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After Manchester and London, it's time to consider different approaches to our security

Our traditional responses to terror attacks don't make us any safer

Andrew Smith
6 June 2017
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RAF exercise. Flickr/Defence Images. Some rights reserved.All too often it takes terrible events, like the awful attacks on Manchester and London, before our politicians focus on the issue of security. The responses tend to be militaristic and ‘strong’, but do they make us any safer?

After rightly pinning the responsibility for the attacks on the man who carried it out, Corbyn  questioned if the current combination of cuts to domestic services and interventionism abroad is in fact exacerbating the threat of terrorism.

The point wasn’t well received by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, who called it “ill judged” and “dangerous.” Likewise it was denounced by the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who denounced it as “monstrous” (despite having made a similar argument himself before taking office.)

It is one that is supported by a majority of the UK public. It also echoes the analysis of more establishment voices, such as former MI5 head Baroness Manningham-Buller, the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Defence Academy, a think tank linked to the Ministry of Defence, all of whom have said that foreign wars, particularly citing the one in Iraq, have increased the threat of terrorism on UK streets.

The media and politicians often talk about the ‘war on terror’ and its resulting wars as if it is a thing of the past. Yet it is still a live policy, and the consequences are still all too real for those in the countries that have been bombed, broken and destabilised.

In the last two weeks alone we have seen a devastating suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed 90 people, confirmation of a US air strike in Iraq that killed over 100 civilians, and scores killed in clashes in Libya. If the end goal was liberation, safety and security then then ‘war on terror’ has failed on its own terms.

All three have been left as ‘failed states’ with limited governance and daily terror threats. Infrastructure and meaningful investment will be essential to turn these dire situations around. Four years on from the bombing of Libya, the UK had spent 13 times more on bombing than it had on rebuilding the country. If there is not a more serious approach to state-building then it is far more likely that they will become safe-havens for terrorists.

The drive for perpetual war and interventionism has been accompanied by an unrelenting commitment to sell arms and cozy up to Gulf dictatorships.

UK arms and political support has played a central role in the brutal two-year long assault that Saudi forces have waged on Yemen. UK fighter jets have flown over Yemen dropping UK-supplied bombs. Over 10,000 people have been killed in a bombardment that has fuelled the ongoing civil war, exacerbated the conditions that groups like Al Qaeda need to thrive, and created a humanitarian catastrophe.

It’s not just Saudi Arabia; the UK has consistently armed brutal and repressive regimes across the region – with little regard for the people the weapons may be used against. At present, two thirds of UK arms exports are going to the Middle East. Since last year’s Brexit vote the signs are that this will only get worse, with government ministers having visited Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Turkey – where there is no doubt arms sales were on the agenda.

There is no way of knowing where these arms could end up. A recent government audit found that the US had lost over $1 billion worth of arms in Iraq, and the problem is hardly unique to them. Last year Amnesty found evidence of UK arms falling into the hands of ISIS in Iraq, an inevitable risk in a region that is awash with weapons and unstable governments.

Not one of these interventions or arms sales has done anything to make people in the UK safer. Little will change if government sticks to the same failed mindset and policies.

If the UK is to play a positive role in the Middle East and beyond, then, irrespective of who wins Thursday’s election, it must work towards a new approach to national security; one that isn’t focused on maximising arms sales, projecting military strength and taking part in catastrophic foreign interventions that leave a trail of destruction and do nothing to keep us safe.

Can there be a green populist project on the Left?

Many on the Left want to return to a politics based on class, not populism. They point to Left populist parties not reaching their goals. But Chantal Mouffe argues that as the COVID-19 pandemic has put the need for protection from harm at the top of the agenda, a Left populist strategy is now more relevant than ever.

Is this an opportunity for a realignment around a green democratic transformation?

Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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