In an ironic twist to Remembrance Sunday, military personnel called for investment in a new arsenal of weapons suitable for the next war

Terina Hine

General Sir Nick Carter used his Remembrance Sunday interview on Sophie Ridge to step up his campaign for military investment.

Boris Johnson’s Integrated Defence Review has again fallen victim to the pandemic. As part of the Treasury’s comprehensive spending review, the Defence Review has been abandoned while the Treasury grapples with the economic chaos caused by the virus.

Postponed in the spring, and now again in the autumn, the Integrated Review was intended to set out the government’s defence priorities for the coming years, to establish a fully costed five-year defence plan. Unsurprisingly the military establishment is putting up a fight as they fear key decisions on long-term priorities will now have to wait until as late as 2022.

In an ironic but predictable twist to Remembrance Sunday, military personnel popped up on our screens calling for the review to be reinstated to enable investment in a new arsenal of weapons suitable for the next war. The lesson of Never Again apparently well and truly forgotten.

General Sir Nick Carter, the UK’s most senior military commander, used his interview on Sophie Ridge on Sunday, on the morning of Remembrance Sunday, to step up his campaign for military investment. Increased uncertainty and regional tensions caused by Covid-19 could, he said, be easily ramped up into “full-blown war”, a war it is imperative the UK prepare for. Carter compared 2020 to the years preceding the two world wars, when collapsing alliances and international missteps resulted in years of bloodshed.

Pressing his case for increased military spending, Carter suggested that the coronavirus epidemic and the ensuing global economic crisis has made the prospect of World War Three a very real threat.

As service chiefs make their case for more money it is important to remember this is nothing new. The call for increased investment and a long-term financial settlement to “transform the UK’s defences” has been championed for a number of years by the MoD. What is new is that the focus is on investment in high-tech drones and robots. Something Dominic Cummings has been keen to support.

Back in February, Johnson called the Integrated Defence Review the biggest analysis of the UK’s defence policy since the end of the cold war. He promised it would set a new strategy for “global Britain”. The MoD with a huge £13bn shortfall in its equipment budget was hoping for a settlement which would enable it to rebalance its spending and invest in new technologies for a new era of warfare: drones, robots and cyber defences.

According to Carter thirty thousand “robot soldiers” could become an integral part of the British army. Having struggled to hit recruitment targets the army is turning to technology, “an armed forces that’s designed for the 2030s” could include large numbers of autonomous or remotely controlled machines, he suggested. It’s a scary prospect – a huge expansion in the sort of drone warfare and remote killings witnessed in Afghanistan and the Middle East over recent years.

This vision of the future was espoused earlier in the year by Defence Minister, Ben Wallace, who said he envisaged the future of the armed forces to be in the form of autonomous weaponry rather than large troop deployments, “this future force will be about speed, readiness and resilience, operating much more in the newest domains of space, cyber and sub-sea.” It is believed this view echoes that of Dominic Cummings and is fully supported by No 10.

Investment in robot warfare is at the heart of the integrated review.

As Carter warned of the UK being drawn into another major world conflict, of escalation leading to miscalculation, he called on the government to increase investment in high-tech weaponry and arms. Even a meager understanding of history should act as a warning that increased military capacity rarely, if ever, leads the world to peace.

The arms race which occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century enabled imperial competition and broken alliances to spill into all-out war. The arms race that marked the second half of the century brought us to the brink of nuclear annihilation. It is time for investment in machines of death to end.

As the fight against Covid-19 continues, the last thing the UK needs is for the government to invest in more death and destruction. Instead we should be looking to a future in which we invest in tackling climate change with a green revolution, where we reset the economy by investing in people and jobs and in which we provide decent welfare and healthcare for all.

As the lobbying by the military establishment steps up we must counter the calls to invest in war with calls to invest in peace.

11 Nov 2020 by Terina Hine

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