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It’s time for the Left to take defence policy seriously

LabourDefenceReview The recent, empty point-scoring, hoo hah over the misfiring UK Trident missile test, and the flag-waving, posturing in Parliament and the mass media last year over the, up to £100bn, renewal of the Trident ballistic missile system, has highlighted yet again the ideological vulnerability of the Labour Left on defence issues.

Quite understandably, the left, working within a capitalist state with a major colonial/imperialist past, and now a junior partner, in the global structures of “Pax Americana”, has tended to respond with “nothing to do with me guv”, or an outright pacifist, approach to problems of the UK defence strategy and capabilities. The exception to this lack of interest being the Left’s almost universal hostility to nuclear weapons, from the moment Labour’s Attlee government established the UK as a nuclear weapons state – without informing the full Cabinet, never mind Parliament! The spirit of that decision has been well-described:

In October 1946, Attlee called a small cabinet sub-committee meeting to discuss building a gaseous diffusion plant to enrich uranium. The meeting was about to decide against it on grounds of cost, when [Ernest] Bevin arrived late and said “We’ve got to have this thing. I don’t mind it for myself, but I don’t want any other Foreign Secretary of this country to be talked at or to by the Secretary of State of the US as I have just been… We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs… We’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack on top of it.

Unfortunately the British Left has tended to adopt the moral absolutism of liberal pacifists who have always composed a significant cohort of CND and the anti-nuclear weapons lobby. Ignoring the larger defence issues has provided the flag-draped “Dr Strangelove” nuclear weapons posturers of the Tories and the Labour Right, with an ideological weapon with which to smear the Left as ‘unpatriotic’, ‘pacifist dreamers’ , ‘agents of Moscow’. It has also driven a wedge between it and the craft unions whose members build and maintain the nuclear weapons system.

The Disfunctionality of Defence Strategy and Capabilities Today

JohnHarrisRevolvingDoorsThe lack of interest across the Left about defence strategy and capabilities has left the entire field essentially unsupervised and unchallenged by any but the likes of Private Eye, and occasional newspaper articles and a few dissident military men. There is a lot to uncover  – the endless dodgy arms deals themselves, but also the directly related, extremely common, corrupt, ‘revolving door‘ interchange between generals, admirals, MOD officials and key politicians, and the major defence firms. Links to some of those ‘revolving door’ articles can be found here.

Yet any objective investigation of the UK’s overall defence strategy today, and the interconnected weapons purchasing record of the MOD over the last 30 years at least would, I believe, reveal gross incompetence, political cowardice, and systemic corruption, on the part of senior ministers in all Labour and Tory governments, key senior military staff, and Mod officials, leaving the UK vulnerable to a wide range of potential military threats.

The UK’s focus on ‘prestige’ military systems, like Trident or the two new mega carriers, are now leaving the Royal Navy, for instance, seriously lacking in the ‘bread and butter’ smaller craft required to police home waters, and defend global trade routes, from the growing scourge of piracy. Similarly, the army has long suffered the consequences of poor equipment choices, as evidenced by the sad saga of mine-vulnerable personnel carriers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The run-down of infantry numbers now makes it increasingly hard for the UK to contribute effectively to any future UN peacekeeping initiative.

There is nothing historically new about this, across all states, given the power and wealth of the “military industrial complex”, and the perennial gullibility of politicians when fed the snake oil sales promises of the arms lobbyists and their military hierarchy allies. The tragic, gigantic resource squandering, of inter-war France on its, useless, Maginot Line fortification, is a good parallel to today’s obsession with the technologically redundant, £100bn Trident missile system. A system funded at the expense of cash, manpower and resources which should be used for a sensible strategy-driven, balanced defence capability. My claim about the redundancy, or looming redundancy, of submarine-based deterrent missile delivery systems needs a short explanation, because it shifts the balance of past arguments on such systems somewhat.

The era of the Polaris and Trident submarine-based systems is over

When Emily Thornberry, in 2016, as part of the now abandoned Labour Defence Review dared to suggest that the fast developing technology of automated anti-submarine drones called into question the entire premise of submarine-based ballistic missiles, the mass media, the Labour right and the arms industry went into concerted overdrive to rubbish and ridicule her claim. But she was right.

Major developments in anti-submarine drone technology, linked no doubt to fixed position SOSUS type detection networks at key seaway pinch points, will soon make this type of launch platform redundant. And this includes hiding under the Arctic ice – where pre-positioned, temporarily dormant, hunter-killer automated drones will be, maybe even have been, “seeded” on the ocean floor, by Russia, and the West, ready for activation when required. This Guardian article gives a flavour of (known) developments.

Current UK defence strategy and weapons procurement is a shambles

Labour and Tory governments periodically undertake “Defence Strategy Reviews”. The common denominator of every Review has been a major failure to anticipate the actual major areas of conflict that have actually drawn armed forces into military action, eg, the Falklands, The Balkans, Iraq, Libya, etc, and an obsessive inability to get over the Cold War focus on the now, very third rate, military and economic power of the Russian Federation. Which is not to write off Russia as a threat to its previous Soviet empire neighbours, but contemporary Russian military capability bears no relation to that of the old Warsaw Pact. This series of strategic planning failures, is linked partly to the British political and military class’s determination to remain a slavishly loyal, junior partner to US global power.

