Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond announced on the 6th December that Britain will be establishing its first permanent military base in the Middle East since it formally withdrew from the region in 1971.The base, at the Mina Salman Port in Bahrain, will host ships including destroyers and aircraft carriers.
Philip Hammond, who signed the deal at a security conference in Manama, Bahrain, said it was “just one example of our growing partnership with Gulf partners to tackle shared strategic and regional threats”. UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon added: “This new base is a permanent expansion of the Royal Navy’s footprint and will enable Britain to send more and larger ships to reinforce stability in the Gulf.”
Bahrain’s foreign minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa said: “Bahrain looks forward to the early implementation of today’s arrangement and to continuing to work with the UK and other partners to address threats to regional security.” Bahrain has been so keen to work with the UK that it will fork out the majority of the costs to build the base. Bahrain will pay most of the £15 million needed to build the base, with the British paying ongoing costs.
This deal needs to be put into perspective as all the political parties have endorsed this apparent expansion of Britain’s navy. Following the global economic crisis in 2008 the British government wielded the axe at the military as it could not afford to maintain it. Following the October 2012 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) the British government announced cuts to the military budget by 7.5%, the head count by 10% over five years and to retire lots of equipment, leaving the armed forces with 40% fewer tanks and 35% less artillery.
Even the British navy is in decline, the cuts over the last 20 years have severely undermined the fleet’s ability to deploy its forces, even to the levels that the government commits it to. The 19 destroyers and frigates currently in service are not enough to deploy warships to the Falklands and Persian Gulf and maintain escort duties for the reaction Group. The reality is the British marines and the navy are unable to operate independently of the army if need be.
Unable to fund a large military industry and large armed forces, Britain’s capabilities are extremely limited, despite its constant rhetoric. A comparison of British political ambitions and its military capability clearly show that Britain punches well above its weight. The Libya campaign highlighted this. Britain’s largest contribution in Libya came two months into the conflict with the deployment of Apache attack helicopters to HMS Ocean. The claims they were a ‘game changer’ were simply bravado. Their physical impact was limited by their small number, low sortie rate, vulnerability to unguided weapons and limited utility beyond the coastal region. Similarly, despite the fanfare accompanying their first mission, their weapons provided no greater accuracy than the precision munitions dropped by fast jets.
This is once again another attempt by a dying power attempting to hold onto some last vestiges of empire. The reality is Britain lost is superpower status after WW2 and its military has been in decline ever since. The sad reality is as the UK helps build this base over 4000 miles from the UK mainland, whilst at home 3 million brits are starving to death. This clearly shows where the priorities of the government rest.