A report produced by Declassified UK has shone a light on the global reach of the British military, revealing a vast network of bases, installations, and test sites.
It turns out that, unbeknownst to the vast majority of the British public, Britain has a permanent military presence at 145 base sites in 42 countries, making it the second-largest military network in the world after that of the United States. The base sites include 60 controlled directly by Britain and another 85 operated by its allies and accessible when required.
The report is invaluable reading for all those who wish to understand the nefarious actions of the British military in the service of imperialism, from supporting repressive regimes in the middle east to maintaining a military presence in former colonies in Africa and Latin America. Details concerning China and Russia offer a particularly grim reminder of the drive towards another global conflagration being pursued by Britain and its allies.
Encircling and spying on China
According to Declassified’s report, Britain has military base sites in five countries that border China. These include a naval logistics base at Sembawang Wharf in Singapore, where eight British military staff are permanently based. The base provides Britain with a commanding position overlooking the Malacca strait, the world’s busiest shipping lanes and a key choke point for vessels sailing from the South China Sea into the Indian Ocean.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has previously told Declassified: “Singapore is a strategically important location for commerce and trade.” Singapore’s most elite police unit is recruited by British soldiers and commanded by British military veterans.
As well as having a naval base on the rim of the South China Sea, the British military has an even more central basing location in Brunei, near the disputed Spratly islands.
The Sultan of Brunei pays for British military support in order to stay in power, while British oil giant Shell has a major stake in Brunei’s oil and gas fields.
Britain has three garrisons in Brunei – Sittang Camp, Medicina Lines and Tuker Lines – where around half of Britain’s Gurkha soldiers are permanently based.
Declassified files show that in 1980, British troops in Brunei were based on land provided by Shell in the middle of the oil company’s headquarters complex. Special accommodation for British troops is provided in 545 apartments and bungalows in Kuala Belait, near the military bases.
Elsewhere in Brunei, 27 British troops are on loan to the Sultan at three locations, including the Muara naval base. Their roles include imagery analysis and sniper instruction.
Declassified has found that Britain also has around 60 personnel spread across Australia. Some 25 of these hold defence attache roles at the British high commission in Canberra and at Australian defence department sites near the capital, including the Headquarters Joint Operations Command at Bungendore.
The remainder are on exchange to 18 separate Australian military bases, including a warrant officer at Australia’s electronic warfare unit in Cabarlah, Queensland.
Four Royal Air Force (RAF) officers are based at the Williamtown airfield in New South Wales, where they are learning to fly the Wedgetail radar plane.
The MoD is also testing its high-altitude Zephyr surveillance drone at an Airbus site in the remote settlement of Wyndham in Western Australia. Declassified understands from a freedom of information response that MoD staff visit the test site but are not based there.
The Zephyr, which is designed to fly in the stratosphere and could be used to spy on China, has crashed twice during testing at Wyndham. Another high-altitude drone, the PHASA-35, is being tested by staff at the arms corporation BAE Systems in conjunction with the British military’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Woomera, South Australia.
Airbus also operates a ground station for the Skynet 5A military communications satellite on behalf of the MoD at Mawson Lakes in Adelaide. At least one British naval commander is known to be based in the coastal city.
A further 10 British military personnel are based at unspecified locations in New Zealand. Parliamentary data from 2014 showed that their roles included working as navigators on a P-3K Orion aircraft, which can be used for maritime surveillance.
Meanwhile in Nepal, on China’s western flank close to Tibet, the British army runs at least three facilities. These include Gurkha recruitment camps in Pokhara and Dharan and administrative facilities in the capital Kathmandu.
Britain’s use of young Nepalese men as soldiers has continued despite a Maoist government coming to power in Kathmandu.
In Afghanistan, where peace talks are now under way between the government and the Taliban, British forces have long maintained a rapid reaction force at the international airport in Kabul, as well as providing mentoring at the Infantry Branch School and the Afghan national army officers’ academy. The latter, known as ‘Sandhurst in the Sand’, was built with £75m of British money.
