Boris Johnson has told us that the UK’s “international ambitions must start at home” with expectations of huge investments in high-tech warfare, drones and robot soldiers in next week’s Defence Command paper, where the details will be fleshed out.

Terina Hine

Boris Johnson has made clear the future for “Global Britain in a Competitive Age” will be based on the stockpiling of nuclear warheads, the demonisation of Russia as our greatest foe and a strategic tilt to the Indo-Pacific region. Add into the mix some high-tech weaponry and you get the picture.

Downing Street claims that the UK will “shape a more open international order in which democracies flourish” yet its Integrated Review of defence policy reneges on one of our longest held international treaties – the international treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The long awaited review, published today, is the most significant strategic document since the end of the Cold War, and outlines the future of Britain’s military role in the world. Seemingly fighting the last war rather than the next, the Johnson government has used the opportunity to invest billions in nuclear warheads.

Johnson promised to make the UK “match-fit” for future wars, by mothballing dated military hardware in preference for cyber defence and high-tech weaponry: tanks and artillery out and drones and robot soldiers in. Yet we discover that not only is Trident to be retained but that the stockpile of nuclear warheads is to increase by 40% – the first increase in since the end of the Cold War.

Each warhead is 6.5 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima. The cost is astronomical, even a former head of the army, Lord Dannatt suggested the money might be better deployed elsewhere. It is simply staggering that a country claiming to respect the rule of law is not only investing billions in weapons of mass destruction but is tearing up one of our longest standing international treaties into the bargain.

Last week it was rumoured the Pentagon had asked the Brits to leave China to them and turn its attention to its own backyard. The Integrated Review, aimed at establishing Britain’s new post Brexit role in the world, has now named Russia as the number one threat and apparently re-engaged in the old Cold War.

The much anticipated pivot east, paving the way for Britain to become a “global player”, has been partially overshadowed: Russia is the “hostile’ state, and an acute threat to our security” while China is referred to as less of a threat and more as a “systemic challenge”.

The United States remains “the UK’s most important strategic ally” and France and Germany are name checked as key European partners. With the Indo-Pacific region increasingly becoming the “geopolitical centre of the world” Britain’s goal is to intensify relations with India, Japan, South Korea and Australia and pursue “deeper trade links and more Chinese investment”. We will no doubt help shore up opposition to China, but at least for the moment the review draws a delicate diplomatic balance vacillating between trade and hostility.

Remember it was only five years ago that the government rolled out the red carpet to President Xi, welcoming Chinese investment in the UK with open arms, yet in May the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is being sent on its inaugural trip to the South China Sea, replete with its US owned F-35 jets, protected by a fleet of frigates . Attempting to straddle the divide between the China hawks and the realpolitik of international trade, the “potential flash points” in the region remain on our radar.

Military engagement with the Middle East is to continue unabated, and in the one area where we should follow Biden’s lead – suspending arms to Saudi Arabia and ending support for the war on Yemen – we will clearly not.

The Integrated Review, as its name implies, is not simply concerned with hard military power, but also the UK’s soft power projection: the BBC and the royal family both get a mention. In response to the national outcry against the recent cuts to the overseas aid budget the PM’s forward announces another government U-turn – the aid budget is to be restored to its pre-pandemic 0.7% level, but only “when the fiscal situation allows” even though the 0.7% figure is enshrined in law.

Boris Johnson has told us that the UK’s “international ambitions must start at home” with expectations of huge investments in high-tech warfare, drones and robot soldiers in next week’s Defence Command paper, where the details will be fleshed out. This military investment is intended to unite the Union: there will be ship building in Scotland, armoured vehicles in Wales, lithium mining in Cornwall, manufacturing satellites in Northern Ireland and the establishment of a ‘cyber corridor’ and National Cyber Security Force HQ in the North. The military industrial complex is alive and well on the British Isles.

After a year of waiting, the Integrated Review sets out Britain’s international road map for the next 30 years; it throws exorbitant sums of money at weapons of mass destruction and the military, demonises Russia to justify its hubris and barely hides its contempt for China. But it fails to address the real threat faced by the people of Britain – the very one we have all lived through this past year.

Since 1945 there have been no defensive wars fought by Britain, yet we have been at war continually for twenty years. In setting out its stall for a global Britain, the government claims to be a defender of democracy and the rule of law, yet in the report’s 100 pages it proves it is the exact opposite.

16 Mar 2021

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