Towards #SDSR18 – Middle East and Africa

The final of the 'scene setting' posts in this series, a look at the UK's defence and security commitments and approaches in the Middle East, Africa and a small section on further east.

The previous parts suggested the UK re-focus towards the territorial defence of the UK and Europe by concentrating on the North and East of Europe across a ‘Northern Arc’ from the North Atlantic and Arctic though Norway through the Baltic States and into the Visegrad Group of nations using a broad strategy based on four pillars; leadership on spending, minding our own defence, improving our allies capabilities and having some meaningful skin in the game.

The UK’s interests and risk to them, however, do not stop at the borders of Europe and so there has to be consideration of the Middle East, Africa and beyond. If prioritisation and following the principles defined in Part 1 are to be realised then we have to be realistic about what can be achieved.

From Pakistan to New Zealand, the UK maintains a surprisingly diverse range of defence relationships. In addition to defence attaches, loan service personnel and training arrangements there are a number of formal defence cooperation arrangements and in some cases, the UK has responded to requests for support in disaster relief and security operations. The Five Powers Defence Arrangement and multilateral arrangements such as the UK-Japan Defence Logistics Treaty are just two examples that form the foundation for continued joint activities.

China and North Korea pose difficult security challenge for the region. For North Korea, the UK must avoid act as a responsible member of the P5 but militarily, there is little in practical terms the UK can offer besides the occasional Royal Navy presence. China is a growing power but the UK should balance ongoing trade opportunities with the security of allies in the region and the rule of law.

Japan, Australia and New Zealand will be the UK’s main security partners in the area and there exists many interesting options for training and joint weapon systems development; Type 26, Future Fighter and the Meteor derived Joint New Air to Air Missile (JNAAM).

But beyond exercising, selected weapon systems development, training and maintaining a small presence in a limited number of locations such as Brunei, it is difficult to see anything beyond that.

The deployment in Afghanistan is small and should remain so, which leaves the Middle East and Africa, both sources of enduring instability and conflict. They are also both sources of huge economic potential although one might argue on the longer term the geopolitical importance of the Middle East will decline as the world moves away from hydrocarbons, but this will be some time away. As with points east of Pakistan, the UK has a long history and deep and diverse set of interests and relationships.

There is a temptation to see the region and the UK’s security interests in simplistic terms, usually revolving around maritime chokepoints and LNG but it is a lot more complex. Qatar for example is a significant investor in the UK, a major shareholder in Barclays and owns huge amounts of property in the UK. Qatar is the third largest export market for the UK in the region and supplies about 30% of LNG into the UK, increasingly important as the UK increases LNG use as North Sea supplies dwindle. As we know, Qatar has recently purchased Typhoon fighter aircraft. We might even be tempted to think the balance of payments is strongly in favour of Qatar but it is not, in fact, the UK and Qatar are broadly in balance in trading terms.

The recent breakdown in diplomatic relationships with Qatar and her neighbours demonstrates just how complex the situation is. Saudi Arabia, UAE Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar which left the UK (and other Western nations) treading a tightrope given the close relationships we maintain with those. There were fears that Egypt would disrupt flows on LNG tankers through the Suez Canal and two Qatari LNG tankers bound for the UK (South Hook) decided to take the long route around the Cape of Good Hope. Given that Qatari gas represents 60% of Egypt’s energy supplies and LNG tankers generate significant Suez transit revenue many thought this was a bit of muscle flexing by Qatar. Qatar has enough shipping to make the Cape of Good Hope transit and an extra week is unlikely to be economically significant for most Atlantic destinations. Vessels inbound to Qatar usually bunker at the UAE port of Fujairah but could do easily at other locations or even use LNG boil off. Gibraltar would also be a suitable bunkering port.

Getting back to maritime chokepoints, the above demonstrates how Qatar LNG tankers inbound to the UK could easily avoid two of them, leaving the Straits of Hormuz to worry about, which can also be transited without using the territorial waters of Saudi Arabia, UAE or Bahrain. On the reverse, the recent closure of the Rough Storage Facility means the UK has a reduced contingency to disruption, even though diversity of supply limits exposure. Skip forward a few years and it is entirely feasible that the UK has developed its own shale resources, increased nuclear and developed LNG import relationships with the USA. This is part of what is puzzling about the Labour Party’s opposition to UK shale and the UK’s defence engagement with Qatar and others at the same time. The simple and uncomfortable reality for that that think Qatar LNG = Permanent UK Defence Resources in the region is that in the short to medium term, the UK’s exposure to disruption to Qatari LNG is limited, in short, don’t believe the hype. That said, this doesn’t mean economic co-dependence disappears, far from it, but it just demonstrates how we should appreciate the complexity.

