UK - Operation Kipion
The UK has a long-standing maritime presence in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Operation Kipion [probably a meaningless neologism, possibly Ancient Greek "kepion" for "garden"] is the UK's commitment to promoting peace and stability in the region, as well as ensuring the safe flow of oil and trade. The word is used in Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 2.62.3, "you should really regard them in the light of the gardens and other accessories that embellish a great fortune".
Thucydides continues "... the knee once bowed, even what you have will pass from you. Your fathers receiving these possessions not from others, but from themselves, did not let slip what their labor had acquired, but delivered them safe to you; and in this respect at least you must prove yourselves their equals, remembering that to lose what one has got is more disgraceful than to be baulked in getting, and you must confront your enemies not merely with spirit but with disdain. Confidence indeed a blissful ignorance can impart, ay, even to a coward's breast, but disdain is the privilege of those who, like us, have been assured by reflection of their superiority to their adversary. And where the chances are the same, knowledge fortifies courage by the contempt which is its consequence, its trust being placed, not in hope, which is the prop of the desperate, but in a judgment grounded upon existing resources, whose anticipations are more to be depended upon."
The HMS Duncan, a Type 45 air-defence destroyer, has arrived in the Persian Gulf to escort British vessels, a week after Iranian forces seized a UK-flagged oil tanker, the British government said in a statement on 28 July 2019. Earlier this month, the HMS Duncan was deployed in the Black Sea for Exercise Sea Breeze 2019, involving major naval drills with NATO and partner nations. “We have relocated from an intense deployment in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, which included support to the French carrier strike group with live operations in Syria,” said Tom Trent, the ship’s commanding officer. “The Royal Navy continues to deliver consistent, enduring and world-class capability in the region – HMS Duncan is proud to support this vital operation and ready to play her part.” The announcement comes the same day Iran's President Rouhani described the presence of foreign forces as the main factor fuelling tensions in the Middle East. The destroyer is slated to come off duty in late August, and will be replaced later in the year by the HMS Kent, a Type 23 frigate.
British authorities in Gibraltar arrested the tanker Grace 1, carrying Iranian oil, and some of its crew on 4 July on suspicions that it was sailing for Syria in violation of EU sanctions against the country. Tehran denies that the tanker was going to Syria and accused the UK of endangering trade and the freedom of navigation with the illegal arrest of the tanker. The Islamic Republic demanded the release of the tanker and its crew, saying a British tanker might be seized otherwise.
The tensions between the two further escalated after Iran detained British tanker Stena Impero on 19 July over purported violations of maritime laws. The tanker ignored warnings, switched off its positioning device, and collided with an Iranian fishing boat. Tehran subsequently noted that the Stena Impero's arrest was not a "retaliation" for the Grace 1's detention.
The UK devised a plan to launch an international security mission in the Strait of Hormuz following growing tensions around the key oil shipping route. In contrast to Germany, Denmark favors participating in the UK-proposed deployment in the Persian Gulf. According to Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, Copenhagen is positively evaluating its potential naval contribution. Apart from Denmark, France and Italy have reportedly supported the UK plan to launch a European-led maritime mission in the Strait of Hormuz to boost the security of commercial navigation there.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas welcomed the UK-proposed operation, which is intended to protect commercial ships in the Persian Gulf and near the Strait of Hormuz. "Our local involvement must have a European face. We do not participate in the American strategy of ‘maximum pressure'”, Maas told the German media group Funke. However, he pointed out that Germany would only be able to decide on its participation in the naval deployment proposed by the UK if it is given “clarity on the design of such a mission”. "We are in contact with the new British government, in particular to find out how it is positioning itself. The plans are still in the initial phase", Maas noted, adding that political and legal questions about the mission need to be answered first.
He stated that Europe has a vested interest in ensuring safety in the Gulf. According to him, the German government, France, and the UK are discussing ways to bring the regional powers together around the issue of maritime security. "There are still diplomatic difficulties that we have to overcome, which requires dialogue and discussing common rules in order to avoid unwanted escalations", he said.
The Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary maintain a conspicuous presence in the Gulf, consisting of helicopters, dock landing ships, and a permanent mine countermeasures squadron. There is typically at least one escort, supported by a tanker of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, employed by UK Maritime Component Command (UKMCC) on Maritime Security patrol, plus a four-strong squadron of minehunters with a Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ship at notice within the operational area. The United Kingdom Component Command, located in Bahrain, is the command element of Operation Kipion. The UKMCC exercises command and control of the various Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships in the region.
The United Kingdom has enjoyed strong political, commercial and trading links in the Gulf region for decades. Operation Kipion is our effort to maintain peace and stability in this often unsettled part of the world. Following the start of the Iran–Iraq War in September 1980, units of both the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary have been on patrol in the Gulf 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. From 2003 until May 2011, the Royal Navy was heavily committed to the peacekeeping mission in an Iraq post-Saddam Hussein, providing protection for the country's two oil platforms which provide most of Iraq's wealth, and helping train Iraqi sailors and marines so they could go on to carry out those protection duties themselves.
The "outstanding" work of Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines in the Gulf was praised by the US navy's recently-appointed commander of the region. Vice Admiral James Malloy, Commander of the US Fifth Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, commended UK naval personnel on their expertise on operating in the Middle East and the "special relationship" they have with their American counterparts. He was appointed into the roles in Decembere 2018 and is based in Bahrain which is also home to the headquarters of the UK Maritime Component Command (UKMCC) and the UK Naval Support Facility (UKNSF). Vice Admiral Malloy, who visited the two Royal Navy sites, said 11 January 2019: "I have always enjoyed working with the Royal Navy and there is a special relationship between our nations and our navies that I have benefited from for 30 years.
