New UK military base in Kuwait

Summary: UK and Kuwaiti governments in discussions to consider options to enhance the UK military presence in Kuwait.

Last month British Ambassador to Kuwait Michael Davenport revealed that Britain is considering establishing a permanent military presence in Kuwait at the request of its government.

“We’re not talking about a major deployment I don’t think, but we’re looking at what might work for both the United Kingdom and for Kuwait” he was quoted as saying on the Forces website.

The Emir of Kuwait attends officers’ graduation at Ali Al-Sabah Military College on Wednesday

The new base – the cost of which is expected to be met entirely by the Kuwaiti government – would be the second permanent UK military base to open in the Middle East in recent years. In 2016 the UK opened a new base in Bahrain, its first since 1971.

The two countries have a longstanding defence relationship. For many years the UK military has advised and developed Kuwait’s Armed Forces through a small British Military Mission permanently stationed in the country. In February a new specialised infantry group of British soldiers trained Kuwaiti forces as part of their first operational deployment.

The new base’s location is yet to be decided but it is likely to be as far from the current US military base Camp Buehring (formerly Camp Udairi) as possible. Camp Buehring was founded in January 2003 in the northwestern region of Kuwait, 40 miles from the Iraqi border. It has been used as a staging post for troops heading north into Iraq and recently hosted a US military exercise Operation Diamond Strike.

The new base is expected to be positioned somewhere in the southwest of the country, to defend against Saudi Arabia instead.

Though relations with Saudi Arabia are officially correct, as noted in our last posting on Kuwait on 21 Feb, Kuwait has not aligned itself with Saudi policy and in recent months signs of tension have emerged in the Saudi – Kuwaiti relationship off the back of the ongoing Qatar blockade.

In a rare rebuke in January Deputy Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Khaled al-Jarallah conveyed his “regrets and admonishment” to the Saudi ambassador to Kuwait over remarks directed at the minister of youth and sport, Khalid al-Rodhan, by the head of Saudi Arabia’s sports committee, Turki Al al-Sheikh, who is also a Saudi royal court adviser.

Two well-known Kuwaiti journalists have also been sentenced to prison time for writing critically about Kuwait’s Gulf relations. Last December Kuwaiti writer Fouad al-Hashem was sentenced to seven years in jail for insulting Qatar. In January newspaper columnist Abdullah Mohammed al-Saleh was sentenced to five-year prison with hard labour in absentia for insulting Saudi Arabia.

Legislation for the new UK base will have to pass both the Kuwaiti and UK parliaments. This is likely to prove uncontroversial, although some opposition is to be expected in both cases.

In Kuwait, a group of influential Kuwaiti MPs backed by the Emir and lead by Ahmed Al Fadhel MP, has been tasked with pushing through the required new legislation. In Brexit Britain, Kuwait should find lobbying the UK government is pushing at an open door. The UK is seeking to deepen its relationship with the Gulf, Kuwait does not suffer the same image problems as other Arab countries, and the two nations already have strong defence ties.

To sweeten the deal, Kuwait is understood to be offering that the UK troops stationed there will be subject to UK, not Kuwaiti law, as part of the agreement.

One outstanding issue between the UK and Kuwait awaiting resolution is the issue of extradition.

Kuwait is still awaiting the extradition of Fahad Al Rajaan, former Director-General of the Kuwaiti social security fund, who has been sentenced for corruption and embezzlement of public money. Al Rajaan has reportedly had his bank accounts frozen in the UK but remains at liberty there.

Kuwait has signed an extradition treaty with the UK but the parliaments of both countries have yet to ratify it.

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