Less Net



Age of Permanent War?

The defence spending review represents a total victory for the military-industrial complex and its campaign of fear. Raising the security alert to 'severe' against a possible terrorist attack; the 'secret' briefings that cuts to the air force would leave the country totally vulnerable; the lobbying by the great and the good on why the UK needs a blue-water navy to maintain its status as a world power; and finally, the US demand that the UK continues to play its full role within NATO, have had the desired effect.

After all the leaks and speculation that the MoD faced meltdown from savage, Treasury-led cuts, the outcome is a very modest 8% reduction. As a result, the overall level of the armed forces will be smaller, there will be fewer surface vessels and fighter aircraft ordered, and delays to some contracts – all quite traditional methods of dealing with a spending squeeze. But the really significant outcome was the continuation of every major procurement programme, notably Trident, conventional nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.

As far as the big arms corporations like BAE Systems are concerned, they can plan for steady and continued development and production of the full range of advanced military equipment. Indeed, there is now every probability that the MoD will use the strategic review to ride out the next few years, claiming to have made its contribution to government policy on public spending, and then argue for increases before the end of the Parliament, using the same sort of scare tactics that proved successful this time.

Above all else, this episode demonstrates the continued power that the military-industrial complex wields over the political process. No other set of institutions has had such an enormous influence over the priorities set for public spending in the post-war era. How else can we interpret the fact that a medium-sized, European country has seen fit to spend hundreds of billions on nuclear weapons and ranks second only to the United States in its overall spending on conventional armaments?

At the end of the Cold War, when we could have reasonably expected a return to normal peace-time levels of military expenditure, and the release of a substantial peace dividend for civil investment, virtually every major weapons programme was maintained and the UK's status as a world power reasserted.

The cost to the country has been lost investment on a scale that is nothing short of disastrous. Rather that build a civil industrial base that could, for example, have developed a range of technologies to make us self-sufficient in renewable energy and to construct a modern and fully-integrated public transport system, successive governments spent over £2 billion a year on military R&D and £8-10 billion a year on military hardware.

So now, partly to offset the lack of savings in military spending, a whole range of public services, including welfare support for the most vulnerable in society, faces even deeper cuts. The old 1980s joke about having the best-defended dole queues in the world may seem appropriate, apart from the fact that what masquerades as defence offers no real security, and that the consequence will be stories of desperation and despair as life-or-death choices are made on the provision of services.



We need to be very clear. These are terribly dangerous times that we are entering and the main cause is western militarism. The UK's role is as a small cog in an aggressive alliance dominated by the greatest imperial power in history. Already, the war drums are beating to justify US/Israeli bombing raids against Iran over its possible development of nuclear weapons, conveniently ignoring Israel's existing stockpile of at least 100 nuclear warheads. The big arms corporations including Lockheed Martin and BAE, cheered on by Obama and Cameron, are also selling even more fighter aircraft and missiles to authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia, accelerating arms races in areas of regional tension.

Nor can we ignore the security implications of a recession that may still turn into a global depression. Only the extraordinary levels of government intervention in 2008-09 saved the capitalist system by socialising the banks' toxic debts. Slashing public spending at a time of limited private sector demand will only serve to expose the underlying weaknesses and imbalances of the major capitalist economies; especially as there has been no serious attempt to regulate and reform an international financial system that continues to be run as a casino, subject to massive speculative gambles for short-term profit. As in the 1930s, global depression could intensify resource wars between competing imperial powers led, this time, by the United States and China, determined to extend their influence and control over diminishing supplies of oil and gas.

And it will be precisely because the international economic and security context is set to deteriorate that the military-industrial-complex will be pushing for even further arms expenditure. The same institutions that have done so much damage to the prospects for peace and real security are precisely the ones who will demand even further control over public resources.

In truly Orwellian fashion, they have perfected the manipulation of fear. It is axiomatic that we live in a dangerous world and that only permanent war preparation can protect us. The red menace can be replaced by rogue states, and rogue states by terrorist attacks, and terrorist attacks by well - who knows - cyber warfare seems to be the new threat on the block. All to ensure that Western corporations can fly the stars-and-stripes over foreign oil fields. This is the perverse outcome of democracies being captured and corrupted by powerful corporate interests. Two and two really does make five and war really is peace.

Is this going to be our legacy for future generations – the politics of militarism and fear? To even suggest that the UK should leave Nato, slash arms expenditure, and abolish both its nuclear weapons and its offensive conventional forces will be dismissed out of hand as reckless and unrealistic.

But an arms conversion policy that re-allocated military spending to civil investment could be the central pillar of a new agenda, one that revitalised the civil industrial base by using skilled engineers, technicians and scientists for peaceful purposes and economic and environmental security. The real challenge is simple - to break out of the Orwellian politics of fear and provide a confident and progressive alternative to the coalition's destructive policies.