Unending war

British troops near Basra, Iraq

FRFI 200 December 2007 / January 2008

British military interventions overseas since the end of the Second World War

‘The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilisation lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked.’
Karl Marx

1968 was the only year since the end of the Second World War when British military personnel were not killed on active service. On 12 October 2007 the British monarch unveiled a memorial in Staffordshire bearing the names of almost 16,000 British service men and women killed since 1948. The memorial has space for 15,000 more names. We do not know how many people British armed forces have killed since 1945. Below we list those overseas interventions that the British state acknowledges. Not included are covert excursions whose records are not available.

When British troops were sent to the north of Ireland by the Labour government in 1969, the main British left organisations; the CPGB, Militant, International Socialists (SWP) and the organised labour movement approved. They either did not understand imperialism or chose to side with it. Between 1969 and 2001 3,523 people in the north of Ireland were killed at the expense of 710 British personnel. This was a key struggle for the British ruling class: essential for its political rule.

British overseas assets are now over four times the size of Britain’s gross domestic product. British imperialism is parasitic and aggressive. In 2007-08 Britain will spend £33.4 billion on the military; the world’s second biggest military budget. Britain’s military record since 1945 confirms that Britain is a leading imperialist power. In 2007, while still Prime Minister, Blair said, ‘There are two types of nations similar to ours today. Those who do war fighting and peacekeeping and those who have, effectively, except in the most exceptional circumstances, retreated to peacekeeping alone. Britain does both. We should stay that way. But how do we get the consent to do it?’ That consent comes in various forms.

There are many on the left who, as in 1969, continue to deny the reality of British imperialism and who support the Labour Party. In 1979, the Labour Party left winger Tony Benn argued that, ‘Britain has moved from Empire to Colony status. It is a colony in which the IMF decides our monetary policy, the international and multinational companies decided our industrial policy and the EEC decided our legislation and taxation policies.’ By 2007 the theme had been adjusted, ‘Britain is now, in effect, an American colony, seen in Washington as an unsinkable aircraft carrier.’ Tony Benn is president of the Stop the War Coalition, of which the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) is the largest organised component. The SWP says that Britain is a subsidiary or subordinate power to the US. In Iraq British forces are secondary to those of the US, but to present British imperialism as a supplement or appendage of the US hides the substance and significance of British imperialism that is essential for any socialist movement to understand. This is used to excuse alliances with the Labour Party. The record of British monopoly capitalism’s foreign policy is one of near constant war, millions of deaths and broken lives - the Union Flag atop a mountain of corpses.

The sequence of British governments has been 1945-51 Labour, 1951-64 Conservative, 1964-70 Labour, 1970-74 Conservative, 1974-79 Labour, 1979-97 Conservative, 1997 onwards Labour. Be they Labour or Conservative governments they have demonstrated a readiness to deploy armed force in defence of British imperialism’s interests. To the British left and British people we say New Labour = Old Labour = War Party.