This is just one example in a region chock full of them, the UK is one part of a complex picture and in many ways, a bystander.

Africa is equally a complex environment but with a different set of challenges and opportunities that I described in Part 2.

Despite these differences our approach should have some similarities to that of Europe. Whilst the strategic approach in Europe is centred on the four principles of minding our own defence, leadership on spending, capability development and having skin in the game; the first of these are irrelevant to the Middle East and Africa.

This leaves capability development and having skin in the game as the two fundamental legs on which our strategy should rest.

It is worth looking at capability development, upstream engagement and conflict prevention separately.

Conflict prevention, is a simple concept that at its core seeks to make the UK safer by providing help to unstable nations such that they can help themselves to stabilise. The theory is that an Ounce of prevention saves a Pound of cure. Getting in early, de-escalating early stage conflict and supporting overseas development efforts are all seen, quite rightly, as effective means of preventing wider and much more expensive conflict.

The Army’s Adaptable Force as part of Army 2020 continues to evolve, the August 2015 Joint Doctrine Note 1/15 describes the MoD’s defence engagement approach and (although it is a few years old) the International Defence Engagement Strategy provides additional information.

Our collective experience from operations tells us that Defence Engagement activity is a constant: it rises and falls in volume and extent as situations evolve and events happen but the boundaries are blurred.  There may sometimes be a fine line between Defence Engagement and combat operations – equally Defence Engagement may continue inside a country or region during combat operations. Therefore, when understanding Defence Engagement, consensual flexibility in both scale, metrics and effect is needed.

The new Royal Navy Maritime Doctrine (JDP 0-10) also describes defence engagement in context;

The versatility and mobility of maritime forces provides a means for political and diplomatic influence in international relations. Conflict prevention is a key tenet of the UK’s overall security strategy. Such influence requires an investment in long-term habitual engagement that creates worthwhile connections that engender trust. When executed effectively, conflict prevention promotes, develops and maintains stable relationships between states and encourages cooperation and conciliation in managing international affairs. It is a gradual and deliberate process that takes time, effort and persistence. Relationships need to be nurtured and encouraged through regular dialogue and demonstrations of national intent involving all levers of national power. In addition, the Government acknowledges that Royal Navy ships’ visits are an important way of projecting the UK’s soft power globally, and it is a clear demonstration of the ‘international by design intent. The added benefit is that greater stability leads to greater trade and prosperity.

JDP 0-20 (UK land Power) describes the same;

Early and persistent engagement overseas by our land forces develops regional insight and understanding, and helps to shape international security. Such engagement not only improves the capacity of host nations to handle their own internal security challenges and establishes enduring relationships with regional military and political leaders, but also represents a commitment that demonstrates the UK’s resolve. Soldiers are particularly important in this effort, since all nations have land security elements, even if they lack credible air and naval forces. Overseas engagement by our land forces takes several forms. Capacity building is aimed at reinforcing local stability, developing good governance and enhancing partner nation resilience. Security cooperation deals, including the maintenance of close bilateral relationships with specified partner nations, help to foster exchanges and grow capabilities. Finally, improved compatibility in capabilities and procedures enables the UK to work alongside allies and partners. All of these activities provide our land forces with the insight and understanding which enable them to operate with agility and precision in a context of uncertainty. In turn, this facilitates regional access, leaving us better prepared in the event of a need to intervene. Engagement is most effective when initiated in peacetime, since it may help to avert instability and prevent conflict, although it will continue if necessary through conflict and into post-conflict stabilisation operations. Engagement overseas also contributes to national prosperity, with UK training and equipment held in high regard by many nations, enabling sales on behalf of UK industry.

Same with the RAF, UK Air and Space Doctrine JDP 0-30;

This task includes Defence Engagement activity in support of wider cross-government objectives and priorities. It includes routine activities such as visits, training, exercises and permanent overseas exchange positions, for which air power plays a key role. It also includes opportunities, such as the part played by the RAF Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, who play a significant role in international engagement, through their numerous displays, conducted annually around the world, helping to fly the flag for broader Government initiatives overseas. Air power’s speed of response in support of disasters, such as earthquakes, flood or famine can also generate a spirit of goodwill, or alleviate previously held grievances, therefore promoting security and stability. Consequently, this task contributes to gaining and preserving access and freedom of action by building alliances and partnerships, which is vital for air power projection.

