The United Kingdom and the Pacific: Possible Paths for Active British Engagement

By Dr Stepan Stepanenko

British interests in the Indo-Pacific have become increasingly threatened, through dangers to supply chains and displacement of British Nationals in the region. In turn, the UK’s Indo-Pacific tilt, as outlines in the Integrated Review, has led to greater UK involvement in the region but it is currently lacking the clear diplomatic trajectory of British European engagement under the alliance and treaty structures, including NATO and the JEF. This paper looks at the diplomatic pathways to alliances that the UK can utilise, with a view to facilitating a greater British reach in the Indo-Pacific, as well as enabling UK’s military, intelligence and economic involvement in the region.

The paper looks into the existing diplomatic vehicles and alliances for delivering a greater British presence in the Indo-Pacific. The value and implications of the reciprocal agreements with Japan are considered. Their limitations and benefits to UK military operations are discussed. The paper also considers the Five Eyes alliance, presenting a brief history of its development and benefits to UKs continued participation as a contributor and user of the shared intelligence data. British participation in the AUKUS, as well as its possible increase, together with benefits and limitations are also considered.

The paper posits the possibility of the UK’s membership of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), now comprised of the US, Australia, Japan and India. With Britain enjoying a strong, and growing, relationships with Quad member states in many diplomatic, economic and military spheres, there is a strong argument for UK’s membership. This move will also create a diplomatic framework for greater UK military trade and presence. At the same time, there are stronger arguments for other states, such as countries located in the Indo-Pacific, to join the Quad. There is also a question of whether existing members will allow for a British membership and if such a move is beneficial to the UK.

Finally, the paper proposes and expansion of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), both in terms of operations and membership, into the Indo-Pacific. With a global operational capability, as well as with no obligations for member states to take part in any of the JEF activities, the Force offers a versatile platform. It is also a British led initiative, the introduction of which would inject a new perspective on the geopolitics of the area.

Moreover, existing JEF members have already expressed concerns with the dominant power of the Asian Indo-Pacific, with some nearly severing ties.


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