The outcome of this strategic development shambles, driven too often by this capture of the politico-military elites by the sellers of the most profitable weapons systems, and the almost comical ‘big power’ delusions of the politicians, and institutional corruption in the MOD procurement system, is that across all the services the UK has the wrong military hardware, or not enough of it, and what we have all too often simply doesn’t perform properly.

Some examples of current UK equipment disasters

Space precludes going into great detail, but a few examples across the three services will suffice to illustrate the scale of the problem.

The Navy

  • Squandering billions on the Trident system has left the Royal Navy in an extraordinarily parlous state to do vital, routine, coastal defence and trade route protection duties. The Parliamentary Defence Select Committee warned in November 2016 that :“The Royal Navy has a “woefully low” number of warships that risks leaving Britain vulnerable to future threats.”
  • The same Parliamentary Defence Committee fumed at the extraordinary fact that all 6 of the new £1bn each type 45 destroyers had fundamentally faulty engines/power systems, that made them pretty much inoperable in “warm waters areas” until a complete engine refit was done!
  • The Committee found to its amazement that, due to poor forward planning the navy’s mid-range, ship to ship, Harpoon missiles would be phased out in 2018, with no replacement, and the same with its helicopter launched missiles. Leaving most ships with a single deck gun to provide mid-range fire power until new missiles were fitted after a two year gap!
  • In 2020 the Royal Navy is going to acquire the two (or possibly only one operationally) biggest ships it has ever had, the £3bn each Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. These huge ships, very vulnerable to modern sea skimming missiles, without a surrounding “screening fleet” which only the US can provide, were built without vital steam catapults. This extraordinary decision means that the carrier is pretty much tied forever to its US made Lockheed Martin F35 Lightning II (STOVL) aircraft. Unfortunately the vertical take-off variant of the F35 is now widely recognised as a turkey of an aircraft, that will never meet its design specifications. Yet the carrier cannot operate any other possible replacement aircraft! The UK is buying 138 of this under-performing aircraft, shared between the Navy and RAF, at around £70m each.


  • The disaster of scrapping the early warning and reconnaissance Nimrod fleet – awaiting hugely overpriced US supplied Boeing P-8 Poseidon replacements.
  • As with the Navy, the utterly underperforming F35 fighter bombers the RAF will be buying.
    The scandal of the PFI /private supply air refueling fleet, which can’t even refuel many of the aircraft the RAF uses.

The Army

  • Apparently endless problems for a decade or more in acquiring suitable mine-proof vehicles to transport troops, at the costs of hundreds of mutilated soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. As detailed in the Chilcot Report. As so often, The MOD found British industry incapable of supplying the right vehicles.
  • The UK’s Main Battle Tank, the Challenger II, now needs replacement. Unfortunately British industry, BAE Systems essentially, in the country that invented the tank, is apparently now incapable of investing to build a replacement. The German firm of Rheinmetall is carrying out a gun upgrade, but eventually the best choice seems to be to buy the German Leopard II!


The MOD privatised army recruitment in 2012 to that perennial sub contractor favourite, Capita. This has been an unmitigated disaster for recruitment.

The strategy of both the Tory-Lib Dem and the current Tory government to fill the yawning manpower gaps produced in the arm’s ranks by its cuts, by getting Territorial Army part time reservists to fill the gaps by a hoped for 18,000 by 2018, has predictably failed to enthuse civilians expected to become “zero hour contract soldiers”.


Even a brief overview of recent and current British defence ‘strategy’, and its weapons procurement programmes, shows that it is riddled with poor judgement, a systemic revolving door with the arms firms corruption, and slavish compliance with the global strategic interests of the USA.

Far from the relentless talk of Trident being based on ‘patriotism’ or a deep understanding of defence issues, by Labour’s Right (and now by the Corbyn-led Shadow Cabinet) and most Tories, it is clear it is based on technological ignorance and short term political advantage, and, too often, expectations of benefit via that ‘revolving door’.

The consequence for the British people is that for our huge, circa 2% of GDP, spend on defence we have currently bought a deeply disfunctional overall defence package, that will simply fail to protect us from a wide range of likely future threats. In a short article it isn’t possible to detail these future threats (which will most likely be against irregular and/or relatively low tech enemies, as per Iraq, than against a Warsaw Pact quality of conventional opponent) or our real future equipment requirements, but it should be quite clear that the UK needs:

  • Fewer prestige armaments like Trident and the mega carriers which are based on our subservience to US global strategy rather than our own defence. In the age of Trump this new approach is more  likely to serve our interests than ever before.
  • More, and much higher quality, ‘bread and butter’ weapons systems, including more well-equipped ships for the Royal Navy, and more, attack helicopter backed, infantry resources for the Army, to support a defensive military posture, and participation in UN peacekeeping operations.
  • A new, more ‘unaligned’ UK military posture, that is prepared to question the uncritical participation in all the old Cold War structures, from NATO specifically, to uncritical US strategy acceptance in general. Not to do this today risks the UK getting embroiled in both a hot war with China in the South China Sea, and a shooting war with Russia over the Baltic States.

The Left needs to renounce its previous quasi-pacifist attitude to the issue of national defence. It is a vital function in any independent state. The Left needs to embrace the validity of a credible, affordable, defensive national defence capability, for a Left government led state with a progressive foreign policy. It needs to challenge the Labour right’s unwarranted, claim of special competence in this area along with their claims to be the “true patriots”. We need to rip up all previous Defence Strategies, and assumptions, and question all existing armaments programmes in order to consider from the basics, what resources a modern, non-global power UK, needs to secure its defence for the next 30 years or so. Labour needs a proper defence review based on objective arguments and which is put before party members.


