Rethink Britain’s foreign policy as BAE Systems winds down?

Like many, Ian Godden, chairman of the trade group Aerospace Defence Security expresses real concern in the UK Defence Forum that news of potential job losses are the tip of the iceberg.

He rightly describes this in his article as a matter of national interest that will have a profound impact on the capabilities of our armed Forces and our industrial base. 

A civilised policy 

In 2002, former Defence Minister MP Peter Kilfoyle hosted the launch of Dr Steve Schofield’s report on the implications of this country adopting a true defence policy. 

True defence offers real business opportunities 

As Schofield points out: 

“By reorienting UK military forces to territorial defence and specialist naval and land elements of a EU peacekeeping corps, the requirement for many systems dedicated to offensive force projection including new aircraft carriers, new destroyers, long-range aircraft and missiles, would cease to exist. The UK’s remaining limited offensive capability would then become a factor only as part of a multi-national force that can carry out the full range of peacekeeping and peace-enforcement operations within an operational framework based on similar specialist contributions from other EU countries also re-oriented to non-offensive defence. 

“Territorial defence may require some new procurement including a small fleet of conventional submarines for coastal patrols and enhanced anti-terrorist defences including anti-aircraft missiles around vulnerable facilities such as nuclear power stations and reprocessing plants. However the overall restructuring will bring substantial reductions in the demand for military equipment and the military industrial base.” 

For some years New Zealand successfully followed a defence-only policy 

He cited the precedent set by New Zealand in 2001 which followed a long public dialogue leading to a radical antinuclear policy and a failure to renew the military alliance with USA under the ANZUS treaty. It is a matter of regret to some that ten years later this civilised attitude has been modified, though not reversed – see the 2010 Defence White Paper

When the NZ government decommissioned its combat aircraft, Dr David Dickens, director of strategic studies at Victoria University in Wellington, said: “Since the 1930s few other Western countries, except those that have been defeated in war, have gone through changes like this – disarming, in essence, a full combat side of the armed forces.” 

And eventually there will be savings 

Schofield estimates that there would be scope for the UK to reduce the armed forces by half and to make large savings on arms spending over the following eight years as the major offensive systems are cancelled and forces are reconfigured for territorial defence and the specialist contributions to the EU corps. 

But there will be strong domestic opposition from powerful vested interests 

There are two common economic and humane arguments against adopting such a policy: first that arms exports make a large contribution to the economy – but as even the defence industry’s supporters state, defence export accounts for only about 3% of Britain’s manufacturing exports. 

The second is that without our intervention, tyrants will ride roughshod over their subjects – but they already do so with impunity in oil-free countries such as Zimbabwe. In Britain itself  many cruel injustices to soldiers and civilians have remained unaddressed for years by successive governments. 

A more civilised way forward? Schofield’s 2002 conclusion is relevant today 

“The UK’s policy represents another missed opportunity to re-cast security in a broader context of international economic and environmental development, to tackle the fundamental issues of poverty and deprivation underlying many security problems. 

“The government may have acknowledged, in passing, that no serious conventional threat to Europe exists, but if one relied solely on the pattern of procurement it would be difficult to judge whether the Cold War had ended or not, since all the major Cold War equipment programmes have continued without interruption and a new generation of offensive weapons is being seamlessly introduced. 

The true national interest would be served by Britain playing a pivotal role in a move towards peaceful international development by adopting a defensive strategy and working with other EU countries to develop specialist capabilities for a EU corps dedicated to UN peacekeeping. And, in the longer term, Nato would be replaced by the OSCE working towards a new pan-European system of common security.

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