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Why the United Kingdom is tilting towards the Indo Pacific?

Why the United Kingdom is tilting towards the Indo Pacific?

Relevance

  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & its neighborhood || Indian Ocean Geopolitics

Why in the news?

  • Britain wants to expand its influence among countries in the Indo-Pacific region to try to moderate China’s global dominance.

Background

  • Following the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has attempted to re-align his government’s strategy to protect Britain’s geopolitical interests and counter threats raised by Russia and China on several levels.
  • In view of the aforementioned trends, Britain has taken two significant steps
    • To begin, the United Kingdom will dramatically increase its nuclear stockpile to address threats raised by Russia’s growing military might (“the most acute threat to British security”) and China’s assertiveness (“the biggest state-based threat to the United Kingdom’s economic security”).
    • Second, the United Kingdom is looking to India and the Indo-Pacific region to ensure that its geopolitical interests are safeguarded and the economic effect of Brexit is minimized. For this reason, Britain has expressed its desire to join ASEAN as a partner, and Mr. Boris Johnson will visit India in April to reinforce long-standing relations.

UK’s Position in the contemporary world

  • Britain’s fading power
    • The Suez Crisis of 1956 is considered by some commentators to be the beginning of the end of Britain’s period as a superpower.
    • The Suez Crisis is regarded to be a political and diplomatic disaster for the United Kingdom, as it led to large-scale international condemnation, including extensive pressure from the United States and the Soviet Union.
    • This forced the British and the French to withdraw and cemented the increasingly bipolar Cold War politics between the Soviet Union and the United States.
  • Decolonization era and Britain
    • In the 1960s, the decolonization movement reached its peak, with remaining imperial holdings achieving independence, accelerating the transition from the British Empire to the Commonwealth of Nations.
  • The UK as the Sick Man of Europe.
    • The United Kingdom later experienced deindustrialization throughout the 1970s, coupled with high inflation and industrial unrest that unraveled the postwar consensus.
    • This led to some to refer to the UK as the Sick Man of Europe.
  • Postwar Decline
    • In 1976, the United Kingdom sought assistance from the International Monetary Fund which it had helped create, receiving funding of $3.9 billion, the largest-ever loan to be requested up until that point.
  • UK as a soft power
    • The United Kingdom today retains extensive global soft power, including a formidable military. The United Kingdom has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council alongside only 4 other powers, and is one of the nine nuclear powers. Its capital city, London, is regarded as one of the pre-eminent cities in the world, ranking first in the Global Power City Index by the Mori Foundation.

History of UK’s presence in the Indi-Pacific Region

  • In 1968, the United Kingdom withdrew east of Suez and closed its military bases in Singapore and Malaysia.
  • The strategy aimed to maintain the balance of power in the face of what was expected to be a rising Chinese army.
  • After the end of the UK’s forward-based presence in 1968, successive British governments have ignored the region as the defense of Europe against the Soviets has taken precedence; the Middle East crisis will finally catch the attention of UK foreign policy.
  • The global financial crisis of 2008 and David Cameron’s austerity policies prompted the UK to pursue contributions from emerging economies in the Indo-Pacific to revive the economy.

Indo-Pacific: The New Point of Convergence

  • A win-win game
    • Both countries’ interests and futures seem to be intertwined, with the UK expanding its footprint in the Indo-Pacific and India seeking to establish itself as the region’s net security provider.
  • Military importance
    • Improving military-to-military relations should be a priority shortly.
    • Though service-specific joint training exercises occur, their frequency does not match that of India’s exercises with the US.
    • Defence Exercises
      • Air Force Exercise ‘Indradhanush’.
      • Navy Exercise Konkan.
      • Army Exercise: Ajeya Warrior
    • The lack of fundamental agreements may also be a stumbling block. A military logistics agreement is scheduled to be signed shortly, while a memorandum of understanding on joint training is in the works.
  • Access to the bases would benefit India
    • The United Kingdom is no stranger to the area, with bases in Kenya, Brunei, Bahrain, Oman, Singapore, and British Indian Ocean Territory. Having such a foundation in place would not only help it achieve its goals in the country, but it will also benefit its partners.
    • Access to these bases will allow India to expand its reach further into the Indian Ocean.
  • Sharing maritime Domain
    • Working with other like-minded countries, such as Japan and Australia, there is great scope for close cooperation in areas of maritime domain awareness and intelligence sharing by leveraging the strength of each other’s assets.
  • Japan’s initiative to improve defense intelligence sharing with India, Australia, and the United Kingdom is a major move in this direction.

India-U.K. relations in changing geopolitics

  • The common history of the two
    • India and the United Kingdom have a common history, and now that the United Kingdom has left the European Union, they must chart a new path together (EU).
  • Deepening of the ties
    • Changing geopolitical realities have now led the UK and India to converge on the Indo-Pacific concept, and compel both to work towards a deeper partnership.
  • Containing China
    • India has realized that the United States is incapable of containing China’s most dangerous impulses on its own.
    • Changing geopolitical realities have now led the UK and India to converge on the Indo-Pacific concept, and compel both to work towards a deeper partnership.
  • The Domino Effect
    • As their bilateral relationship grows stronger and regional and international cooperation expands, India and the United Kingdom can find it easier to handle tensions over Pakistan and South Asian diaspora politics in the United Kingdom.
    • India and the United Kingdom are reportedly discussing a “migration and mobility” deal to make it easier for Indians to legally enter the United Kingdom.
  • Investment
    • Britain is among the top investors in India and India is the second-biggest investor and a major job creator in Britain.
    • India has a credit balance in total trade of $16 billion, but the level is below India’s trade with Switzerland, Germany, or Belgium.

Way forward

  • There has been a conscious effort by the UK to engage more with India for over a decade now. In India, Mr. Cameroon saw a rare phenomenon—a vital geostrategic player, enjoying rapid economic growth and with democratic credentials – and so a natural partner for the UK.
  • The India-UK defence partnership will no longer be limited to a buyer-seller relationship in the future. It will not, however, be limited to defense development.
  • The two countries can forge a genuinely comprehensive strategic partnership in action through strong maritime cooperation and a joint approach to sustaining regional security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

Conclusion

  • The deep cultural, historical, and linguistic links between the UK and India already provide a potentially strong basis on which to build a stronger relationship with India.
  • With a new set of circumstances, India and the United Kingdom must recognize that they are now dependent on one another to achieve their larger objectives.

Mains model question

  • With a new set of circumstances, India and the United Kingdom must recognize that they are now dependent on one another to achieve their larger objectives. Analyze

References