The UK Cabinet Office is in the final week of calls for evidence to its ‘Integrated Review’ – a major overhaul of its military, security, foreign and international development policy. The Prime Minister describes it as “the biggest assessment of Britain’s place in the world since the end of the Cold War”, a look at how the UK can adjust “to the changing nature of threats we face”. It’s a good question. As the country is still reeling from the government’s lack of preparation for the global pandemic (which had been predicted in its own security reviews), adjusting strategies and budgets is very timely.
There are fears among military circles that Downing Street advisor Dominic Cummings wants to cut army troops and axe costly aircraft carriers. He has described spending on aircraft carriers as a “farce”, “enriching some of the worst corporate looters and corrupting public life via the revolving door of officials/lobbyists”. However his real interest is in small but deadly high-tech drones and other new technologies. Media reports have claimed that Defence Minister Ben Wallace is “incredibly supportive” of Cummings’ ideas.
The PM has said he will not roll back on commitments to exceed the NATO target of spending 2% of the UK’s budget on military spending, or to maintain the nuclear deterrent. However this was before the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent days, the Chancellor has announced a potential roll back on the Party’s Manifesto promise to protect foreign aid.
Controversial decisions are being considered, but core assumptions aren’t changing. The number one finding of this review should be that the government’s definition of security needs to be completely rethought.
The last few months gave many of us pause for thought about many things. About the inequalities in our society, with the key workers who put themselves most at risk to keep our health, food and care systems going – being paid and protected the least in society. About the disproportionate death rates of the virus for people of colour, who are also more likely to be working in key worker roles and more at risk of being exposed.
About the escalating climate crisis behind the unprecedented heat waves. Extreme weather events, food insecurity and conflict are already impacting on people across the globe – predominantly people of colour, predominantly countries still recovering from centuries of colonialism and slavery by the same nations who created the climate crisis today.
And with the death of George Flloyd, and the use of tear gas on protestors, (a product we have exported to the US) about the impacts of the UK arms exports, as well as the racism engrained in every structure of our society too. Black people are policed, criminalised, and killed more than white, and migrants are left to drown rather than be offered sanctuary in the 9th richest country in the world, home to less than 1% of its refugees.
The crisis has brought to the surface these questions of human security that urgently need addressing, and this review must include changes to create the fairer society promised in the Conservative Party’s election Manifesto.
Even the Director of Military Sciences at industry think tank Royal United Services Institute notes that this is a critical question in the Integrated Review. He says that the pandemic has “brought into stark relief a question of whether the government’s first duty is actually to protect its people from external threats – as it is often asserted – or whether ensuring the domestic safety and protecting the quality of life of its people matter even more.”
We need a radical rethinking, to create an alternative vision of Security. We need to move funding away from promoting and subsidising the arms trade, and into renewable energy and technologies, working to protect the rights of those in the countries where the minerals that power them are sourced. And we need fairer societies, strong public services that create a secure and safe environment for everyone.