  1. John Walsh says:

    Shame your article got bumped off the top of the page again by Interminable Anecdote, Part 94 – this is starting to look suspicious …

    1. David Pavett says:

      I think that the last piece from John stayed at the top for quite a few days. It is the serendipity of depending on contributors sending in pieces as and when they are able (it’s a labour of love and not a paying job). I have been a little disappointed to see some of my pieces bumped down as soon as they have appeared. But others have stayed at the top for a while. That is just the way it goes. No need to look for plots.

      John has put a lot of work into this piece which is both very informative and argues for a clear way of resolving the problems of Labour’s defence policy (or the lack thereof). We need more pieces like this on different policy areas. Detailed development of policy is still far too low down the agenda for most on the left. And it is no good just saying that it needs to happen. Everyone who can should think about how they could contribute. It is clearly not something that happens automatically when a left-wing leader is elected.

      1. John Penney says:

        My thanks are due to David for his editing and other contributory inputs to this article.

  2. Peter Rowlands says:

    An excellent article from John, both in terms of indicating the enormous waste and incompetence involved, for which I fancy no heads have rolled, and the discussion the left should have about a serious defence policy.

  3. Tony says:

    We do not debate the military budget in this country. The real question we should be asking ourselves is why it is so large.

    How many people in this country realise that we have the third highest military budget in the world? And yet the consensus between the main political parties is that it must, at the very least, be maintained or even increased!

    I disagree with this. Much of it is unnecessary spending that should be re-directed towards solving the housing crisis and investing in renewable energy etc.

  4. C MacMackin says:

    A very good article. It reminds me of some of John Bird’s and John Fortune’s excellent George Parr sketches. I particularly remember one of them playing a general who explained how the Eurofighter was being built cooperatively in Europe: the Germans would build the tail, the French the body, the British legs, the Danish the trunk, the Spanish the tusks, and the Italians would paint it white.

    However, as someone who considers himself a pragmatic pacifist, I do think that we should look seriously at what the actual threats to the UK are (although I fully apreciate that there was insufficient space here to address this). Defense spending should be made only where there is a plausable need for it. Combatting piracy is mentioned and that seems fair. The UK certainly should play a role in peacekeeping missions, but we shouldn’t offer blanket support. For example, the role of UN Peacekeepers in Haiti after the earthquake has been much criticised. Are there any realistic threats to British or Northern Irish (leaving aside the difficulty of its status) territory? What about the crown colonies? I don’t know of any, but I’m willing to be informed.

    It’s fair to criticise the incompetence of the “Defence Strategy Reviews” and I’m absolutely willing to believe that they have made serious mistakes. At the same time, though, it is very difficult to predict the future. Would we on the Left be able to do any better?

    Finally, John Penny himself has, in the past, flagged up the possibility of underhanded play attempting to destabilise a Left government. We’ve seen in other times and places that the armed forces have often been critical to such efforts. How would we simultaneously reduce their capacity to do this while at the same time funding a defense strategy which would make them more effective?

    1. Bazza says:

      In the First World War when soldiers came back their were some soldiers strikes so why not consult on trade unions for the services?

  5. John Penney says:

    Some fair points, C.Mack. I, as no sort of pacifist, come from a very different political tradition to yourself in some ways, but the overall framework of your questions is valid.

    On the Haiti UN peacekeeping mission disaster . The UN could only get contributed troops from poor African states, with undisciplined soldiery. These soldiers too often engaged in rape and robbery of the Haitians, and introduced a Cholera epidemic to that benighted island too ! How much better if disciplined UK troops had been a major component of that UN force ? (As an aside, much of the Haiti relief funding was stolen by the corrupt Haitian elite, and to get access to the huge Haitian reconstruction gravy train , companies found it useful to make donations to the Cliniton Foundation, as this reconstruction was largely US funded).

    The current UK defence posture is still totally joined , at the hip, with US global strategy, and is still essentially geared to matching the technology of a Warsaw Pact mass attack across the German Plain ! UK defence strategy needs to abandon this Cold War obsession. We need a capability able to put well equipped forces into combat against lower tech enemies across a range of scenarios, but without bankrupting ourselves with a technoloical arms race that assumes we are going to get involved in battle with either China or Russia. If we are involved in battle with either power , it is a prelude to WW3. The UK needs to therefore “decouple” from the priorities and obsessions of both NATO and the US generally.

    We do need a reasonably well equipped Navy though, with a wide range of bread and butter craft. We will always need to defend our trade routes, as an island nation.

    What we musn’t do is let the arms industry dictate what our arms purchases are to be , based on the most profitable product they can sell us, rather than the range of basic weaponry, across all services, that can meet most realistically likely threats to the UK , across a range of future scenarios.

    1. C MacMackin says:

      Thanks for the clarification on Haiti. I didn’t know much of the details other than that there is some controversy.

      I agree that of the sections of the armed forces, it makes sense for a country like Britain to prioritise the Navy. You’ll also hear little argument from me on the need for Britain to distance itself (if not outright withdraw from) NATO.

