Strategic defence review hamstrung before it even starts
It is a “risk calculus”, it’s true and we should accept this however something has to change if we’re in an era when military advisors can tap the side of their nose and say “you never know” when journalists ask what exactly they’re spending forty five billion pounds a year defending us from. It’s a number so big you have to write it out or it doesn’t register.
There is a huge vested interest in the arms industry and there’s really nothing that cannot be justified if you say it’s in the interests of national security. However it’s completely ridiculous to just pour money at something on the off chance it happens in the future. You’re in trouble if you start doing that anywhere else – there has been huge outrage at the amount of vaccine and antiviral drugs that were stockpiled to deal with swine flu that turned out to be unnecessary even though it would have saved millions of lives if they had been needed. Yet, even then, considerably larger amounts of money are spent making sure we’ve got enough Eurofighters so we’re able to adequately shoot down the military jets that our enemies just don’t have.
There is always a problem of “fighting the last battle” because that’s really all you can be sure of – evidence based defence policy is really pretty tricky stuff. Obviously I’d still like evidence based policy to come into defence because the current policy of “I have a (generally faulty) kind of outdated product I’d like you to finance the production of and then buy” is killing us financially. The lack of evidence from the future is why you have ludicrously unhelpful naked body scans and liquid restrictions at airports – 9 years ago some terrorists hijacked a plane and no one wants it to happen again. The problem is that you never want to be the guy who relaxed the restrictions, just in case a plane blows up the next minute and you have egg on your face so it becomes a persistent challenge to be tougher than the guy before you.
That’s why Britain is planning to spend up to (some say at least) one hundred billion pounds on a nuclear deterrent. We’re never actually going to fire it, and no one thinks we’re going to, but having it scares off the Soviet Union. I’m not convinced it actually scares off suicide bombers (the hint’s in the name) that are pretty much the only big ticket enemy that’s attacked British soil this century.
That is why it is crazy that Trident is not included in this year’s strategic defence review. It’s absolutely crazy to earmark the biggest expense and something that just sits around being there and then argue that everything else that’s cheaper has to be more efficient.