Foreign Policy Digital

Britannia Helps Rule the Waves

The Royal Navy’s return to Asia can guarantee the freedom of the seas.

The freedom of the seas is facing its greatest threat in decades from authoritarian rulers who flout maritime law and the liberal “rules-based order” of seagoing trade, commerce, and martial endeavors it underwrites. Xi Jinping’s China claims “indisputable sovereignty” over some 80-90 percent of the South China Sea, meaning it intends to make the rules governing maritime activities and amass overpowering armed might to enforce them—including in waters apportioned to its neighbors by treaty. Meanwhile Vladimir Putin’s Russia has mounted a de facto blockade of Ukraine’s southeastern seacoast, seizing Ukrainian vessels and their crews trying to enter the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea.

That’s why it’s time for European leaders to speak up and show up—and perhaps none more so than Britain, once the chief enforcer of the modern law of the sea. Remaining silent about lawlessness is tantamount to consenting to it—and the consent of states is a wellspring of international law.

So the news that “global Britain” is returning to waters “east of Suez” is music to the ears of friends of nautical liberty. It’s the opposite of acquiescing to Chinese or Russian affronts. “This is our biggest British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson. “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.” In short, Britain is staging a comeback in the Indian and Pacific oceans—and it has put the region on notice that it intends to stay.

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