      1. Bazza says:

        Yes if you have an army etc. you may have to use it as a last resort if diplomacy and politics fail and it needs to be effective. But I do like an old quote: violence is the last resort of an exhausted mind. Who are our (working people’s) enemies? Of course I have no time for the rich and powerful because of what they do although of course the religious barbarians take an homogenous view of the West, we are all to blame but didn’t millions of us protest against the Iraq War etc and now Trump!
        1.Politics. 2.Diplomacy. 3.Effective Smart Military.

  6. James Martin says:

    Excellent article. It always fascinates me why just so many on the right of the Labour Party are unthinkingly pro-Trident and pro-NATO. I get why someone like John Woodcock is pro-Trident given where his seat is (although he’s an eejit anyway of course). But the rest?

    We know that there are very many big money links between the defence industry and politicians, John P has highlighted that in this article over procurement disasters, but how much of it links to organised anti-socialist manipulation within the labour movement that goes way beyond the often misplaced ‘jobs’ argument? We have recently seen thanks to ‘The Lobby’ how Israel manipulates via large slush funds British politics and the Labour Party in particular via pro-apartheid Zionist groups like LFI and the JLM, but how similar is the influence of the US-centered military-industrial complex, how much does this link to the reactionary positions on nuclear weapons and NATO among so many of our MP’s? How many of them financially benefit, or get to go on free holidays as a result of such links?

  7. Karl Stewart says:

    Excellent article JohnP. Thanks for writing it and also thanks to DavidP for his editing assistance. It read very well and makes a strong case.

    Political discussion on defence always seems to be Tories and right-wing Labour being keen to take a “tough” stance, but very rarely seeming to know what they’re actually talking about. The general tone comes over as: “Yes we want it all and more, regardless of the cost.”

    And on the other hand, the counter-arguments of the left are all too easily caricatured as being weak or pacifist, along the lines of: “Let’s just have peace and talk things over with people.”

    It’s rare to come across a well-argued and knowledgeable case being put from a left-wing perspective which starts from the premise of actually developing effective military defence capability based on what we need as a country.

    People in general of course don’t support gung-ho warmongering of the ‘invade Iraq’ type. But neither do people have any patience with idealistic daydreaming of the pacifist variety.

    It’s worth bearing in mind that, in the first election after WWII, the 1945 election, Labour won big among the rank and file servicemen and women, because they had a robust plan and were seen as serious.

    It’s certainly possible for Labour to once again win the support of the rank and file of the military – with sensible and practical policies on defence and military capacity.

    Well done again John (and David).

  8. Bazza says:

    A good article and John presents a good case.
    He is correct to argue for our own independent defence policy.
    At present when the US says: “Jump” Western Leaders and in the UK the Tories, Lib Dems, UKIP and the Labour Right say:”How high?”
    It was funny when the rich and powerful seem to have had enough use of New Labour their attack dogs (The Mail and Sun etc.) were highlighting some of these issues but when the Coaltion came in and then the Tories they were quickly forgotten.
    John is right about reviewing memberships of alliances such as NATO which perhaps is really there to defend Western capitalism full stop; perhaps defending the people is just a line to con the masses.
    And what are Western Governmnts but as Ralph Miliband argued bourgeois democracies (they really rule for the rich and powerful and pretend to rule for the people as they must try to win the popular vote).
    But don’t we need some sort of global alliance for peace (ideally of all countries) to replace them?
    Whilst some countries may have horrible leaders are the ordinary working people of these countries really our enemies?
    What demonstrated bourgeois governments to me was Iraq (oil) and straight in, then Bosnia (no spoils of war) and reluctantly, eventually the peackepers went in; perhaps they have to pretend to care about people.
    Trump is worrying with his proposed trillion dollar spending on the US military (more dangerous toys for the dangerous boys) and he calls for more nuclear weapons for the US and if Russia wants them (9 out of 187 countries in the World have about 15,500 nuclear weapons between them and the US has about 7,300 and Russia 7,000 – I think we have about 80).
    We are certainly going to live through some interesting times and whilst in the US they are possibly nicking some of Sanders ideas on infrastructure spending (as Watkins in the New Left Review (Nov/Dec, 2016) said: capital wants everything for free).
    And talk of repatriating capital (say from Mexico where they pay 8 dollars an hour in car plants whilst in the US it is 60 dollars an hour) so can the new ‘kind hearted capitalists’ in the US fly in the face of capitalist logic; my worry is the military spending may be the bait and tragically war seems to be good for profit.
    Read an interesting piece in Sunday’s Obsérver Business section (29/1/17) on the Wall Street Crash in the 1930’s and how US tariffs of up to 35% contributed to a stagnant World economy – Trump may be arrogant and have a “Big Gob” but he forgets other countries can retaliate too and then we all lose.
    We do need more international cooperation between left wing democratic socialist forces and perhaps we also need to read the financial pages to understand what is going on to intellectually arm ourselves.
    It could be argued the rich and powerful pursue defence to protect capital and war for the spoils of war and when you hear Tories etc. say “the national interest” read “Big Business interest.”
    Our defence systems should be good and effective to help protect ordinary working people and for peacekeeping to try to save lives in often horrible circumstances.
    But perhaps we need to learn from a mistake of Rosa Luxemburg; she was to address a rally of workers from diffent countries before the potential outbreak of WWI but she wouldn’t speak.
    Rosa knew they would soon be set against each other by the rival capitalist powers and didn’t want to cause a panic.
    But perhaps looking back with 21stC eyes we would have asked: “Brothers and Sisters what can we do?”
    If the Barbarians try to go down the road of war we should campaign to try to get working people from different countries not to kill each other for the profits of the rich!
    Just an afterthought and JP probably didn’t have the space but would have liked his thoughts on our arms sales (i.e. tell tyrants to get stuffed!)
    On defence policy I think John I think has taken the debate forward.
    International solidarity and peace!

