Far from looking forward, as ministers maintain, the government is looking backwards in its defence and foreign policy review (Report, 15 March). The plan to raise the limit on the UK’s Trident nuclear stockpile by more than 40%, from 180 to 260 warheads, is a dangerous and expensive return to cold war thinking. Britain’s nuclear arsenal, dependent entirely on US technology, is even less of a deterrent and less relevant now than it was then.
Writing about Trident 11 years ago in his autobiography, A Journey, Tony Blair said: “The expense is huge and the utility … non-existent in terms of military use.” But he thought giving it up would be “too big a downgrading of our status as a nation”. It was nothing to do with credible defence, and it isn’t now.
Meanwhile, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest ship ever built for the navy and one the country can ill afford, is preparing to sail to the Pacific with two destroyers, two frigates and two supply ships, but with very few British aircraft and no realistic purpose other than to “fly the flag”. A former chief of defence staff described Britain’s two new carriers to me as “unaffordable vulnerable metal cans”.
As ministers were trumpeting ambitions for the future, the Commons public accounts committee brought them down to earth, warning that the Ministry of Defence’s 10-year military capabilities plan has a funding black hole of up to £17.4bn. And as ministers talk about protecting human rights, Britain continues to sell more weapons to Saudi Arabia than any other country while increasing military assistance to neighbouring Gulf states, equally disdainful of human rights.
• The defence review fails to embody a “real strategic decision that resonates across the years” (Like Brexit, Boris Johnson’s vision for ‘global Britain’ is an idea not a policy, 17 March)( not because the EU “is not treated as important”, but because it was based on the premise that security stems from a nuclear warhead. It was not the lack of nuclear warheads or a shortage of frigates that compromised Britain’s security when Covid paid us a visit. It was the humble face mask. The review does nothing to address this. It calls for the free flow of capital, the very thing that brought about the deindustrialisation of much of the country, making us dependent on others for some of our basic needs.
Self-reliance is the only guarantee of a national security that’s meaningful and lasting. Self-reliance is not self-isolation, let alone self-sufficiency. Neither is it protectionist; it provides protection, not protectionism. It means creating a nation with a strong industrial base that can forge non-exploitative links with other nations with a military capability, to deter others from encroaching on its sovereignty and to defend it if they do.
• Austerity cuts, Brexit, the reduction in our foreign aid, and our arms sales to authoritarian and misogynist regimes have irrevocable impacts on women and girls worldwide. But there is far too little reference in this review to women, peace and security concerns, despite brief mentions of girls’ education and the UK’s work with the African Union. The reality is that we support or engage in armed conflicts, and our refusal to condemn states that target women for rape, murder and bereavement is shameful, so there is also hypocrisy in the review. Who on earth do we think we are? No longer in Europe, we have lost our moral compass, and we used to lead the world on women’s empowerment and gender equality.
President, Widows for Peace Through Democracy