In a brazen show of bringing-to-heel in their «special relationship», American political and Pentagon chiefs are openly rebuking the British government to maintain its huge military spend on the NATO alliance – to the possible detriment of already withering public services in austerity-clobbered Britain. The imposition by Washington raises serious questions about the nature of democracy in Britain – the self-proclaimed «Mother of all Parliaments».
Outlandish claims of Russian «aggression» and sinister global ambitions of Vladimir Putin are being invoked to justify what is otherwise an extraordinary US infringement of Britain’s democratic rights.
The American intrusion into British affairs is in the run-up to Britain’s parliamentary elections in May, when five years of relentless economic austerity under the incumbent Conservative-Liberal coalition are being put to the electoral test. Conservative (Tory) leader and prime minister David Cameron is under pressure from the public to safeguard education and health budgets, with the country’s outsized military expenditure being touted as the sector that should take the necessary «haircut».
Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne are military hawks when it comes to foreign policy. They, after all, oversaw the NATO destruction of Libya in 2011, and are generally in line with US covert wars in Syria and Ukraine. But the Tory leaders are fearful that their abysmal record of austerity could be an election loser. They have apparently heeded public concerns and have belatedly hinted that Britain’s military budget may well be slashed rather than education or health in order to reduce a soaring national debt. (Whether Cameron actually does sacrifice military spending is a moot question – the hint could well turn out to be a cynical ruse to lure votes, which will then be stealthily abandoned post-election.)
But the point here is that on such a basic matter of democratic interest – whether to spend public money on bombs, books or hospital beds – it seems that the British government is more answerable to Washington than its own people.
US President Barack Obama has, according to the pro-Tory Daily Telegraph, personally warned British premier David Cameron that any cuts in Britain’s current military budget – 2 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – will «set a bad example for other European allies» and will put «the future of NATO at risk».
Obama reportedly told Cameron «if Britain doesn’t spend 2 per cent on defence, then no one in Europe will».
Washington’s «intense lobbying» is being aided by senior members within the British military establishment, who are also warning Cameron’s government over possible downsizing of Britain’s armed forces and weapons procurement.
In order to pep up their objective, Russia is being painted as a global threat to security, along with the Islamic State terror group, and thus providing justification for the continued spending of some $50 billion a year by Britain on its military budget. The denigration of Russia in such a manner without the slightest evidence is a gross breach of diplomatic relations and could constitute an act of aggression against Moscow.
Sir Peter Wall, the former commander of British armed forces, and ex-MI6 boss Sir John Sawers, have both explicitly cited «Russian aggression» as a top priority for why spending on Britain’s huge military budget must not be lowered.
Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox claimed that the British public expect «their government» to ensure the «security of Britain as a first commitment». How a rich politician can assert on the views of impoverished workers, unemployed or sick Britons is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, it should be noted how the propaganda claims of the British establishment against Russia over the Ukraine crisis are inculcated into public consciousness as «fact» and therefore the dubious premise must be dealt with as a matter of unquestioned urgency, without permitting even a cursory public debate on the veracity of such tendentious claims.
The latest figure to add his voice to the Anglo-American no-cuts chorus is US General Raymond Odierno. The Chief of Staff member said any decrease in Britain’s military spending will «diminish» British armed forces to the role of fighting as brigades inside American formations rather than being deployed as larger divisions «alongside» US counterparts, as they have in the past.
Thus Odierno seems to be using humiliation as a tactic to browbeat Britain into maintaining its military budget – already one of the highest in Europe and second highest in NATO after the US.
The American General reiterated that the US needs Britain as a partner to confront the alleged threat of Russia and Islamic terrorism.
«It is about having a partner that has very close values and the same goals as we do,» said Odierno, with an odious touch of euphemism considering the illegal destruction that these two «partners» have inflicted on Afghanistan, Iraq and several other countries in their fraudulent pursuit of «war on terror».
Joining the Anglo-American chorus are former NATO secretary generals Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Jaap de Hoop Scheffen, who are also exhorting Britain not to pare its military outlay. De Hoop Sheffen said it would have «very serious consequences» while Rasmussen made typically hysterical claims that such a move by Britain would «encourage Russian aggression».
«It would send, not least under current circumstances, a very, very bad signal to Russia, to terrorists, to others,» said Rasmussen, who stepped down as NATO civilian leader last year after months of accusing Moscow of annexing Crimea, destabilising Ukraine and threatening the entire security of Europe. The former Danish premier has thus acted as a reliable American mouthpiece in Europe and his latest intervention on a British electoral issue with fantastical scaremongering shows that he continues to function well as a Washington cypher.
Washington and London have routinely regaled each other with compliments about their «special relationship» in the decades since the Second World War. The unspoken reality of that grandiloquent partnership is the systemic link between the City of London and Wall Street as being central to the maintenance of global finance capitalism – an economic system that has become destructively predatory on the whole planet. The other aspect of the «special relationship» is that Britain has dutifully served as the junior partner in Washington’s overseas militarism. London has either given unswerving diplomatic support for what are de facto criminal imperial interventions, or it has provided actual military forces to augment the American, thus affording a legal semblance of «multinationalism» to otherwise outright illegal «unilateralism». Afghanistan and Iraq are the two outstanding examples of the latter relationship in recent times. In short, Britain is nothing more than America’s trusty bulldog in its global military enterprises – a demeaning role for Britain that is sanitised and glamourised as a «special relationship».
Britain also functions as setting the military pace for the rest of Europe at the behest of Washington. It does this primarily through the structure of the US-led NATO alliance. As already noted, Britain is one of the highest military spenders within Europe on NATO – despite its mounting national debt and woeful social deterioration. With his usual Tory tin ears to social hardship among his own nation, last September at the alliance’s summit in Wales, David Cameron berated other austerity-suffering European members to raise their financial commitments to NATO in line with the US and Britain.
Thus, this is what really concerns the Americans. Reductions in Britain’s armed forces, submarines, frigates and warplanes may severely limit the bulldog in its auxiliary attack-role for future American foreign wars. Wars that are increasingly essential in propping up finance capitalism. British absence would expose American militarism for what it is – naked criminal imperialism.
Secondly, as Obama’s fret cited above reveals, if the trusty British start to backslide on commitments to NATO then that could very well embolden the majority of the alliance to likewise curb financial support. Out of 28 NATO members only four hit their financial stipend of 2 per cent of GDP. If the reliable British bulldog is going tame then what does that say for the other European poodles? Without NATO and its pretensions of «defending Europe», Washington then loses a vital ideological and military pillar for its global hegemony.
In a sane, democratic world, of course, reckless military largesse should be slashed if not eliminated entirely. The US spends nearly half of its annual budget on the military-industrial complex – over $600 billion. These ludicrous expenditures not only are driving societies into the ground, they are also driving the world into dangerous confrontation and war – and yet absurdly such profligacy is «justified» with unfounded claims of foreign enemies, most recently Russia.
Russia is threatening no-one. The biggest threat to world peace and to the people of the US and other Western countries are their own elite rulers who are beholden to militarism and its wellspring – finance capitalism.
The gross interference by Washington in Britain’s forthcoming election on the vital issue of budgetary priorities clearly demonstrates that British «democracy» is but an appendage to an American leash. And the leash is being yanked to pull the snarling bulldog into line.