British media comments on London’s decision to join the US-Australian nuclear submarine deal seem to miss important aspects of the pact. Perhaps the wider context will come out later, but most of the focus has been on the diplomatic and economic implications, especially gazumping the French contract to supply submarines to Australia.
To my mind, this deal needs to be considered in the context of the Strategic Defence Reviews that have been announced since the economic crisis. Ever since, the government decided to prioritise maritime strategy over land operations, we have been tied to the enlightened thinking of the naval staff in the MoD. We don’t have a large enough Fleet to protect all our dependencies and we don’t have a big enough defence budget to fully equip the Fleet, so we are dependent on the USA for essential capabilities. The quid pro quo for their materiel support is to bolster American attempts to maintain dominance in a region, which militarily is of no concern to our national interest.
There are a large number of vital tasks in the Atlantic and Mediterranean that will be adversely affected by this new pact. The question we have to ask is: if we are operating in the South China Sea, what are we giving up closer to home? A similar problem faced Churchill when he was First Lord of the Admiralty before the First World War. The question was whether to abandon the Mediterranean in the event of a war with Germany; he succinctly summarised the problem in a letter to Lord Haldane on 6 May 1912: “it would be very foolish to lose England in safeguarding Egypt.”