    1. John Penney says:

      Yes indeed, Bazza, tell the Saudis and other tyrants to “get stuffed” re UK weapons sales. The arms industry just hate ethical arms sales policies. Another reason the arms industry is so keen to promise compliant ex Labour Defence ministers cushy jobs – to encourage those either in office , or potentially in office at some time in future.

      The UK arms industry needs renationalising under a Left Labour Government.

      1. C MacMackin says:

        The arms industry also possesses high-tech expertise which would be useful for civilian purposes, providing another argument for nationalisation. Diversification into such fields could replace business lost from ending weapons sales to dictators. There was quite a good article (for the most part–ignoring the stuff about a guaranteed social income and perhaps the statements on the size of the army) published a few months ago outlining this.

  9. Dereck Roberts says:

    Britain’s Security: Labour’s Defence Policy Review

    The following comments are my own personal views on the Security Policy Review Document. I welcome the document and agree we need a thorough review of defence policy as it is so important.

    The Tories historic record on defence is always grim. They have currently left us with a severely depleted defence capability

    Defence is one of the prime responsibilities of any Government and we should accept that. Labours’ past record is a good one comapared to the Tories.

    The primary aim of defence policy should be just that the defence of UK citizens in their homeland, and sometimes outside their homeland against external & internal threats. That cannot be achieved by the UK acting alone behind some mythical closed borders. We can only achieve the objective of protection by working collectively on an international basis.

    Whenever possible physical defence assets should be manufactured in the UK.
    That said most defence & weapons equipment manufacturers are now part of globalised corporations and like all such are not accountable to any single Government hence all the problems of corporate taxation etc.

    The only way to deal with them will be through international agreements which we should support provided they allow for states to make their own decisions about health, education & housing & developing “Tobin” transaction taxes without the threat of corporate legal action.

    Corporations have gained “rights” as if they were individuals (enshrined in law now in the US following a Supreme Court decision). They are not, of course, whether we can pursue some form of international change in Corporations legal status I don’t know but it does need challenging.

    Many of the current conflicts involve water & other resources and there will be similar threats arising from energy resource shortage or location in future.

    • You cannot divorce defence policy from such issues we must develop as much energy independence as possible so that the UK & Europe do not end up dependent on energy resources supplied by possibly hostile powers or supplied from unstable regions.

    • Energy Policy in particular needs a set of short & long term investment decisions which do not fit with a 5 yearly election cycle and which should focus on developing Carbon Capture & storage to enable future use of UK based carbon resources & renewables.

    • The UK must retain a manufacturing base including the Port Talbot TATA Steel plant.

    The Plant has received significant investment, under TATA, and is a world class plant in terms of efficiency and energy usage. Steel remains a critical strategic material in a defence context & also for construction & general manufacturing. Government procurement policies are crucial and for defence contracts the use of UK manufactured materials & components should be a priority.

    • Climate change is already affecting the UK and dealing with the effects of that should also be considered within a review of defence policy e.g. identifying critical infrastructure and measures needed to deal with risks to those both from the effects of climate change but also from potential terrorist actions.

    Whether nuclear power should be part of this mix is debatable Uranium is a limited finite resource and no one has solved the problem of dealing with waste & decommissioning old stations. On the other hand short term we may have to have nuclear power to supply base load power as we develop future renewables (including tidal lagoon schemes).

    Capitalism cannot make “good” decisions on these projects as the timeframes are long and cannot generate “returns on capital” that meet market demands. We no longer have a UK power generation industry and as a result, ironically, now await decisions about our future power generation being made by the partly French state owned EDF and Chinese State Corporate Capitalist Banks and you can bet that more UK tax payer funds will be needed to make it happen or the lights go out. You could not make it up!

    NATO & Nuclear Weapons
    We no longer have the USSR v US power block threat, which was real post the Second World War.

    We have some understanding of current threats e.g. fragile or failed conflict infected states and one quite mad one (North Korea).

    There seems no solution in sight for the Middle East & in particular Israel – Palestine, the malign role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its off shoots Hamas & Hezbollah linked with the Sunni-Shia divide.

    Russia under Putin is pursuing almost 19th century policies to secure what it sees as its strategic borders (often on the other side of somebody else’s borders).

    China is a rising military & diplomatic power mainly focused on securing resources. There are some Strategic Materials issues as a result of China’s policies such as supply of key Rare Earth Metals which do need to be looked at.

    We should commit to Internationalism and support for all efforts to support conflict resolution as the cornerstone of defence policy.

    That may often mean dealing with unpleasant regimes and probably a realpolitik approach

    NATO currently has 28 member states 12 founding members of the Alliance: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. The other member countries are: Greece and Turkey (1952), Germany (1955), Spain (1982), the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia (2004), and Albania and Croatia (2009). It defines its roles as

    POLITICAL – NATO promotes democratic values and encourages consultation and cooperation on defence and security issues to build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict.