JDP 05 Shaping a Stable World: the Military Contribution pulls these together and provides a good diagram that illustrates how they all fit together. Defence engagement is therefore designed to build understanding and develop capacity with the objective of preventing conflict. The Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS) is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Department for International Development (DFID) and MOD strategy for conflict prevention. BSOS also outlines three main mutually-supporting pillars of the Government’s stability strategy; Early warning, Rapid crisis prevention and response and Upstream conflict prevention.

All these documents are tremendously useful in trying to understand the UK’s approach to conflict reduction and building stability.

Defence engagement supports all three of these pillars and creates effects through four broad ways; security and non-combat operations; Defence diplomacy, defence and security exports; and regional stability, conflict prevention, post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation. The British Army and Royal Navy conduct upstream conflict prevention missions all the time and can range from a training on an opportunity basis to more involved and lengthy engagements. Some no doubt are successes, others less so, that of course being the nature of the beast. Short Term Training Teams and enduring deployments like the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT), together with regionally aligned Adaptable Force brigades, demonstrate how the British Army devotes considerable resource to the task, especially in Africa.

Fundamentally, this should be the UK’s default strategy for the Middle East and Africa.

In cash terms, the Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS) provides the basis for funding.

The overall conflict pool settlement was £683 million in financial year 2014-15, with peacekeeping at £444 million and the Conflict Pool at £329 million. The conflict pool allocations are shown in the below.

Conflict Pool Allocations
Programme Financial Year 2013-14 Allocation(£m) Financial Year Allocation 2014-15 (£m)
Afghanistan 45 26.8
Africa 51.5 53.7
Middle East and North Africa (MENA) 39 60*
South Asia 20 20.5
Strengthening Alliances and Partnerships (SAP) 10 12
Wider Europe 36 35.2
Stabilisation Unit 10.8 10.8
Early Action Facility (EAF) 20 20*
TOTAL 232.3** 239
*£5 million has been pre-committed from the £20 million EAF to the MENA programme ** Includes over commitment of available resources by £3.3 million

The Middle East and North Africa programme (MENA) included additional resources for the crises in Syria and Libya as well as their regional consequences. Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia and Iraq also received funding. The Africa programme included funding for Somalia, Nigeria, the Sahel region, North and South Sudan, Zimbabwe, East and Central Africa, and with the African Union.

The 2015 SDSR included provision for the £1.5 Billion Joint Security Fund and other changes to overseas development assistance parameters.

From the Commons Library a description of the funding landscape for confict prevention, Changing parameters of Overseas Development Assistance

An area where scope for flexibility has been identified in supporting the budgets of ‘non-protected’ government departments like the FCO is through increased counting of their spending as Overseas Development Assistance (ODA – as defined by the OECD). The UK’s ODA budget has reached the UN target of 0.7% of Gross National Income and the Government is committed to maintaining this level of spending.

In a significant move, ODA was now to be used to serve the national interest.

The Conflict, Security and Stability Fund starts up…

The Conflict, Security and Stability Fund (CSSF) became operational in April 2015. A beefed-up version of the tri-departmental (FCO, MOD, DFID) Conflict Pool but now managed and controlled by the National Security Council, it represents an attempt to fulfil the long-standing aspiration for a ‘whole of government’ approach to national security. The CSSF has become the main mechanism for the implementation of the 2011 Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS), which sets out the conflict prevention agenda originally called for by the 2010 NSS. A key element of the UK’s conflict prevention agenda during the last parliament was a greater focus through UK ODA on fragile and conflict-affected states. This has been achieved: the target set was to spend 30% of UK ODA on them by 2014-15. In 2013, 43% of UK ODA was spent on them. This upward trend looks likely continue over the next five years.

It is clear that the UK sees conflict prevention as a significant part of the remit of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) and that funding will follow.

A key element of the UK’s conflict prevention agenda during the last parliament was a greater focus through UK ODA on fragile and conflict-affected states. This has been achieved: the target set was to spend 30% of UK ODA on them by 2014-15. In 2013, 43% of UK ODA was spent on them. This upward trend looks likely continue over the next five years. First announced in 2013 and funded from core departmental budgets, the CSSF is worth £1.033 billion in 2015/16. The Government has said that, under the departmental allocations from the Fund in 2015-16, the FCO will receive £738.8 million, the MOD £191.5 million, DFID £59.9 million, and other departments and agencies £42.81 million. The CSSF can be counted as ODA or towards the pledge to spend 2% of the national budget on defence – or both, if this is “consistent with the classification guidelines”.

