Aircraft carriers Projecting British values around the world. Photo: Defence IQ

Not only is new money being pumped into the military – it is being targeted on strengthening UK ability to intervene internationally

The headlines on 23 November 2015 from the UK government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review were worrying enough.

David Cameron announced a huge increase in the cost of replacing Trident, up from £25bn to £31bn with a £10bn overspend built in.

These are not real figures. Arbitrarily the government only calculates the cost of the actual submarines needed to launch Trident. This figure excludes the cost of the missiles themselves, warheads, anti-submarine vessels, infrastructure and personnel. Kate Hudson from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament estimates that the total cost of Trident replacement will be a mind-boggling £182bn.

The other item focussed on by the mainstream has been plans for a military force of 10,000 soldiers to be deployed on British streets in the event of terror attacks. At a time of cuts in the health and emergency services from the fire brigade to the ambulance service and the police, this announcement flags up a disturbingly militarised approach to domestic security.

Unbalancing the budget

But the big story concerns the underlying direction of the review. When the whole thrust of government policy is supposed to be shrinking spending to balance the books, the military is getting a huge £12bn increase. To give some idea of the kind of sums in play, this would be enough to build for at least twenty new hospitals.  

The total budget for new kit will be a staggering £178bn in the coming decade. It is not just the totals but the priorities that are telling. First, the secret state is getting a big boost. David Cameron announced there will be funding for 1,900 more spies across MI5, MI6 and GCHQ and an extra £1.9bn to be spent on cyber-security.

Second, while there are some cuts in civilian defence staff, most of the diverted funds and the extra money is going on what can only be called ‘offensive capacity’. An extra £2bn goes to equipment for special forces, the number of drones available for attack is to be doubled and two special ‘strike brigades’ are being set up and equipped to deploy across the globe.

Most eye-catching of all is the acquisition of two additional Typhoon squadrons and the purchase of 24 new F35 fighter aircraft by 2023. These are specifically being sourced to allow Britain to restore its carrier based, long range strike capacity. In the words of one military commentator, ‘carriers have a unique ability to project power’.

Back to the attack

The conclusion is inescapable. This Review marks a conscious break with talk of a reduced international role for British forces. Not only is new money being pumped into the military – it is being targeted on strengthening Britain’s ability to intervene internationally.

No wonder the review is being applauded by the right. The Economist hails it as a reassertion of Britain’s global military role, ‘a step towards restoring Britain’s reputation as a serious military power, and ending the fashion among Washington security analysts for sneering at Britain’s declining capability’.

One anonymous cabinet minister described the review as heralding a ‘new assertiveness across the globe’ going on to explain to the BBC that ‘there will be more deployments of our troops, more interventions, more boots on the ground, not to wage war, but to help stabilise fragile states, particularly in Africa.’

Michael Fallon himself described the Review as enabling Britain not just to protect itself efficiently but to make it more effective at ‘projecting our values around the world’.

Disgracefully, the Economist describes the context of the review – the attacks in Paris and Russian bombing of Syria – as ‘in one sense propitious’. But this review has been a while in the making. What it shows is that the current clamour for bombing Syria is part of a longer term strategy on the part of the British establishment to bolster its international military role and get back on to the attack.

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.

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