. It's high time Britain left Gavin Williamson's imperial delusions behind | Ceasefire Magazine

It’s high time Britain left Gavin Williamson’s imperial delusions behind Comment

Gavin Williamson's reckless comments highlight the need for the UK to move away from its history of military interventionism and peddling arms to despots and embrace a more positive role in the world, writes Andrew Smith.

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Monday, February 11, 2019 20:38 - 1 Comment


(Credit: The Times)

This morning’s speech by the Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, must rank among the most militaristic pronouncements by a government minister for a long time. Williamson spoke of the need to “stand firm” against Russia and China and, where necessary, ‘enhance’ the “lethality” of UK forces and “use hard power to support our global interests.”

Brexit, Williamson claimed, “has brought us to a great moment in our history”, a moment for Britain to deploy “hard power” against those who “flout international law”.

It is not the first time that Williamson’s rhetoric has drawn headlines. Last year, he was quoted threatening to “bring down” his own Prime Minister unless she agreed to spend an extra £20 billion on the military, and famously declared that Russia should “go away and shut up.”

Prior to today’s speech, the UK already boasts one of the largest military budgets in the world. It owns huge stockpiles of extremely deadly weaponry and spends a greater proportion of its GDP on the military than any other European country except for Estonia and Greece.

For far too long, successive UK governments of all political colours have followed the exact policies that Williamson advocated, and the results have been disastrous.

Over recent years, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions more and cost billions of pounds. Far from bringing peace, they have created even greater political instability. These wars, and the pro-military mindset that led to them, have done nothing to keep us safe.

There is no doubting the appalling human rights record of the Russian and Chinese authorities, or their aggressive military policies. However, the current rhetoric about their threat to the UK needs to be put in context. Russia’s military budget, which declined by 17% in 2017, is already eclipsed by that of NATO.

Do Williamson and his colleagues really believe that new boats and fighter jets will do anything to change Russian policy? It is simply not plausible that UK military spending is a factor in Russia’s calculations, or that the UK military, however large, could ever be enough to deter Russia from using covert tactics against Nato states.

As to China, if Williamson believes it to be a military threat to the UK then he should explain why the UK Government is continuing to selling arms to it. It’s hard believe that Williamson thinks UK spending can meaningfully affect the situation in the Pacific — attempting to do so would involve both massive costs and risk for no gain.

What is needed is for the US, China, and neighbouring countries to find a peaceful way of handling their differences and reduce tensions and militarisation; the last thing that would help is for even more countries to get involved militarily.

Of course, Williamson is right to condemn other countries for flouting and ignoring international law, but this brings up a major hypocrisy at the heart of his argument.

If his concerns really related to human rights, democracy and the rule of law then he must be asked to explain why his Government is arming and supporting Saudi forces: which have been widely accused of violating international humanitarian law in atrocities against Yemen. Likewise, the UK has recently hugely increased arms sales to the increasingly authoritarian governments in Turkey and Egypt, both of which have appalling human rights records.

And then there is the question of priority. At a time when governmental budgets are being squeezed and cut across the country, and when millions continue to be hit by austerity, how is the Government seemingly always able to find even more money for the military?

At the heart of the debate is the broader question of what kind of country the UK should aim to be on the world stage, and what values it should promote.

Where the UK, and other rich nations, really can make a positive difference is through meaningful overseas aid, support for civilian peace-building efforts, and investment in renewable energy and green technologies to combat climate change, which is the number one threat to our security and that of the rest of the world.

With the UK at a crossroads, the Government should redefine its role, but that should mean an end to interventionism and belligerence — failed policies that have done so much damage across the globe.

Particularly with Brexit on the horizon, Williamson and his colleagues must work towards a new approach to national security; one that isn’t focused on maximising arms sales, projecting military strength and taking part in catastrophic foreign interventions that leave a trail of destruction but do nothing to keep us safe.


Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade and tweets at @CAATuk

1 Comment

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mary hennessy
Oct 8, 2019 10:02

Completely agree. We should be concentrating as much revenue as we can to a sustainable and peaceful coexistence with all countries, we should do our best to investigate ways of keeping the planet and its environment balanced and reduce the rape of its resources.

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