INP0012

Written evidence submitted by Dr. Walter C. Ladwig III

  1. Dr. Walter Ladwig is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at King’s College London and an Associate Fellow in the Navigating the Indo-Pacific Program at the Royal United Services Institution.  His academic research focuses on the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific as well as Indian foreign and defence policy.


 

UK DEFENCE AND THE INDO-PACIFIC

  1. This submission addresses the UK’s main interests in the Indo-Pacific, the opportunity to partner with allies in the region, as well as the likely benefits of engagement with regional groupings like ASEAN and the Quad.

 

Summary

  1. Engaging with the Indo-Pacific does not require the UK to be active everywhere: playing a beneficial role in just part of this vast area is useful to allies and partners.  The UK has long-stranding economic and security interests in the Indo-Pacific and has been active in key sub-regions for years.  The latter point should feature more in Britain’s strategic messaging about the “tilt.”  Relations with India are a critical component of any UK Indo-Pacific endeavour, and the building of other partnerships should not detract from that effort.  Cooperation with France and perhaps trilateral UK-India-France trilateral cooperation is needed in the Western Indian Ocean region.  Finally, the British government should have modest expectations for the gains to be made from engaging with regional institutions in much of the Indo-Pacific.


 

Britain’s interests in the Indo-Pacific are multifaceted

  1. The UK wants to tap the economic potential of the Indo-Pacific.  Not only is the region expected to be the main engine of world economic growth in coming decades, but the nations that constitute its littoral region also contain large portions of the world’s proven oil reserves, gas, gold, uranium, and diamonds, as well as a host of important industrial raw materials.  At present, only three of the UK’s top-15 export partners (Japan, China, and Hong Kong) are located in this dynamic region. Towards that end, the British government is currently negotiating free trade agreements with several leading economies in the region to expand the UK’s economic footprint.

 

  1. The Indo-Pacific in general and the Indian Ocean in particular is a crucial maritime conduit linking manufacturers in East Asia with markets in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.  UK interests also stem from concerns about the security of these vital maritime trade routes, particularly in light of Chinese attempts to push maritime territorial claims that do not appear to be in keeping with existing international law.  As a trading nation with the fifth largest maritime estate in the world who has 95% of its exports transported by sea, Britain has an interest in ensuring that international law is upheld, freedom of navigation is defended, and economic openness persists.

 

  1. In the security realm, the UK possesses obligations in various parts of the Indo-Pacific. Aside from the general responsibilities to uphold peace as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Britain’s commitment to consult with partners in Southeast Asia and Oceania in the event of a regional threat under the Five Powers Defence Arrangement means that security and stability in these regions is a concern to Britain.

 

  1. Finally, there are more than a dozen Commonwealth countries located in a region of the world that suffers from challenges of poverty, environmental degradation, as well as threats to democracy and rule of law.

 

  1. As a result of these various interests, Britain has been an active player in key parts of the region for a long time.  However, since the UK was relatively late to articulate a formal Indo-Pacific strategy, the popular perception is that the country is a relative newcomer that needs to demonstrate its “new” focus on the Indo-Pacific is both real and enduring.  This is surprising given that the UK has logistical and military facilities across the region in Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kenya, Diego Garcia, Singapore, and Brunei, which collectively allow Britain to project power from the Middle East to Southeast Asia.  The fact that the UK’s extant multifaceted engagement, be it sustained naval presence, leadership of multilateral anti-piracy operations, provision of maritime domain awareness, capacity building of local countries to monitor their exclusive economic zones, development assistance, ecological protection and so on, is being overlooked suggests a much more coherent narrative is necessary to demonstrate the UK is anything but a newcomer to the region.  At the same time, when considering new endeavours, the focus should be on establishing sustainable levels of engagement so that the UK can maintain its envisioned role over the long term, not undertaking overly ambitious commitments that raise questions about London’s seriousness should they be reduced in the future.


 

Prioritize the Western Indian Ocean: Being Engaged in the Indo-Pacific Doesn’t Mean Engaging with all of the Indo-Pacific Equally

  1. In considering defence aspects of the “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific, the UK should not seek to be everywhere and do everything.  The Indo-Pacific is a grand strategic domain: Linking the Pacific and Indian Oceans recognizes the economic and increasingly geopolitical interdependence of these regions.  However, the security challenges across this immense domain vary enormously, as does the state of institutions that form elements of the regional security architecture. Thus, while an appropriate framework for grand strategic thought, the Indo-Pacific is not necessarily a helpful construct for making and implementing policy.  This is too vast domain for Britain to give all sub-regions equal attention.  Engaging and making a meaningful contribution to regional security does not mean that one has to be everywhere in the Indo-Pacific or attempt to be part of everything that is going on in this massive geographic space. Rather, focusing on key subregions of greatest priority to Britain can demonstrate meaningful engagement and deliver important benefits to the overall whole.
     
