Donald Trump and Boris Johnson Donald Trump and Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, October 2017. Photo: Flickr/The White House

If there is war, Britain will be part of it, writes Chris Nineham

If there is a war with Iran, Britain will almost certainly be involved and the dangers of such a war are growing. In response to the recent tightening of sanctions on oil by the US, the Iranian regime announced on Monday that it was ramping up its programme of Uranium enrichment over the limits laid down in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal. 

Despite apparent behind the scenes efforts by some British diplomats to de-escalate the Iran crisis, Tory politicians have broadly supported Trump’s confrontational line. Jeremy Hunt was quick to back Trump’s unproven claims that Iran was responsible for the attacks on tankers in the Straits of Hormuz. This reflects Hunt’s own hawkish instincts and the British establishments general desire to stay as close as possible to the US on foreign policy.

This obsequious attitude to the US can be politically useful in the event of war. Support from Britain, if it comes, will help to avoid the impression of US isolation. Worryingly, it is likely to have a military dimension too as Paul Rodgers and Richard Reeve outline in their recent analysis for the Oxford Research Group. While Donald Trump’s administration has been taking a more confrontational attitude in the Middle East, Britain has been building its military capabilities across the region and particularly in the Gulf. 

It was in the early 1980s, after the Iranian revolution, that Britain went back on its previous decision to pull out military forces ‘East of Suez’. Britain’s permanent military presence in the Middle East expanded during the first Gulf War in 1991 and then again, rapidly, during the war on Iraq after 2003.   

In April 2018, the UK Maritime Component Command opened HMS Juffair, a £40 million facility in Bahrain. As Rodgers and Reeve report, the previous contingent of four minesweepers and an amphibious warfare ship was increased this April by the addition of a frigate based in Bahrain. A new British base is also being built at the port city of Duqm on the Indian Ocean coast of Oman. This will be able to berth the Royal Navy’s two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers as well as its nuclear-powered attack submarines. Duqm is also to be the location of a new British Army desert warfare training centre. Late last year Duqm was the base for the UK’s largest combined military exercise for 15 years which involved 5,500 British personnel.

This build-up of forces is part of the ‘Global Britain’ foreign policy approach that has been pursued by the Tories since David Cameron came to office in 2010. Britain’s military capacity is unlikely to give it the ability to act alone. It does serve two functions however, one is to underline Britain’s importance to key allies, especially countries tied to Britain by arms deals, and secondly it provides significant potential military support for US initiatives. At a minimum Britain’s minesweepers in the area would almost certainly be called upon in any escalation of conflict with Iran. 

Britain’s integration into the US war machine is further revealed by US reliance on a network of UK listening and intelligence posts including Menwith Hill in Yorkshire and RAF Croughton in Oxfordshire, and staging posts for US special operations forces and bombers at Mildenhall in Suffolk, Fairford in Gloucestershire and the RAF’s base at Akrotiri on Cyprus. It is even likely that in the event of war with Iran, the US Navy and Air Force would operate out of the atoll of Diego Garcia in the central Indian Ocean, a colonial possession that most world governments are demanding Britain gives up. Despite its distance from Iran, flights would not need to overfly any other state’s territory on the way, as they would from Fairford.

Such integration is only likely to increase under a new Tory administration. Both candidates are hawks, and both see Britain’s future tied as closely as possible to the US. More reasons to get organised against the threat of a new war in the Middle East.

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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