attend to imaginary threats, while neglecting real ones.
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th April 2020
defending ourselves against the wrong threats. For decades, UK governments have
been fighting not just the last war, but a redundant notion of war, spending
hundreds of billions against imaginary hazards. At the same time, as we have
become horribly aware over the past few weeks, they have neglected real and
ago, just as the coronavirus began racing across the UK, the government boasted that had
raised military spending by £2 billion to £41.5 billion. Our military force, it
claimed, is “the tip of the spear for a resurgent Global Britain.”
this money will be spent on equipment and infrastructure. The UK is acquiring 138 new
F-35 aircraft. According to the
manufacturers, Lockheed, this “supersonic, multi-role” fighter
“represents a quantum leap in air dominance capability”. It “has the range and
flexibility to win, again and again.” But win against what? Can it bomb the
coronavirus? Can its “advanced stealth, integrated avionics, sensor fusion and
superior logistics support” defeat climate breakdown? It is of as much use in
solving the world’s complex and pressing problems as a jackhammer is to a
likely role for such weaponry is to wage elective wars in distant nations. Even
in these circumstances, the F-35 could be outdated before it is deployed. The
decisive weapons in such conflicts are likely now to be drones, not jets. It might
have “multiple capabilities”, but all this means is that the UK will bring a
Swiss army knife to a gunfight.
Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, gave a speech in which
he characterised international law as “a strait jacket of permissions and
authorities that make it hard for us to respond”, and claimed, like any
19th-century colonial official, that the UK’s intervention abroad is “a force
for good”. We have, apparently, “a moral imperative” to address conflict and
reality, for the past 17 years, the UK’s intervention abroad has been one of
the major causes of conflict and instability. This nation’s involvement in the
Iraq war has helped to cause collapse, continued fighting and the rise of
terrorist groups. Our current contribution is to supply the hardware and
training Saudi Arabia currently deploys in Yemen. Yemen is now suffering the
world’s worst humanitarian crisis: starvation
caused by the Saudi blockade, epidemics of cholera, diphtheria and other infectious
diseases. Saudi Arabia has used British weaponry to bomb
schools, markets and hospitals. Yemen’s health system is collapsing, just as
Covid19 is about to strike.
as a result of these atrocities, the UK’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia were ruled unlawful in the
Court of Appeal. The court instructed the government to stop issuing new
licences and to review its past decisions. There has been no review. When it
was caught issuing new licences for weapon sales to the kingdom, the government
claimed it had done so “inadvertently”. British
bombs and rockets, fired by British jets, many of them deliberately targeting
civilians, continue to rain misery on the world’s most vulnerable people. But
this trade in death has been worth £5 billion to UK
companies since the war in Yemen began, so it continues to be supported by the
government, in defiance of both UK and international law. This is not defence.
This is mass murder and the perpetuation of conflict.
majority of the UK’s “defence” capabilities have no defensive purpose. There is
no strategic reason to spend 2% of our GDP on military force. Other countries
spend far less, and are just as secure. NATO’s tepid conflicts with Russia,
stoked by each other’s paranoia, would be better resolved by diplomatic means.
But people like Ben Wallace talk of only “adversaries”, rather than of
potential – and necessary – allies in confronting common threats.
billion is more than twice as much
money as the UK spends on preventing climate and ecological breakdown: which
are not just potential threats but current emergencies. It is hundreds of times
more, as we are now discovering, than the government has spent on preparing for
pandemics. We now know that both the UK and US governments ignored
warnings about the potential scale and impacts of pandemics like this, and
failed to invest in genuine national defence: meaning extra capacity in the
health system, beds, training, ventilators and protective equipment. Even when
the disease began to spread, they downplayed its likely effects. They
attend, lavishly and zealously, to imaginary threats, while neglecting real
We need a
complete reassessment of what security means. China’s dispatch of specialists to the UK
to help treat the coronavirus makes a nonsense of Wallace’s attempts to portray
it as our “adversary”. Yes, like Russia and Iran, its government competes with
Western governments for spheres of influence and resources, but in confronting
genuine threats to humanity and the rest of life on earth, there should be more
that brings us together that sets us apart.
there were a time for brokering peace, this is it. If ever there were a time
for nations such as the UK and the US to meet their disarmament commitments
under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and work
with Russia and China to put their wasted billions to better use, this is it.
If ever there were a time to reassess the genuine threats to our security and
separate them from the self-interested aims of the weapons industry, this is
governments’ primary effort is to enhance their power at the expense of others.
In failing to address our real and common threats, we are our own adversaries.