At that time the Royal Navy had six ships operating in the Gulf region including Portsmouth-based HMS Dragon. The Type 45 destroyer seized and destroyed 13 tonnes of drugs last month across four busts along the notorious "Hash Highway". In October 2018, more than 4,000 British personnel took part in the largest combined military exercise for the UK forces since 2002 in Operation Saif Sareea in Oman [stricly speaking, a "exercise" rather than an "operation"]. Several exercises were also held with the US navy including Mine Countermeasures Exercise 18-2 in June, commanded from RFA Cardigan Bay, and the 23rd iteration of Khunjar Hadd (Sharp Dagger) in March. Commodore Steve Dainton, commander of UKMCC, welcomed the appointment of Vice Admiral Malloy. He said: "Our navies have always had much in common and I have enjoyed working with the US navy throughout my career. "Our true friendship is demonstrated almost daily afloat with the US navy and Royal Navy assets often working together with the same goal, to maintain maritime security across the Middle East."
The history of the Persian Gulf is replete with rivalries and wars. Ever since Cyrus the Great founded the first empire in Iran 26 centuries ago, the Persian Gulf has been a battleground of cultures and soldiers. The arrival of European colonialism in the Persian Gulf in the sixteenth century intensified and expanded the power-play and, consequently, calm and harmony became even more elusive thereafter.
For a period of over one hundred and fifty years, from 1820 until its withdrawal in 1971, Britain was the dominant power in the Gulf. Like many other European powers – notably the Portuguese, the French and the Dutch – Britain’s initial interest in the Gulf region, which began in the seventeenth century, was driven by the development of trade and commercial interests. The nature of Britain’s involvement began to change, however, after it consolidated and expanded its colonial holdings in India.
As Britain's power in the Persian Gulf grew, Iran became a progressively weaker state. In the period from 1835 to 1892, the British government established a general maritime truce among the pacified tribes and exacted from the Trucial sheikhs a series of exclusive undertakings. Sandwiched as it was by Tsarist Russia to the north and a British naval fleet to the south, Iran became a victim of colonial plots and territorial expansion.
The Persian Gulf waterway led to Britain's prized possessions in the Indian Ocean. As Iranian territory was all that separated Russia from these warm waters, a potential alliance between Russia and Iran was the greatest threat to British interests in the Persian Gulf and beyond. In 1918, when the Great War ended, Russia was still in its revolutionary transitional period, incapable of challenging Britain in the Persian Gulf. Prior to 1971, Great Britain was the guardian of the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms.
From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, the dominant British position over the region was enforced by a naval military presence commanded by the Senior Naval Officer in the Gulf. British officials in the region had few qualms about ordering the occasional bombardment of the forts and palaces of Arab rulers if it was deemed that their actions were not sufficiently compliant with British interests. All of these agencies were co-ordinated by the Political Resident in Bushire until 1947 when the Residency was transferred to Bahrain. After 1947, and Indian Independence, the British Government in London became responsible for maintaining Britain’s position in the Gulf. By this stage, the discovery of enormous oil deposits meant that the Gulf region had taken on a geo-strategic significance of its own.
On January 16, 1968, the Labour government of Harold Wilson announced that Great Britain would withdraw its forces from East of Suez by the end of 1971. The move would end 150 years of British military and political domination of the Persian Gulf. The last presence of Britain in the Persian Gulf region dated to 1971, a year that London openly ended its direct military presence in the region. However, after Bahrain’s separation from Iran, Britain signed an agreement with the tiny Persian Gulf island nation, dubbed “Friendship Treaty” with the aim of consultation in the emergency situations. By the treaty London managed to retain a toehold in the Persian Gulf for the time of need. After 2011, as global attention shifted back to the West Asian region as well as the Persian Gulf, the British leaders to seek renewed direct military presence in the Persian Gulf after 2012.
The British presence in the region is a result of major policies of London in its siding with the American policies in the strategic Persian Gulf region. The US today is no longer recognized as the sole powerful and hegemonic country on the international stage; rather the world now sees other powers like Russia and China rising in stature and so turning into the key rivals of the US.
Feeling the risks of a rising China, the Obama administration in 2012 issued its new “Defense Strategy Review.” The revised strategy noted that in the long run China as an emerging regional power will obtain the capacity to influence the American economy and security in a variety of ways. The US concern is not baseless because China has the world’s largest population and a fast-growing economy, and the Chinese military forces can give Beijing an increasing power. An increasingly powerful Beijing will certainly press Washington to withdraw from East Asia, the same move the US made in the 19th century to push the Europeans out of the Western Hemisphere. This pushed Washington to reduce its presence in West Asia and Persian Gulf regions and instead focus on the East Asia, where it is losing the edge to China.
This made it unavoidable for Washington to task such allies as Britain with part of its work in the Persian Gulf. The US understood that it can not pursue its goals alone. The fresh Russian presence in the region made the US feel a need for a key ally in addition to its traditional Arab allies in a bid to firm up its place in the Persian Gulf region.
On the other side, London has a clear need for the region’s energy. In 2012 alone, nearly 30 percent of the British gas came from the region through sea. Qatar has now turned into the most important Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) supplier of Britain. On the one hand it seeks its own interests and objectives in the region, and on the other hand it wants to present itself as a supplement to the US as it is Washington’s most significant international ally in the face of rivals like Russia and China.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|