Jeremy Corbyn’s roots in the global anti-war movement offer an unprecedented opportunity to marginalise the warmongers, asserts Chris Nineham
On Monday, the Chief of General Staff Sir Nick Carter very publicly demanded an increase in British military budgets to deal with the ‘threat from Russia’. Despite the absurdity of the idea that Russia poses any kind of military risk to Britain, the government looks set to grant a Special Strategic Defence Review to clear the way to boost arms spending.
Is anyone surprised? Despite the recent series of catastrophic wars that have caused carnage across whole regions of the globe, the British government remains enthusiastic about the War on Terror and keen on foreign interventions generally. British military forces are active in seven countries and Britain is the most consistent supporter of Trump’s serial aggressions and foreign provocations.
The truth is despite headlines about military cuts, Britain, already the fourth or fifth biggest arms spender in the world, is re-arming. Trident replacement is going ahead, and two new massive aircraft carriers have recently come online at a cost of over £6 billion. Carter’s speech is one amongst many by military figures pushing hard for still more. Partly all this is a product of the British establishment’s obsession with the special relationship. To believe our interests are best served by slavish support of Washington with Trump in the White House is moving deep into the territory of delusion, but May’s government has been in lockstep with Trump over Syria, Iraq and most recently the charm offensive with Saudi Arabia.
It is not just about buddying up with Trump and the US. The fixation with the special relationship is one symptom of the fact that the British ruling class remains deeply committed to being what David Cameron called in 2010 ‘a major player in the world’. In his speech outlining foreign policy thinking soon after his election, Cameron went on to say that Britain should ‘remain one of only a handful of countries with the military, technological and logistical means to deploy serious military force around the world’.
This approach continues to guide British foreign policy. Britain’s economic strategy is peculiarly internationalised. Britain has the highest level of outward foreign direct investment in Europe and the second highest of the G7 countries. The biggest interests in modern British capitalism are energy companies and finance, both sectors with a strong international emphasis, rooted in Britain’s long imperialist history and favouring maximum global power projection.
Not accidentally, on top of this, Britain is the second biggest arms manufacturer in the world. The arms industry is responsible for around ten per cent of British manufacturing. The government’s support for the arms industry is massively disproportionate. The industry creates proportionately few jobs but is seen as strategically vital. The agency dealing with arms sales employs 130 civil servants compared to just 107 dedicated to promoting other sectors which make up the vast bulk of Britain’s exports.
The Disasters of War
These military priorities have had a terrible impact abroad and at home. Foreign interventions have caused terrible destruction and created bitterness and anger around the world. We have been drawn in to a series of alliances with some of the most reactionary and aggressive regimes on the planet many of whom we arm to the teeth. The resulting global instability has led to an upswing in global security expenditure covering policing, prisons, cyber security and border controls. In Britain spending on public order more than tripled between 1979 and 2010. All this is a product of the devastation caused by wars and the associated predatory economics. The wars have been accompanied too by a sharp growth in anti-Muslim prejudice whipped up by the press and, too often, by politicians as well to try and create the conditions in which unpopular wars can be continued. Meanwhile our economy has been distorted. The huge amounts of money wasted on wars, Trident and new military hardware could be redirected to socially useful projects to help renew our services and infrastructure and create new jobs.
A Chance for Change
Sometimes there is a fear that raising these issues is politically difficult. But given the extent to which militarism influences our society it should be clear that any progressive agenda for change must involve a break with current foreign policy. And – despite the myths about these being hard arguments to win - such a change would have huge support. Popular opposition to foreign wars has grown during the cycle of interventions that started with Afghanistan in 2001.
In that time millions have campaigned, protested and demonstrated against war. This has been one of the factors leading to the return of left wing politics to this country and Jeremy Corbyn’s success. Corbyn’s speech last year after the appalling bombing in Manchester, which argued that our foreign policy was one of the main drivers of terrorism, won big majorities in the polls.
We have a generational opportunity for change. This is a campaign we can win. But it will mean challenging interests at the very heart of the British establishment. That is why we need everyone who wants to an end to the disastrous cycle of wars and interventions to get involved.
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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