A report by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), published April 28, has laid bare the renewed British military interests in the Gulf. It states that the UK intends to build a small but ‘smart’ presence in region with military facilities and defence agreements “for forces that aim to be more adaptable and agile as they face the post-Afghanistan years from 2014”.
Though they do not intend to have an”imperial-style” presence, the scale of this military deployment is reportedly ‘significant’. In particular, Dubai is marked for the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a long-term overseas base and the Royal Navy is ‘taking a more active interest’ in Bahrain. Senior army personnel are also keen to build strong links with Oman and Qatar as well.
The article states that “this would greatly enhance our ability to support allies as they contain and deter threats and, with our naval presence in Bahrain, air elements in the UAE and Qatar, and traditional but potentially enhanced roles in Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, would make us a regional ally across the spectrum”.
Two years on from the Arab Spring, which did not see the toppling of any Gulf governments as it did in North Africa, this military deployment may be seen by the British government as more tacit support of authoritarian states that have been accused of numerous human rights violations by many non-governmental organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The report notes that these closer political and military ties between the UK and Arab Gulf states is “without a doubt” controversial. It also acknowledges that the UK government “may prefer not to plunge into a public debate about it.”
The report’s information adds more context to Bahraini King Hamad’s words on Sunday 12th May. Speaking at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, King Hamad recalled his father Emir Isa’s lamentation of the British departure following the island nation’s declaration of independence in 1971: “Why? No one asked you to go!” Further cementing the long relationship the UK and Britain have enjoyed, he stated that he is “seeking to expand the British presence in our country to mutual advantage.”
The report, A Return to East of Suez? UK Military Deployment to the Gulf, can be found online here.