Just before last week’s Spending Review, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a £16.5 billion increase to defence spending over the next four years, cementing Britain’s position as the biggest military spender in Europe – and the second biggest in NATO – despite the current situation of national and international health crisis.
This is the biggest increase in defence spending in decades. As the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament have said: ‘In the face of the climate emergency, the coronavirus pandemic, and a major economic downturn, the government is spending billions on weapons systems and extending sabre-rattling to outer space.’
This Tory government has the wrong priorities. They prioritise capital over the future of our climate, nuclear weapons over protecting the international development budget, and now the projection of military power over the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the start of the outbreak, we had insufficient equipment, staff, and infrastructure to control the spread and save lives. Each week we hear more stories – now over eight months into the pandemic – of the national crisis in social care, and of hospitals having to cancel essential operations due to underfunding. There are always massive amounts of money to be found for wars and weapons of war, but not for our essential public services, including the NHS.
Defence spending is receiving a staggering £21.5 billion bonus when you include previously agreed increases. The Stop the War Coalition has put these sums into perspective, pointing out that £21.5 billion is almost double the amount needed to allow the social care system to cope with demand and be properly staffed over the next four years.
Alternatively, they note, it could provide funding to build 60 new hospitals. This massive increase also comes on top of the present annual defence budget, which already stands at £41.5 billion – and in addition to a Tory manifesto commitment for that figure to rise by 0.5% above inflation every year.
The news is worsened by the fact that, compared with many European countries, we are spending less on tackling climate change. The recent government pledge of £12 billion to combat climate change pales in comparison to countries such as Germany, and scientists say that even their commitments aren’t enough.
We must demand to know if the new military funds will include additional spending on the Trident nuclear weapons system, the renewal of which is already a colossal waste of resources. If that’s the case, it must be challenged.
As CND’s recent report argues in detail, the huge security challenges and crises of our time – so exposed during this pandemic – make clear that nuclear weapons can never keep us safe, and that our security would actually be best served by scrapping Trident.
It’s also important to note that, contrary to some of the spin in parts of the Tory-supporting media, much of this money will be spent on increasing Britain’s offensive military capacity.
Peace campaigners are particularly concerned about the announcement of a new ‘Space Command’, which appears to follow the US lead in the militarisation of space, and which could have dangerous international consequences. A new arms race which uses emerging technologies as the basis of potential weapons of mass destruction, in space or otherwise, offers no hope for humanity.
Instead, we need to be prioritising dialogue to reduce international tensions and working together to solve the great crises of our time, which are also threats to our security. Poverty, human rights abuses, environmental destruction and disease are all security concerns, but neither the government here nor the international community are putting enough resources into tackling them.
The British government has also made the decision to cut international development spending, which will hamper international efforts to tackle these threats and make us all less secure. The decision seems to have more to do with Boris Johnson appeasing his followers on the right of the Tory party and in the right-wing media than with our security or with what’s best for Britain.
Taken together, these developments make clear the need to raise our collective voice for change. Internationally, that means those of us campaigning for peace and disarmament using the 2021 review of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as an opportunity to push our demands back onto the agenda.
Here in Britain, the next strategic defence and security review is due this coming year, and we need to argue for an end to wasteful spending on nuclear weapons through defence diversification and greater public procurement to protect jobs and industries.
Let’s build up the public pressure for a change of priorities – and put our planet, health, and livelihoods first.