Britain returns to the Indian Ocean – Analysis – Eurasia Review


By Sankalp Gurjar

During the last week of October, Great Britain and India conduct their first tri-service exercises. After the United States (US) and Russia, Great Britain will be the third country with which India will conduct such an exercise. The British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will participate in these exercises. The exercises and the deployment of the British Carrier Strike Group (CSG) in the Indo-Pacific region signify the return of Great Britain to the geopolitics of the region “east of Suez”.

The term “East of Suez”, popularized by a famous British writer Rudyard Kipling through his poem “Mandalay” was an important concept in British strategic discourse. The British colonies and the outposts in West Asia, South Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific were all located “east of Suez”. Control of the continental and maritime spaces of the region along the Indian Ocean and parts of the Western Pacific helped to make Britain a world empire and a dominant power. Until the fall of Singapore in 1941 to the Imperial Japanese Army, Britain ruled the waters of the Indian Ocean.

In the 19e century and first half of the 20e century, the expansive British presence and imperatives of imperial strategy had inadvertently unified the Suez region with the South Pacific, the geographic expanse of the Indo-Pacific region, which is now very much in vogue. After World War II, Britain realized that it could not maintain the large-scale military presence “east of Suez”. In 1968 British Prime Minister Harold Wilson announcement the withdrawal from “East Suez” in 1971 and the power vacuum left by Britain were supposed to be filled by the United States and Soviet Russia.

Fifty years later, Great Britain makes its big comeback in the Indian Ocean. A series of milestones indicates the growing British interest in the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific. Earlier this year, Britain had Express its intentions to increase its presence in the Indo-Pacific region as part of the integrated review of its foreign and security policy. The review said the Indo-Pacific region is “at the forefront of new security challenges, including in cyberspace”. In fact, Britain’s strategic, military and economic interests in the region compel her to “work closely with regional partners” and she aims to “do more through the continued engagement of our armed forces and our broader strengthening of security capacities ”.

Britain is third partner in high profile security plan Alliance between Australia, US and UK, known as AUKUS. In fact, when the UKUS was announced on the 15the September, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that the purpose of the alliance is “to preserve security and stability in the Indo-Pacific”. In addition, AUKUS “will be one of the most complex and technically demanding projects in the world”. As a result, he has linked the US, UK and Australia in a long-term defense partnership that will see the US and UK arm Australia with attack submarines to nuclear propulsion. AUKUS is essential in evolving strategy to manage China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific region and will facilitate Britain’s growing role in the region.

Recent CSG deployments in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific are in line with British intentions to organize a to recover In the region. Through defense diplomacy and military deployments, Britain has signaled its willingness to regularize its military presence in the region. The return to the Indian Ocean fits well with the “Global Britain” strategy pursued by Great Britain after leaving the European Union (EU). Britain’s main strategic partners like India, Australia, Oman, Bahrain and Kenya are located in the Indian Ocean. Britain is a key member of the Five Power Defense Arrangement (FPDA) which includes Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand and seeks to become a dialogue partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Until World War II, the Indian Ocean was known as a British lake and even now the Indian Ocean is probably the largest English speaking region in the world. In addition to strategic imperatives and important economic issues, the English language and cultural connections also play a role in facilitating the return of the British to the region. Great Britain considered one of the most likely candidates for “Quad-Plus” arrangement because it benefits from solid strategic relationships with Quad’s partner countries (India, United States, Japan and Australia).

However, for Britain there are challenges to its “return” to the Indian Ocean. The first challenge concerns British military capabilities. Does Britain have sufficient military capacity to maintain a regular military presence in the Indian Ocean, let alone project its might to shape regional developments? Or should it be grafted onto the United States? If Britain is to channel its energies to the Indo-Pacific, how will it respond to challenges closer to us, including Russia?

Unlike France and the United States, Britain does not benefit from an extensive network of military bases facilitating a regular strategic presence in the Indian Ocean region. The reorientation of British strategy towards the Indian Ocean will require Britain to increase its defense capabilities by spending more on defense, including its navy and air force. Britain, after leaving the European Union (EU), does it have the political will, the financial capacity and the diplomatic resistance to do so?

The second challenge is the thorny problem of the Chagos Archipelago, which is home to the formidable American military base of Diego Garcia. Britain retained control of the strategically located Chagos Archipelago even after Mauritius became independent and allowed the United States to establish a military base at Diego Garcia. Mauritius claims the Chagos Archipelago and has won a case before the International Court of Justice on the issue. The controversial issue has yet to be resolved to the satisfaction of all three parties and poses a challenge in Britain’s account of his return to the Indian Ocean.

The third challenge is Britain’s relationship with China and Pakistan. China is a major economic partner of Great Britain. After Brexit, can Britain afford to decouple its economy from China? Britain’s Integrated Review notes that bilateral trade benefits both sides and yet China poses the greatest state threat to Britain’s economic security. The strengthening of a defense alliance with the United States and Australia, which will have direct implications for China’s security environment in the Western Pacific, and China’s brutality approach, displaying complete disregard for past agreements, to the question of the autonomy of Hong Kong (which was a former British colony) – all of this complicated Britain’s relations with China.

Moreover, Britain’s generally sympathetic attitude towards Pakistan limits the full realization of the potential of the Indo-British strategic partnership. Will Great Britain be able to minimize the contradictions of these relations to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean?

Finally, the EU is increasingly interested in Indo-Pacific affairs as evidenced by its activities such as the publication of the Indo-Pacific strategy. Decisions such as Brexit and the betrayal of France through the AUKUS alliance did not facilitate Britain’s return to the Indian Ocean. What will be the British position vis-à-vis the emerging role of the EU in the Indo-Pacific? Can they cooperate by citing shared values ​​and a convergence of interests? Will the EU, in particular France, be ready to facilitate the British role in the Indian Ocean?

These considerations will determine the nature and extent of the British return to the Indian Ocean.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of


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