by Kamal Shah
The Defence Command Paper identifies the rising importance of the Indo-Pacific and recognises India as a critical pillar in the UK’s Indo-Pacific tilt, and charts out a vision to nurture the relationship.
UK Defence Command Paper – What does it mean for India?
The British government published the UK Defence Command paper last month. This document shows the vision for the UK Armed Forces over the next decade focusing on reform, renewal and key overseas partnerships to ensure the military is prepared for new and emerging threats and challenges. The Defence Command Paper identifies the rising importance of the Indo-Pacific and recognises India as a critical pillar in the UK’s Indo-Pacific tilt. As a priority to enhance the UK – India relationship, the UK aspires to:
1) Establish a maritime partnership with India in support of mutual security objectives in the Indian Ocean.
2) Enhance industrial cooperation and uplift our defence education, training and reform relationship to work together more effectively.
3) Carry out integrated joint exercising, increase our understanding of the maritime environment, and sign key agreements to improve interoperability.
4) Underpin all activity through strategic dialogues to promote high-level alignment and a robust military education programme and exchanges.
Modernisation of the UK armed forces prioritising high tech capabilities presents the opportunity for multilateral development and integration with India across multiple levels and domains. The reprioritisation of UK military equipment furthers the opportunity for mutually beneficial trade, shared security, and values. An expansion of the UK’s Defence Attaché and Advisor network will also prove to advance UK-India capabilities in multilateral cooperation and relationship development.
The UK Enhanced Forward Presence:
A focus on the Indo-Pacific will see development of the UK Enhanced Forward Presence through maximising the Carrier Strike Groups regional engagement and increasing maritime presence through the deployment of Offshore Patrol Vessels from 2021, the Littoral Response Group from 2023 and Type 31 frigates later in the decade. The pursuit of closer defence cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other Indo-Pacific countries will see a regional increase in the level of UK activity in the Air, Land and Sea domains, evidenced by the development of enhanced training facility at Duqm, Oman. A further contribution to the Five Power Defence Agreement (FPDA) will also likely see increased activity with the member nations in the form of defence training activities.
The UK’s Integrated Review – What Does it mention for India?
The British government published its Integrated Review (IR) in March. It is titled an integrated review. It is a post-EU exit comprehensive review of the UK’s Security, Defence, Technology, Development, and Foreign Policy fit for the evolving geopolitical situation. The IR sets out Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s vision for the UK in 2030, UK’s place in the world and what UK wants to achieve as a country with global interests, partnerships and capabilities. The British PM was scheduled to visit India in April as his first international visit following UK’s departure from the EU. The visit was postponed to a later date due to the prevailing Covid-19 situation.
The IR identifies four trends that will shape the international environment over the next decade. India’s role in these trends is crucial:
1) Geopolitical and geo-economic shifts, such as the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific to global prosperity and security. Upcoming maritime cooperation through the visit of Carrier Strike Group exemplifies the importance of UK-India cooperation on shared security priorities.
2) ‘Systemic’ competition, between states and between democratic and authoritarian values and systems of government. India is essential to supporting an open international order, and India and UK are working closely in multilateral and bilateral fora to achieve this.
3) Rapid technological change, including as an area of intensifying geopolitical competition. India will be fundamental to the development of science, technology and data in the next decade.
4) Transnational challenges, such as climate change, global health risks, illicit finance and terrorism. A key objective is building resilience: India is an international leader in developing solutions to these challenges, for example, through the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, and COVID-19 vaccine production and as the ‘Pharmacy of the World’
There is a high degree of convergence between the IR and India’s priorities for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, anchored by democratic values. The Review highlights the growing importance of the UK-India relationship and India to the world as the world’s largest democracy, on track to become the third largest economy. UK-India people to people links will be reinforced through UK’s new migration policy, enabling Indian talent to access the UK more easily.
With both countries poised to take on international leadership roles, with the UK’s Presidency of the G7 and COP26 and India’s presence on the UN Security Council, as well as BRICS President and G20 President in 2023, this is a moment to transform this relationship, address challenges for common security in both the physical and digital worlds, respond to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 and lay the foundations for a secure and prosperous decade ahead.