William Ramsay explores Britain’s new imperial venture.
Some historic decisions don’t appear to be at the time. Announcing them on a Saturday doesn’t help either unless, of course you want the event to go unnoticed. Such is the case with Defence Secretary Philip Hammond’s announcement that the United Kingdom is to re-establish a permanent base East of Suez.
Although it is a historic decision it is not really news. Establishing a permanent base somewhere in the Middle East is an inevitable corollary to the decision, made some years ago now, to build new fleet carriers, ships larger actually than any built during the days of the empire. The timing however had everything to do with the launch of the first carrier, which itself had everything to do with the timing of the referendum.
Such indeed is the lack of a proper discourse in the UK media around issues of war and peace that this inevitable corollary to building fleet carriers is only getting to be reported now.
The 1971 decision of the Wilson Government to remove a permanent expeditionary capability East of Suez has been treated by many historians as a key, if not the key, date when the UK officially gave up on Imperial ambitions.
The decision of the Cameron Government to establish a permanent naval facility at Mina Salman in Bahrain, will , quite rightly, be interpreted as a historic decision to resuscitate imperial ambition.
The UK’s 21st imperial ambitions however will be quite different from those of earlier centuries. There will and already are of course many similarities. There are already lots of dead people , notably civilians, even more injured and countless homeless people. Here at home fear of the other is a core issue in the British, if not the Scottish political discourse.
Constant expeditionary warfare has become the default and supporting , even underpinning aspects of that are being skilfully woven into some dimensions of popular 21st century domestic culture.
The so called War on Terror, now constant, is the media strap line. A problem to be addressed certainly, but surely within the paradigm of human security and policing rather than deploying multi billion pound air groups from carriers who’s activities will be counterproductive in relation to the actual security needs of the citizens who have to pay for these extraordinarily expensive machines.
Britain’s 21st Century imperial role has been mapped out and in truth endorsed and largely ignored by the media in a series of Strategic Defence and Security Reviews by successive Westminster Governments. The 2015 SDSR probably be will be no different.
British defence and foreign policy must be shaped above all else, to secure its place as the United States principle imperial auxiliary force in the Northern Hemisphere, Australia fancies the role down under.
The media focus on the 2015 SDSR will focus on inter service wrangling around some cuts. The elephant in the room of course, the Trident replacement program, will be ignored .That this program is as military ridiculous as it is potentially deadly for the future of humanity will hardly feature in the discourse.
Post referendum the SNP Westminster Group, in conjunction with Plaid Cymru and some others , voted against the re start of an air war in the skies of Iraq, this marked a promising change in focus of SNP defence and foreign policy. The SNP parliamentary group needs to take an unequivocal decision on the matter of the re-establishment of a permanent British presence east of Suez also.
Scotland was most certainly a partner in Britain’s past imperial adventures. The vision and then the reality of a future independent Scotland simply cannot be a part of the biggest bit players role in someone else’s imperial adventures.