The Aukus security pact between Australia, Britain and the US (Size of UK’s nuclear submarine fleet could double under Aukus plans, 13 March), together with news of the second rise in defence spending in two years, is shocking and alarming. Shocking, because it comes at a time when our vital public services are crying out for funding; alarming because, at a time when building bridges and serious cooperation are needed to address the existential climate crisis, we are going all out to intensify hostility with China and affirm the dominance of the west.
The building of nuclear submarines will, of course, create employment, along with profits for the companies involved, and that is true of all the other armaments that are to be manufactured. But the arms industry consumes energy, and the emissions caused will drive climate change. War and its preparations are the planet’s greatest enemy. The equivalent resources put into building capacity for clean energy would be the means to end our dependence on fossil fuels and help protect our imperilled planet. Likewise, the rebuilding of our depleted diplomatic service could help build positive relationships rather than enmity.
The prime minister’s refreshed review of security and foreign policy notably goes out of its way to press the case for a domestic nuclear energy strategy (Sunak’s focus may be on China, but it’s Europe’s security that is vital for the UK, 12 March). In committing to “proactively look for opportunities to align delivery of the civil and defence nuclear enterprises”, a long-hidden military dependency on civilian infrastructures is at last openly admitted. Nuclear submarines would be too costly to build and maintain without an “industrial base” largely funded by elevated consumer electricity bills.
Until now, these military costs have been invisibly subsidised, outside the defence budget, off the public books and beyond proper accountability. As a result, climate action has been less effective, more costly and slower than would otherwise be achievable by what the National Infrastructure Commission rightly identifies as more affordable and renewable alternatives. So this newfound candour is welcome. But is this military-nuclear empire bling worth this crippling cost? Now they are no longer deniable, perhaps the issues at stake can at last be democratically debated?
Prof Andy Stirling
University of Sussex
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