Spend it on the people, not war

It is time to invest in our future not nukes and weapons of war, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE

AT the end of March, the UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire, saying the war on the coronavirus was the only war we should be fighting at this time of the global pandemic.

Part of his reasoning was that this would help countries focus resources towards fighting Covid-19 rather than on extravagant military spending.

This should mean that in Britain spending on the impact of coronavirus must take priority ahead of military spending.

Yet despite Britain formally backing this global ceasefire call, we have also been told that we are “sustaining all operations” in the military field.

British troops are currently stationed overseas in 35 different countries: with 15,000 in the Middle East and 1,000 in Afghanistan.

In the financial year 2018-19 (the most recent figures available) the MOD spent just under £900m on overseas operations.

Imagine if this money was spent on the NHS and rebooting our economy instead.

It is also time to question why vast sums of money keep being spent on war and the military more generally.

We are set to see a budget increase for the military of £2.2bn in 2020. The total defence budget for the coming year is £41.5bn, which is 2.6 per cent of GDP.

Britain already has the sixth biggest military budget globally, and as the Ministry of Defence puts it itself, “by far the largest Nato defence spender in Europe in absolute terms.”

This is also within a context where a decade of austerity has seen British military spending remain high compared to other comparable countries, including other Nato members.

These figures were obscene before this crisis. Now they are surely indefensible.

But there are some — including the Trump administration — who would like to see this actually increase. Indeed, we recently saw an astonishing call for a 50 per cent increase in military spending from general Sir Peter Wall, former chief of the general staff of the British Army.

We should firmly resist the idea that it’s more important to impress Trump with new toys for the boys rather than invest in people, health and planet.

These resources should be redirected to investment in our economy, infrastructure, NHS and public services.

This is all the more important when one considers the economic impact to come — described by one commentator recently as like the 2008 crash on steroids.

We should also demand an independent public inquiry into why Britain was so ill-prepared for the coronavirus crisis and has handled it so badly.

We should remember that it is not as if the government were unaware of the risk of pandemics. A 2014 Ministry of Defence Report stated that “the likelihood of disease outbreak could…be mitigated by alertness to changing trends in infectious diseases” and serious questions need to be asked on a number of fronts when it comes to the government’s response to global spread of Covid-19.

Our fight ahead will be one to put the needs of people and health ahead of those of private profits and the super-rich. A key demand in that struggle must be to cut military spending — including by scrapping Trident — and using the resources to invest in our future.

This is a very real question facing us in terms of priorities.

Last week, Boris Johnson announced his so-called New Deal, pledging to spend £5 billion to rebuild Britain’s economy following the devastation caused by Covid-19.

Not only is it not clear if this is all new money, but also it is clear that this is not enough to reboot the economy, keep our public services going or to create the green jobs we need.

Furthermore, as CND pointed out this week, it’s just a tiny fraction of the £205 billion the government is spending on new nuclear weapons. Any recovery plan should be deeply rooted in the need to make sure Britain is meeting its commitment to cut carbon emissions and is dealing with ongoing problems like flooding.

And our NHS is already struggling after 10 years of austerity, it now needs real investment to repay the service of NHS workers throughout this crisis, and to guarantee the health of our country.

The same goes for transport, social care, education and so much more.

What we don’t need is new nuclear weapons and increases in military spending.

Let’s build a mass movement to stop being Trump’s poodles and move British foreign policy away from catastrophic foreign interventions and continual, slavish subservience to the US.

Support the Stop the War Coalition at www.stopwar.org.uk.

Originally published in The Morning Star