Returning East Of Suez

Discussion in 'Postwar' started by Charley Fortnum, Dec 30, 2018.

  1. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Perhaps I've not been keeping up on current military thinking, but these latest stirrings seem to have come from out of nowhere. Apparently the MoD is considering two new military bases overseas: one in South East Asia (Brunei and Singapore are the most commonly mentioned possibilities) and one in the Caribbean (for purposes completely opaque to me!). The former is a surprise, but wholly explicable. The aspiration to send a carrier group (or whatever passes as one now days) on freedom of navigation exercises around the various disputed islands that China is claiming has been floated a few times already, and the hefty price tags for those gorgeous carriers needs to be justified. If nothing else, I'm wholly in favour of greater Anglosphere co-operation in military and wider spheres, so despite its unexpected nature this could be a good thing. Not holding out for the resurrection of the FARELF patch...

    As to the latter, we currently have Cyprus to cover the middle east, Ascension for the South Atlantic and Diego Garcia for the subcontinent, but what with Cuba having come in from the cold, I can't see any point in having British forces loitering around the Americas. Am I missing some kind of strategic interest?

    Brexit BOOM: Britain to become ‘true GLOBAL POWER’ after UK exit with new military bases

    UK 'could build new military bases around world after Brexit'

    Britain to become 'true global player' post-Brexit with military bases in South East Asia and Caribbean, says Defence Secretary [Paywall]
  2. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Safeguard the Panama Canal?? possibly we are presently using French bases in the area

  3. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    After many years there are certain interests who want the UK to return 'East of Suez', after largely leaving there in 1974 for economic reasons. This advocacy and some physical investments predate the current Defence Secretary.

    What did we retain 'East of Suez'? We had presence in a few places: Brunei with a Gurkha battalion; Bahrain with a small naval facility for the long serving minesweeper group; various RAF facilities in Qatar (since Gulf War One), "stuff" in Oman (here we have just had a major Army exercise: 17 years after last Oman exercise British Army is back... | Daily Mail Online ); a small presence at the US base on Diego Garcia and access agreements in Singapore (we still have a treaty commitment there: Five Power Defence Arrangements - Wikipedia ).

    Before bases often come exercises, so did you note these? In 2016 the RAF exercised in South Korea: RAF to take part in drills in Japan and South Korea amid North Korea nuclear threat | Daily Mail Online and more recently the RN with the Japanese: British troops join forces with Japanese for first time on their soil amid North Korea tensions .

    Of late we have added to the Bahrain naval facility: HMS Jufair - Wikipedia

    If we have a strategic need in the South Atlantic there are the facilities on Ascension Island (US operated for a long time and now jointly: RAF Ascension Island - Wikipedia ) and The Falklands. It is likely that some African nations will provide facilities, although not on the scale Kenya does - an almost permanent Army presence.

    In the Caribbean we normally have a frigate and a RFA present, they rely on a network of commercially provided dock facilities - with political approval. There is a tiny presence in Belize, training and advisory: Belize Defence Force - Wikipedia

    Why is the UK quietly doing this? The main reason is to reassure our "cousins" that the 'Special Relationship' remains valuable for them, even if that means returning to distant places and waters - notably in the Eastern Pacific.
  4. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    As is usual with British Governments post-war, we are trying to punch well above our weight because we are concerned about our place on the Security Council.

    We are trying to punch well above our weight because we simply will not commit sufficient resources to defence and diplomacy. Until we do, we will continue to undermine the operational capability of our armed forces because, in order to look big, we have to spread the jam very, very thin.

    Personally, I find the whole thing absolutely pathetic. HMG only this week announced 3,500 soldiers to support Brexit - and what exactly are they going to do?

    Roy Martin likes this.
  5. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    In the standard Whitehall "spin" after the Defence Secretary's interview with 'The Daily Telegraph' we have this detail: 'A source close to Mr Williamson said the new bases could be sited in Singapore or Brunei in the South China Sea, or Montserrat or Guyana in the Caribbean "within the next couple of years".'