    MILITARY – NATO is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. If diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military capacity needed to undertake crisis-management operations. These are carried out under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty – NATO’s founding treaty – or under a UN mandate, alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organisation.

    • It does, on that basis, fit with the defence needs identified in the defence review paper. I see no case for withdrawal from NATO.

    Following the NATO Wales conference in 2014 came the NATO Readiness Action Plan which includes tripling the strength of the NATO Response Force (NRF), creating a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) that is able to deploy at very short notice, and enhancing Standing Naval Forces. The UK has committed to supporting this and it has been developed since.

    The plan provides a comprehensive package of measures for Europe and to threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa.

    The UK does have the potential to support such a response force in terms of air, sea, under sea & land capability and we should support that.

    US-Russia relations soured to the extent that NATO decided to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia.

    • That was a major error as has been shown recently by Russia’s unilateral intervention in Syria. We should reverse that decision and seek to restore all practical civilian and military cooperation between NATO and Russia.

    Few member states in NATO have strategic or other nuclear weapons but NATO retains at its core the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG). While the North Atlantic Council is the ultimate authority within NATO, the NPG acts as the senior body on nuclear matters in the Alliance & is dominated by the USA. France’s nuclear deterrent forces are strictly a national asset and so they do not come under even notional NATO command.

    Since the end of the Cold War, both Russia & NATO have dramatically reduced the number, types, and readiness of nuclear weapons stationed in Europe and the reduced the reliance on nuclear weapons in Russian & NATO strategy. Negotiation works and we need to continue it.

    • It seems clear to me that we no longer need a strategic nuclear weapon system that was designed to be part of the NATO nuclear deterrent strategy targeted at Russia. Trident is a redundant weapon system and should not be renewed.

    However Russia continues to develop undersea nuclear weapons systems such as the Borei-class nuclear submarines which carry 16 ballistic missiles & the Yasen-class attack submarine. Recently also there have been Tu-95 bombers flying near the UK airspace borders recently one intercepted over the Channel was found, via cockpit voice communication interception, to be carrying a “nuclear missile” designed to destroy Trident submarines. However Igor Sutyagin, Russia analyst at the Royal United Services institute, said: “They NEVER carry live weapons, just dummies – that is the universal practice since the early years of the Soviet nuclear weapons.” – Let’s hope so!

    • So we still need to maintain and develop new modern air based & undersea based weapons systems which can deter and if necessary intercept & destroy such threats.

    Currently Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy and Turkey all maintain small stockpiles of American B61 tactical nuclear weapons under US custody on their territory which are assigned to be carried by their Tornado and F-16 aircraft in case of a major war. Poland is actively seeking to have them deployed there as well.

    • We should seek active NATO dialogue with Russia to firstly de-escalate the situation and hopefully remove the need for tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.

    A key question is can we use a decision to not renew Trident to encourage nuclear weapon proliferation?

    190 countries have signed up for the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty but four UN member states known to have nuclear weapons or wish to have them have not India, Israel, Pakistan & Sudan.

    The UN is trying again this year and has resolved to develop measures, to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons; and substantively address recommendations on other measures that could contribute to taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations. We should support that 100%

    • There may well be a way of using a decision not to renew Trident as part of a wider push for Nuclear disarmament by starting the process by reducing the current number of warheads & review the patrolling of the weapons submarines.

    Syria Iraq Yemen Libya & Sudan
    There is a massive movement of people arising out of these conflicts but also now more and more being driven by the consequences of climate change.

    We cannot deal with these by “hoping they will go away” or pretending that “the further away we keep them the more out of mind they will be”.

    It is the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War and requires a similar approach. The permanent members of the Security Council bear a special burden of responsibility for their failure to protect the Syrian people.

    If the conflicts start to be resolved (no sign of that yet the bloodletting continues) it is probably going to need an International “Marshall Plan” to help recover the situation.

    There are some internal threats (e.g. returning Jihadists) which require dealing with as well but primarily not via military means but by intelligence & policing.

    Unilateral military interventions by the USA & UK have proved disastrous e.g. regime change in Iraq. The (UN Security Council-mandated intervention in Libya in 2011) Libya was also disastrous. Both proved totally destabilising and in turn that led to the disintegration of Syria and the unleashing of Sunni-Shia internecine war leaving a vacuum open for the nihilist Daesh. Because of our historical role in the region the UK in Iran for example & France remain very much part of the problem and may not be able to contribute much to the solution. The only people who can deal with it are going to be the regional powers including Iran, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine ,Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen & The Gulf States not us.

    Realpolitik should rule here there may not be any “good guys”.

    • We should support UN mandated operations or humanitarian assistance programmes & develop the strategic resources to do so.

    In the Syrian crisis four draft resolutions were vetoed by Russia and China between 2011 and 2014. During 2014 the UN Security Council finally passed Resolutions on ending the use of indiscriminate weapons and increasing humanitarian access, but these have not been fully implemented. The permanent members of the Security Council bear a special burden of responsibility for their failure to protect the Syrian people. We have to find a UN solution including a UN Chapter VII Article 42 – 51 intervention by a UN force if necessary. At the very least an arms embargo needs to be put in place and the allegations of war crimes referred to the International Criminal Court.

