Opinion

Westminster plan to lift cap on nuclear weapons shows why Wales needs control of foreign affairs  

16 Mar 2021 5 minutes Read
Nuclear explosion. By Burnt Pineapple Productions

Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru MP for Arfon

Westminster’s recent review is a missed opportunity to create a truly informed foreign policy.

The Integrated Review, shows it has not learned from the lessons of the last five years by reflecting on and engaging with the interests and priorities of the UK’s nations.

Westminster’s monopoly over foreign affairs leaves us poorer, weaker and more isolated than ever. The Review’s misguided self-importance overlooks the profound changes of the last five years and underlines why Wales must control its own foreign affairs.

Comfortably ignoring the reason behind its inception in the first place, it is a blatant search for purpose and a political fig-leaf by Westminster and Whitehall to legitimise the profound economic, social and cultural disruption that our exit from the European Union has caused.

Yet in its delusion, weaponised by taxpayers’ money and legitimised by revisionist nostalgia, the Review not only further threatens our international credibility but could do real harm to our economic and political interests.

Much has been made of the military dimension of this Review but from the outset, it ignores the tragic reality that the UK failed to achieve through military means its objectives in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or even to an extent, Syria.

Yet despite these failures, the Review demands a further reduction in size of the UK’s conventional military at the same time as hugely expanding their possible deployment as the UK squares up not just to Russia but to China too.

More worryingly, it seems that in its insecure race to be taken seriously in the global order, the UK is outright rejecting a United Nation’s Treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons and increasing our stockpile of these non-deployable, expensive weapons.

Deterrent

Ministers will instead hark on about our ‘independent’ deterrent, ignoring the reality that operationally such weapons could only be used with Washington’s explicit permission and that the Ministry of Defence has failed in forty years to properly decommission any of the nuclear-powered submarines that carry these weapons.

Such developments not only undermine our international credibility but ignore the reality that neither does the UK’s military have the capacity nor would the public even give their consent to such military interventions. Instead, as the presence of US fighter jets on the UK’s sole operational carrier testifies to, the Westminster fundamentally doesn’t have the numbers, wealth or military reach to live up to this Review’s grandstanding military ambitions.

This mismatch extends to the focus on the UK’s diplomatic power and the increasingly unconvincing claim to be an important player in the rules-based world order. Unquantifiable damage has already been done to our international reputation after five years of political chaos over Brexit, and more has been done since as the UK government threatened to break international law over Northern Ireland and implemented a cut to aid to the world’s neediest amidst a global pandemic.

But the issues run deeper and are more systemic. The UK in fact on multiple fronts continues to defy or undermine the key institutions of the multilateral order such as the United Nations.

From outright rejecting UN Court rulings on the UK’s unlawful occupation of the Chagos Islands to continuing to supply arms to conflict zones like Yemen and human rights-abusing regimes, the UK is actively undermining the very system which protects our values, promotes peace and provides forums for dialogue while giving undue freedom and public legitimacy to disrupters like Russia.

Out of step

Taken together, the Review for all of its ambition, reads not only like a military wish-list but reflects a vein of thinking which is profoundly out of step with our times, our capabilities and even our national interest. The time of UK military interventionism is over. Too many of the UK’s proposed diplomatic efforts smack of neo-colonialism and self-interest than genuine engagement.

Instead, what we’re left with is a Review, a pet-project, determined and reflecting the outlook of a small cabal of Westminster politicians, policymakers and experts centred in one corner of the UK. This is not a Review that even attempts to engage with what the UK really is or what its national interests truly are.

Wales is already suffering the consequences of Westminster’s monopoly over foreign affairs as our businesses struggle to export to their largest markets, our ports lie idle and our identity suppressed.

In the name of the new ‘Global Britain’, a misnomer which does not speak for, engage with or hope to represent Wales, our democratic institutions are being undermined and our economy reconfigured by Westminster.

From climate change to trade, human rights to international organisations, Wales can only truly have its say if we take control over our foreign affairs and represent our own national interests on the international stage. The alternative is to live with a worldview, a reputation and an ambition that is not our own and does not serve our interests or our values.

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