    This is simply crazy. Singapore has a thriving seaport, with a support industry; Brunei has an oil-gas export facility, some fishing and one deep water port @ Muara - with a naval facility for Brunei's three patrol boats. See: Muara, Brunei - Wikipedia

    Montserrat, well half of the island is closed after a volcanic eruption in 1995 (including the airport and port). It is importantly a UK territory, technically a internally self-governing overseas territory and defence is a UK responsibility: Montserrat - Wikipedia

    Guyana has one main port and has major problems with access, as the channel is silted up and the depth has decreased so commercial shipping access is restricted. It's politics are hardly stable, although this report suggests the current government is friendly towards the UK: I am unsure that means a military base would be welcome, especially as most Latin American nations do not allow foreign basing.
    Roy Martin likes this.
  6. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I've read your posts here with great interest, but could you clarify: do you mean that the timescale (a couple of years) is crazy? Or that the locations put forward are crazy choices.

    As to your first post, I'm pretty up-to-date on British deployments in East Asia as I live in the region, but I confess I had no idea about Bahrain.

    Interestingly, I was talking to a former South Korean submariner a few years ago and he said their navy was quite keen on increasing co-operation and exchanges with the Royal Navy as they have long-term aspirations to achieve 'blue water' capabilities and the logistics/supply/maintenance side was the largest hurdle.
    Roy Martin likes this.
  7. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron


    The phrase was from the report in 'The Daily Telegraph', behind a pay-wall. I disagree with this policy full stop. With the exception of Singapore the choices are crazy.

    There are experts who have written on the choices and calculated that the RN cannot deploy in strength to distant waters. One of them is Professor Paul Rogers, so try: Britain's global role: fantasy vs reality and within that Global Britain: A Pacific Presence?

    The RN I understand is still highly regarded professionally, although without many ships etc to project influence. the RN's logistic support experience is highly sought after. Even if many in the RN / MoD objected to building FRA in RoK dockyards: South Korea wins Navy tanker deal So the RoK comment is not a surprise.

    You have reminded me that the RN's Indian Ocean presence a few years ago (Somalia & Yemen) depended on Japanese naval support and they had a liaison office in the MoD(N) building.
    Roy Martin likes this.
  8. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member

    Given the current recruiting crisis I have no idea where they would get the troops needed to maintain two garrisons.

    However as there are no more 'cushy' overseas postings anymore, maybe those battalions finishing less pleasant operational tours could go there to wind down.

    I believe the UK has a small force in the Caribbean Sea fighting drug trafficking and providing emergency assistance during the Hurricane season.

    "Considering" is hardly making a commitment. More like push it into the public domain and see if anyone comes up with a better idea. The cheapest form of consultation.

    Then park it in the long grass like all the others.
    Roy Martin likes this.
  9. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron


    My understanding is that the RN is the UK's permanent presence in the Caribbean. When the last hurricane hit HMS Ocean was sent, plus RM by plane - although without any weapons, much to the police's bewilderment in the BVI. There is a jungle training facility in Belize, for the Army and possibly small exchanges with local defence forces.

    Do such possible, planned bases need a garrison? I think not.
    Roy Martin likes this.
  10. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I'd overlooked the British Army's plan for mentoring and training with aligned brigades to various regions. See this world map via Twitter from a MoD document: Engaging Strategy on Twitter Oddly it shades in several nations where the UK has almost no chance in my opinion of being welcome or needed.

    This blogger has an excellent overview: Thin Pinstriped Line: Global Bases for a Global Britain? He concludes: 'It is realistically going to be several years until anything concrete emerges, but in the interim this statement of aspiration is a helpful way of signalling to these regions that the UK remains a global player, that it wishes to take a renewed interest in their regions, and that it wishes to stay permanently. Whether all the nations in these regions will welcome this though remains to be seen.'
    Roy Martin likes this.
  11. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    It's unlikely that Britain will be able to recruit the manpower for Williamson's vision.I see Germany is to recruit foreign nationals for their armed forces and would appear to be in the same position as Great Britain. Subcontracting recruitment has not for the MOD,been a sound policy and has proved to be an expensive policy returning poor results by adding a "middle man" in the recruiting process.

