The Empire Has No Clothes? The UK, the Indo-Pacific ‘Tilt’, and Bargaining Towards a Southeast Asian Role

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Abstract

This paper provides a critical analysis of the UK’s stated goals for the Indo-Pacific “tilt” (Integrated Review 2021, Integrated Review Refresh 2023), its activities so far, and the expectations of regional states in Southeast Asia. It draws upon role theory to argue that while there are growing connections between the UK’s role conception and Southeast Asia’s role expectations in relation to the Indo-Pacific emerging, there remain significant disjunctions. We argue that post-Brexit, the UK conceives itself as a vanguard of the open international order which has created distinct security and policy prescriptions (which we label role claims). We argue these role claims do not always align with the expectations Southeast Asian nations have for the UK, creating obstacles for role legitimation and resulting in bargaining concerning the UK’s ultimate role. This paper argues that these disparities have to some degree been recognised by the UK, which has rolled back some claims to be a leader in security, economy, and values in Southeast Asia. However, it still needs to adapt to the region’s preferred role for Britain of cooperative partner and capacity builder. Through this we provide an original contribution to theoretical discussions concerning how the concept of roles is understood within international relations through a focus on the expectations of regional states as an essential dynamic in the negotiation of roles.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRevue Française de Civilisation Britannique
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2024

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