Boris Johnson as accelerated the financial conclusions of his government’s defence review, which may have been originally over influenced by Dominic Cumming’s cyberpunk fantasies about the future of war. Everything Johnson says in this announcement is of little value, what Starmer says is important and his questions need to be answered, particularly “Where’s the strategy?” It’s a shame he makes it sound like a failure in management theory. Without answering that question, we are in danger of creeping back east of Suez, or am I already too late to worry about this, and being dragged into wars against Iran or China. Interestingly, Johnson by alleging that the decline in expense and capability has been going on for decades unskilfully avoids the immense damage that Cameron/Osborne’s 2010 review did to the capability of the armed forces.

Anyway Cummings has gone, and some argue that the £16½ bn expenditure announcement was done to remind the incoming Biden administration, that if they want an ally that asks “how high?” to the command to “jump” then the UK is their 1st port of call. Some argue that Cummings had to go because he was an obstacle to the Govt’s need to pivot as a result of Biden’s victory  but the reality is that Johnson & the Internal Market Bill because of  the EU, are the bigger obstacles to good relations within the “special relationship”. Maybe we should remember, Obama’s comments about Germany, the EU and defence as some consider Biden’s term of office to be Obama III, although that’s a bit rude, but Biden was Obama’s Vice President and Obama clearly saw Germany as the US’s principal ally in Europe.

I strongly believe that Defence strategy needs to be developed from a threat analysis. Only then can a strategy be developed, and programmes authorised. I know that serious analysts agree and that threats change! As citizens we have allowed our politicians to create an irrational loyalty to the armed forces which Tory politicians honour through ‘fig leaf’ commitments although some like arguably the aircraft carriers are exceptionally expensive but of questionable use as part of a threat response. Because of Brexit, the Tories are banging on about “Global Britain” and plan to send the 21st century equivalent of gunboats back to Hong Kong to prove it. At the heart of the Tories new weapons procurement policy there is a chicken and egg problem, they need armed forces to use them, and they use them in a Roman ‘circus’ fashion to entertain the plebs and generate pride, which then itself becomes the justification for more guns & weapons.

We should recognise that defence spending has a demand multiplier effect and that much of it is an investment in the technology base and thus a potential enabler for new civil industries and products but the Tory hypocrisy of “army expenditure good, health and education bad” is continues storing up problems for any desires for a good society. For the left, we must recognise that much defence spending is more productive than much of the stupidly oppressive tasks inherent in ‘workfare’. In military terms austerity is self-defeating as the military, like any advanced technology enterprise, relies on the social infrastructure of the society in which it’s located, as shown by the fact that the major UK educational reforms and even school meals have been introduced as a result of military failure, or near failure.

With respect to the return of our military East of Suez, we have to question our will and financial capability but also the Daily Maverick identifies that the UK have 145 bases overseas, including most dramatically a spanking new naval base, capable of docking the 64,000 ton aircraft carrier, Queen Elizabeth, in Bahrain. It also documents the UK’s commitment to Saudi Arabia and the other gulf states which can only be designed to secure oil supplies and confront Iran. 145 bases, does not  indicate a military focused on home land defence, and while, the British Army in the Rhine is now a shadow of what it once was, the RAF have active airbases in the Baltic states flying interdiction missions against the Russians.

Johnson’s statement promises to, “restore Britain’s position as the foremost naval power in Europe”, which in reality means overtaking France, unless you count the number of hulls, in which case, the UK is 28th in the world, following, in Europe, Italy, Finland, Turkey, France, & Greece. (Iran is 6th, China 2nd and the USA 4th). At least the ships will be built in the UK, saving my Union brothers and sister’s jobs, although none of the UK’s warplanes are now exclusively British, and no doubt Brexit will fuck-up the ‘planes supply chain.

For too long the military seem to have gone for the biggest and best and failed to understand the opportunities for financially asymmetric warfare even for high-tech armies. This article, studies the innovations, in particular in drone technology undertaken in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and proposes lessons for British Army, specifically investments in the infantry, anti-aircraft capability, drones and electronic warfare. It notes the cost effectiveness of low cost drones, and when one looks at cost effectiveness at sea, it should be noted the Daring class destroyer costs £1.05B, the Iranian surface ships cost a lot less and they will have a lot more in the Persian Gulf, although the real threat to the Daring will be enemy submarines and maybe anti-ship missiles although it is designed to defend itself against the latter.

Cameron’s Govt. let the military down, and they knew it, Johnson may do so too, but his military planning errors are harder to spot, but as socialists and peace activists, we should oppose the return to significant forces East of Suez, we no longer have any military business there. We must also oppose any war with Iran or China and stop our military involvement on the Saudi peninsula. Outside the EU, NATO becomes important than ever, and as socialists we need to oppose our continued co-option to the USA’s dreams of a Pax-Americana.

Johnson’s defence splurge
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