One of the party’s longest-standing members, Douglas Stuckey, whose interest in current affairs dates back to the Spanish Civil War, described Boris Johnson’s defence and foreign policy review as the worst he’d ever seen.
Dove or hawk, there’s something in it to displease everyone but it’s more like chickens coming home to roost. Having Brexited to avoid laws on tax avoidance, the Tories can’t avoid delivering on the promise of ‘Global Britain’, a slogan claimed by both Gordon Brown and Theresa May. The question is, ‘how best to interfere profitably while still appearing to care?’ Do the chaps really believe that this small island can swagger across the world stage, snapping its fingers while Empire 2.0 runs to carry its bags? The pretence that the UK is nimbly adrift in the South Seas rather than moored off the European mainland doesn’t herald an expansion of its influence but its reduction to irrelevance. As one of 28 Member States, the UK had clout. As the mere ghost of its own past, it does not. It’s also an embarrassing spectacle, as Glasgow prepares to host COP26, that carbon-heavy links with the far side of the planet are prioritised over trade with our nearest neighbours. Intriguingly, themes heavily reiterated in the review are ‘the British people’ and ‘the glue that binds the Union’. Is it coming unstuck? We can but hope. Do read it if you want to see what constitutional panic looks like.
Armchair H-bombers will enjoy the thought of nuking-up to an even higher limit. Nice work for Aldermaston but so much for non-proliferation. The optics are awful. If Iran or North Korea did this, the outrage would be everywhere. Yet the ‘independent nuclear deterrent’ is all show. Trident is a US product and would become inoperable without continued US support. Defence analysts now ask what other capabilities will be lost to this paper tiger. There is, correctly, a growing awareness of the vulnerability of critical national infrastructure to cyber-attack, though a frustrating inability to recognise that the potential threat is as much Chinese as Russian. Moscow bad, Beijing good…ish. Just follow the money (and rare earth elements). Critical national infrastructure, we must note, is critical in part because it’s national. A more resilient system would see regions like Wessex develop capacity to operate alone in the event of a big hit. That, after all, is how regional administration first took root in the UK, when regional commissioners were appointed before the Second World War to oversee civil defence and take over if London fell. The review mentions bolstering Regional Organised Crime Units and speaks of the English regions as partners in developing a national resilience strategy during 2021. Not bad for a government that argues English regions don’t exist.
On China, the theory has long been that the way forward is to integrate it into western markets, then push for reform on human rights. In due course, liberal economics will deliver democratic politics. This is the triumph of Chicago School ideology over real-world history. Fascist and other authoritarian regimes have had no trouble reconciling their own forms of guided capitalism with torture and genocide. Instead of China becoming integrated with the west, the west has become integrated with China. If Chinese actions recall those of the 20th century’s worst dictators, a greater coolness now appears not only the most ethical approach but the one least likely to jeopardise the west’s own freedoms. The Prime Minister, as ever, wants to have his cake and eat it: it’s sad about the Tibetans and the Uyghurs but business is business. It’s hard not to see the new ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’ as a foreign policy built around a £3 billion aircraft carrier with no conceivable purpose beyond draining the Royal Navy of the money to do everything else. Sent out east it can at least serve as a floating trade fair while ‘projecting lethality’. Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Johnson?