    There have to be further attempts to prevent the use of veto by permanent members of the UN Security Council where there is clear evidence of war crimes (by all sides) & threats of genocide.

    The situation in Iraq is as bad with 10 million people in Iraq – nearly one third of the population in need of humanitarian assistance, with nearly 3.3 million people internally displaced. The international community should continue to provide support
    to the Iraqi government to combat the threat Daesh poses to vulnerable populations, especially religious and ethnic minorities. Iraq’s international supporters must ensure that the Iraq Security Forces and Kurdish forces comply with their obligations under international human rights law.

    In Yemen more than 2.4 million Yemeni civilians have been forcibly displaced by violence while an estimated 21.2 million people, over 82 percent of the population, require humanitarian assistance. Again an arms embargo is the minimum we should try and achieve the International Development Committee of the House of Commons urged the government to cease the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia in response to allegations that ongoing airstrikes were destroying civil infrastructure and killing civilians.

    In Sudan For nearly five years the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and armed rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) have been engaged in hostilities in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, directly threatening vulnerable civilians.
    The UN Security Council should immediately expand the arms embargo and with the African Union must facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

    All the above suggests we should pursue a defence policy as suggested by the UN Association UK:

    • The Government should recognise that the health of our international system – particularly the United Nations – is vital to the UK’s security and prosperity.

    • The Government should share the burden of solving global conflict by increasing its contributions of military, police and civilian personnel to UN peace operations

    • The Government should state that the prevention of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing is in the national interest and a UK foreign policy objective

    • The UK should lead by example on its international obligation to disarm under the Non-Proliferation Treaty by working actively for global nuclear disarmament

    Technology is changing at an increasing pace. Recent developments in Artificial Intelligence being the most recent example.

    There have been successes in the past which means that we are not always doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Chemical weapons were not used in the second world war by the either the UK or Germany, an example of deterrence working, as both sides had the capability to use them. Their use is now rightly defined as a war crime but they were used in the Iraq-Iran war, by Sadam Hussein against the Kurds and they are being used by the Syrian Government now. However 165 countries (including Russia) signed up for the Chemical Weapons Convention which prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons.

    Similarly international agreements were reached to limit the use of landmines and cluster munitions.

    The UK was instrumental in supporting the Arms Trade Treaty which does require the signatory states to ensure respect for international humanitarian law in
    accordance with the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    It places the responsibility on all states to effectively regulate the international trade in conventional arms, and to prevent their diversion.

    • The UK should now tighten UK export controls and adopt a more cautious approach on licences for sales to states with poor human rights records.

    • There is an urgent need to start negotiating similar conventions covering unmanned armed vehicles (drones) and lethal autonomous weapons (killer robots).

    • We should go further and impose a moratorium on the development of lethal autonomous weapons.

    Paying for Defence
    At the current time Labour has committed to support the NATO spending target of 2% of GDP and is suggesting that the Tories are not meeting it. I doubt we can expect a “peace” dividend even if Trident is decommissioned as our conventional force capability has been so degraded under the Tories and will have to be rebuilt to meet our own defence & international defence commitments. I am no economist so do not know whether the 2% of GDP target is the right level of expenditure or not.

  10. Rob Green says:

    A job with the Min of Defence beckons for the imperialist apologist Penney. There really is nothing radical about you whatsoever. Just a centrist poseur.

    1. John Penney says:

      I think you could at least submitted your plans for a “Workers Militia” here, David ! Too much effort ?

      1. Rob Green says:

        I’d rather call for workers to defend themselves against the coming fascist and state attacks than write a programme for the re-armament of British imperialism.

  11. John Penney says:

    Thank you for this interesting submission, Dereck.Though it is quite obviously a pre-written submission you have already made in relation to Labour’s (abandoned) Defence Review, rather than to anything in my article !

    A couple of major observations/disagreements with your statements;

    1. There is no evidence whatsoever that Labour’s performance over Defence is any less dire than under the Tories. In fact there is a total continuity in approach. Not surprisingly given the up to 30 year timescales of modern “big ticket” weapons systems like Trident. It was Labour who ordered the two mega Queen Elizabeth Carriers WITHOUT the absolutely vital steam catapults, and therefore tied them forever to the utterly underperforming, and doomed to be one of the most expensive weapons system flops of all time, F35 Lighting II. (which may still be cancelled – leaving the UK with two mega carriers with no aircraft !) . Labour Defence ministers have been just as corruptly ensnared by the politics to defence industry plum sinecure jobs “revolving door ” as Tory ones.

    2. I think you are being naïve about the nature and role of NATO, historically or now. Of immediate relevance is the blatantly provocative role NATO has been playing in the Baltic States and the Ukraine , alongside a very clear “Greater EU” imperial ambition to expand European neoliberal capitalism right up to the borders of the Russian Federation. The EU blatantly sponsored and encouraged the fascist militias -backed coup against the Ukrainian government, which is the underlying basis for the current Ukraine civil war and conflict with Russia.

    I view the Russian Federation as a “façade democracy” oligarchic mafia state, but it is a nuclear armed one, with very, very, real historically-based concerns about western powers actively working to bring former (buffer state) parts of its former Soviet empire into the western sphere of influence. Especially when that is via backing a fascist-backed coup to achieve this aim – as was the case in Ukraine (not that pre coup Ukraine was anything more than an oligarchic façade democracy either – but with a Russian orientation).

