notably Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and India in addition to Australia and New Zealand (Five Eyes members), and ASEAN member states notably Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore (Commonwealth members).
The Indo-Pacific is also a central piece in the British post-Brexit global economic outreach. In January 2021, the UK government highlighted its ambition to prioritise access to fast-growing markets and major economies in the region through its submission of an application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) agreement. This, in turn, elevated the region against an already expanding trade relationship. Indeed, in 2019, Asia already accounted for approximately 20% of both exports and imports. By way of comparison, the Americas accounted for 25% of UK exports and 16% of imports. More broadly, in the same year, seven of the UK’s top 25 export markets were in Asia. The top three in Asia – China, Japan and Hong Kong – together account for some US$82 billion of exports in goods and services, a value higher than that of Germany (the UK’s second-largest export market). Whilst the Indo-Pacific is not understood to replace Europe in economic terms, it certainly represents an important opportunity especially in areas such as, infrastructure, services, and digital economy.
The Maritime ‘Tilt’ of British Strategy
Against this background, ahead of the release of the Integrated Review, the government announced that it was committed to increase defence spending by some £24.1bn over the next four years, with the specific aim to ‘restore Britain’s position as the foremost naval power in Europe’. Whilst this pledge did not eliminate outstanding funding problems, it did highlight how the government viewed the role of the Royal Navy as the frontline means of British international influence. In the Indo-Pacific, the defence document related to the Integrated Review, the Command Paper, further indicated that the notion of a ‘tilt’ was intended to mean that the UK would mobilise its limited resources to shape the stability of the regional environment, through capacity building and engagements to maintain the maritime order and, if needed, push back against revisionist attempts at undermining it. Indeed, emphasis on offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) and Littoral Response Groups (LRG) – centred on the converted Bay class support ships - as the main naval components to meet standing commitments outside the Euro-Atlantic area, suggests an approach that prioritises military deterrence in Europe, and shaping activities beyond its boundaries.
Relatedly, plans concerning the balance of the fleet suggest that the Royal Navy will be more forward-deployed. This is another important reference to the maritime shift of British strategy in the Integrated Review, with different assets taking advantage of a support structure that focuses on what a recent Policy Exchange report defined as a ‘places, not bases’ approach.