This demonstrates that building stability overseas is well established; organisationally, doctrinally and financially.

Some examples here

There is some risk in over relying on upstream engagement, especially given success might be somewhat difficult to articulate and it is wholly reliant on domestic politics, as we are currently seeing in Kenya.

Despite this, I think we should be doing more.

The definition of Official Development Assistance (ODA) is defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and specifically excludes;

  • Military Aid
  • Enforcement costs of peacekeeping operations
  • Paramilitary police activity
  • Counter terrorism

In utilising DFiD funds for such activity, the UK must decide whether to simply ignore this distinction and risk dropping below the 0.7% figure. Of course, this might seem unlikely but I think it should be bold and make the case that stability and conflict reduction is valid use of such funds and worry less about achieving an arbitrary target no one else does. The 0.7% of GDP on ODA actually has origins in the 1959 Labour Party manifesto from Hugh Gaitskill to extend the benefits of the welfare state to other nations. The manifesto committed to 1% of GDP. Labour lost but the concept was later developed further to be 0.7% on development assistance and 0.3% on private investment. Upon becoming president of the World Bank in 1960, Robert McNamara, the former US Defence Secretary, commissioned the former Canadian Prime Minister, Lester Pearson, to look at the effectiveness of development assistance. The 0.7% figure from the Labour Party was adopted and taken forward as the benchmark, successively adopted by various UN agencies.

Organisationally, I would suggest DFiD has an undeservedly poor reputation. Yes, there are many headlines of waste and what one could easily see as ridiculous excess, but in general, many of their activities are tendered and have a relatively high degree of transparency.

The UK will have to decide how to use the considerable money that was previously used for EU projects and it is here that I would suggest creating a new delivery organisation for defence capacity building, within the FCO.

(Yes, I know many would like to completely subordinate DFiD to the FCO or even MoD but this is unlikely to happen so am trying to be practical)

Capacity Building, nestled inside Security Sector Reform, can create a sustainable stability but if the two are done in isolation, they are likely to fail. Where this integration occurs, it must be sustained over a period of time and include not only training and assisting but genuine capability development that includes export finance and equipment and support from UK and local industry.

There is no harm in favouring UK industry, far from it. The US approach is State Department led and incorporates Foreign Military Sales FMS and Foreign Military Finance FMF. This is an interesting model to emulate.

The MoD allocate many serving personnel to this task whilst allowing highly trained personnel to walk out the door every year. The new delivery organisation should therefore aim to utilise ex-services personnel instead of serving personnel where possible, providing a flexible career path for service leavers. The British Army, for example, has four infantry battalions (4 Rifles, 1 Scots, 1 PWRR and 2 Lancs). Despite the general desirability of the concept, this should be reduced and those personnel allocations refocussed on other tasks. Greater use of contractors, retained reserves and FTRS, and locally recruited personnel should also be considered.

Some tasks will be unsuitable for this approach, like the RAF/Qatar joint Typhoon squadron, obviously, but the overall objective should be to reduce costs and freeing up personnel allocations for other tasks.

One of the key themes of the previous parts of this series is also to avoid diffusing effort so widely that it gets lost and becomes ineffectual. The delivery organisation should therefore focus on the following areas and themes;

  • Conflict drivers (poaching, smuggling and illegal fishing
  • Demining and the removal of the explosive remnants of war
  • Maritime and littoral security and exploiting the magnifying effects of airpower
  • Infrastructure development
  • Defence technical and medical education
  • NCO and Officer Training

The balance between the Middle East and Africa will change and focus areas likewise, but by reducing the span of activity and integrating industry and finance with creative use of different personnel engagement approaches, outputs should improve whilst reducing the load on serving personnel.

In terms of having skin in the game, that all important indicator of engagement and influence, the UK approaches the Middle East and Africa very differently.

In recent years the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have taken the lead for presence in the Middle East with the British Army having a much reduced role. There is a UK presence in one form or another in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. Some could potentially be replaced by the delivery organisation described above, such as the Kuwait British Military Advisory Team (BMAT), others, such as the UK Maritime Component Command (UKMCC), could not.

