UK Defence Command Paper underlines Royal Navy role in linking Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific

RN aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth
An F-35B joint strike fighter aircraft onboard the RN aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is pictured with the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force Hyuga-class amphibious ship JS Ise, during combined exercises in the North Pacific in August 2021. The RN’s carrier strike group will be integral to building UK Indo-Pacific presence. (Credit: UK Ministry of Defence/Crown copyright 2021)

The UK Royal Navy (RN) will play a significant role in linking the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific theatres. This role has been illustrated clearly in the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) latest Defence Command Paper (DCP), published on 18 July 2023.

The DCP presents the MoD’s capability development and implementation plan for meeting the requirements set out in the UK’s Integrated Review (IR) of defence, foreign, and security policy. The IR’s latest iteration was published in March 2023.

Security matters in the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific theatres have become increasingly linked. For example, the Russo-Ukraine war (which broke out in February 2022) has raised questions about whether commitment from a large part of the international community to support Ukraine may or may not encourage China to assess options to address its national interests relating to Taiwan.

From the UK’s perspective, the DCP stated that “The prosperity and security of the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific are inextricably linked. Defence partnerships that span the regions are particularly important in a challenging threat environment.”

The DCP underlined the role of the RN, and of maritime power broadly, in linking strategic matters and providing defence presence across the two regions.

For example, it highlighted the RN’s commitment to supporting UK and partner interests in both theatres. “Our [Queen Elizabeth-class] aircraft carriers … have been both committed to NATO in the last twenty-four months as well as deployed into the Indo-Pacific to contribute to other UK foreign policy aims in that region,” the DCP stated.

That Indo-Pacific presence was provided in 2021 by the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group (CSG), under the CSG21 deployment. The DCP confirmed UK commitment to deploying a CSG to the Indo-Pacific in 2025. During this deployment, the DCP continued, the CSG will “[represent] the UK’s commitment to exercise the best capabilities our armed forces have to offer alongside partners in the region”. The document cited a range of key regional partners, including Australia and Japan.

The DCP also underlined the importance of the 2021 Australia/UK/US AUKUS agreement, as an example of the role of alliances in international co-operation. It reiterated that AUKUS will provide not only a new nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) capability for the RN and the Royal Australian Navy under the SSN-AUKUS programme, but will focus on collaborative development of other advanced military technologies including artificial intelligence, cyber, hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, and undersea warfare. Underlining the strategic linkage AUKUS brings, the DCP said that AUKUS “[exemplifies] our commitment to deepening the relationships between the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions, and to facing the threats of the future together.”

by Dr. Lee Willett