Last week, we reviewed the Tories’ integrated defence and foreign policy review. This week, there’s a more specific document, Defence in a Competitive Age. As usual with this lot, what’s not said speaks louder than what is.
As far as defence of the post-war rules-based order is concerned, the title’s a clue that the white flag’s now been run up. It’s every country for itself. There’s no hint that the UK might be a signatory to the United Nations charter, let alone a permanent member of the Security Council. Even if the aim’s still to avoid warfighting, if possible, the aim’s also to get involved in a great deal of low-level annoyance that stays just the right side of the law, to “seize new opportunities for Global Britain”. Always a dangerous game. The UK has to protect its people, its territory, its infrastructure at sea and in space, its international commitments, and the defence capability itself. More assertion than that starts to look like aggression, not defence. We may now live in a competitive age, but the UK’s imperial flag-hugging and jostling for every last destabilising advantage is at least part of where the problem lies. There’s not a word about conflict-reduction because, of course, we’re always right. The UK’s shameful contribution to the arms trade is mentioned in a couple of contradictory paragraphs: high-tech proliferation bad, defence exports good. Cakeism again.
The flag being hugged is the Union Jack and the review includes a very odd map. It shows the role of defence spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. England’s left blank. A reader might be forgiven for thinking that England doesn’t have a defence sector of any kind. It does, so why be shy? England’s not seen as a threat though. It doesn’t need convincing that the UK works. It can be taken for granted. Yet the distribution of defence jobs and facilities and contracts within England has consequences, just as much as the distribution between the home nations. Which regions depend on defence more, and which less? Regional government would mean those questions would be asked and would have to be answered. Regional government’s the way to ensure England isn’t wiped off the map.