Tuesday, 11 April 2017

More Defence Spending Required - Abolish DFID to Fund It

Given that we are seemingly intent on squaring up to Russia at the moment and throwing our weight around on the international stage, might it be an idea do we think to ensure we have the armed forces to back up our words?

Britain remains one of the great powers of the world, not least because we remain a nuclear power. But we are, notwithstanding our economic success in recent years, a declining military power. This is a deliberate policy. We lecture others on the need to spend 2% of GDP on our armed forces, but it is less than clear that we are doing so ourselves since a portion of that spending is accountancy sleight of hand. In any event our defence spending has declined as a proportion of overall public spending over recent years as successive governments, but in particular Labour, took the opportunity of a post Cold War peace dividend to alter our priorities.

The cuts have gone too far. Our armed forces are stretched and frequently have to beg borrow and steal equipment from allies (usually America) and survive on a typically British make do and mend basis.

Yet we face an aggressive foe in Russia spending vastly more than we do both in cash and in percentage terms. Russia's economy is smaller than Britain's and yet its armed forces are infinitely better equipped and resourced. We do not need to match them tank for tank or plane for plane of course and their navy is creaking and decrepit, but we do need to defend ourselves and to be prepared to impose ourselves when needed. Had America asked for assistance in Syria last week, Britain would have had to say we are sorry but cannot oblige. And this had nothing to do with the fact that parliamentary approval would have been required first.

The crisis in Syria is an ideal opportunity to look again at our priorities and re-order them. We are simply not spending enough on defence. We should learn the lessons of history and re-arm before it is too late. Russia has been doing so now for years and continues to do so now though it can ill afford to.

Where is the money to come from? Simple. We should divert the money from international aid as this blog has been arguing for many months. The law setting the entirely arbitrary and counterproductive 0.7% target in statute should be repealed. DFID, the department responsible for aid spending, should be abolished and its responsibilities returned to the Foreign Office where they belong. It is an absurdity that the FO's budget is a tenth that of DFID. But it is an even greater scandal that DFID's budget is now around a quarter of what we spend on defence.

This is not to argue that there isn't a case for being generous, helping nations in need of assistance and riding to the rescue when great international humanitarian crises occur such as the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa or famines and other natural disasters. But when you set an arbitrary percentage of GDP for spending on aid it inevitably leads to waste, corruption, greed, venality and simple incompetence. It means that the department casts around for ways of spending its vast budget with little care or proper planning. It leads to absurdities and appalling waste. Any department that finds it difficult to spend all of its money instead of having to make tough choices about what to fund and what to cut is a department that is overfunded and out of control. The Ministry of Defence, which has had to make savage cuts in recent years should be given some of this apparently spare funding.

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