrier-hms-queen-elizabeth-crashes-in-mediterranean-british-pilot-recovered

[41] https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2021/11/30/leaked-crash-video-of-british-f-35b-shows-jet-dropping-off-carrier-ramp/ 

[42] Also known as Naval Party 1022

[43] https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/internationalrelations/2021/10/06/what-is-behind-the-uks-new-indo-pacific-tilt/

[44] https://warontherocks.com/2021/08/the-royal-navy-in-the-indo-pacific-dont-use-a-sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut/

[45] I again refer to the GST series where the Fifth edition labels the East Asian region as an “increasing strategic significance” while the Sixth edition clearly highlights the growing political, economic power of China.

[46] I refer to the reports of the previous SDSR for example https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/575378/national_security_strategy_strategic_defence_security_review_annual_report_2016.pdf and https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/819613/NSS_and_SDSR_2015_Third_Annual_Report_-_FINAL__2_.pdf

[47] https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/portal/mindef/news-and-events/latest-releases/article-detail/2018/june/02june18_nr5

[48] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/memoranda-of-understanding-with-singapore-digital-trade-facilitation-digital-identity-and-cyber-security

[49] https://www.mofa.go.kr/eng/brd/m_5676/view.do?seq=320935&srchFr=&srchTo=&srchWord=&srchTp=&multi_itm_seq=0&itm_seq_1=0&itm_seq_2=0&company_cd=&company_nm=&page=1&titleNm

[50] Defence Command Paper, p31.

[51] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24761028.2019.1681652#:~:text=In%20other%20words%2C%20ASEAN%20remains,strength%20to%20handle%20these%20issues.

 

[52] https://admm.asean.org/index.php/about-admm/about-admm-plus.html

[53] https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/204/default/ and https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/1973/pdf/

[54] https://warontherocks.com/2021/02/there-and-back-again-the-fall-and-rise-of-britains-east-of-suez-basing-strategy/ , http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/foreign-affairs-committee/global-britain/written/81333.pdf and https://warontherocks.com/2017/11/ambition-meets-reality-global-britain/

[55] https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/2022/2/pdf/220210-MAP-eFP-en.pdf

[56] https://www.army.mod.uk/news-and-events/news/2022/02/exercise-iron-surge-bolsters-nato/

[57] IR, pp. 5, 6, 11, 12

[58] Lord Stirrup oversaw early operation in Afghanistan, Lord Richards was in command of British Forces in Sierra Leone. Lord Houghton also was Chief of Joint Operations during the second Iraq war and in fact received and award from Malaysia, an Indo-Pacific nation. https://web.archive.org/web/20150615105145/http://www.mod.gov.my/ms/berita-terkini/2324-majlis-pemakaian-pingat-oleh-timbalan-menteri-pertahanan.html

[59] https://amti.csis.org/naval-engagements-will-brace-the-united-kingdoms-indo-pacific-tilt/

 

[60] I have questioned this before, see https://thediplomat.com/2019/06/where-is-britains-indo-pacific-strategy/ and https://wavellroom.com/2020/07/28/the-uks-defence-in-the-pacific-or-lack-thereof/

[61] https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/portal/mindef/news-and-events/latest-releases/article-detail/2019/January/03jan19_mq

[62] https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/singapore.htm

[63] The Indonesian government turned down the Gurkhas during the 2004 Tsunami as they fought their forces during the confrontation. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/rest-of-world/tsunami-relief-blair-rides-gurkha-storm/articleshow/983027.cms

[64] https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-11-24-revealed-the-uk-militarys-overseas-base-network-involves-145-sites-in-42-countries/

[65] https://warontherocks.com/2021/08/why-is-a-british-carrier-strike-group-heading-to-the-indo-pacific/

[66] https://www.gov.uk/search/all?keywords=%22shangri-la%20dialogue%22&order=updated-newest

[67] https://www.mindef.gov.sg/web/portal/mindef/news-and-events/latest-releases/article-detail/2021/November/01nov21_nr

[68] https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2016-01-29/24952