This election could have massive ramifications around the world.
Except for Brexit positioning, most of the early coverage of this election has focused on personalities rather than policies. But with manifestos due to be published in the days ahead, we’ll start to get a more detailed picture of parties’ priorities.
One area where there could be major political differences is foreign policy and the question of how the UK acts on the world stage. When it comes to matters of war, peace and international security, the impact of this election will be felt far beyond UK shores.
So, what should an anti-war and pro-peace government prioritise?
1. Curbing arms sales and support for human rights abusers
For decades, successive UK governments have offered an uncritical political and military support for the Saudi Arabian regime. This has been characterised by photo-ops, cosy relations and multi-billion-pound arms deals.
Since 2015, UK-made weapons have played a central role in the brutal Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen. Since the war began, the government has licensed £5.3 billion worth of fighter jets, missiles and bombs. It’s been a big payday for arms dealers, but the impact on Yemen has been devastating. 100,000 people have been killed in the war, which has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
This June, the Court of Appeal ruled that these sales were approved illegally and curbed future exports. The current PM, Boris Johnson, signed-off on billions of pounds worth of arms sales to the Saudi-led forces while he was foreign secretary. His government has already breached the Court ruling multiple times and has launched an appeal to overturn the verdict.
In the 2017 election, every major opposition party used made manifesto commitments to end to UK military support for Saudi forces, and tougher restrictions on the arms trade more generally. It remains to be seen if this will be the case again, but public opinion is clear – with over two thirds opposing arms exports to human rights abusing regimes.
2. Real security over military aggression
2013 saw the government losing a vote on foreign intervention for the first time since 1782. The party-political differences in attitudes to interventionism have only increased further since then, with Labour, SNP and Greens taking increasingly anti-war positions.
This year’s election will be preceded by the NATO summit on 03-04 December. As Donald Trump and other leaders descend on London, we will hear lots of talk about military relations and the supposed need for ever-greater spending on high-tech weaponry.
However, the rhetoric will not match the reality. In 2015, the government’s National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review identified 20 “priority risks” to UK security, only two of which involve a military attack by another state. The other “priority risks” are non-military, such as cyber attack and terrorism, as well as fuel supply, natural disasters including severe flooding, and weapons proliferation.
Despite this, the government has committed to renewing Trident and maintaining one of the world’s highest military budgets.
The next government could be one that takes a fundamentally different approach to ‘defence’ and security.
3. Shifting production from arms to renewables
The UN has warned that there are only 11 years to prevent irreversible damage from climate change, and whoever wins next month could be in power for almost half of that time. Around the world, millions of people are already living with the terrible consequences of global warming, particularly in the Global South where emissions are far lower, but the impact is being felt far more severely.
As a major economy, and one of the nations that has contributed most to climate change, the UK must play its role in cutting carbon emissions and calling for international change. One poll found that the electorate is even more concerned with the climate crisis than it is in the economy. This should be regarded as a call to action for the next government. It’s time for a radical green new deal that puts clean energy and global solidarity at its core.
Many of those employed in the arms industry are skilled engineers, and there is a shortage of these. Sectors that could benefit from these skills include renewable energy and low carbon technologies.
Since energy security and climate change are acknowledged threats it would be a win-win situation to use the skills of current arms industry workers as well as those seeking employment to address this.
Time for change
There are only three weeks to go, and a lot will happen between now and then. This election could have international ramifications for years to come.
Particularly with Brexit on the horizon, the UK’s global role is at a crossroads. For far too long, UK foreign policy and military policy have been based on projecting military strength and supporting human rights abusers and dictatorships when it’s seen to benefit geopolitical interests.
Regardless of the parliamentary make-up, the next government must seize the opportunity to do something very different and build a consensus around a foreign policy that challenges rather than entrenches the influence of big business and the pro-war lobby.
Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT here.
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