Thursday, October 08, 2009

Defence Spending Clarification

As the point has been raised, I should clarify one of my earlier points about defence spending.

I believe that the MOD has far too many desk jobs, and probably still would even if it had only one civilian for every ten squaddies in the field. I've not seen the figures, but I'm inclined to believe that 25% of the departmental budget is wasted on personnel and pointless faff, and that it's probably a reasonable savings target.

However, I do not believe that any such savings should be returned to the Treasury or used to pay for current operations.

The current level of defence spending (~2.3% of GDP) is a peacetime fantasy: it implicitly assumes that nobody will ever attack us or our foreign interests, and that if they do, we'll have some warning. Which we never have had in the past. Conflicts look predictable in hindsight, but this is a Black Swan fallacy. Given the lead times required to develop arms and to ramp up production (and, analogously, to recruit and train people), this is a luxury we cannot afford to take. It's telling that the last time the spend was this low was in the wake of the Great Depression - and meant we were caught flat-footed later that same decade when WW2 started and we had to spend extra in lieu of preparation time. Lend-Lease nearly bankrupted the country.

We must use the defence budget to ensure we have balanced forces ready and equipped to operate against plausible enemies in any battlespace - maritime, aerial or land. Just because the last couple of skirmishes have been against poorly-equipped tribesmen doesn't mean that the next one will be: Iran has a decent air force and Russian "double-digit" SAMs, to pluck an example from the press. Or if we have to enforce a naval blockade against Somalia or North Korea - Admiral Nelson would be spinning in his grave at the thought that we didn't have enough ships to do that.

- KoW



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