Britain could be poised to join an alliance known as “Asian NATO” in order to restrain China’s ambitions. Reports in Indian media have floated the idea of Britain joining the so-called “Quad”, which currently consists of the United States, Japan, India and Australia. With Britain lining up what Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has called an “Indo-Pacific tilt” after its departure from the EU, membership in the “Quad” would enlarge an alliance of countries who have all clashed with an assertive Beijing in recent months.
While no firm proposals have been put to Prime Minister Boris Johnson so far, there is thought to be an “appetite” in the Government to join the alliance.
This appetite underlines Britain’s eagerness to construct a new role for itself outside the EU.
Last year, Mr Raab had vowed to use NATO and other European institutions to compensate for any erosion in Britain’s diplomatic and military influence after Brexit, promising to be “an even better neighbour” to the bloc.
Some other European countries, though, have been hoping to take advantage of Brexit for their own gain.
France notoriously tried to replace Britain as the leading European power in NATO.
A Briton has held the position of deputy supreme allied commander – the number two military post in the alliance – since 1951 but in 2017, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) was contemplating whether this would change after Brexit.
The role is central to securing NATO manpower and equipment for certain EU missions organised under so-called “Berlin-plus” arrangements.
RUSI deputy director-general Prof Malcolm Chalmers wrote in a briefing on the UK’s post-Brexit foreign and security policy: “There is already some discussion of the possibility that the assignment of the position… might have to be transferred to a NATO member that is a member of the EU.”
Among the countries seeking to exploit the potential reshuffle was France, The Times reported, claiming Paris sent an unofficial delegation to Washington to convince US officials that French armed forces were better placed than their British counterparts to be America’s special ally in Europe after Brexit.
A source told the publication: “The French team were at pains to point out how useful the French military could be as an ally and their track record in getting things done in troublespots where the US was not as strong as it wished to be.
“They also pointed out that, after Brexit, they would be the only EU country with this capability.”
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The post was then held by General Sir Adrian Bradshaw.
Tory MPs scoffed at suggestions France would replace Britain.
Former Defence Minister and ex-Naval officer Andrew Murrison said it simply represented the latest attempt by France to take NATO’s number two position and said Europe needed “100 percent UK engagement”.
And Sir Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, wrote on Twitter: “We aren’t going to surrender DSACEUR under any circs [sic].”
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said at the time: “We will continue to play a leading role in European security.
“This includes providing NATO’s deputy supreme allied commander for Europe.”
The think-tank claimed a solution could have been the creation of a second equivalent position within NATO or the UK swapping its role for another senior one, such as chief of staff.
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While the consequences of losing the role were likely to be “relatively limited”, the “clear message” was that “the UK’s role and influence within NATO could be entirely ring-fenced from the consequences of Brexit”.
Despite France’s attempts, Britain did not end up losing its role.
Last year, NATO appointed Lieutenant General Tim Radford as its Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR), demonstrating the leading role the UK plays in the transatlantic alliance.
However, according to French diplomats the Brexit context has helped them make their case to US officials that France should now be seen as the leading power in the alliance.
General James Mattis, former US Defence Secretary, raised the alarm of British officials when he said France was “our security partner of choice today”.