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Editorial Rule Britannia? Lessons for the left from the Henry Jackson Society

COMING so soon after Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s stated ambition to found new British military bases in the Americas and the Far East, the Henry Jackson Society’s latest findings on our country’s “great power” status deserve attention.

Not because anyone on the left would give the time of day to the Henry Jackson Society. This aggressive Atlanticist neoconservative think tank shares neither values nor goals with the socialist left. This skews an analysis which triumphantly maintains the continued global dominance of “Western” powers, and concludes — the counter-intuitive headline-grabber to ensure widespread media coverage — that Britain is still the number two power globally, ahead of China and way ahead of Russia.

Parts of its assessment are indeed clouded by ideology. Countries are assessed by many factors, some subjective. Russia and China are both scored down on “cultural prestige” and “national resolve,” for example. 

George Allison’s observations in his useful analysis of the report in the UK Defence Journal make it clear that this is not a dig at the Bolshoi Theatre or Ming ceramics, but an indicator of political disagreement: China apparently lacks “established freedoms needed to unleash and sustain a creative economy, combined with effective government.” 

Difficult to explain, then, why China’s economic growth continues to put that of all other major economies in the shade, or why its advances in robotics and artificial intelligence have spooked the White House into throwing a tantrum-cum-trade war.

The description of Russia as “corrupt, unruly and unresponsive” might be closer to the mark, but compared to our country where consultancy firms with clients in private healthcare get to draft legislation affecting the NHS, or to the United States where the president’s daughter and son-in-law stand to cash in heavily from government policies they have pushed through, the Putin regime’s record is unremarkable.

So the Audit of Geopolitical Capability 2019 should be read discerningly. But it does offer a useful window into the multifarious ways in which power is exercised on a global level, especially via foreign direct investment and even aid budgets. In Britain the latter often now function as funds for assisting businesses abroad, including by promoting the privatisation of utilities and services in other countries — British aid money helped facilitate the privatisation of electricity in Nigeria and the expansion of fee-paying Bridge International schools in Kenya and Uganda.

The Henry Jackson Society has amassed a wealth of evidence that Britain is still a leading imperialist power with corporate interests on every continent.

Its audit is a weapon in a ruling class tug of war: chief analyst James Rogers’s claim that “Brexit has had no discernible impact on the UK’s fundamental ability to apply itself around the world” will be contested by Remainers who hold EU membership is our key to global influence, and championed by right-wing Brexit backers who long for a Britain that, in Jeremy Corbyn’s phrase, “rules the waves and waives the rules.”

More important for the left is recognising that our current role is predatory. The British military is a regional enforcer for the US-led Nato alliance, engaging in disastrous and illegal wars like those which destroyed Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. These do not improve the lives of people in Britain, but instead have empowered terrorist movements that claim lives on our own streets as well as across the Middle East.

The City is a hub of global finance and an international centre of money-laundering and speculation. The result for Britain’s people has been a property bubble pricing millions out of the right to a home and the neglect of productive industry across our countries, a lopsided economy, mass unemployment, technological stagnation.

Time for a fundamental rethink of what makes a country great. Reshaping Britain in the interests of its people means abandoning sabre-rattling and investing in international co-operation, peace and an economy that leaves no-one behind.

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