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DEFENCE Secretary Gavin Williamson has been roundly condemned by peace and veterans campaigners, who accused him of squandering money on military adventures and neglecting troops when they return home.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute yesterday, Mr Williamson laid out his plans to develop two “strike groups, complete with escorts, support vessels and helicopters,” based east and west of the Suez canal.
He announced that Britain’s new aircraft carrier will sail to the Pacific as part of her maiden mission, which will be seen as provocative by China.
Mr Williamson spoke fervently in favour of expeditionary warfare, claiming that the cost of non-intervention was “unacceptably high.”
He said Britain cannot “walk on by when others are in need” in case the country becomes seen as “nothing more than a paper tiger.”
Mr Williamson also championed Britain’s network of foreign military bases, listing 10 by name, before saying: “I believe that we need to go further, considering what permanent presence we might need in areas including the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific to extend our global influence.”
However, he did not specify where these new bases would be located.
In his 30-plus-minute speech he failed to mention veterans at all.
Ex-soldier Gus Hales, who is campaigning for better treatment for veterans, told the Morning Star that this was another “betrayal” by the Ministry of Defence.
“The money is there for the weapons but not the aftercare,” he said. “The generals want more tanks, the admirals want more ships and the air marshals want more planes. Veterans are left as a charity basket-case.”
Mr Hales highlighted a report written in 2007 by the army’s top doctor, who warned MPs: “We expect significant growth in the number of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] cases over the next 13 years. These are not short-term problems. PTSD is a lifetime injury.”
Anti-war activists were just as outraged. Peace Pledge Union spokesman Symon Hill accused Mr Williamson of “staggering hypocrisy.”
“He has spoken today in favour of military intervention against regimes that ‘flout international law’,” said Mr Hill.
“As he speaks, the Royal Air Force are training Saudi pilots … These are the same Saudi pilots who are bombing civilian targets in Yemen, often with British-made weapons.
Stop the War Coalition convener Lindsey German said: “Williamson is part of a government presiding over damaging austerity but constantly argues for more military spending to increase these damaging interventions.”
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said Britain should focus instead on “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.”
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