All three main political parties propose cuts in government spending. But even though the war in Afghanistan is increasingly costly in lives and money, there's no way public sector services will be maintained by cutting the military budget or withdrawing the troops.
Of course, even defence spending isn't immune from cuts. Gordon Brown has announced that Britain could cut down on nuclear submarines, from four to three. This is only an economy measure and nothing to do with disarmament as they have the idea that with improved technology three new subs will provide the same cover as four Tridents - and there are no plans for any reductions in warheads. The Tories and LibDems have also been talking about defence cuts, but, like Labour, will not do anything to jeopardise the military needs of British imperialism.
When it comes to the war in Afghanistan, there is a call for more troops, not less. US military commander Gen Stanley McChrystal has asked for up to 40,000 more, in addition to the 21,000 that Obama sent earlier this year. This is on top of the 100,000 foreign troops already there. And not forgetting that the conflict has spread to Pakistan. Meanwhile the deaths of Afghans and soldiers from the occupying forces mount up every day, and those who genuinely want an end to the brutality of imperialist conflict get more frustrated as their protests fall on deaf ears.
The ruling class cannot do without its military ...
Although the promises to cut defence spending are probably empty, and definitely hypocritical, it is being talked about. So when people look at the resources devoted to warmongering there's bound to be a contrast with the huge unmet needs of the population: schools, social care for the elderly, health, housing etc.... Stop the War links to a US website (costofwar.com) that will calculate how much of what we need could be provided with the resources spent on military hardware and imperialist campaigns. This gives a good idea of our rulers' priorities, but can it really do any more than this? The experience of the last century shows that military spending eats up whatever proportion of the state's resources it needs in the advancement of British imperialism's interests. There were cuts in the numbers of the armed forces in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Russian bloc and the end of the Cold War, but there was no ‘peace dividend'. There was recession, unemployment in Britain rising to a peak of three million in 1992, and the first Gulf War, which was followed by the war in ex-Yugoslavia ...
But whatever the state of its finances, and despite being forced to retreat over the decades, British imperialism still tries to maintain what it can of its global influence. Even if it was already in decline a century ago Britain did once ‘rule the waves' and developed interests all over the world through trade, and through its enormous financial centre in the City of London. And Britain has always tried to defend these interests with military force. To this day, in the words of the CIA Factbook, it "pursues a global approach to foreign policy" . For this it maintains the 4th largest defence budget in the world, and has technically advanced armed forces, even if they are overstretched and under resourced for all its tasks. Arms industries are also important for the British economy, the world's second biggest arms exporter, with a turnover of £35 billion and making up 10% of industrial jobs. The state cannot stop underwriting this industry.
The UK finds itself caught between its economic decline, particularly in relation to its competitors, and its need to maintain its status: "If politicians wish to avoid the dwindling international influence that a diminished military presence means, they must make deeper cuts in other budgets" (Economist 26/9/9). Demonstrations, public opinion and elections, let alone workers' needs for health, housing and education, will not change British imperialism's priorities.
... nor give up its imperialist wars
Britain's close following and support for the US in Afghanistan, and two Gulf wars have been a constant target on ‘Stop the War' demonstrations.
The reason Britain so often follows the USA is that it cannot defend its widespread interests on its own. It is too weak economically and militarily, and has to rely on America's greater strength. Those powers that opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, France, Germany and Russia, did so because that war was against their interests and could only weaken them in relation to their more powerful competitor. Britain had different interests.
Afghanistan has been ravaged by war for nearly three decades. In Afghanistan in the early 1980s the US and Britain supported the Mujahadin against the Russian occupiers. When the Russians left, the various Mujahadin were left to fight it out between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. And what if the current NATO troops withdrew from Afghanistan? This would certainly pave the way for other imperialist powers to pursue their interests through warring client groups - just like the Mujahadin were used against the Russians - and for the small groups to carry on their conflicts among themselves with the aid of weapons supplied by their backers.
Different countries have different interests, but none of them can stand aloof from imperialist war.
Workers have no nation to defend
According to many polls public opinion is against sending more troops to Afghanistan. How is ‘public opinion' to achieve this? In 2003 millions of people marching on the streets of Britain, the US, and elsewhere, did not prevent the invasion of Iraq. Subsequent massive demonstrations brought no change to imperialist policies. It is only the militant struggle of the working class that can hold back the ruling class - in both its attacks on living standards and its foreign imperialist adventures. The fact that there has been no world war for decades is partly because the ruling class is not confident that it can mobilise the working class to fight for capitalist interests. The working class has not, however, been able to prevent local wars which continue to proliferate and spread destruction.
The left in Britain, as elsewhere, from Respect MP George Galloway to the Stop The War Coalition and the various leftist groups, all claim to be opponents of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But at the same time they tell us to support the supposedly ‘anti-imperialist' struggle of the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other nationalist gangs.
Capitalism will not stop its warmongering. All nation states are imperialist, and nationalists who aspire to set up their own nation states are only imperialist powers in waiting. Workers' only response, whether to cuts or to imperialist war, is to struggle together, to try to overcome the divisions imposed on us, to spread our resistance across all war fronts and national frontiers.