The Royal Navy’s capacity has changed over the recent century, partially due to the strengthening of other world powers; also, by the beginning of the 1970s, the UK’s crippling economy had reduced the status of its navy. Since 2016, the Conservative government has introduced a plan called Global Britain, in which it intends to restore its military might around the globe with the hope of re-establishing the Royal Navy’s former position.
After a recent confrontation between a Royal Navy warship and Russian forces in the Black Sea, a war of words escalated between London and Moscow. Moscow accused the provocative action and dropped bombs on the path of the Royal Navy destroyer for what it called breaching its territorial waters. Russia has summoned the British ambassador in Moscow and has blamed both the UK and the US for denying the reality and trying to escalate conflict. The Royal Navy warship with reporters on board moved close to the coast of the Russian-annexed Crimea, which the UK and its allies consider as Ukrainian territory.
The Russian Federation annexed the Crimean peninsula in the Ukraine, north of the Black Sea, in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. During the revolution, the Russian-speaking majority of Crimea voted to join the Russian Federation in a referendum, which Ukraine and Western countries consider illegal. In 1783, the Crimea was annexed by the Russian Empire; but in 1954, under the Soviet leadership, Crimea was transferred to Ukraine.
UK Seeks to Recover its Historic Maritime Power
After the recent presence of the Royal Navy warship in what Russia sees as its territorial waters, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted that the Royal Navy was right to use the freedom of navigation in international waters off the Crimea and added that the UK does not recognise the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Russia has threatened that next time they will fire at the targets and drop bombs on warships. This is the first time since the Cold War that Russia has approved using live ammunition to stop a warship belonging to a NATO member country.
The presence of British reporters on board the Royal Navy warship has raised the question of whether the whole act was a setup by the British government to flaunt its naval power and whether it seeks to restore its old maritime power. The incident highlights the crucial role of the Royal Navy in the “Global Britain” era.
Conservative Government Pursues Global Britain Plan
Global Britain seems to have become one of the leading post-Brexit narratives to define the UK’s future interaction with the world. Former Prime Minister Theresa May, a few months after an unsuccessful pro-Brexit campaign in 2016, used the phrase “truly Global Britain” at a Conservative Party conference. She reiterated that a Global Britain would be a country with the self-confidence and the freedom to look beyond the Continent. She later used the term in some major speeches, including the January 2017 Lancaster House speech, setting out the government’s plan for leaving the EU. She also referred to the term Global Britain when addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos and the UN General Assembly in 2017.
Theresa May continued to use the term. During her speech at the US Republican Party Conference in Philadelphia, and after her 2018 visit to China, she used the term Global Britain in an interview with the BBC. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was the Foreign Secretary in 2016, giving his first major speech at Chatham House titled “Global Britain: UK Foreign Policy in the Era of Brexit”. He acknowledged the government’s goal to seek a policy for a truly Global Britain.
Johnson Promised to Make the UK Top Naval Power in Europe
It seems that Britain has been trying to restore its position in the world for a “Truly Global Britain” by bragging and boasting. Britain considers its Royal Navy to be the world’s second naval power. As such, getting too close to Russian warships in a disputed area with journalists on board appears to be a show-off of the Royal Navy’s strength. In 2020, Boris Johnson, while speaking to the House of Commons, promised to make the UK the top naval power in Europe. He promised to build new warships by spending extra on defence. He also announced a 2021 Royal Navy tour of duties in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and East Asia, in addition to further missions across the globe.
The UK Ministry of Defence stated that it was expanding port facilities in Oman to support the dispatch of ships to the Middle East and the disputed Strait of Hormuz. The Harland & Wolff Group, a British maritime and offshore engineering company, is determined to make the most of this increased defence budget and commitment to UK naval power.
Johnson to Increase the Size and Influence of Royal Navy
Johnson’s plans to enhance the capabilities of the Royal Navy under the “2021 Integrated Review” were unveiled earlier. The plans are supposed to respond to threats and opportunities by increasing the size and influence of the Royal Navy with more ships, submarines, technologies, weapons, and also more missions. Hence, the Defence Ministry will make significant investments in the Royal Navy with extensive missions abroad. The Royal Navy will also carry out ocean surveillance to gather information. Unveiling its substantial plans for empowering the force, the government highlighted that there would be a “new responsibility to deliver a global navy for a Global Britain.” Britain hopes to champion rules for the international order and Boris Johnson has promised an increase in defence spending during the current parliament in accordance with the Global Britain agenda. The UK government has been trying to reset the country’s place in the world with the Global Britain plan. The best Global Britain in action is claimed to be the presence of UK armed forces around the world.
There was also reference to Global Britain in Queen Elizabeth’s 2019 speech, mentioning that developing Global Britain’s foreign policy would happen with a focus on the UK’s alliances and diplomacy, and how it can best use its international development resources. It was also mentioned that there were new opportunities and challenges for Britain in the world, and that the government should use the money better to improve national security capabilities for a Global Britain. It said that Britain, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, NATO, G7, G20, and the Commonwealth, will continue to play a leading role globally. A few months ago, the UK government published a security and defence review paper to better project British power. The Global Britain plan dates back to a century ago, when Britain ruled the seas and the British Empire covered a quarter of the globe.
UK Claimed to be the 19th Century Power
It has always been claimed that England owned the first organised sea power from the 9th to the century13th centuries, with domestic and defensive activities. Afterwards, ships were used to transport soldiers to battles. Under Elizabeth I in the 16th century, the navy became England’s major defense force and was used by the British Empire to help it expand around the world. In the 17th century, Charles II gave the name Royal Navy to the fleet and, in the 18th century, it played a significant role in the battle against Napoleon. But throughout the last century, the Royal Navy has been losing its position and might, while Russia and China have gradually grown their naval power to become the most powerful naval forces in the world.
New Competitors! China & Russia
In a 2020 report, the Chinese government referred to its naval power, stating that China has the largest navy in the world, is the top ship-producing nation on the globe and has been increasing its shipbuilding capacity and capability. China has engaged in a robust shipbuilding and modernisation programme which includes submarines, surface combatants, amphibious warfare ships, aircraft carriers, and auxiliary ships, as well as advanced weapons, and command and control capabilities. Also, Russia is the most powerful navy in the Mediterranean and has made good progress in high-profile shipbuilding projects, considerably modernising its navy. The Russian Navy runs around 360 vessels of all types; smaller warships, such as corvettes and frigates, have replaced large guided-missile cruisers and destroyers. Although many Russian Navy ships are smaller in size with fewer armament compared to NATO’s forces, new technology and weaponry give Russia a superior position.
England is an island which has always depended on the sea to connect to or confront other nations. The English were among the first people who developed an organised navy and, for several centuries, the country owned the most powerful navy among all other nations.
Following the Brexit referendum, British leaders have decided to take control of their own resources to become a Global Britain by restoring their historical position. The British government has already unveiled plans to boost defence. In a recent move, a Royal Navy warship with several journalists on board came close to the Russians in the waters of the Black Sea. Although Britain has made long-term plans and made considerable investments, other powerful countries such as China and Russia have been growing their naval might, facilities and influence, which would be hard to catch up with.