  2. As the Biden Administration’s recently released Indo-Pacific Strategy makes clear, the American conception of the “Indo-Pacific” continues to only stretch to the western shores of India.  Their focus, partners, and actions are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Pacific Ocean, to the neglect of much of the Indian Ocean.  This raises concerns for security and stability in a vital geographic space.
     
  3. In the eastern Indian Ocean, there are a number of capable states including Australia, Indonesia, and even Singapore. However, to the west, there is a plethora of small and weak countries that lie between India and South Africa.  Many states in the Western Indian Ocean are not well equipped to counter criminal activity and non-traditional security threats in their territorial waters.

 

  1. With a long-standing history of engagement in this sub-region, Britain is well positioned to support states in need. The UK has a diplomatic presence in every country in the region except for the Comoros and is the only western nation with an embassy in the Maldives. In terms of regional security, the Royal Navy supports freedom of navigation by providing maritime security information through the UK Maritime and Trade Organization’s regional centre in Dubai. Britain also provides the deputy commander to the multinational Combined Maritime Forces which carry out counter piracy and anti-terrorism missions at sea in the western Indian Ocean.  In support of these efforts, the UK has the second largest extra regional military presence in the region which has allowed Britain to play a leading role in maritime security, as well as deepen the capacity of regional states to monitor and regulate their maritime territory. In short, the UK is already functioning as a “net security provider in the Western Indian Ocean, working with partners to help make this portion of the Indian Ocean more secure.

 

  1. Working to enhance the ability of small states to combat economic challenges in their exclusive economic zones like piracy and overfishing are primarily law enforcement efforts, however, they can constrain the ability of external powers to encroach, while helping to uphold international law.

 

Partner with India and France

  1. As the UK seeks to support its allies and forge new defence partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, the government should remain focused on the state of bilateral relations with India, which will affect the success of the regional tilt more than any other partner or policy. Not only does the Integrated Review clearly signal the importance of India to British strategy, absent a robust security relationship with New Delhi, the UK’s actions and ambitions in the broader Indo-Pacific will be constrained.  The range and scope of objective outlined in the 2030 Roadmap for India-UK Future Relations is both impressive and achievable. However, delivering on such a wide range of policy areas that cut across multiple government departments is never easy. This committee will need to constantly monitor, probe, and question to ensure that defence cooperation stays on track and the government meets these targets.  Forging new partnerships in the region is desirable, but such efforts should not be allowed to pull focus and resources from deepening the UK-India relationship.

 

  1. Among European states, France is a natural partner for Britain in the Indo-Pacific. Despite the recent kerfuffle over AUKUS and the cancelled submarine contract for Naval Group, both countries regional priorities are compatible with each other, as well as those of United States. Moreover, both nations face the challenge of balancing security interests in the Indo-Pacific with those closer to home in the Euro-Atlantic region.  By contrast, Germany’s unwillingness to act in accordance with the EU’s determination that China is now “systemic rival and competitor” for fear of hurting its trading relationship and its confused suggestions that the EU can offer a “third way” between the US and China, demonstrate Berlin is a fundamentally unserious actor in the Indo-Pacific.

 

  1. Although the UK has the desire to be “the European partner with the broadest and most integrated presence in the Indo-Pacific,” a collaborative approach with France would allow the pooling of resources and potentially create a foundation for mutually beneficial tri-lateral engagement with regional partners like India.  The UK and France have existing bilateral defence cooperation arrangements, however, despite collaboration in other spheres, the Indo-Pacific has been a notable area where the two have not engaged in significant cooperation. In the commercial realmparticularly with respect to arms salesFrance and Britain are competitors; however, this should not be allowed to colour the two countries’ overall approach to the region.

 

  1. Maintaining an open regional economic order, the protection of maritime freedom of navigation, and the sustainment of liberal values are common objectives. This could underwrite bilateral cooperation with third countries in the region, be it building the capacity of small nations to monitor and police their maritime domains or working with the region’s leading economies on technology standards and supply chain resilience. In an overall environment of resource scarcity, the coordinated deployment of military assets to key subregions where the UK and France each desire there to be a “persistent” military presence can further position the pair as security providers in the maritime domain and also send a strategic message to those who would seek to challenge the status quo.

