One of the United Kingdom’s historical features, or rather the British Empire, was the world’s largest navy. However, after the two world wars, the decolonization processes, and the strengthening of the air forces’ significance, the state’s maritime power and its importance began to diminish under the influence of world trends. Nevertheless, today maritime power is once again becoming one of the central concepts of defense and foreign policy in the United Kingdom as it contributes to the protection of three main national interests.
Today, sea routes and naval power play an essential role in several aspects of any state’s activities. Maritime power is defined as “the ability to apply maritime military capabilities at and from the sea to influence the behavior of actors and the course of events” (The Ministry of Defense 2017, 4). Consequently, the main purpose of maritime power is the physical protection of the state, but it can also influence other parties’ political and economic decisions. In this context, one should also consider the concept of maritime security, which is directly related to the maritime power of the state. According to Bueger and Ednunds (2017), maritime security includes such dimensions as national security, maritime environment, economic development, and human security. In other words, naval power ensures the integrity of the state’s borders and, consequently, the financial and physical security of people living on the coast.
A review of the principles presented in the government report in 2021 demonstrates that these dimensions coincide with the three National Security Goals. First, The Integrated Review of Security, Defense, Development, and Foreign Policy notes the need to use maritime force to combat terrorism, and piracy, protect trade routes and ensure stability in other countries of unrest in cooperation with international organizations (HM Government 2021). These statements are consistent with the goal of protecting “our people” and the dimension of national and people security (Dorman 2017). In addition, these goals, and the defense activities of “East of Suez,” including the opening of a new naval base in Bahrain, aim to such objectives as “Project our global influence” and “Promote our prosperity” (Dorman 2017). The fleet deployment in the region allows the UK to influence the development of the situation in the region on an equal footing with other major actors such as the USA, the EU, and Russia.
Moreover, the Integrated Review also contains other initiatives that relate to the concept of maritime security and power.
For example, the government promotes environmental initiatives that contribute to the objective of prosperity promotion and refer to the dimension of the marine environment (HM Government 2021). Consequently, the United Kingdom’s maritime power is an essential aspect of ensuring the state’s national interests and national security.
However, it is also essential to understand the reasons for the re-emergence of issues of maritime power in the defensive and foreign policy of the United Kingdom. First, although the country’s main defense and international cooperation agreements have remained unchanged since the Brexit, the improvement of defense forces is necessary for strengthening the sovereignty of the state. In addition, during the period 2010-2016, there have been reductions in the budget for armaments, particularly for the navy; therefore, a policy focus on maritime power is necessary to restore this balance (Johnson 2018). At the same time, to the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, and Libya, in which NATO member countries were involved, the threat of Russia was also added in 2014, when it occupied Crimea and the Black Sea and started a war in Donbas, Ukraine (Dorman 2017). Consequently, the strengthening of maritime power is a necessity to protect the UK from external threats.
Moreover, the emphasis on strengthening naval power in defense and foreign policy is a response to the diminishing global influence of the United Kingdom. As noted by Dorman (2017), such situations as the failed intervention in Libya and the parliamentary vote against the use of force in Syria showed the UK that its use of military strength might be in decline. In addition, although Britain was the guarantor of Ukraine’s sovereign inviolability under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, it was not included in the debate about the response of the West to Russia’s annexation of Crimea (Dorman 2017). For this reason, the increase in maritime power is the UK’s effort to restore its influence outside the EU and strengthen its role in international organizations.
Furthermore, as noted above, the economic development of the state is part of maritime security. About 90 percent of global trade travels by sea; thus, the safety of sea lanes and routes is a critical aspect for the UK, which is an island state with overseas territories (Bueger and Edmunds 2017). As noted by Voyer et al. (2018), maritime safety and the “blue economy,” which is defined as the use of ocean resources for economic growth, are closely related. Consequently, the UK’s exit from the EU, which will affect some trade agreements and industries, forces the state to focus on available and stable ways of economic development. Consequently, the strengthening of sea power is necessary to ensure one of the areas of the state’s economy.
Therefore, this analysis demonstrates that maritime power plays a significant role in the defense and foreign policy of the United Kingdom as it contributes to the achievement of national interests. The main reason for the re-emergence of this issue in politics is the increase in external threats simultaneously with the exit of the UK from the EU, which reveals some of the weaknesses of the state. However, the strengthening of maritime power helps to protect the state’s sovereign borders, trade, and economic relations and increases the influence of the United Kingdom in the world arena.
Bueger, Christian and Edmunds, Timothy. 2017. “Beyond Seablindness: A New Agenda for Maritime Security Studies.” International Affairs 93 (6):1293-1311, Web.
Dorman, A. 2017. “The Future of British Defense Policy.” Security Study Center. Web.
HM Government. 2021. Global Britain in a Competitive Age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy. London: Crown. Web.
Jonhson, Ron. 2018. “UK Defence Policy: The ‘New Canada’ and ‘International by Design’.” In The United Kingdom’s Defence After Brexit: Britain’s Alliances, Coalitions, and Partnerships, edited by Rob Johnson and Janne Haaland Matlary, 33-57.Cham: Springer.
The Ministry of Defense. 2017. Joint Doctrine Publication 0-10 UK Maritime Power. London: Crown. Web.
Voyer, Michelle, Clive Schofield, Kamal Azmi, Robin Warner, Alistair McIlgorm, and Genevieve Quirk. 2018. “Maritime Security and the Blue Economy: Intersections and Interdependencies in the Indian Ocean.” Journal of the Indian Ocean Region 14 (1): 28–48. Web.