All that sending a flotilla bristling with weapons into the South China Sea can do is escalate global tensions

Chris Nineham

Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II fighter jet takes off from HMS Queen Elizabeth

No one can say that the BBC takes its role as state broadcaster lightly. On Monday, its flagship radio news show The Today Programme was partly presented from on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s new hi-tech aircraft carrier.

The ‘story’ behind this move was that in around a month’s time the HMS Queen Elizabeth is leading an armed flotilla on a 28-week cruise more than halfway around the world. The mission’s purpose, which will involve stopovers at more than 100 ports, is to show that Britain is still a global power to be reckoned with. In the words of Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, the aim is ‘projecting our influence, signalling our power.’

The carrier strike group’s mission will be Britain’s biggest deployment of UK naval and aerial military firepower since the Falklands war in 1982. It will include a squadron of 10 US Marine Corps F35 jets, an attack submarine armed with Tomahawk missiles, 2 destroyers, a number of other battleships and the greatest quantity of helicopters assigned to a single UK Task Group in a decade.

What the Ministry of Defence is describing as the “largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave the UK in a generation” will visit more than 40 countries for more than 70 engagements, including an exercise marking the 50th anniversary of the Five Power Defence Arrangements with Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

The last leg of the voyage will take the strike group into the South China Seas, close to Taiwan and end with military exercises with Japan. As the MOD admits the deployment has been organised as part of the “UK’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific region” to “bolster deep defence partnerships” in the region. In other words, a central part of the operation is to back the US’s increasingly hostile posture towards China.

The aircraft carrier and its sister ship HMS Prince of Wales cost more than £6bn but with all the connected operating costs and support the total price will be in the tens of billions. This is an extraordinary allocation of resources at a time when public services are in such a desperate state and the NHS is at breaking point.

It will of course do nothing to enhance our ‘security’, the military buzzword of the moment. Re-forging links with former colonial outposts across Asia, aspiring to global military pretensions ‘East of Suez’ is a policy based on a Tory post-colonial fantasy. Even some of the commentators on the Today Programme had to admit that it would be very difficult for Britain to get involved in any serious foreign fighting after the ‘controversial’ wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. All that sending a flotilla bristling with weapons into the disputed waters of the South China Seas can do is escalate tensions and even risk an accidental confrontation with another nuclear armed state.

As we get nearer the 23 May launch date expect more flag waving and banging drums from the government, the BBC and the rest of the media.  Stop the War is working with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to protest against this futile and dangerous exercise. Please get on board with our campaign.

26 Apr 2021 by Chris Nineham

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