Apparently, Brexit is a chance to ‘enhance our lethality’. No, really.

Gavin Williamson and RAF bombs
Fréa Lockley

On 11 February, defence secretary Gavin Williamson gave a speech to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a key defence and security thinktank. It was truly terrifying. He suggested a huge rise in arms and defence investment alongside greater UK global interventionism. And he also said that Brexit is the perfect opportunity for the UK to “enhance our lethality”.

“Global Threats”

In a speech called Transforming UK Defence to Meet the Global Threats of Tomorrow, Williamson started out by asking the “important” question: “why do we fight?”. Apparently, it’s to “protect our people”. But that depends, of course, on who he means by ‘our people’.

His speech foregrounded a “multi-million-pound Transformation Fund” for increased UK defence spending. According to Williamson, the fund is in addition to the “extra” £1.8bn the Conservative government has invested. It includes £33m to counter “the threat from the Kremlin”. There’s also an additional £100m “to modernise how we do business in defence”. And he continued, “if this isn’t enough”, there’s another £24m “available through innovative Spearhead projects”. These projects are known to include companies such as Italian-owned Leonardo. This is the world’s 9th largest arms company, that’s sold “helicopters to Algeria, Libya and Turkey“.

Start your day with The Canary News Digest

Fresh and fearless; get excellent independent journalism from The Canary, delivered straight to your inbox every morning.




But it’s difficult to understand these figures, or what protection there is for ‘our people’ from a government that’s slashed NHS funding for nine years; the same government whose austerity policies have pushed thousands of people further into poverty as an intentional “political choice”.

As Andrew Smith from Campaign Against Arms Trade said in a press release:

At a time when budgets are being squeezed and cut across the country, and when millions are being hit by austerity, the Government is finding even more money for the military. 

Murderous defence exports

As Williamson boasted, Britain is:

A nation with the fifth biggest economy on the planet. A nation with the world’s fifth biggest Defence budget and the second largest Defence exporter.

These UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Israel and Turkey kill innocent women, children and men every day. In 2017 alone, “the UK won defence orders” worth £9bn. This was a 53% increase on the previous year.

Smith agreed that “Williamson rightly condemns those that flout and ignore international law”. But as he also stressed:

the Government is arming and supporting Saudi forces widely accused of violating international humanitarian law in atrocities against Yemen.

“Lethality”

Williamson used the word “lethality” five times in his speech. Despite Donald Trump‘s continued threat to global security and the current coup attempt in Venezuela, Williamson claims the UK’s committed to:

Enhancing the reach and lethality of our forces and reinforcing the fact that the United States remains our very closest of partners. We share the same vision of the world. A world shaped by individual liberty, the rule of law and, of course, the tolerance of others.

And as the UK remains in Brexit deadlock, Williamson thinks this is a “great moment in our history”. He continued:

A moment when we must strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality, and increase our mass.

Williamson scattered his speech with references to increased UK global intervention. From China to the Middle East, and from Ukraine to the South Pacific – nowhere, it seems, is safe. But as Smith insisted:

With the UK at a crossroads, the Government should redefine its role, but that should mean an end to interventionism and the focus on projecting military strength around the world – not more of the same failed policies that have done so much damage.

“Make a positive difference”

Williamson’s speech was chilling. And Smith calls for a “different view on security”, saying:

Where the UK, and other rich nations, can make a positive difference is through overseas aid, supporting civilian peace-building efforts, and investing in renewable energy and green technologies to combat climate change, which is the number one threat to our security and that of the world.

Williamson’s speech truly upped the warmongering ante to a new level. Meanwhile, millions of people remain committed to working for peace, to end arms sales, and to cease brutal civilian deaths around the world. So now, more than ever, it’s those voices that need to take control.

Featured images via Chris McAndrew/Wikimedia and U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung

Since you're here ...

We know you don't need a lecture. You wouldn't be here if you didn't care.
Now, more than ever, we need your help to challenge the rightwing press and hold power to account. Please help us survive and thrive.

The Canary Support
  • Show Comments
    1. ” the government should focus on projecting military strenght around the world” Chilling is correct as it appears without any reasoning as to why, or for what. Perhaps these people plan on taking over England in a coup, and the policy of the DWP is just a hint of what is to come? Brexit goes over the cliff then….. The Empire can be reborn is the theme, as in Trumps “Make America great again” slogan.
      Where’s the hospital for the politically insane the DWP runs?

