UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the largest increase in military spending for 30 years, with an extra £4 billion a year being pumped in to the MoD for the next four years. He said he was announcing the Defence spending boost “in the teeth” of the pandemic because “the defence of the realm must come first”.
Really? Not public health? Not jobs and living standards? The UK is facing it’s greatest health and economic crisis since WWII, and Johnson thinks the priority is new British army robots and a “space command”. Literally, that is what the money is being prioritised for. And it is set to come at the expense of the international aid budget, at a time when the developing world as a whole is facing its first recession in 60 years.
Let’s remember that “defence” is a euphemism here – this is about post-Empire UK retaining its ability to have a military with a global footprint. UK military spending is currently the second largest in Europe, second only to France. A 2020 ranking of ‘military strength of nations’ puts Britain in eighth, despite being based in the most peaceful region in the world and with a population size only 21st largest globally.
Donald Trump will be happy. The outgoing US President has been pressing Nato allies to meet the military alliance’s target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on the military, and this increase should get the UK above 2 per cent. Currently, only 10 of 30 Nato members are set to hit 2 per cent this year – the UK is therefore moving into outlier territory even within Nato on commitment to military spending.
But who will oppose Johnson’s turn to militarism at a time when hunger stalks Britain? Labour’s shadow defence secretary John Healey has already responded to the news by saying it is “welcome and long-overdue”. Labour under Starmer has returned to being loyal and disciplined servants of the MoD. Witness the sacking of three junior shadow ministers for voting against the second reading of the Overseas Operations Bill, which establishes a presumption against prosecution to offences such as war crime and torture.
The SNP has yet to officially comment on Johnson’s MoD spending boost, but since its paper in response to the UK Government’s Integrated Defence & Foreign Policy Review called for the UK to “increase its spending on international engagements – diplomacy, development and defence – to 3 per cent of GDP”, the signs are not good. That formulation avoids stating explicitly that the SNP are in favour of meeting the Nato spending target, but until stated otherwise we can assume that to be the implication. SNP MP Douglas Chapman has previously argued in the House of Commons that the Nato target should be met.
The SNP Westminster group’s defence submission also makes some other curious statements. It states: “If we are to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, it is imperative that HM Government and its international partners commit wholeheartedly to multilateral nuclear disarmament.” But the SNP has always been in favour of unilateral, not multilateral, nuclear disarmament. Multilateralism has been used by Labour and others for decades to absolve themselves of taking responsibility to disarm UK nukes, based on the premise that all countries will do so collectively some time in an imaginary future. The paper also argues that Lossiemouth should “become a hub” for US and UK maritime bombers.
Johnson should be getting slaughtered for prioritising a military expenditure boost in the middle of a pandemic, but sadly with no committed party opposition at Westminster it will be left to peace campaigners to be the sole voices of resistance to this ludicrous turn to British militarism.
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