Militarism & the Populist Playbook

Craig Murray says atavism and racism are the easiest way to political success, despite the demonstrably catastrophic consequences. 

Protester in London marking third anniversary of the U.K.-backed Saudi terror bombing campaign of Yemen, March 2018. (Alisdare Hickson, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Craig Murray

Why militarism is such a surefire winner for populists is an interesting question, to which the answer is probably an unpleasant reflection on human nature. Atavism and racism are the easiest way to political success, despite the demonstrably catastrophic consequences.

For an economically dominant power to allocate its resources under the influence of militarism, and then project the resulting capability for extreme violence on less wealthy or organized states, is the time-honored way for populist politicians to satisfy the atavistic urge they have whipped up, while minimizing the catastrophic consequences at home.

U.K. military power is not for “defence” and has never been for “defence” since the formation of the U.K.. It is for the projection of military power abroad. The destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen are all, in varying degrees, the result of the application of U.K. military force on weaker states. 

[Jumps to left: “Countries U.K. has not invaded.”]

These countries were unable to offer any significant military response; the major cost to the U.K. of destroying them has been the cost of munitions, supply and pay. Costs in British servicemen injured or maimed has been terrible for the individuals concerned but politicians don’t care; indeed our casualties are unrelentingly put to the service of whipping up more jingoism and militarism. British killed and maimed is of course a tiny number compared to the killed or maimed which Britain has inflicted. 

Arguments for More Invasion & Killing

There are other costs, of course. Almost all the terrorism in the U.K. has been blowback terrorism from this destruction abroad. There have also been resultant refugee flows which have disturbed the political equilibrium of all of Europe. But remarkably neo-conservative politicians are able to fashion those consequences into arguments for us to invade and kill still more frequently abroad.

Boris Johnson after winning election for prime minister. (YouTube)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of an extra £16 billion of defence spending will be wildly popular with his electoral base, who love a bit of jingoism. It will be wildly popular with his members of Parliament, because nothing lines the pockets of politicians and their close business associates as reliably as “defence” spending – except for Covid spending, but that giant chance to plunder the public purse will run out soon. In a country that could not afford to feed school children, a country that starves asylum seekers and lets kids drown in the channel rather than take them in, £16 billion extra to blow up other countries is no problem.

It is four times the amount of new money the government pledged yesterday to tackle the actual existential threat of climate change. To be spent instead on tackling a pretend existential threat. The idea that Russia or China wants to invade the U.K. is an utter nonsense. Neither has any plans to do so, nor has ever had any plans to do so.

Keir Starmer at U.K. Labour Party leadership election hustings in Bristol, Feb. 1, 2020. (Rwendland,CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The U.K. has not been at war with either Russia or China for 150 years. We are however doing our best to provoke conflict, with billions more going into avowedly offensive cyber capability targeted on Russia and China. You also do not have to be a devotee of Isaac Asimov to understand that the pouring of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into the specific purpose of designing artificial intelligence to kill people is not necessarily a good long term goal. The advantage of these areas of spending for Tories is of course that outcomes are nebulous and thus the scope for super-profits and for corruption is simply enormous.

As I said, militarism is a very successful part of the populist brand. You therefore have this vast waste of money on offensive military capability being hailed by Labour under Keir Starmer, the right-wing Muppet who leads the U.K.’s laughingly titled opposition. You also have, not coincidentally, a defence paper published on Tuesday by the Scottish National Party  which tries to outflank the Tories from the right in extreme Sinophobia and Russophobia and proposes continued operations from Scottish bases post-independence by both U.S. and English armed forces. 

With the ousting of the left from Labour and the astonishing rightward gallop of the SNP, there is currently no realistic route to oppose militarism available in the U.K.’s – or Scotland’s – so called democratic electoral system.

Craig Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.  His coverage is entirely dependent on reader support. Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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3 comments for “Militarism & the Populist Playbook

  1. December 4, 2020 at 01:18

    All “populists” are not militarists. To imply such means you don’t know or care about the virtues of good populism, the drive to bring the power, the decision-making, down to the People.

    A soft-ball form of righteous populism can be seen on “Rising” with Krystal Ball and Saager Enjeti.

  2. Philip Reed
    December 3, 2020 at 11:21

    Craig paints a very depressing picture regarding any hope of curbing the madness being indulged in by the UK ruling class. Most depressing of all is the complete takeover of the Labour Party. Blair was bad enough but now he seems actually normal by comparison.
    I just can’t believe there isn’t a groundswell within the British public that can resist these suicidal policies.
    I do take issue with Craig’s view that “ populists” are the drivers of this militaristic adventurism. Neocons and neoliberalism would be more accurate. Populists in the US ,in particular, those that agree with Trumpian policy are clearly against “ endless war”. Agreed they are fora strong military,but justify that stance as peace through strength.
    Fortress America if like.
    Finally, for Britain to pursue a policy of aggressive confrontation towards Russia or China is suicidal madness considering the entire island could be literally blown out of the water in one strike. Welcome to the nuclear age where diplomatic engagements have never been more required. Mr.Lavrov is patiently waiting . Are there any in Britain or the US these days of his caliber? It’s a real problem.

  3. Donald Duck
    December 3, 2020 at 08:25

    Yep, like the man said. ‘War is a racket.’ Why is it that war, militarism and imperialism as so popular, among the chattering classes at least. This didn’t used to be the case a few decades ago. But now the neo-conservative war agenda seems to be regarded as sexy and chic. These armchair warriors both readers and consumers readily imbibe this abject trash. The working class, unemployed and deplorables as somewhat less enamoured however; getting killed on some distant foreign field doesn’t seem like an appealing idea. The liberal/neo-con warmongers of the R2P (aka mass murder from the air) variety seem enthralled at such a prospect.

    Of course this speaks volumes of the moral and literacy of the west. In a period of societal decay it cannot be otherwise.

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