The UKMCC comprises four mine countermeasures vessels and a mine countermeasures support ship (Bay class), supported by a 1* HQ function.  Regular deployments of other surface vessels, joint training and in future, a rotational deployment of one of the carriers earn the UK considerable influence with both regional allies and the USA.

Specifically, the UK is part of the 30 nation Combined Maritime Force (CMF).

The Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) is a multinational naval partnership, which exists to promote security, stability and prosperity across approximately 3.2 million square miles of international waters, which encompass some of the world’s most important shipping lanes. CMF’s main focus areas are defeating terrorism, preventing piracy, encouraging regional cooperation, and promoting a safe maritime environment. CMF conducts Maritime Security Operations, counters terrorism and narcotics smuggling in maritime areas of responsibility; works with regional and other partners to improve overall security and stability; helps strengthen regional nations’ maritime capabilities and, when requested, responds to environmental and humanitarian crises.

The Deputy Commander Combined Maritime Forces (DCCMF) is also Commander United Kingdom Maritime Component Command (UKMCC). There is no doubt this is an important command position, however, one gets the impression the UK places such a significant value on this without ceding anything to the other nations. The region is of critical importance to the UK and USA, yes, but it is no less important to France or Germany, or Australia or Qatar, each is invested in the core mission objective.

Expertise and a permanent presence (both in shipping and shore facilities) secures the command slot so it would be difficult to replace/remove any of these established or planned capabilities. The UK should therefore maintain this MCM presence although making a trade on vessels for unmanned capabilities may be possible as the UK develops in this area. Indeed, the UK is developing a broad range of unmanned capabilities and it could be seen as a positive that it is deploying this cutting edge capability to the area, making up for any reputational damage that might accrue as a result of any small reductions.

As the US moves towards the Pacific it reasonably expects others to step into the gap but as we have seen, it also expects European nations to take a greater role in their own territorial defence with only limited engagement from the majority of NATO nations. As Carrier Strike comes into service the UK should commit this to a rotational deployment to the Gulf as part of CMF but also make it clear that the core role of Carrier Strike remains the defence of Europe, specifically the northern area as described in previous parts of this series. When it deploys, it should deploy with sufficient DD/FF as a self-contained package. We might also expect France to do likewise with Charles De Gaulle and other NATO nations with surface vessels on a committed and rotational basis.

In addition to the MCM force and a rotational deployment of a Carrier Strike package, the UK should commit no other naval forces to the area on a rotational basis.

As Middle East defence industrial capabilities improve, there may be opportunities for more two way traffic in this area which would contribute to a more sustainable footing.

The area is important, but the UK has to recognise there are other demands on its scarce resources, yet again, this is about balancing commitments and resources to establish a sustainable force in line with the principles described in Part 1.

In Africa, extended presence is focussed on joint training and support activities, mostly by the British Army. The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy have much less of a presence, permanent or occasional. In addition to the capability building capability described above (which should be significant) the UK should also establish a more permanent combat oriented presence in Africa.

The threat to the region, and hence Europe, stretches from Mauritania to Somalia. The ability to strike swiftly and support others in offensive military operations is an essential complementary capability to the defence engagement and capability development role described above.

France has a considerable deployment ongoing in the area

Unlike Operation Serval, an emergency response to a localised crisis in Mali, Operation Barkhane has a much wider objective and area of operations, Joint Force G-5 Sahel. The G-5 Sahel group includes Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.

Its area of operations is the gigantic swathe of territory from the Atlantic coast of Mauritania to Chad’s border with Sudan. Barkhane superseded not just Serval but also long-standing operations in Chad and Ivory Coast (Épervier and Licorne, respectively), as well as reorienting the entire French military establishment in West Africa for the purpose of fighting of jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda. More recently, France has included under Barkhane’s mandate the operation against Boko Haram, which has been spilling across borders in the Lake Chad region and has drawn in the staunch French allies Chad and Cameroon. France has deployed nearly 4,000 troops, 8 Mirage 2000 based in Niamey and N’Djamena, 17 combat and manoeuvre helicopters, 5 Reaper reconnaissance drones, 6-10 transport aircraft, 300 logistics vehicles and 300 armoured vehicles.

However, France not only has too few helicopters but also has no heavy-lift helicopters, such as CH-47s, in its inventory. A leading French military analyst and commentator, Colonel Michel Goya, questioned the value over the long term of leading such a “minimal mission” when so much more would be required to “win” in the Sahel-Saharan zone.

