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UK Basing Posture Renews Naval Capability

James Shinnie
RUSI Defence Systems, 7 March 2018
The Gulf Region, Maritime Forces
With new UK facilities opening in Oman and Bahrain, an examination of these future bases offers helpful insights into the shape of UK strategic international engagements post-Brexit.

Like all forms of military capability, overseas bases are geared towards serving defined and specific purposes. Bases can vary in size and disposition, being configured to serve aircraft, ships, ground forces or a mixture of these elements. Strategic studies by groups such as the RAND Corporation have identified several common purposes that overseas bases are established to serve, such as enhancing contingency responsiveness, regional deterrence and assurance. By positioning forces closer to potential trouble spots, a state can improve its ability to react quickly to a crisis, and the presence of such a base demonstrates one of the most intangible indicators of deterrent capability: commitment. Through a demonstrable commitment to a specific region, states can attempt to alter the strategic calculations of adversaries, contributing to deterrence by the permanent presence of high-readiness forces.

Although commonly included as a feature in strategic studies literature, bases as a standalone topic have been relatively lightly examined. One of the few strategy authors to write on the subject in depth, Robert E Harkavy, pointed to a change in the nature of basing following the end of the colonial period. With empires now dissolved, states that wish to construct an overseas base must negotiate with the host country. For this to be an attractive proposition for a host, the base-building nation can induce cooperation via military and economic aid, the signature of alliances and the promise of cooperative defence. Ultimately the security goals of the host nation must align with those of the base-building nation. The modern paradigm of base raising is more pluralistic than it has historically been, and must involve at-least the tacit consent of the host-nation.

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