Real security is about working co-operatively internationally to tackle the major challenges of our time. From climate catastrophe to global poverty, from the international refugee crisis to health pandemics, we are surrounded by threats that cause misery in their own right and also raise the possibility of armed conflicts. However, the government’s integrated defence and security review is the opposite approach of this.
It is not a plan for our national defence. It is a plan for more and longer overseas operations with less accountability – a charter for new forever wars like Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a plan for new arms races and new nuclear weapons that tear up our treaty obligations. It provokes military dangers while defunding plans for real threats and cutting the international development budget.
This would be short-sighted at the best of time but is indefensible when we are struggling with the nightmare results of a pandemic that has shown the dangers of underfunding public services – one that we met with neglected stockpiles, defunded healthcare and struggling public services. But Boris Johnson’s Tories are intent on nationalist rhetoric and sabre-rattling to cover for their failures at home on several fronts.
Lifting the cap on the number of Trident nuclear warheads the UK can stockpile will increase the number by more than 40% to 260. This is totally wrong. At a time when our public services are at breaking point due to a decade of austerity, the decision to spend billions more on nuclear weapons we should never use shows the Tories have the wrong priorities.
It is in conflict with our legal obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and is at odds with the new UN treaty to ban all nuclear weapons globally. It also runs counter to the example set by President Joe Biden of renewing a nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia, and the previous moves made by the Barack Obama administration. What is needed is more progress from the countries signed up to the NPT, which could in turn encourage India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea to move towards nuclear disarmament.
Each one of these warheads is a weapon of mass destruction, and far more powerful than the single nuclear weapon used on Hiroshima in 1945. This is encouraging a new nuclear arms race and raising tensions with other major powers provides no way forward for humanity and will make the world more, not less, dangerous.
Johnson talks about a global Britain but seems to be framing it as an empire throwback. While throwing money at warfighting, he is slashing this country’s ability to make a positive difference in the world. And it beggars belief that the government is also cutting funding for research into climate change, disease and other real and present existential threats.
The pandemic has starkly illustrated global economic and health inequalities, which are a threat to us all. Spending massive resources on weapons will not solve these problems, or deal with the global refugee crisis. 70 million refugees across the world are a product of war, poverty, climate disaster and inequality.
If the Tories had learned any lessons from a year in which medical professionals had to meet the most serious national crisis since World War Two wearing bin bags, their security strategy would look very different. It would understand economic security, well-funded health and care infrastructure, and tackling health and social inequalities as central to our national defence. It would focus on reducing tensions around the world; to enable nations to tackle common problems together.
In particular, COP26 provides an opportunity to show real initiative and thus leadership internationally in tackling the climate emergency, including through a commitment to net zero by 2030. Instead, the only example of international collaboration Johnson seems willing to engage in is teaming up with the US and EU to block poorer countries from being able to manufacture their own vaccines.
We live in a different, more multipolar, and in some ways more dangerous world than the Cold War duopoly I grew up with. But the same principles that were true when the threat of the bomb first loomed over us remain true now. Real security is not provided by increasing our nuclear arsenal and taking a bellicose stance in the international arena.
Nor is it provided by continuing arms exports that fuel wars and conflicts, such as the UK’s continued sales of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in a war in Yemen that has cost a quarter of a million lives. Real security is tackling our problems together. It is campaigning for a peaceful world where we put our planet, health, lives and livelihoods first. Not only is this the right approach, it’s a popular approach.