It was recently announced that the UK is to increase its defence budget by around £16.5 billion over the next four years. The figure reportedly amounts to an investment in space technology, cyber defences and artificial intelligence, such as automated vehicles, weaponry and drones.
The government has said this is necessary to ensure the UK is adequately protected against future attacks. Yet, the question of who this attack is to come from remains unanswered.
What has emerged, however, is the knowledge that large parts of the UK consumer market are sustained by partnership with China. A significant proportion of consumer goods bought and sold in the UK are manufactured in China, as are many of the precious materials used in UK manufacturing. Many of these goods are themselves then purchased by economic tourists from China.
Similarly, a big proportion of UK office buildings and retail units are owned by citizens of Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. These properties generate invaluable revenue within the economy, through the payment of rent and business rates.
The UK agriculture industry is likewise closely tied to international relations, such as with Brazil. Much of the meat stocked in UK supermarkets comes from Brazil, and UK-bred livestock is also fed on soya-derived animal feed, which is imported from Brazil.
All across the world, we see increasing interconnectivity, reliance on global supply chains and mutual engagement in capitalism. So, in light of this, it seems ludicrous to imagine that the UK would come under any kind of attack that could be defended by physical means.
It seems more likely that any ‘attack’ would be insidious, part of a gradual campaign which subtly changes the perception and expectations of a broad section of the population. This would cause the kind of destabilisation which inhibits growth and development. It would also position the UK within a perpetual internal conflict, while other countries would use the same period of time to innovate and advance.
At an individual level, we experience this kind of internal conflict relatively frequently. Humans have so much information to process and it is inevitable that not all of this information will align with our particular way of seeing the world. Similar to the UK increasing its defence budget, we ramp up our internal defences in response to anxiety.
Individually, much of this ill-fitting material is simply resisted, batted away by the mind’s gatekeeper, the preconscious, before we are even aware of it on a conscious level. If we have labelled someone as unpleasant, for example, we are likely to actively not notice their positive characteristics and jump to conclusions which support our initial judgement.
It won’t even occur to us to stop and objectively assess the context in which we see this person, because a biased version of events will have settled into our minds so quickly that there is no need to process it. The result is that we have psychic evidence supporting our view of this person and don’t feel any of the anxiety caused by dissonant information which would challenge this view.
The occasions when we notice our anxiety are those in which the defence takes place at a conscious level. These are the times when something jars in such a way that we cannot help but give attention to it, or when our usual preconscious, gatekeeping function is impaired or overwhelmed.
In these instances, our psychic defence systems need more investment. This may involve rewriting the existing model we hold in our minds, essentially changing our expectations or perceived norms to resolve the incongruity, or even activating an emergency response.
This is thought to stimulate a social reaction, encouraging other people to provide support so that we can cope with the situation. Without support, overwhelming anxiety can lead to a breakdown in the ability to function. This resistance-anxiety interaction is just one of the many defence mechanisms we employ on an individual level. It is also a way of thinking about the UK’s prioritisation of military spending.
A narrative has emerged in which the UK is positioned as an independent nation surrounded by larger blocs, which have whittled down the global authority once held by the UK. Conflict then emerges between the UK’s desire to escape the imagined caul of external authority and the reality that the UK is dependent on good relations with these larger blocs for required resources.
The factual accuracy of this narrative is irrelevant, as contradictory evidence is disregarded, and is batted away before it enters the cultural consciousness. This can be seen in the disparity between MPs who claimed a Brexit deal would be ‘easy’ shamelessly changing positions and also declaring that not having a deal is a ‘good outcome’.
The very interconnectivity which allows for global supply chains and international investment of capital is also the reason that evidence conflicting with the UK exceptionalism narrative has become increasingly difficult to ignore.
The result is national dissonance; this requires defence in order to avoid anxiety and breakdown. The UK’s response is to double down on defences in an attempt to produce a sense of security, protection from the fantasy of external threat. Rather than working to resolve the cause of the anxiety, instead increasing the military budget feels like refusing to acknowledge anxiety at all – positioning the gatekeeper behind thicker psychic walls to prevent any conflicting reality from interacting with the fantasy.
The harsh reality remains that, with or without EU membership, the UK is not alone but part of an interconnected global network. Such a network means that there are no looming enemies; we are all allies and desires for a large defence budget are ill-founded.