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The Empire Strikes Back: UK proposes post Brexit return to Asia

uk us carrier strike group

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has proposed a return to a global British strategic presence with outposts planed for Indo-Pacific Asia and the Caribbean “within the next couple of years”.

Marking a major shift in UK defence policy for the first time since the introduction of the 'east of Suez' doctrine in the 1960s, UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced a major departure and reorientation for the UK. 

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"This is our biggest moment as a nation since the end of the Second World War, when we can recast ourselves in a different way, we can actually play the role on the world stage that the world expects us to play," Secretary Williamson said. 

Mr Williamson said that this shift would see the UK become a 'true global player' following Brexit, stepping into a leadership role in an increasingly troubled world. 

Expanding on this, Secretary Williamson said there would be a specific focus on enhancing the strategic relationships between the UK and key Commonwealth partners around the world, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Caribbean and nations across Africa. 

This renewed focus on traditionally British areas of influence and strategic responsibility, specifically in the Caribbean, and more importantly for Australia's economic and strategic stability Indo-Pacific Asia, aims to secure the UK's national interests. 

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"If we have economic interests there, we should have a military interest there," Secretary Williamson said, proposing Singapore or Brunei as potential bases for UK forces in the Indo-Pacific region, enabling greater integration with regional partners.

This announcement follows the recent update for the Modernising Defence Program (MDP) to the House of Commons in late December 2018. The MDP includes an extra £1.8 billion for defence expenditure. 

"Our adversaries and competitors are accelerating the development of new capabilities and strategies. We must keep pace, and conceive of our joint force as consisting of five domains – air, land, sea, cyber and space – rather than the traditional three," Secretary Williamson said during the announcement of the MDP. 

A key component of this shift in the UK's defence posture includes the Defence Innovation Fund (DIF), which will contribute £20 million towards projects this year, including:

  • Unmanned aerial systems;
  • Virtual reality training; and 
  • Enhanced digital communications for the future commando force. 

The DIF funding will be increased to £50 million in the next financial year and will support the introduction of the new 'Spearhead' innovation programs to apply cutting-edge technologies to areas including sub-surface threats to UK submarines; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability; and command and control across the land domain. 

"The UK already has a world-leading array of capabilities. We will make the most effective use of them. Our armed forces have led the way for global Britain, tackling our adversaries abroad to protect our security at home and nurturing enduring relationships with our allies and partners," Secretary Williamson said. 

The Empire Strikes Back: UK proposes post Brexit return to Asia
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