“A military alliance” by Sharkey Ward
This short paper proposes a formal and mutually beneficial Defence Pact between Britain and her trading partners within the Arabian Gulf:
- That is supported by the visible military strength and deterrence of a British Carrier/Maritime Battle Group permanently deployed to the Indian Ocean and
- That is funded partly by our Arabian Gulf trading partners.
“Whereas any European power has to support a vast army first of all, we in this fortunate, happy island, relieved by our insular position of a double burden, may turn our undivided efforts and attention to the Fleet. Why should we sacrifice a game in which we are sure to win to play a game in which we are bound to lose?”
The Island State of Britain depends upon its global Sea Lines of Communication and Trade for its very existence. In turn, the protection of its trade routes and access to foreign markets depends upon the mobility and flexibility of its maritime forces and those of its allies.
The increasingly troubled world economic and political scene has resulted in our principal ally, the United States of America, being overstretched and under resourced and it is now impractical to suggest that the world’s trade routes can be adequately protected by the United States alone. We cannot and should not therefore rely entirely upon our allies for providing a sustainable umbrella of protection for our Global National Interests.
Britain’s specific offshore interests are tied in many ways to the interests of other nations that also rely on the same trade routes for their prosperity.
This short paper addresses the need for a coordinated solution to the protection and security of these trade routes.
Related Phoenix Think Tank papers demonstrate the efficacy, mobility and flexibility of a Carrier/ Maritime Battle Group (CVBG/MBG) for providing visible power and deterrence upon the high seas. The planned Queen Elizabeth class Carrier and Air Group with its supporting cast of Type 45 Destroyers, Hunter Killer Submarines and general purpose escorts represents a vital integrated weapons system for the protection of our offshore interests and trade routes. It is the most cost-effective solution to the need and, as with all deterrents, must be visibly deployed to be effective. This suggests that at least two such CVGBs should be available and preferably three.
CVBG deployment must take into account the geographical disposition of those States that might wish us harm as well as the chokepoints on our trade routes that must be considered most vulnerable to attack, whether from rogue states or major terrorist organisations sponsored by such states. Three particular chokepoints spring to mind: Suez/the Gulf of Aden, the Straits of Hormuz and the confined pilotage waters of the Indonesian peninsula.
It appears only logical that Britain should keep one CVBG deployed regularly, if not permanently, east of Suez. Such a deployment would be of direct benefit not only to Britain’s offshore interests but also to the interests of many littoral States in the theatre who are equally concerned about the security of their trade routes and outlets. Further, it would relieve the pressure on the now overstretched United States Navy.
A New Alliance/Defence Pact.
For the foreseeable future, the Arabian Gulf will remain a significant source of oil and gas. In terms of modern anti-ship weapons systems that are now proliferating throughout the developing world, the waters of the Gulf have become highly vulnerable to surprise attack. A key issue here is the significant and unpredictable threat posed by Iran and the arguable inability of other Gulf States to counter effectively that threat. The anticipated withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq only compounds the long-term problem (for decades now, Gulf States have lived in fear of Iran’s fundamental Shia desire for aggrandisement and control of the Gulf).
As briefly discussed in the Phoenix Think Tank paper, “Defence against Swarm Attack”, a properly equipped CVBG stationed in the Indian Ocean could provide a long range surveillance and air strike/attack capability that would deter Iran from precipitous aggression against neighbouring states and against international shipping within the Gulf.
This deterrence capability is as much in the interest of Gulf States as it is in Britain’s interest and it is for consideration, therefore, that Saudi Arabia and her peaceful neighbours should be invited to contribute to the cost of and the permanent establishment of a British CVBG in theatre. Such an Alliance/Defence Pact could then be expanded to take into account the threat to shipping in the Indonesian peninsula; again on the understanding the CVBG is funded, at least partly, by appropriate States in theatre.
The Scope of a new Alliance/Defence Pact.
The role of a British CVBG under such an agreement would have to be clearly defined and understood by all parties. First look recommendations would be as follows:-
- The raison d’être for the CVBG presence in theatre would be deterrence followed by graduated response.
- The CVBG would conduct regular and detailed surveillance missions of the Iranian coastline and associated offensive weapon systems and provide Alliance members with regular briefings on the same. These surveillance missions would be conducted largely by Unmanned Carrier Air Vehicles (UCAVs) launched from the carrier and other rotary wing Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) launched from escorting warships.
- Graduated response to warlike acts on the part of Iran would be limited to the air interdiction of Iranian weapons systems and installations responsible for such acts. There would be no insertion of significant British ground forces on the Iranian mainland.
- Capital ships such as the Carrier and, possibly, the Type 45 would not in any circumstances make passage into the Gulf. Smaller escorts might be deployed into the Gulf for visits to Allied States.
Why Should Saudi Arabia and Sister States Enter into Any Such Agreement?
Currently the Gulf States do not have any such formal defence agreement upon which they can specifically rely. Public opinion within the United States, Britain and its NATO allies is now strongly entrenched against becoming involved in further major land warfare conflicts offshore such as Iraq and Afghanistan. This cannot have escaped the attention of the Gulf States and must be causing them considerable concern – whereas Iran is probably becoming more confident in its position of power.
Several Gulf States have some defensive weapon system capability, especially Oman and Saudi Arabia. But they have neither the expertise nor the capability of combating Iranian aggression on their own. Further, their static defensive weapons installations (e.g. military airfields) become more vulnerable by the day to the increasing missile attack capability of Iran.
Entering into a defensive pact with Britain (albeit limited to surveillance and air interdiction) would provide peace of mind as well as significant political gain on the part of both parties. An alliance with the British would be far less tainted in the eyes of the Arab world than a formal alliance with the United States, whose undeserved reputation as an enemy of Islam goes before them, in spite of President Obama’s overtures.
Footing at least part of the cost of a British CVBG in theatre that is dedicated to deterring aggression by Iran and associated terrorist organisations is well within the compass of the rich Gulf States.
Support of MBGs/CVBGs East of Suez.
Although this paper centres upon the suggestion that Arabian Gulf States should be invited to form and to fund a mutually beneficial Defence Pact with Britain, the presence of a powerful Royal Navy Battle Group East of Suez would also be of considerable benefit to other littoral States such as Pakistan, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It is for consideration that these States (or some of them) should be approached with a view to providing, at their own cost, support facilities and basing for such Battle Group deployments. Commonwealth nations in particular might recognise the intrinsic benefit to be achieved from such support arrangements which would not impinge upon their sovereignty but would add significantly to their security.
Should this proposal meet with serious interest from or the implicit approval of the British Government, then those states that feel threatened by Iran would have the benefit of an ally that is not dependant on easily targeted shore bases. A further advantage might be that Great Britain may once again be seen as a friend in the eyes of the Muslim world, thereby reducing the tensions in Pakistan and elsewhere.
 1. The Queen Elizabeth Class Carrier: Options for the Fixed Wing Air Group; 2. Dealing with Asymmetric Swarm Attack: the Future Carrier Air Group; 3. Naval Aviation, a Historical Perspective.
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