TGirdle your tendons, girdle your loins. Tomorrow comes another defense review announced for what Boris Johnson would once have called a piffle festival. This is a mix of abstract nouns and cliches drawn from Archie Rice’s tired self-image of Downing Street as an “actor on the world stage.” Johnson says he wants to “keep up” against competitors, a “force for good” and a “global influencer.” He wants to be a world evil tester and tracker, a Tony Blair with adjectives. To honor this vanity, the Treasury must end the 10-year restriction on the defense budget and increase it by 2.6% above inflation. Nurses can eat the heart.
It’s impossible to judge value for money here because defense is a no-audit budget. Any old waffle will do. Britain’s territorial integrity is not under plausible threat and has not been since the end of the cold war, or realistically since the second world war. Therefore, the debate is informed by abstractions such as national pride, influence, and posture. The government could also build Martello Towers like submarines.
All wars fought by British forces since 1945 have not been defensive but aggressive or, in the case of the Falklands, a matter of imperial disorder. Some, fought with the Americans, have had the intention of making the world a better place, but it is difficult to think of one that has made it. The idea that such foreign wars serve British interests, compared to the lack of similar actions by democracies like Germany or Japan, is absurd. They were post-imperial illusions and the cost has been astronomical.
However, in tomorrow’s test we will read that we must maintain these illusions with nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers, fighter jets and war equipment in the desert, in order to “overcome our weight” or “maintain our role in the world”, objectives lacking specificity. . Gripped by the same nonsense, Labor will agree. It is significant that Johnson, desperate to dust his nouns with relevance, boasts of directing his spending to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Like Edward I, he cares about the Celts.
The additional news that Britain is going to “tilt” its foreign and defense policy towards the 1950s and east of Suez is incredible. Chinese politics in London is not so much chaotic as it is pointless. China is ridiculously outside the scope of the British power projection. The only conceptually plausible threat to Britain’s interests is a reckless Russian leader, but tackling that is clearly a joint European task. Since Johnson hates Europe, he rejects it by sending an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea. This is foreign policy for school children.
Britain faces dangers abroad, such as cyber warfare and industrial espionage, and it is correct that they are addressed in this review. That’s defense proper, and you don’t need 72,000 soldiers in tanks any more than you need muskets, bows, and arrows. The best defense of a free country in the 21st century is a robust economy, an open border, and civil rights. They need to be defended, sometimes against their own government, but they cost nothing.