    Then there is the cost of the defence estimates.One extra burden from the two carrier project is that in order accept F 35 aircraft conversion,the whole RN fleet will require upgrading to the same communications system as the US.As it was put to me by a serving member,those two carriers are causing expenditure which is detrimental to RN's primary role.

    The fact is that successive government chose to reduce the defence commitments overseas as the Empire was dismantled by the postwar independence policy towards the colonies together with withdrawal from the Suez Canal,Iraq,Libya and Aden.

    As it is, the watershed of British global power was the Suez crisis which terminated Eden's political career as a result of being told to pack up and go home by Eisenhower.

    Can Great Britain be recognised as a global power when it has to rely on the US for what in reality a hired expensive nuclear deterrent whose deployment would be in the hands of the US.There might be some strands of being a global power if we had, as France, our own developed nuclear deterrent but that is not the case.
    Roy Martin likes this.
  12. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member


    I just happened to be cruising out of Miami in October 2017 as HMS Ocean arrived to resupply before going south to the Caribbean. There was already a Bay Class Landing Ship (RFA Mounts Bay) in the Caribbean helping British and former British territories.We also spotted HNLMS Karel Doorman in Willemstad, Curacao.

    Who knows how many the Defence Minister is talking about, but if they need someone to look after their IT in their new Caribbean garrison, I would definitely be interested.


  13. Shiny 9th

    Shiny 9th Member

    I would think that this strand of strategic thinking is a bit of cover for masking a very different type of warfare in the future. Surely the ability to monitor and disrupt an enemies IT and its infrastructure is a better way of waging war if we have to. Whilst some presence is always useful for a wide variety of reasons, tomorrow's wars might not need fit, energetic, physically capable soldiers, etc. Maybe all those young techie gamers might have better skills which could be utilised.
    Roy Martin and papiermache like this.
  14. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

    Time was when the British Empire spent money on a naval base at Singapore and both the Army and Navy knew that the Japanese would invade through Malaya, there being staff college exercises in the 1920's to work out how to resist. A factor they didn't take into account prior to 1941 was the creation of Vichy France, their ties to the Japanese, and the importance of air cover for shipping. It is a very hard thing to learn but it would be more cost-effective than bricks, mortar and ships to encourage people to learn Chinese, Japanese and Korean ( and any other language of the region.) And computer language, of course. A friend was recently in South Korea helping them to mend their modern German-built submarines ( non-nuclear, run on compressed air). I'll ask him what he thinks of the current plans.
    Harry Ree, Roy Martin and Shiny 9th like this.
  15. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    Part of the problem is that the Army is worried that 'if they do not use it, they will lose it'.

    As a result, the Army agrees to anything that is asked of it and so runs very hot all the time. This impacts hugely on soldiers' quality of life - particularly if they are married with children or in strong relationships, and so turnover across all ranks is very high.

    The Army needs to slow down, bring some fun back into soldiering and give everyone a chance to recharge their batteries.


    Shiny 9th and Roy Martin like this.
  16. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

  17. Shiny 9th

    Shiny 9th Member

    Sadly modern life is not like that. It's not just the army. We have become fixated on targets and everyone performing at 110%or more all the time. Then we wonder why people burn out, go off on protracted sick leave and then resign. Wildly inefficient, wastes training and people's lives.
  18. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

  19. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    I think that he is bang on.

  20. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Perhaps the MOD envisage taking out another 100 year lease from China on Hong Kong.

    Overall it is likely that there will be a mismatch between the military budget/ investment and envisaged military workload.Britain has been defence cutting from 1957 when Duncan Sandy's raised the axe and predicted as regards the RAF,the future would be one of the redundancy of manned aircraft.Then the TRS 2 project was abandoned in 1964 over lack of funding and the MOD turned to the F111, cancelled that as a replacement option and ended up with the Phantom.

    If these bases are established,there is the task of ensuring that they can be supported in the time of conflict in their particular area.

    It would be interesting to know who is driving this global policy in addition the the Secretary for Defence.The Chinese will not be happy with UK bases in their area of influence....they seem to regard the South China Sea as theirs, irrespective of fly and sail bys.
    Tricky Dicky likes this.

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