    NATO’s constant dangerous provocations in the Baltic States, are driven by some very cynical motives – from the career interests of NATO generals , to the desire of the military industrial complex for a new arms race – which DAESH as an enemy just doesn’t provide, to the imperial ambitions of the neoliberal EU bureaucracy. This NATO provocation of the unstable, corrupt, but hyper-nationalistic , nuclear-armed Russian Federation, will lead to nuclear confrontation sooner or later unless cooler heads prevail .

    It is not worth a , civilisation-destroying WWIII nuclear exchange to safeguard the territorial integrity of either the fascist-dominated Ukrainian state – or the Balkan States – all of which have huge Russian speaking minorities who actually ARE facing significant oppression as distinct ethnic groupings in all these states – and for whom the Russian state does have legitimate interests.

  12. C MacMackin says:

    Dereck Roberts,

    I’ve actually written a series of articles on energy policy which I’ve submitted to Left Futures. Hopefully they’ll be published soon, although I haven’t heard anything. In the meantime, some thoughts on your comments regarding energy security.

    First off, it is not possible for the UK to satisfy all of its energy needs from its own renewable sources–at least not without giving up on anything resembling the current quality of life. In principle, electricity could be imported from concentrated solar power plants in the North African desert, but this means the UK would no longer have energy independence and would be relying on some not terribly stable parts of the world. It would also be incredibly expensive.

    Clean coal is an unproven technology and, in any case, fossil fuels are as much a limited resource as Uranium. Furthermore, the storage problem for carbon dioxide makes that for nuclear waste look easy. Nuclear waste is solid (in some cases liquid) and more or less stays where it’s put. Being a gas, it is quite difficult to keep carbon dioxide in one place. Worse, we must do so forever (or near enough) if we are to prevent climate change.

    Nuclear is the only technology which can realistically cleanly power Britain. It is also thought to be slightly cheaper than clean coal. Britain doesn’t have its own Uranium reserves, but Canada and Australia (both friendly countries) are the second and third largest producers globally. In the longer term it will probably be possible to extract Uranium from seawater, which could be done in Britain. Thorium (3 times as abundant as Uranium) could also serve as a nuclear fuel. With investment, by the 2030s, we should be able to build reactors which can reuse existing nuclear waste, extracting 20 times (at least) more energy than was possible the first time around. The nuclear waste produced by these reactors would be much smaller in volume per unit energy and would need to be kept in storage for “only” a few hundred years (achievable, as it won’t have to rely on ultra-long-term geological stability). Granted, many of these technologies are unproven, but even without them we have enough Uranium to last at least one more generation of nuclear reactors (several decades), which will give us time to develop more permanent solutions such as fusion or space-based solar power. We also already have nuclear waste and, once we’ve figured out what to do with it (and there are various suggestions), I doubt the marginal cost of storing more would be very much.

  13. Rob Green says:

    Just by the by. May reckoned she had secured 100% support for NATO from Trump when what actually happened was that he secured from here a pledge for Europe to hugely increase its military spending at a time of austerity on workers, the sick, disabled, poor, young, old, women.

  14. David Pavett says:

    It is a worrying indicator of the lack of vibrant debate in the Labour Party that when significant articles, like this one appear, dealing directly with areas of policy which are crying out for development we get no contributions from members of the Policy Commission for the area concerned.

    I recently wrote a piece criticising what struck me as a feeble document from the Early Years, Education and Skills Commission. I wrote to members of the Commission asking them to contribute. I got no response from any of them. This even included Christine Shawcroft who was elected to the NEC as a part of a left slate. No response.

    In the above article John Penney puts detailed arguments about desperately serious matters on a topic on which there is virtually no debate within Labour. And still it provokes no sign of policy life from the people charged to develop policy in that area, in particular it provokes no sign of policy life from the left-wing members of the International Policy Commission. Are there any?

    How do the left-wing members of the policy commissions see policy as being developed? Do they imagine that their role is to simply act as arbiters of whatever suggestions are received by their Commissions or do they see their role as actively participating in and promoting discussion?

    1. John Penney says:

      Yes indeed, David. I noticed yet another reference by Jeremy Corbyn to “Labours emerging new Industrial Policy” , in a press article the other day. What this is, and where it is “being developed” remains a complete mystery to even those of us who are trying to follow the strangely moribund “Labour Policy development processes” !

      As things stand the NPF seems to be quite deliberately “buggering about” so that Labour Policy , and Labours future General Election Manifesto, will be essentially the same. opportunistic, slippery soundbite-laden, menu of vague promises and commitment to “continued financial responsibility” that has already lost Labour the previous two General Elections.

      All across Europe Social Democracy is simply collapsing , in membership and votes, in the face of its inability to move beyond a slavish acceptance of neoliberalism and Austerity – outflanked by the lying siren promises of the radical, racist, xenophobic, populist Far Right.

      The temporary exception, to the amazement of the other European Social Democratic parties (and many of us on the UK Left in 2015) was the “Corbyn Surge” Labour Party. It looks increasingly that the hopes the “Corbyn Surge” new mass membership placed in the Corbyn Circle have been seriously misplaced, and as apparent prisoners now of the ” go along with us or we destroy the Party” resolute Labour Right and the Party Machine, and their own utterly accommodationist politics, Labour is not going to break out of the Europe-wide Social Democratic death spiral after all.

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