The United Kingdom's strategic review underscores the significance of the Indo-Pacific, labeling China as the most severe state-level threat. This aligns with the realization that the security of both the Indo-Pacific and the Euro-Atlantic areas are interconnected. The Royal Navy has responded by deploying an aircraft carrier group around HMS Queen Elizabeth in the region temporarily.
Furthermore, the UK has engaged in partnerships to bolster its presence and capabilities in the region. One of these alliances is AUKUS, which it formed with Australia and the United States. The UK has also worked with Japan on the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) to advance the development of a 6th generation combat aircraft.
Perceived Shortcomings of UK’s Efforts
A report from the House of Commons' Defence committee, however, argues that the UK's efforts are not sufficient. The report notes that the UK is currently not equipped enough, particularly in military terms, to achieve its ambitions in the region.
The UK’s Asserted ‘Pivot’ to the Indo-Pacific
The British government contends that a strategic shift towards the Indo-Pacific is already in motion with the permanent deployment of two ocean patrol vessels, the HMS Tamar and HMS Spey, and plans for further deployment of an aircraft carrier group by 2025. The presence of a garrison in Brunei and regular involvement in military exercises in the Indo-Pacific, most notably in Australia, are additional signs of this shift.
Contrary to the government's claims, British MPs argue that more actions need to be taken to make this pivot to the ‘East of Suez', or Asia, a tangible reality. John Spellar, Vice President of the Defence committee, argues that the claims are yet to match the actual actions taken.
Recommendations by the Defence Committee
The committee report posits that the UK's presence in the region remains limited; it lacks combat forces and regular activities, so the pivot to the Indo-Pacific is far from being fully realized. The report suggests that if the UK has ambitions to play a significant role in the region, it needs to commit substantial funds, equipment, and personnel. A possible alternative would be a rebalancing of existing resources, although this could affect other priorities, such as support for NATO operations.
Spellar has stressed that the UK lacks real military capacity in the region, which could hinder its ability to play a significant role in the event of hostilities. The committee agrees that maintaining stability and peace in this region is not only crucial for global security but also for the UK's own safety and prosperity.
Call for Clarity and Strategy
The committee criticizes the UK's strategy for the Indo-Pacific, describing it as ‘still not clear'. It recommends the government to formulate a unique and integrated Indo-Pacific strategy. This should combine diplomatic and military measures to counter the escalating threat from China.