 

  1. Although embracing the Indo-Pacific concept, India’s main economic interests and strategic priorities lie westward across the Arabian Sea rather than East of Malacca where the Americans would like them to focus.  India receives 70% of its oil from the broader Persian Gulf region, and has more than 8 million expatriate workers there. Collectively, the countries of the region are as important as the US or the EU for Indian trade flows and the Indian Navy has been active in counter-piracy operations in the Western Indian Ocean. 

 

  1. Consequently, the Western Indian Ocean is a sub-region ripe for trilateral engagement between the UK, France, and India.  Counterterrorism, anti-piracy operations, and supply chain resilience are shared priorities for all three countries.  UK-India-France trilateral cooperation can shape the political and security future in the western reaches of the Indo-Pacific.

 

 

Keep Expectations for Regional Organizations Modest

 

  1. Britain’s enhanced engagement with regional organizations in the Indo-Pacific provides tangible evidence of the seriousness behind the “tilt.”  That being said, the government should limit what it expects to gain from such groupings.

Bypass ASEAN to Work with Member States

  1. The UK’s status as an “ASEAN dialogue partner” sends a signal about British interests in Southeast Asia, but Britain should not invest much effort in ASEAN as an institution. Like other major powers, the UK will have to pay lip service to the idea of “ASEAN centrality,” however the organization lacks the political cohesion and strategic coherence to play a central role in the in Indo-Pacific—particularly when member countries like Cambodia and Laos are little more than stalking horses for China. ASEAN was never designed to be particularly powerful—so as to not usurp the prerogatives of member states—and in its never-ending quest for consensus, it often fails to live up to its own norms and principles.  Britain would be better off bypassing ASEAN and focusing energy on cultivating bilateral defence relations with individual member states like Singapore or Vietnam.

 

 

The Quad: Let the Partnership Mature

  1. In light of the attention received by the Quad, questions about the UK’s relations with the grouping understandably feature in discussions of the Indo-Pacific tilt.  Given the tremendous difficulties that the Quad nations themselves have had coming to consensus on issues such as the nature and desired response to the challenge posed by China, it would be premature to talk about adding new states at a time when the group is beginning to find its feet.
     
  2. That being said, the philosophical underpinnings of much of the Quad’s efforts with respect to freedom of maritime transit closely track with British priorities.  Likewise, the emphasis being put on “shared futures,” “shared values,“ as well as “shared security and prosperity” by Quad leaders echoes the priorities outlined in the Integrated Review.   Moreover, the UK’s new focus on innovation in science and technology, building relationships with a range of countries in the Indo-Pacific, and its desire to be at the centre of collections of “like-minded countries and flexible groupings” working to defend international norms is well-suited to both ad-hoc cooperation with the Quad on certain issue areas as well as a deepening of bilateral ties with the individual member states. 
     
  3. In particular, there would appear to be significant synergy between the UK’s focus on technology and recent decisions coming out of the face-to-face Quad leaders’ summit in September 2021 which put significant emphasis on technological and economic dimensions of their cooperation.  The Quad’s identification of technological capabilities in general as key realms of competition, with a specific focus on space, cyber, and maritime domain awareness in particular overlaps with the UK’s priorities and outlook. The specific remit of the Quad’s “critical and emerging technology working group“ recognizes that the groups ambitions in the Indo-Pacific necessitates that “critical and emerging technology is governed and operates according to shared interests and values,” which again echoes the UK’s posture on emergent technology.

 

 

Recap

  1. Engaging with the Indo-Pacific does not require the UK to be active everywhere: playing a beneficial role in just part of this vast area is useful to allies and partners.  The UK has long-stranding economic and security interests in the Indo-Pacific and has been active in key sub-regions for years.  The latter point should feature more in Britain’s strategic messaging about the “tilt.”  Relations with India are a critical component of any UK Indo-Pacific endeavour, and the building of other partnerships should not detract from that effort.  Cooperation with France and perhaps trilateral UK-India-France trilateral cooperation is needed in the Western Indian Ocean region.  Finally, the British government should have modest expectations for the gains to be made from engaging with regional institutions in much of the Indo-Pacific.

 

4th March 2022

 

 

 

             

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