Budgetary constraints and other strategic priorities such as Operation Sentinelle, the reinforced surveillance of the French territory following the Paris attacks of January 2015 make it unlikely that France can spare more forces to Mali, or even sustain Barkhane at the current level in the long term. Sentinelle effectively ties down nearly half of the troops available to France at any time, given its force generation cycle, and is placing such a strain on the French military that it might have to alter that cycle, with cascading effects on readiness and French operations elsewhere, including in the Sahel-Saharan zone.

Despite the US getting more involved, it is time for the UK to help our ally.

Given the UK’s long standing relationship with Nigeria (and record of supporting Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram) it would be logical to include assistance for Nigeria. The UK also has good relationships with Kenya (including BATUK) and a presence in Somalia.

The UK is in a position to contribute not only personnel but key systems such as Apache, Watchkeeper, Talisman C-IED, Reaper, Chinook and other air transport systems. By sharing the load with France, the UK helps a vital ally, magnifies the mass provided by local forces and contributes a number defence capabilities not available to France. It also fits neatly with EUTM, if the UK were seeking an area to demonstrate defence and security cooperation with the EU beyond BREXIT, this would be a good one.


Again, the suggested strategy is based on a combination of capability development and having some meaningful skin in the game, whilst recognising the limitations of what the UK can achieve. A few things done well are much better than lots of things just done.

In the Middle East; high end capability development (air and SF) with Jordan, KSA, Oman and the Gulf States, a permanent presence based on MCM in the Gulf, with additional rotational visits of a Carrier Strike package and enhanced presence in Oman.

In the Far East; continued training and weapon system development cooperation.

In Africa; significant uplift in capability development with a permanent strike package to support France across West Africa, and in Nigeria, Kenya and Somalia.




The full series

PART 1 – Breaking the Crisis Cycle

PART 2 – Risks

PART 3 – Alliance and Politics

PART 4 – Defending Europe

PART 5 – The Middle East, Africa and Beyond


Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Senior Moment
Senior Moment
December 24, 2017 9:06 am

We are a dwindling power (that will get hackles rising) with many politicians and citizens who look to the past not the future. It is all about the economy and political will to financially support our armed forces and Trident. We are heading in the next five years for the most savage SDR in living memory.

Senior Moment
Senior Moment
December 24, 2017 9:07 am

Despite my comments which were “off piste” as it were, I would just like say a big thank you for such a well researched and carefully considered article.

December 24, 2017 10:18 am

A big thank you for think at France, which does not have the financial and military means to carry out Operation Barkhane alone in Africa. It is not a post-colonial operation, where France would like to rebuild its empire, it is a security operation that serves to prevent Africa to become a vast rear base of Islamist terrorism, if we do nothing we will not have a Taliban army to fight in Afghanistan, but a hundred times bigger army of terrorists on our doorstep. We must not forget that the population of Africa which has 1.2 billion inhabitants in 2016, will count according to population projections, in the years 2050, between 2 and 3 billion inhabitants, who will seek to come in Europe if the economic and security situation does not improve. This is a huge challenge, it’s not a few French people who have fun doing their little war in their corner.

December 24, 2017 10:52 am

London luvvies, with their snouts in the trough, will die in a ditch, before they let the 0.7% GDP foreign aid target be dropped. However, in the rest of the UK, that target is seen as a huge waste of money, when the UK needs extra road building, council house building, extra school places & more resources for social care, GPs & hospitals. Not to mention energy & water infrastructure, including flood defences. Plus Border Force.

I still maintain, that the UK should cut to the G7/8 target of 0.5% GDP foreign aid. We would still be a top ten aid giving nation, but it would free up approx £3.5 billion a year to spend on UK needs above.

I think the biggest threat in the Middle East, is an all out war between Sunni Saudi Arabia & Shia Iran. The Gulf states have been on a vast weapon buying spree. What is it for?
Sanctions on Iran buying new weapons, come off in 2020. The risk is of Saudi & the other Sunni Gulf states doing a pre-emptive strike with their shiny new weapons before Iran gets its own shiny new weapons. So Autumn 2019 could be a dangerous time.

If it happens, the UK should stay out of it, but there are issues about getting ex-pats out of Dubai & escorting oil & gas tankers.

