An article surfaced recently in several UK news outlets that the United Kingdom may quite possibly be seeking to build new military bases around the world after Brexit.
One such article in the UK’s Sunday Telegraph quotes Gavin Williamson, the UK’s Defence Secretary as stating; “This is our moment to be that true global player once more – and I think the armed forces play a really important role as part of that.”
Williamson is further quoted as having gone on to state; “I am very much looking at how can we get as much of our resources forward based, actually creating a deterrent but also taking a British presence.”
“We are looking at those opportunities not just in the Far East but also in the Caribbean as well,” he said.
The Sunday Telegraph reporting on his comments highlighted that the possibilities for such new UK military bases could include either Singapore or Brunei in the South China Sea, and Montserrat or Guyana in the Caribbean.
If in fact Montserrat is being shortlisted for a military base, would this be good or bad for the island?
From a Montserrat perspective, what would be the benefits of having a military base on the island?
If the research that MNI Media has conducted is anything to go by, let us look at the UK’s present military presence globally. Accordingly to the Swiss Institute for Peace and Energy Research (SIPER), they have highlighted that both the UK and France have military bases in 11 countries around the world.
Presently, the UK has troops stationed in Germany, and they also maintain a military presence in the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, according to SIPER, “UK's military presence throughout the world is also distributed throughout its former colonial empire: Cyprus in Europe; Canada and Belize in the Americas; Sierra Leone and Kenya in Africa; Qatar in the Middle East; and Singapore and Brunei in Southeast Asia.”
According to a Fact Sheet that looks at the Impact of Military Bases around the world;
“Locating military forces in bases outside one's territory is an old concept - as old as the idea of an organised army. The current global network of bases has its roots in the colonial period where the UK, France, Spain and other European powers set up military infrastructures to compete with each other in occupying territory, supporting commercial operations, and repressing local dissent.”
How then would Montserrat benefit from having a military base?
It is beyond well documented that of the 7 leaders the island has had in the past 23 years of seeking to redevelop from a devastating volcanic crisis – most of them have failed Montserrat. Despite the differences in style, it is painfully clear that none have done much better than the other in delivering for Montserrat. There is no legacy of development that has created a catalytic shift in the economic fortunes of Montserrat that any of the island's former leaders; to include the present leader can point to.
The impact of a military base on island can have a powerful shift in the development and economic considerations for the island.
Firstly, it would obviously depend on what type of base Britain would be seeking to establish in either of those speculative territories. Thus, if it were a naval or air base, either can be a great positive for Montserrat in terms of the resultant infrastructure installations.
The Fact Sheet as referenced earlier sites that:
“Some bases are vast installations; others are unobtrusive spy bases or intelligence facilities, joint training camps, equipment stores, radar sites, rest and recuperation facilities, and refuelling stations. The military presence can also come in the form of port-of-call rights, landing rights for military and intelligence aircraft, refuelling and flyover rights”
If BREXIT does in fact take place, it is forecasted by most analysts to hit the UK significantly. However despite this, MNI Media also sees within this BREXIT uproar, the case for the creation of opportunities for some of the British Overseas Territories (BOT’s). The timing could not have been more urgent for a lobby effort to be planned and waiting, with the consideration of the thought that Britain would be looking to set up potential military bases in the Caribbean region.
We can consider the impact locally on the UK military base in the developing country of Kenya. According to the publication Forces Network in a feature looking at Britain’s Base in Kenya, they highlight that The Royal Engineers stationed there “carry out civil engineering projects in the country while on exercise there, while two medical company group deployments provide healthcare assistance to the civilian community.”
In terms of economic impact, the publication sites that the British Army presence is said to contribute £58 million to the Kenyan economy each year.
This article most certainly does not posit that UK military installations are all positive. There are issues to consider in terms of impact on current local infrastructure depending on the number of soldiers and their families stationed in any country, amongst other considerations.
However, it is commonplace around the world where military bases are established that the economic impact and wider development impact can be richly enhanced. For Montserrat being a BOT in dire need of development and a serious economic impetus, could the military base be that catalyst to provide a wide range of jobs and other development opportunities for the people of Montserrat?
Of course, this is all speculative, as the Defence Secretary's wish list may not materialise with BREXIT being so uncertain. But, if he does get his way, would it be to Montserrat’s benefit to lobby for a military base on the island with clearly agreed terms that can define the island’s economic future?
For a tiny developing nation of 5000 people that needs both a population and an economic boost, this could be the answer.
In an election year, it would be interesting to see the politicians who are against this possibility, and those who may be onside. It would further be revealing to hear their justifications either for, or against.
Note: Jeevan A. Robinson is Editor-in-Chief of Marketing, News & Information Media - MNI Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.