Sir Tom Phillips
Al Riyadh newspaper published an Arabic version of this article on 21 October
A strategic military relationship with the Kingdom
Two weeks ago I joined the Captain and crew of HMS Somerset as it visited Jubail Naval City. HMS Somerset is a Duke class Type 23 Frigate, the back bone of the Royal Navy Fleet deployed around the world to maintain security. As we toured the ship we saw the commitment of the British crew and the extraordinary technology that makes the ship so effective. We discussed the challenges of terrorism, piracy and drug smuggling and saw demonstrations of the way the Somerset can respond to those threats.
Three days after I visited the ship in Jubail 20 cadets from the Royal Saudi Navy joined the ship for exercises at sea. This was an exceptional opportunity to strengthen the links between our two navies, and to ensure that the experience of co-operation and joint training was passed on to the next generation of sailors. Those cadets are at the beginning of their career. But I believe that over the course of their service in the Royal Saudi Navy they will time and again meet and work with the Royal Navy. Last year, 10 cadets from the King Fahd Naval Academy studied at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, where generations of Royal Navy officers have trained. This year, double that number are preparing to undergo this training at Dartmouth. Some will go on to serve on Royal Saudi Naval Ships working in the Red Sea alongside British ships to protect against piracy. And I hope that by the time all those cadets have been promoted to Captains, Commodores and Admirals, they will get the chance to watch 20 more Saudi cadets embark on naval exercises on a Royal Navy ship.
Those Saudi cadets are the living embodiment of the defence relationship between our two countries. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait. Britain stood side by side with our Saudi comrades to liberate Kuwait, to uphold the rule of law, and to ensure security and stability were maintained in the region. Since then Britain and Saudi Arabia have strengthened our defence ties through joint training and exercising, the sharing of state of the art military technology and through strategic planning. Both the British and the Saudi armed forces benefit from this relationship, which is one of the strongest we have in the world.
As the new British Ambassador I am committed to seeing this defence relationship grow and develop. On Tuesday the British Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, announced the UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review. This review was the result of a detailed analysis of the threats and challenges the UK will face in the coming decades. In the course of the review we asked our partners, including Saudi Arabia, to give us their strategic assessment.
The context is of course the British government’s commitment to reviewing government spending in order to balance the budget over the next four years. That had lead to some concern that the British military would face cuts which could prevent Britain from living up to its international responsibilities. I am pleased to say that the outcome of the Strategic Defence and Security Review makes it clear this will not happen. Britain will continue to be a military power of the first rank, with outstanding equipment, sailors, soldiers and airmen; able to meet its international responsibilities for security and stability. The Review confirmed that the two planned aircraft carriers will be completed, giving Britain a platform to project its military around the globe. The world-class Typhoon aircraft will continue to patrol the skies. I saw for myself the unrivalled capability of Typhoon during a visit to Taif a few weeks ago, and I am proud that a joint Saudi British programme will continue to deliver support for the RSAF’s Typhoons
The results of this Review are important. As Dr Fox spelt out during his recent visit, Saudi Arabia and the UK are strong strategic partners with shared regional and wider interests. I want to see the military co-operation between our countries extended even further. HMS Somerset had been supporting the Iraqi navy to secure its maritime oil facilities. This Review will ensure that crucial work like this can continue. And it will provide the platform for the British military to meet the challenges of the coming decades. The British military will continue to stand side by side with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a valued partner and friend.
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