What about spending on the good?

27 May 2009

In the recession, it is time to rethink the ever-increasing defence budget, says Chris Cole

Worth the money? A Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft PA

Worth the money? A Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft PA

In the days leading up to the de­cision earlier this month, the Gov­ern­ment came under immense pressure from the defence industry, whose lobbyists predictably argued that thousands of jobs would be lost (one analyst going so far as to argue that 45,000 British jobs were at risk, whereas MoD figures suggest that a total of 18,000 direct and in­direct jobs are supported by the pro­gramme). But they also maintained that Britain’s long-term defence-industrial capacity would be put at risk.

These arguments are often de­ployed by those who have a vested in­ter­ests in continued military spend­­ing as a way to end any discussion of the merits of increasing it. Whatever qualms one has about defence budgets must surely be secondary to the prospect of in­creased unemploy­ment and a threat to the security of the realm, they say.

Yet, for many Christians, the huge amounts of resources devoted to the military seem scandalous, parti­cularly at this time of economic turmoil. The National Audit Office reports that the top 20 UK military projects now under construction will cost the taxpayer about £40 billion.

This huge figure does not include the cost of the proposed replacement for the Trident nuclear deterrent, which is now estimated at £20-25 billion. The UK has the highest per-capita military spending in Europe, and is second in the world only to the United States.

In addition, each year the UK ex­ports a further £5 billion of military equipment around the globe, often to countries with poor human-rights records or serious development prob­lems. Many of these sales take place to the same countries as church groups are supporting through dona­tions to agencies such as Christian Aid and Tearfund.

For example, India is ranked 128th out of 177 countries on the Human Development Index, and has an estimated 40 per cent of its population living in abject poverty; intra-communal violence is also a serious problem. Nevertheless, the UK exported £90 million of military equipment to India in 2006, and £130 million in 2007. That figure seems likely to increase, as BAE Systems, the largest arms manufacturer in the UK, sees India as a key market, which it will target, says its chairman, Dick Olver, “remorselessly”.

The relentless machine of military spending seems to be unstoppable and unquestionable. But there is another way, and perhaps this time of economic crisis is the right moment to step off the military spending merry-go-round.

TWO THOUSAND years ago, the Roman military commander Flavius Vegetius Renatus wrote: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” At roughly the same time, Jesus and the early Christians were urging people to love their enemies, and extolling the virtues of what we now call non-violent peacemaking (Matthew 5.44-45, 4-12).

While one philosophy hailed armed might as a means of security, the other suggested that real peace and security lives in the practice of love and justice. After decades of ever-increasing military spending, perhaps it is time to take Jesus’s message seriously, and focus our re­sources and talents on human secur­ity rather than military security.

Human security puts the defence of individuals rather than the nation-state at its core, and seeks to address threats to security not by attacking the symptoms, but by attempting to tackle the causes, and thereby curing the disease.

For example, rather than investing £300 million in developing a new armoured earth-moving vehicle, as we are now doing, we could be in­vest­ing in technologies to tackle climate change. Rather than spend £2.6 billion in purchasing 25 heavy-lift aircraft to transport tanks around the globe, we could increase poverty-reduction meas­ures to tackle socio-economic div­ision. Rather than spend £3.6 billion on 12 Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft, we could invest in a conflict-prevention strategy.

The time has come to rethink security. For decades, the discussion has been dominated by proponents of the might-is-right school, arguing that national self-interest is all that matters.

Today, in the midst of a global economic crisis, and as climate change threatens humanity as a whole, we need to jettison national self-interest and ever-increasing mili­tary spending in favour of a sustain­able security strategy that puts individuals — and especially the poor — at its centre.

Chris Cole is the Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.


Chris Cole is the Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.


Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)