    2. The last thing any of us need right now is to hear Gavin Williamson attempt to escalate the US-lead bellicose rhetoric regarding events in the South Pacific. This duplicitous little shit is at it again: another less-than-subtle attempt to write himself into the future political narrative, both on the world stage and closer to home, where, as Defence Secretary, he hopes to secure substantial party backing for a leadership bid in the aftermath of a small-scale military confrontation that he himself is currently attempting to orchestrate. Two years of Brexit has side-lined his department completely, leaving him to politically procrastinate at a time when he needs to be proving his parliamentary credentials with maximum exposure-any aspirations to party leadership require Mr. Williamson to be seen as an international player, a geo-political heavy-weight, someone who can stand up to Russian and Chinese aggression and hold his nerve when face-to-face with the leaders of our enemies. Even more egregious than this jingoistic conceit is the particular focus of his recent speech regarding the activities of the Chinese navy in their own waters- or ‘aggression by the Chinese in the South China Sea’ as he saw it. You only need to read it out loud to see the problem here- Beijing is being accused of excessive maritime aggression in response to US/UK attempts to exercise ‘freedom of navigation rights’ in the South China Sea. Of course, we all know that ‘freedom of navigation rights’ only apply to NATO powers wishing to enter China’s waters- if the Chinese had any vessel within a thousand miles of British or American coastline, rights or no rights, we’d virtually be at war. Other countries just aren’t allowed to establish military bases anywhere other than within their own countries. Even when Russia moves troops through its interior to its own border, it is considered to be an act of aggression by Washington, even though the US feels itself to be entitled to maintain 1200-1600 military bases and outposts in locations across the globe. Now, Gavin Williamson may be arrogant and over-ambitious, but he isn’t completely stupid- he spotted an opportunity early on, an opportunity to re-write Britain’s role as a world power in the twenty-first century geo-political landscape, and make damn sure he’s at the epicentre of a narrative none of us will ever forget. In terms of appetite for conflict, China is very much the soft target if one is to choose between Russia, DPRK or China- their economic dominance in the region is brittle enough for them to not risk anything like a military confrontation with a trading partner as important as Britain. Any sabre-rattling from the UK would be met with a diplomatic accommodation, allowing Williamson to infer a climbdown by Beijing, and in so doing consolidating his own superior strength, resolve and Machiavellian ingenuity. The very idea of this fucker fanning the flames of a conflagration that has yet to ignite is obscene: he is attempting to engineer a volatile international situation overseas where, if handled incorrectly, innocent lives could be lost on both sides, and all this is merely part of a longer-term plan to generate a personal political career advantage. Mr. Williamson appears to share many qualities with a certain Mrs. Clinton- both are eaten alive by their own ambition and overwhelming sense of destiny and entitlement. For the majority of the seventy years proceeding the end of the Second World War, in tandem with the rest of Western Europe, Britain’s primary geo-political interface has been the Foreign Office, not the War Office (MOD). Seventy years of diplomatic tradition is about to be overturned by this young and inexperienced parliamentary light-weight with a personal plan to re-calibrate his own political relevance as part of a future bid for the Tory No.1 slot. Dismiss Gavin Williamson at your peril; this is a very dangerous individual who sold fireplaces door-to-door, and by a combination of luck, tenacity, self-belief and circumstance, now holds one of the most powerful positions of international influence that the UK government has to offer. But none of this is enough for Gavin- he wants more. Last year’s “shut up and go away” declaration to the Kremlin in response to the Skripal poisoning should have been cause for concern. Now I really am concerned- as should we all be when a Conservative Defence Secretary abandons all party protocols and goes rogue on a personally sanctioned mission to re-establish Britain as a leading military power and expand our geo-political sphere of influence- on his own, with his own agenda, without scrutiny or endorsement by party or parliament. A one man show, prosecuting his own personal political crusade, like Nigel Farage, but this time with the country’s military at his disposal. Fuck. History tells me that this doesn’t end well.

    3. I think Gavin Williamson is a born again Empire child , and most likely has never suffered any misery or been close to the consequences of death he speaks so fondly of. He doesn’t even look a mature man, but if your a child of the Empire mythology this never happens I’m guessing. Its a queer humantiy to born a child of the political ‘State’. I’m speaking about biological imprinting here with a bizarre nature
      Politics ought to be considering how to create a world for our real children to survive in when confronted with climate change, extinction’s of wildlife insects instead of living in a fantasy of war inspired from the past.

    4. So well said. I’m so glad Jeremy is a pacifist and a vegan: exactly the qualities we need once the Scum are removed from office. Hopefully he’ll have them all lined up against the wall and shot.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.