The UK has maintained at least two Frigates or Destroyers in the Gulf and Indian Ocean region since 1980. They now contribute to the Coalition Maritime Force based in Bahrain and comprised of sailors and ships from 25 nations.
Its mission is to conduct counter-piracy and counter-terrorism patrols and ensure the safety of the internationally important arteries of global trade in the region. We have a UK naval staff in Bahrain, co-located with the multinational maritime headquarters and we provide the Deputy Maritime Component Commander.
We will seek to provide this key leadership position for as long as the coalition mission is needed. Since 2003, the UK has maintained a presence of Mine Counter Measure Vessels in the Gulf to support operations, conduct historic ordnance disposal and maintain freedom of navigation.
These vessels initially cleared the routes into Iraqi ports after the war in 2003 and have subsequently cleared hazards left over from the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s. They are very capable units, highly regarded, regularly practised and fully acclimatised to the unique operating conditions found in Gulf waters.
Together with those of other like-minded nations, the UK naval presence forms part of a powerful force that is in place now, and can be called upon to ensure the peaceable use of the seas. Of course, the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group could quickly deploy to the region if required.
So, I believe the answer to the question – do politicians have the will and legitimacy to act in defence of the shipping industry – has to be yes. Our will is based on a clear understanding of the vital importance of the flow of trade and energy to and from the Middle East
There exists an economic necessity to preserve the free and legal use of the seas and access to critical strategic areas such as the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb and Hormuz and key maritime trade hubs such as Dubai and Singapore.
Legitimacy is based on the universal ideal of the freedom of navigation, a right under the maritime regime for the past 500 years. Our presence in the region safeguards our legitimate interests and acts as a deterrent.
We retain formidable Armed Forces; equipped with some of the best and most advanced technology available; and able to project significant power to almost any part of the world. But Defence is as much about preventing conflicts as it is about winning them.
The maritime security role the UK plays in the Gulf is part of that. It is not the gunboat diplomacy of the 19th century. But we can, and will, use all our unique assets – economic, diplomatic, military, political, legal, and cultural – to ensure that our citizens are secure and prosperous in this new era.