As we battle a global pandemic, the Tory government is squandering hundreds of billions of public money on unnecessary weapon systems

Sweta Choudhury

HMS Queen Elizabeth, the UK’s largest ever warship, will set sail on May 23 for a 28-week tour of the Indo-Pacific region in what will be the most extensive naval deployment since the Falklands War. International experts are seeing this move as an unnecessary provocation that will only fuel international tensions. Even Max Hastings, the right-wing military historian, has criticised this vanity project saying ‘Britain’s expensive, impractical and alarmingly vulnerable new aircraft carriers embody everything that is wrong with our defence policy’. To say the least, it’s nothing but a grotesque waste of public money.

As we struggle to survive through a global pandemic, the Tory government is squandering hundreds of billions of public money on unnecessary weapon systems in the name of national defence while ignoring the urgent threats. It’s no secret that despite being the world’s fifth-largest economy, there is a real health and economic crisis looming over the country. The NHS is falling apart; there is a massive shortage of housing; disability payment cuts; cuts to public transport and yet billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being wasted on imaginary threats.

In the last five years, the Ministry of Defence has spent more than £150 billion building the UK’s defence capabilities, which include nuclear weapons, warheads, and submarines. Last year, the government approved a staggering £16.5 billion of additional funding for defence spending, the largest increase in its defence budget since the end of the Cold War.This makes the UK one of the top four defence spenders in NATO by share of GDP.

These huge sums of public money could have been invested in the public sector or in tackling the pandemic and climate change, which are far greater threats than the imaginary ones for which these defence capabilities are built.

More so, they don’t serve any real defensive purpose other than stroking the egos of the self-interested establishment figures. Successive governments have invested in weapon systems that will either never be used or are inept in dealing with existing and future threats. Yet, they continue to invest in the war machine to appease their allies and create a false sense of security and supremacy.

Just as the name implies, the primary purpose of the HMS Queen Elizabeth is to project Britain’s preeminence as an imperial superpower and make a statement about its national strategic maritime ambition. This is in line with the government’s recently published Integrated Review titled ‘Global Britain in a competitive age’, which outlines the future of Britain’s military role in the world. In reality, however, it represents Britain’s desperation and symbolises its deluded ambition to intimidate parts of the globe.

The Indo-Pacific tilt in the UK’s foreign policy also indicates its desire to establish maritime partnerships with Asian countries, especially India, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, to reinforce their mutual security objectives against China over its alleged expansionist strategy. While territorial and cultural disputes between these countries have been ongoing for a long time, the UK’s involvement will only fuel further tension. British expansionism plagued the world for more than four centuries but no lessons have been learnt and Johnson’s government is attempting to be an imperial power in the twenty-first century.

Lastly, the aircraft carriers are a part of Britain’s military commitment to NATO and their operational mission is expected to include the contentious South China Sea, which will have knock-on implications in the region and beyond. This provocative manoeuvre has already created international tensions. Let us be clear, condemning Western aggression does not suggest China itself is faultless, nor does it suggest support for the Chinese government, but ratcheting up tensions through futile military activities will only magnify the existing disputes.

In the past two decades the UK’s involvement in the international affairs of other countries, especially in the Middle East, has been one of inciting war and instability. Its involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq left millions dead while creating havoc in the entire region. The subsequent wars in Syria and Libya, and the rise of terrorist groups are a direct consequence of those military interventions. The government’s current contribution in supplying arms and training to Saudi Arabia while it needlessly kills Yemeni civilians is not just in defiance of international law but has helped create the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

While these countries continue to endure the civil costs of terrorism, insurgency and civil war created by British interventionism, Britain continues to generate tensions around the world by its provocative military actions. In reality, there is no strategic reason and justification for maintaining a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific. Far from preventing conflicts, military exercises like these facilitate conflict and make the world a more dangerous place.

13 May 2021 by Sweta Choudhury

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