Monday, April 04, 2016

Personal response to the Labour Party defence review

I left the Labour Party in about 2000 in large part because of its defence policy.  I therefore greatly welcome the review of defence policy being undertaken,  and hope that the Labour Party will move towards an ethical defence policy than concentrates on supporting peace rather than military interventions to support oil companies.    I will address the questions in the Policy Review ( and hope that these will help to inform your discussions.

But first let me state that Britain’s current defence policy is not morally tenable as it includes nuclear weapons which could never legally be used as they are indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction.  Secondly our arms sales policies has supported many belligerent countries and parties and led to huge numbers of civilian deaths.

Britain’s Place in the World: Values, Principles and Objectives

1) What role should Britain play in building a world that is more peaceful, more just and safer, how can we make a greater contribution to international peacekeeping and strengthen the capabilities of the under-performing UN system?

It is very hard for a country to both be a peacemaker and to take part in wars against other countries.  Over the years we have seen Britain involved in wars almost continuously during my lifetime, with comparatively little work done to build peace.  There is a clear need to move away from military interventions in other wars and to greater support for peace keeping operations.  This will continue to require troops, but with a different emphasis and training, concentrating on building rather than destroying.

To build a world that is more peaceful it is also essential to stop selling arms to repressive regimes around the world such as Israel (using them in the West Bank and Gaza), Saudi Arabia (using them in Yemen), Turkey (using them against Kurds), and many many more.

The sales of arms has been justified in terms of national interest and keeping the defence industry going.  But, again and again we have seen weapons that Britain has sold being used against British forces because it is profitable to sell them or there is a short term benefit (such as the giving of arms to some forces in Afghanistan or Syria).  The sale of arms has also led to widespread corruption on a massive scale (see The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade,” by Andrew Feinstein’).

2) What should be the values and principles that drive Britain’s strategic defence policy?

Peace, justice and social equity for it is these that will lead to a lasting and real peace.

3) What objectives follow from these values for Britain’s defence and foreign policy, and how can our objectives best be achieved?

The objective should be to reduce war, fighting and arms across the world. This can best be achieved by massively reducing the arms industry, removing all nuclear weapons and ceasing to be a base for US forces.

4) What are the strategic assets that Britain needs in order to protect our common security?

The most important strategic asset that we have for protecting our common security is the BBC (World Service) and this should be greatly strengthened and further separated from government to ensure its neutrality.

The Threats to Britain’s Security

1) What are the key security challenges facing the UK?

Without doubt the key threat to Britain’s security is global warming.  This will lead to massive crises far greater than anything we have seen before.  It is extremely likely to lead to wars over food and water and space to live.

2) What are the more fundamental, long-term threats to our common security, what or who is driving them?

Beyond that inequality and access to resources is likely to pose long term threats.

3) How can we improve our ability to identify, predict and act upon underlying threats to Britain’s security, and work to prevent them developing?

Fighting global warming

Britain’s Military and Security Forces: Capabilities, Spending, and Choices
1) What level of defence spending is required to keep Britain safe and help us promote a more peaceful and safer world?

I am not in a position to suggest a level of spending.  However, if we stop being a nuclear power then there are clearly huge amounts of money that can be saved with no loss of security.  Similarly, much of the spending that is designed to enable us to intervene in other places could also be curtailed.

2) What are the lessons from recent conflicts about the equipment and military capabilities required for the deployments Britain may face in the next few decades?

Nuclear weapons serve no purpose, and bring us no security.  High-tech weapons that are being used in a variety of wars that we are involved in, including Libya, Iraq and Syria do not bring peace, and merely foment more hatred and more fighting.  There is a need to move away from such systems.

3) How can Britain help to effectively stem the flow of weapons – chemical, nuclear, and military – around the world and promote non-proliferation and disarmament?

We can stop selling arms to other countries (at least outside NATO) and get rid of our nuclear weapons.  This will reduce the sources of weapons and act as focus for other countries to get rid of their nuclear weapons.

4) What training do our military and security forces need to carry out operations that protect Britain’s security and pursue the values that guide our defence policy?

5) Will renewal of Britain’s nuclear capability aid us in protecting Britain’s security and pursuing the values that guide our foreign and defence policy?

Nuclear weapons can never legally be used as they are clearly indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction that bring no security to the country. We have been involved in wars every year since acquiring them.  They do not allow us to press other countries to disarm and do not serve in any foreseeable war.

6) What new capabilities will our armed forces require to address the complex and dynamic threats facing our common security, especially the growing threat of cyber attacks?

Protecting British Jobs and Skills
1) Are the UK’s armed forces equipped with the full range of skills they need to tackle the threats Britain faces in the 21st century? Or do we need to do more?

This is a badly posed question.  There are areas that we need to reduce such as offensive interventions, and increase the ability of forces to undertake peace keeping operations.

2) What are the central economic challenges our domestic defence industry will face in the next few decades and what must be done to overcome them?

If there is an ending, or significant reduction, of international arms sales then the domestic defence industry will need to shrink, and we will need to support the changing of the industry to manufacturing more useful products, see for instance the Lucas Aerospace workers’ alternative plan from 1976

3) What implications would any changes to current policy have in terms of jobs and the wider economy? Where jobs are lost, how could the impact best be mitigated?

It is difficult to predict the impact on jobs and the wider economy.  Defence jobs are capital intensive and the capital released could be more productively used elsewhere, so that with appropriate planning the overall impact could be positive.

4) How can we combine value for money on all military spending programmes with secure and sustainably high-skilled jobs?

By being less reliant on arms we can build up other parts of our industrial sector to employ people currently in the arms industry.

5) How can we protect the wider supply chain required for our domestic defence industry to flourish?
We should be reducing the defence supply chain.
Best wishes


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