Austerity isn’t easy, especially as we don’t actually have it. It’s difficult for Government to select which areas to cut back on, especially when the sensible option of privatisation isn’t on the table, leading to the Coalition to barely cut at all. There is one cut that everyone should support though – defence.
Britain is the worlds 6th largest economy, yet we have the world’s 4th largest defence budget. We spend more in absolute terms than France, Japan and India, and spend a higher percentage of GDP than even America.
It is often said that defence is one of the fundamental duties of Government. However, the military spending we currently pursue is not in-line with defence: it is in-line with offence. We do not need to spend almost $60bn if we just want to defend ourselves. Who is going to attack us? A potential threat is Argentina however the larger threat is in terrorism, which comes about largely due to our military excursions.
If Argentina attacked us we don’t need $60bn worth of Army to repel them; they can’t even keep their ships afloat in their own ports. A small well equipped response force would be adequate to repel attacks on British overseas territories.
Opponents of defence cuts often use the line that you can never be sure of anything, so we need to keep heavily spending on Defence just in case. This is clear nonsense. Even if we were worried the Germans might invade us, we would have two things to protect us: Trident and America. No developed nation would be foolish enough to try and invade a nuclear-armed power. It would require a significant shift in government for a well-armed Western European nation to attack Britain, and if the US is willing to go to war in Libya and Iraq for whatever excuse it can grab at, they would likely jump at the chance of taking on a modern day Hitler.
The defence industry is a hotbed of corporatism: just look at how close the UK Government and BAE have been. The special and vested interests are massive, our continued military expenditure just lines their pockets.
Significant defence cuts would not have to leave us defenceless. Money could be saved through many means: pulling out of all foreign wars would cut expenditure considerably, improving acquisition so the MOD no longer pays £22 for 65p light bulbs (3000% RRP) or £100 for each screw would also help. But fundamentally we should change the Defence department so it is focused on precisely that: defence, where defence is defined as “building our armed forces to defend Britain”. We don’t need huge numbers of tanks or jeeps or troops because we aren’t going to get invaded. We need small rapid response forces that can defend British overseas territory, we need to refocus our Navy and Airforce so it is used for defensive purposes only.
The cost of defending Britain is small, far smaller than our current military spending. It is policing the world that costs us big, both in terms of money, lives and goodwill. If we used the defence budget just for defence we’d be better off, and our public finances would be too.