December 26, 2017 6:59 am

You forgot to include “British Defence Staff (Africa)” the Staffing of MOD/Military personnel in Abuja

December 26, 2017 12:58 pm

Great article TD. Was wondering if global free-trade is an ambition for a post Brexit UK, whether stronger naval ties around the Malacca straights / South China Sea through the Five Eyes is of increasing importance also.

December 26, 2017 2:46 pm

What is in the text
“not only personnel but key systems such as Apache, Watchkeeper, Talisman C-IED, Reaper, Chinook and other air transport. ” does not sound like a strike package at all (apart from the Apaches), but more like a surveillance & logs package… which I am all for.
– however, there is a clear contradiction there; has the text gone through a late revision, to make it a tad sharper?

December 27, 2017 10:12 am

“Qatar is the third largest export market for the UK in the region and supplies about 30% of LNG into the UK, increasingly important as the UK increases LNG use as North Sea supplies dwindle. “

I think we tend to continue to over egg our dependency on the Middle East for energy to justify our continued involvement in the region. Far East countries who have limited involvement have far greater reliance on the region for energy.
While it changes yearly centrica indicates LNG gas imports in the UK are less than 15% and off that 3/4s comes from Qatar.
in fact almost as large a portion of our gas and coal probably comes from Russia who are the reinvented bogey man.

The governments own document
Would indicate we’ve seen a near 60% reduction in gas coming from Qatar in the past year as they’ve been selling to others. With future supplies from the US increasing possibility affecting this percentage further.

If hard choices are required going fwd and they most definitely are then the government will need a better excuses than energy dependence to continue to justify any further involvement with a region of the world that offers little to UK bar further loss of life and money.

December 27, 2017 3:06 pm


Yes indeed. There is always a lot of we will do it this way because that’s always the way we’ve done it attitude I find that we only start to question aspects and innovate when money is tight though I’m not sure we doing this yet. People don’t like change.

Obviously there is a need to question why and what we do and at what scale everywhere. Most of the worlds population within the next 20 years will live in Africa and Asia. The major producers in Asia are every bit as keen to get there goods to the UK as we are to receive it, the Chinese and there 21c Silk Road are testament to that.

It is amazing just how many ways there are to move goods and material round the world. Even our very own RFA has shown that. There delivery of new tanker vessels from Korea have gone east thru panama to the UK. There’s now trains coming from china via the trans Siberian railway. When Qatar has had sanctions placed on them by there Arab neighbours they started to send lng tankers via the cape to avoid the possibility of having vessels impounded in the Suez Canal. The extra 6 day to go that way from Asian factories may cause an initial hysteria in the media but it’s unlikely to materially change long term trends.

For the UK it’s much more vital to ensure critical infasture, air and sea routes are maintained in the North Sea, English channel and Gibraltar as that gives access to Europe, the Mediterranean, north and west Africa. These areas have far greater economic bearing on the UK economy than anywhere else.

We have spent a lot on time, money and lives in the Middle East while the world and sphere of influence has begun to slowly shift to Asia and Africa. Even the countries of the Mid East are seeing this as many are starting to prepare for life after oil and gas,.Many Middle East countries have more money and far more military equipment than we dothey should be left to look after there own affairs. if and I think it’s a big if we should continue with a presence in the Mid East region then it should be seen as solely for containing Iran precious defence resources are needed else where, not in the Mid East.

December 28, 2017 9:31 am

I suspect the initial ‘aid’ to Africa and the Middle East originally stemmed from a sort of ‘colonial guilt’ and a form of ‘repatriation’ that has long lost its original meaning as well as an old attempt to secure access to the East by supporting ‘local’ governments with aid to stabilize them.

Give me a moment while I dig up an account of one of the Union of African nations meeting by our former Prime Minister.

Found it.
“At the end of the meeting, after all the histrionics, the secretary general got the Third World leaders to understand that the guts of the Commonwealth were in economic, social and cultural cooperation and that depended on funding mainly from the developed old Commonwealth – Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Commonwealth cooperation would end if the donors found the cost-benefit ratio unfavourable. With tact and skill, Smith persuaded the Africans and Asians not to push issues to the breaking point. Sonny Ramphal, the Guyanan foreign minister who took over from Smith in 1975, showed even greater skill in letting Third World leaders have their rhetoric while he kept the road show going by making sure the cost-benefit equation continued to engage the donors.”

From the looks of it, the ‘aid’ is really operating costs to keep the Commonwealth running, though I suspect someone needs to take a long hard look at if the current cost-benefit equations are still on the positive side. It’s been long enough that people can’t accuse the UK of ‘imperialistic exploitation’ for their economic troubles any more, which means there is no longer any need to placate them with bread and circuses.

