The headline in the UK newspaper the Daily Mail on August 7 encapsulated much that is paranoid in sad modern Britain. It read “Russian warships pass through English Channel as Putin’s armed forces ratchet up pressure on the Royal Navy.”
Certainly, the United Kingdom is in a state of crisis; but it isn’t because of any sort of military threat. The vote to leave the European Union was a major slide down the greasy pole of decline and Time magazine summed up the debacle by pointing out that “At heart of this political saga is the fact that the politicians leading the Brexit “Leave” campaign—Boris Johnson chief among them—never actually explained to the British public what a vote for ‘Leave’ entailed. The promise of Brexit was all things to all people, which is how it managed its 52- to 48-percent victory over the ‘Remain’ side. Then prime minister David Cameron resigned, and it fell to his successor Theresa May to figure out what Brexit actually means.”
The Brexit pantomime is taking place in an era in which it is recorded that “As benefits are cut and rents soar, Britain has seen a staggering rise in homelessness: the number of rough sleepers in England alone has more than doubled since 2010. Almost 1.2 million older people in Britain, as well as another one million disabled people, are living without the social care they need for basics such as eating, dressing and washing. It’s horrific: severely ill people forced to wait 14 hours to go to the toilet or wheelchair users who, with no assistant to help them cook, are now malnourished.”
But this dreadful state of affairs means nothing to those who lack for nothing—which includes politicians of the governing Conservative Party who demand that more taxpayers’ money must be spent on military hardware. The previous defence minister, Michael Fallon (who had to resign because he was found out to have indulged in some sexual shenanigans), told the BBC last year that “we will be adding to defence, there will be new equipment and the budget will grow every year” and the present one, Gavin Williamson (the man who said that Russia should “go away and shut up”), demanded in June that Britain increase its annual military spending by £20 billion, or about 25 billion dollars.
The strange thing about agitating to spend more money on armaments is that, apart from an indubitable terrorist menace, there is no military threat whatever to Britain. On the other hand, there is a social crisis of the most serious magnitude. As the New York Times reported in May, “the protracted campaign of budget cutting, started in 2010 by a government led by the Conservative Party, has . . . yielded a country that has grown accustomed to living with less, even as many measures of social well-being—crime rates, opioid addiction, infant mortality, childhood poverty and homelessness—point to a deteriorating quality of life.”
But the government’s answer lies in buying missiles and whooshing new aircraft, and two aircraft carriers of incalculable expense and nuclear submarines that the BBC reports are to cost “£31 bn (including inflation), with a contingency of a further £10 bn, spread over 35 years . . .”
Apart from terrorists, who would want to attack the United Kingdom? There are plenty of countries in the world that don’t like Britain (not as many as dislike the United States, but it’s still a depressingly large number), but can it be believed that any of them would take up arms and attack the place?
Unfortunately, as we see from the bizarre headline quoted above, claiming absurdly that “Putin’s armed forces ratchet up pressure on the Royal Navy,” there is a strong propaganda movement aimed at convincing British taxpayers that by suffering spoliation of their standard of living they are helping to defend their country against an alleged enemy who is intent on . . . doing what, exactly?
In its article about the passage through the English Channel of the Russian cruiser Marshal Ustinov and the destroyer Severomorsk, the Daily Mail reported that “after HMS St Albans escorted Admiral Gorshkov through the North Sea on Christmas Day last year, Defence Minister Gavin Williamson said he would ‘not hesitate in defending our waters or tolerate any form of aggression’ and that ‘Britain will never be intimidated when it comes to protecting our country, our people, and our national interests.’ “Aggression”?
This is utter garbage. The routine transit of Russian ships is being treated as a military threat requiring action by ships of the Royal Navy. And it isn’t just the Daily Mail that spouts this rubbish. The commanding officer of the destroyer HMS Diamond that was sent to “intercept” the two Russian vessels, Commander Ben Keith, declared “HMS Diamond is proud to once again be playing her part in protecting the UK by monitoring these vessels on their transit . . . While many families are enjoying their summer holidays, my ship’s company are working hard at sea to keep Britain safe and will continue to do so for as long as we are required. I would like to thank the families of my crew whose support is vital while we carry out our duty to the nation.”
In 36 years wearing the uniform of Her Majesty the Queen I heard some stupid things said by officers of all three services, and indeed said a few myself. But in all my time I never heard such a preposterous and barmy public utterance as that load of drivel.
Commander Keith can’t really believe that he was “protecting the UK” by cruising beside a couple of ships transiting the Channel. He can’t truly credit that his sailors were “proud to be protecting the UK” by having a pleasant couple of days in the sunshine sailing alongside a couple of ships passing through international waters. Or can he?
If he does believe this, then I weep for the Royal Navy, because if the days of sailors preferring to be at sea rather than ashore are over, then heaven help it. What do they join for?
But the supposed Russian “threat” is not confined to a few of its ships moving through international waters like so many hundreds of others every day. In the air, too, the striking might of Russia has to be countered at all costs.
On August 15 the Mail rejoiced that the British Royal Air Force (RAF) “intercepted six Russian bombers flying close to NATO airspace over the Black Sea and forced them to turn back.”
Turn back from what? The official announcement was that “the operation was in accordance with the NATO Enhanced Air Policing mission with NATO ally Romania. RAF jets helped deter Russian aggression, reassure our friends in Romania, and assure NATO allies of our commitment to collective defence.” “Aggression” yet again.
In fact all that this silly little aerial fandango achieved was a headline in a drivelling—but very popular—newspaper. Over a million Brits read the garbage it prints and many appear to believe that Russia is a military threat.
The Mail and most British news outlets (except the BBC and a couple of others which are objective), continue to push the line that the United Kingdom must spend more and more money on military gadgets and junkets.
So on August 18 the UK’s Daily Express newspaper, a sad wreck of its former self, and now competing with the Daily Mail in publicising ‘celebs’ and headlining articles of ultra-nationalist tripe, ran a piece headlined “Royal Navy’s £3bn warship launches to tackle ‘frightening’ Russians.” Just how it’s going to deter anyone is not explained, because it hasn’t any aircraft and won’t be operational until 2021. It cost over 4 billion dollars and its yet-to-arrive 36 F-35 aircraft will cost a minimum of 90 million dollars each. This is in a country where the Joseph Rowntree Foundation records that some 14 million people live in poverty—more than one in five of the population.
The sick farce of Britain’s preparation for war against Russia is shown to be even more absurd by the plain facts of comparative expenditure. It is never mentioned by Britain’s defence ministers or the compliant media (from which are excluded the BBC, the Guardian and the Independent) that in 2017, as reported by IHS Jane’s, Russia’s defence expenditure for 2017-2018 was approved at $51.35 billion while that of the UK was some $57 billion. Indeed, the annual military expenditure of NATO’s European members is $254 billion, or about five times that of Russia, and they spend a lot of it deploying forces ever closer to Russia’s borders. Aggression, anyone?
Britain would be a much better place if it acknowledged that there is no threat whatever from Russia—why on earth would Russia even want to begin to consider attacking Britain, or any NATO country, for that matter?—and that the billions being wasted on weapons would be better directed at improving the country’s infrastructure and social development. The terrorist danger will always remain, but the allegations by politicians and the press that vast spending is justified by “aggression” on the part of Russia are irresponsible and unworthy of a nation that could once again be great, if only it sorted out its priorities.
This work by MWC News is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Brian Cloughley is a British and Australian armies’ veteran, former deputy head of the UN military mission in Kashmir and Australian defense attaché in Pakistan.