Over the past several weeks the country has had to endure the terrible return of the kind of rhetoric we became used to under the Blair administration. Regarding the recent troubles in Mali and the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism in the region David Cameron declared with self indulgent pomposity:
‘We are in the midst of a generational struggle, we must beat them militarily, we must close down the ungoverned space in which they thrive.’
This hyperbole refers to a few thousand extremists spread across North Africa who pose absolutely no fundamental threat to the existence of the British state. 330 British military personnel are to be sent to this area of the planet which is deemed to be so vital to our national security. This comes shortly after more than a decade of wars In Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq, and recently Libya. Why is it that the British state feels it so necessary to use military force all over the world so frequently despite there being no fundamental threats to its survival?
Could it be that as we are often told with pride by various government officials that our military spending – which is fourth in the world – in fact leads governments to the situation where because of the capabilities available to it, find it irresistible to search for demons to slay across the world regardless of whether the UK is facing a significant threat?
The relative ease with which the British state is prepared to intervene may also come from an undue reverence for the institution that is the military. This attitude was expressed by the former head of the army Lord Dannat when he spoke to Dermot Murnaghan:
‘What our military do around the world is in the name of you, it’s in the name of me, it’s in the name of the British people.’
This will come as news to the majority of people in this country, who opposed the Iraq war, believe we should withdraw from Afghanistan, and oppose the intervention in Mali.
Our foreign policy over the past decade has been highly counterproductive radicalising people at home and creating resentment abroad. This has not made us safer and neither will an increase in military spending after 2015.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review carried out after the coalition government came to power concluded that:
‘We face no major state threat at present and no existential threat to our security, freedom or prosperity’
Proponents of military spending attempt to justify the status quo or even increase based on the fact that the world is an uncertain place. Or worse we hear the rhetoric of our ‘global responsibilities’ quite what these responsibilities are, where they came from and how long they are supposed to last is ambiguous at best.
Another excuse often used is to ‘maintain our place in the world’. The essence of this is to spend billions of pounds for UK politicians to show off to other world leaders how quickly they could invade another country and how many people they could kill in the shortest possible time. This does nothing to improve the lives of ordinary British people unless one takes seriously the absurd arguments about the contribution this spending makes to the economy, nothing more than military Keynesianism.
The UK military is facing an 8% real terms cut in its budget over the lifetime of this parliament. For all the howls of shame from generals and the military establishment this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of cuts that should be made to its budget.
In the Institute of Economic Affairs excellent Monograph ‘Sharper Axes, Lower Taxes Big Steps to a Smaller State’ Paul Robinson outlines how the UK’s military spending could be slashed by almost 50%.
Mr. Robinson highlights how substantial cuts could be made whilst retaining the capabilities to defend the UK from genuine threats.
Trident should be scrapped. Trident is wildly unnecessary for the UK and from a Libertarian perspective should be rejected on the grounds that its only purpose can be the destruction of vast amounts of innocent life. The seven Astute class submarines called for in the SDSR and the fourteen mine-counter measures vessels which are largely to protect the nuclear deterrent can be scrapped saving £10-20 billion.
Cancelling the Joint Strike Fighter would save £10 billion over the next 10 years. The navy could be reduced by 20,000 sailors, the army by 40,000 soldiers and the RAF by 15-20,000 personnel. These are among the many sensible proposals made in the monograph.
Libertarians in the UK are most often heard calling for cuts in welfare programmes and other state services. Whilst entirely correct, Libertarians should be at the forefront of calling for massive cuts in an institution which has gone far beyond protecting UK citizens from aggression and terrorist threats and in the process has been responsible for deaths of thousands of innocent people and scandalous waste money.