The other side of the coin is aid to Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. While still classed as ‘foreign aid’ it’s also rather tightly tied in with the campaign for ‘Hearts and Minds’ in these regions to curb extremism by improving the standard of living there, so I’m really not sure if they should be purely considered ‘foreign aid’ since they are being used for a quasi-military purpose.

As for ‘trade’, access to the East is nice et al, but that presupposes that you got something to trade for, so before securing your SLOC to markets, it might be a good idea to find a niche in the market to dominate so that you actually have something to trade for at the other end. What specialize in is for minds far wiser or encompassing than my own, I’m just laying down the steps needed for there to actually be ‘trade’ and not just have container ships pay a vacation visit to the other end.

Rocket Banana
December 28, 2017 11:37 pm

Put this together some time ago…

comment image:large

The “other” column means totals less than those already broken out. I’ve only included the first 98% of exporters. Other ones are Oz, France, Canada, Algeria, Trin & Tob and Ireland but none of those account for more than 0.5% of our imports. Highlighted calls are the biggies :-)

January 6, 2018 6:42 am

The UK no longer has the military resources to support a world wide position. The question is where should you get militarily involved, and where should you simply offer moral/political support.
We had your foreign minister in SE Asia recently talking about deploying your new carriers to the South China Sea sometime……soon, maybe, when their is an air group. Is the UK is still making promises it will find difficult to keep? The UK physically withdrew from SE and East Asia a long time ago. Decisions like that once made are unlikely o be unmade. The UK can have an impact in Europe, the Med and maybe the Middle East, going further involves too many sea miles.

January 6, 2018 9:49 am

I think there is a very mistaken narrative that the only uk involvement in the Pacific can/is be with naval assets and far to much focus on the fightys ones. We could send one of our survey vessels or our large RFA stores or refuelling ships to work with the Australian, Japanese, Singapore or Canadian navys for a year and I think that may enhance there naval operating capability more so than sending a type23.

We do also retain the garrison at Brunei with an Gurkha battalion and jungle warfare training. With relatively small adjustments to that force they could become more specialist in nature and with assignment of transport assets much more strategically mobile in the region. It’s not beyond us to say send a a400m to be located with the Malaysian airforce a400m unit in return offering Malaysian crews the opportunity to be trained at uks facility at Brize Norton. This may allow units in Brunei to become much more mobile in whole region offering there specialist skills.

January 17, 2018 9:36 am

@Mark I believe the Brunei garrison is limited by treaty withe the Sultan–only for FP for his oilfields and installations, not for British military ops.

January 17, 2018 12:35 pm

HM review.

That would be incorrect

The battalion stationed in Brunei operates as the British Army’s acclimatised Far East reserve, and is available for overseas deployment to the Far East and beyond—the Brunei-based battalion has been deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Herrick on several occasions, as well as to East Timor and Sierra Leone.

Changing it configuration toward a more specialist commando type force could allow regular exercises with our allies in the region and offer an in demand skill set added to that providing transport assets to assist disaster relief capability in the region. Also it may allow us to bring some allies in the region without transport assets to Brunei to train at the UK army jungle warfare training establishment.

January 19, 2018 1:57 pm

As per Mark “The battalion stationed in Brunei operates as the British Army’s acclimatised Far East reserve, and is available for overseas deployment to the Far East and beyond”. In the Iraq days we even used to have one “Over-the-Horizon” mobile/mechanised (bn) reserve for the M East Region
… so that just leaves then the garrisoning and fast reinforcement of the Falklands.

If we count that bn strength (with unusually strong ground-based AD elements) in , we can say that as the East of Suez move (coming away from there) brought with it a cut of 100k in the army, we now have such a force – would be a stretch of imagination to put the “East of Suez ” moniker on it – counted as three bns (OK, one more on Cyprus, but counterbalanced by the fact that the Brunei bn is specially funded).
– it is not exactly a force for any invasions, but add the carrier group with one Cdo afloat with it, and one can say that we haven’t given up all of our influence?
+ some symbolism, like 3 Chinooks and 50 non-combatants to stand side by side with France

January 19, 2018 5:25 pm

Looks like TD sent “the memo” to the PM, but from
” uplift in capability development with a permanent strike package to support France across West Africa”
the “strike” part got the red pen treatment?

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x