Around 10 personnel are based in Pakistan, where roles have included teaching pilots at the air force academy in Risalpur.
Ratcheting up tensions with Russia
In addition, Britain continues to ratchet up ongoing tensions with Russia by maintaining a military presence in at least six European countries as well as at Nato administrative sites.
Britain continues to run four base sites in Germany that house 540 personnel, despite a 10-year drive called ‘Operation Owl’ to scale down its cold war-era network.
Two barracks remain in Sennelager in northern Germany, with a vast vehicle depot in Mönchengladbach and a munitions storage facility in Wulfen on a site originally built by slave labour for the Nazis.
In Norway, the British military has a helicopter base codenamed ‘Clockwork’ at Bardufoss airport, deep in the Arctic Circle. The base is frequently used for mountain warfare exercises and lies 350 miles from the headquarters of Russia’s northern fleet in Severomorsk near Murmansk.
Since the fall of the USSR, Britain has expanded its military presence into former Soviet bloc states. Twenty UK military personnel are currently on loan to the Czech military academy in Vyškov.
Closer to Russia’s border, the RAF bases Typhoon fighter jets at Estonia’s Amari air base and Lithuania’s Siauliai air base, from where they can intercept Russian jets over the Baltic as part of Nato’s so-called ‘air policing’ (ie, spying) mission
Accelerating preparations for war
Imperialist forces are seeking to re-assert themselves in Asia in a desperate attempt to contain the rise of China.
In October, at a
Carleton-Smith explained that greater numbers of forward positions will “provide ‘lily pads’ to enable understanding, change narratives, provide reassurance to allies and deterrence for adversaries and to secure economic interests for the promotion of shared prosperity. In short, they will give the UK more strategic choice and influence.”
Going further, he added: “We think there is a market for a more persistent presence from the British army (in Asia).”
In early September, Carleton-Smith’s superior chief of the defence staff General Sir Nick Carter spoke with more caution when he said that the military’s future “posture will be engaged and forward deployed”.
It therefore comes as no surprise that in mid-November Boris Johnson announced an extra £16bn in funding for the military over the next four years – a 10 percent increase in the current budget. The money will be used to create a national cyber force and space command as well as to establish a military artificial intelligence agency and develop next-generation fighter jet and drone programmes. The majority of the budget will be spent on the Royal Navy, with plans for 13 more frigates and support ships for the new aircraft carriers.
Next year, the Royal Navy’s new £3bn aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will take part in US-Japanese military exercises in the South China Sea to threaten China.
For imperialist powers like the US and Britain, which seek confrontation with independent countries such as China and Russia, war is merely a means to compel other states to do their will when sanctions and trade wars do not produce the desired effect. A military victory would create a political environment that would allow them to exploit people and resources that were once inaccessible to them – or at least inaccessible on their preferred terms.
As Vladimir Lenin correctly pointed out: “Imperialism is the epoch of finance capital and of monopolies, which introduce everywhere the striving for domination, not for freedom. Whatever the political system, the result of these tendencies is everywhere reaction and an extreme intensification of antagonisms in this field.” Moreover, “Finance capital does not want liberty, it wants domination”; “Domination, and the violence that is associated with it, such are the relationships that are typical of the ‘latest phase of capitalist development’.” (VI Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1916, Chapters 9, 6 and 1)
It may have been reduced to the status of a second-class imperialist power, but Britain has lost none of its dreams of global domination. After a century and more of decline, however, our rulers’ dreams can only be kept alive by their acting as hod carriers for the USA, the world’s biggest and strongest imperialist bully.
None of this is to the benefit of workers at home, who face a double threat from the British monopolists’ irrational rule – the deepening of their poverty and the inexorable drive towards a bloody third world war.
Workers have no interest in sending their sons and daughters to kill and be killed in the defence of imperialist profits. We must refuse to cooperate in any way with the imperialist drive to war and continue to demand:
Hands off Russia and China!