Thomas Atkins and Trevor Rayne

1 1945-46 Java Restoring Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia.
2 1945-47 Italy Occupation army. Clashed with Yugoslav partisans around Trieste.
3 1945-52 Japan Occupation army.
4 1945-55 Germany Occupation army.
5 1945-89 West Germany and West Berlin British soldiers patrolled the borders.
6 1945-55 Austria Occupation army. On
8 May 1945 the end of World War II was signed in Europe and on that day British soldiers clashed with Yugoslav partisans over disputed territory, beginning the Cold War.
7 1945-46 Indo-China Restoring French colonial rule.
8 1945-48 Partition of India.
9 1945-48 Palestine Reinforcing British occupation army until the end of the mandate.
10 1945-48 Greece Participation in civil war against the communists.
11 1946 Albania Royal Navy challenges the Albanian government for control of the straights between the mainland and Corfu.
12 1946 Iran Countering Soviet influence and Kurdish and Azerbaijani republics.
13 1947 Aden Suppression of civil disturbances.
14 1948-49 Germany The Berlin airlift.
15 1948 Gold Coast (Ghana) Suppression of riots.
16 1948 British Honduras (Belize) Threat of Guatemalan invasion.
17 1948-60 Malaya Suppression of communist-led struggle. 350 British soldiers and 159 Gurkhas killed, with 6,710 communists confirmed dead and another 1,000 dead from starvation and illness due to the British strategy. The British Labour government banned several trade unions and imprisoned trade unionists. A 1970 Scotland Yard investigation into the massacre of 24 villagers at Batang Kali was halted by the Conservative government.
18 1948-49 Somalia Preventing re-unification of the country and
maintaining protectorate.
19 1948-51 Eritrea Suppression of the Shifta revolt.
20 1949 China River Yangste incident between the Royal Navy and the People’s Liberation Army.
21 1950 Singapore Suppression of ‘Hartog riots’.
22 1950-53 Korea The Korean war with four million Koreans killed at a cost to the British of 749 British soldiers dead.
23 1951 Iran Aqaba Iranian oil nationalistion.
24 1951-54 Suez Canal Zone.
25 1952-56 Kenya Suppression of the Mau Mau revolt. 11,500 Mau Mau were killed and 1,016 Kenyans were executed for breeching the emergency regulations. Just 12 British soldiers died.
26 1952 Monte Bello island (Bikini atoll) First British atomic bomb test.
27 1953 British Guiana (Guyana) Constitutional crisis. British coup against the elected socialist government of Cheddi Jagan.
28 1954-83 Cyprus Suppression of EOKA and occupation.
29 1954 Egypt Intervention on the Nile.
30 1955 Singapore Suppression of riots.
31 1955 Buraimi Oasis Preventing incursion from Saudi Arabia and its allies.
32 1955-60 Yemen border incidents.
33 1956 Bahrain Suppression of riots.
34 1956 Hong Kong Suppression of riots.
35 1956 Singapore Suppression of riots.
36 1956 Egypt Suez crisis and invasion.
37 1957-59 Muscat and Oman Suppression of resistance struggle.
38 1957 British Honduras (Belize) Threat of invasion from Guatemala.
39 1958 Nassau (Bahamas) General strike.
40 1958 Iraq Military coup ousts King Faisal II.
41 1958 Jordan Military assistance to regime following Iraq coup.
42 1958 Kuwait Iraqi General Qasim claims Kuwait is part of Iraq.
43 1958 Lebanon Attempt to bolster pro-western Christian government.
44 1958 Nyasaland (Malawi) Suppression of riots.
45 1958 North Atlantic ‘Cod War I’ Iceland extends territorial waters from four to 12 miles.
46 1959 Gan (Maldives) Suppression of riots.
47 1960 Jamaica Suppression of Rastafarian uprising.
48 1960-61 Cameroons Aid to the government.
49 1961 Kuwait Prevention of Iraqi incursion.
50 1961 Zanzibar (Tanzania) Suppression of revolt.
51 1961 British Honduras (Belize) Imposing order after Hurricane Hattie.
52 1962-70 Yemen Civil war. Britain sided with Royalists. 200,000 Yemenis killed.
53 1962 British Honduras (Belize) Suppression of Belize Freedom Fighters.
54 1962 British Guiana (Guyana) Suppression of Georgetown riots.
55 1962 Brunei Suppression of revolt.
56 1962-66 Malaysia Confrontation with Indonesia.
57 1962-75 Vietnam Support of US war (see FRFI 196 April/May 2007).
58 1963-66 Borneo Counter-revolutionary intervention. British Labour defence minister Denis Healey said that the Borneo campaign would be recorded ‘in the history books...as one of the most efficient uses of military force in the history of the world’. Total British and Commonwealth forces dead were 114 with considerably more than 600 Indonesians killed.
59 1963-67 Aden Attempted suppression of socialist-led national liberation struggle.
60 1963-64 British Guiana (Guyana) Suppression of riots and enforcement of State of Emergency against the elected socialist government of Cheddi Jagan.
61 1963 Swaziland Reinforcements sent to cover period of strike.
62 1963 Zanzibar (Tanzania) Preparations for election.
63 1964 Yemen Radfan campaign against socialist-led revolutionaries.
