In its new integrated defence and foreign policy strategy, Britain intends to raise its nuclear warheads on Trident from 180 to 240. What a waste. It also intends to “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific, sending the New HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier here later in the year to give a message to China. It should read its history.
Spending money on more nuclear warheads is a colossal waste, at time when the pay increase on offer for nurses who have slogged their way through UK’s covid disaster is a measly 1% rise. It also puts Britain in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations.
Aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is also a colossal waste of money. In the age of missiles, aircraft carriers are just bigger targets. It will deploy with the new F-35B vertical take-off fighter, another waste of money as it too is a clunker. They will be flown by US Marine pilots, showing that this deployment isn’t even something the Royal Navy can manage on its own.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the Royal Navy’s brand new flagship. It is first of a class, the second of which is the HMS Prince of Wales, in the water but not yet fully up to speed. This is where the history comes in. The last time the Royal Navy sent a brand-new battleship named HMS Prince of Wales to the Indo-Pacific was to Singapore in 1942. It was sunk just after it arrived by Japanese torpedo-bombers along with the battle-cruiser HMS Repulse. The admiral in command, Sir Tom Phillips, did not think the Japanese planes had sufficient range to fly from Indo-China.
The surrender of Singapore was the final nail in the coffin of the British Empire. It was a strategic blunder of epic proportions, made worse by incompetence on a colossal scale. My uncle was killed there flying an obsolete biplane against Zeros in a desperate daylight raid from which more than half of those sent out did not return.
Previous tilts to the Indo-Pacific by the Royal Navy took place in the nineteenth-century opium wars, where their superior gunnery forced the Qing empire to accept opium in lieu of silver to pay for Chinese silks and ceramics. The Chinese were forced to cede Hong Kong to Britain in the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing.
The Chinese have learnt the lesson – never again. Their carrier-killer missiles will be more than a match for HMS Queen Elizabeth today.
But you have to wonder what the strategists in London are thinking. How do they think other countries in Asia as well as the Chinese are going to perceive this crude attempt at neo-imperial overreach. The world is changing fast and sea-power is not what it used to be centuries ago.
Bluff and bluster is BoJo’s trademark but Britannia no longer rules the waves.