64 1964 Zanzibar (Tanzania) Suppression of revolt.
65 1964 Tanganyika (Tanzania) Army mutiny.
66 1964 Uganda Army mutiny.
67 1964 Kenya Army mutiny.
68 1964 British Guiana (Guyana) Communal riots.
69 1965 Mauritius Suppression of riots.
70 1965 Bechuanaland (Botswana) Guarding the BBC’s Francistown radio station.
71 1966 Indonesia British Special Forces participate in coup which results in approximately one million people killed, many of them communists and communist supporters.
72 1966 Hong Kong Suppression of riots.
73 1966 Das Island Abu Dhabi oil dispute.
74 1966 Seychelles Suppression of riots against detachment of island possessions.
75 1967 Hong Kong Suppression of Red Guard riots.
76 1967 Libya Guarding oil installations and preventing coup against King Idris.
77 1968 Bermuda State of Emergency.
78 1968 Mauritius State of Emergency.
79 1969 Antigua Operation Sheepskin against a civil uprising.
80 1969 Anguilla Suppression of uprising.
81 1969 onwards North of Ireland Suppression of revolt – between 1969 and 2001 3,523 people and 710 British serving troops were killed.
82 1970 Cayman Islands Suppression of opposition to colonial rule.
83 1970 British Honduras (Belize) Guatemalan invasion threat.
84 1970 Jordan ‘Black September’ Operation Shoveller to protect King Hussein against an uprising in support of the Palestinians who were under attack from Jordanian troops. This was a critical intervention shaping the Middle East henceforward.
85 1971-76 Dhofar (Oman) Suppression of socialist-led revolt.
86 1972 Bomb scare on Queen Elizabeth II.
87 1972-73 North Atlantic ‘Cod War II’ Iceland extends territorial waters from 12 to 50 miles.
88 1973 Egypt RAF moves UN troops after Yom Kippur war.
89 1973 Pakistan/Bangladesh Operation Lucan RAF assist in exchange of refugees.
90 1973 Bermuda British governor and his assistant assassinated, State of Emergency imposed. Alleged assassin hanged, although the death penalty had been abolished in Britain it continued in the colonies.
91 1974 Malta Defence of British bases during anti-crown disturbances. Premier Dom Mintoff declared Malta a republic and negotiated end of bases by 1979.
92 1974 Falkland Islands/Malvinas Tensions over possession with Argentinian government.
93 1974 Kuwait.
94 1974 Diego Garcia (Indian Ocean) Removal of population. Labour government purchased the Chagos Islands from Mauritius for £3 million.
95 1974 Gibraltar.
96 1974 Cyprus Operation Ablant evacuation of British nationals after Turkey invaded.
97 1975-76 North Atlantic ‘Cod War III’ Iceland extended territorial waters from 50 to 200 miles.
98 1977 British Honduras (Belize) Guatemala invaded.
99 1977 Somalia British Special Forces supported their West German counterparts at Mogadishu airport after the Red Army Faction hijacked a Boeing 737.
100 1978 Lebanon Supporting UN force; transporting Fijian troops via Tel Aviv en route to Lebanon.
101 1979 Iran Revolution Evacuation of westerners.
102 1979-84 Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
103 1980 New Hebrides Operation Titan Royal Marines suppress civil unrest
104 1982 Falklands Islands/Malvinas war against Argentina.
105) 1982 Egypt Part of UN force stationed in Sinai.
106 1983 Lebanon stationed in Beirut.
107 1983 Aden/Yemen Evacuation of British nationals.
108 1986 Gibraltar Reinforcement of air defences after US bombed Libya.
109 1986 Cyprus Reinforcement of Akrotiri base after US bombed Libya.
110 1987-88 Dubai Persian Gulf minesweeping by Royal Navy and RAF.
111 1988 Gibraltar SAS assassinated three Provisional IRA volunteers.
112 1991 Gulf War I.
113 1991-2003 Iraq RAF bombing raids and enforcement of no-fly zones.
114 1992 onwards (Bosnia) Yugoslavia.
115 1994 Yemen Evacuation of embassy.
116 1994 Kuwait Operation Driver to reinforce British garrison and warn Iraqi regime against invasion.
117 1995 Angola Operation Chantress with UN after civil war.
118 1997 Congo Operation Determinate to evacuate British nationals caught up in
civil war.
119 1998 Congo Operation Ladbrook to evacuate British nationals.
120 1999 onwards Kosovo with NATO force.
121 1999 East Timor Part of UN contingent.
122 2000 East Timor With UN force.
123 2000 Sierra Leone Intervention in civil war and attacks on Gambia.
124 2001 Macedonia Operation Essential Harvest to disarm Albanian irregular troops.
125 2001 onwards Afghanistan.
126 2003 onwards Iraq.
127 2003 Congo Operation Coral with the UN on ‘stabilisation duties’.
128 2003 Sierra Leone Operation Keeling to retrieve British soldiers captured by ‘West End Boys’.
129 2004 Cote D’Ivoire Operation Phillis to evacuate British nationals.

‘My name is O’Kelly, I’ve heard the revelly
From Birr to Bareilly, from Leeds to Lahore
Hong Kong and Peshawur,
Lucknow and Etawah,
And fifty five more all ending in "pore’’.’

Rudyard Kipling


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