Friday, 17 June 2011

Sharing expenditure around

This report in yesterday’s Western Mail covered some research carried out by the SNP which suggested that, on a per capita basis, Wales is ‘losing out’ on billions of pounds of military expenditure each year, compared to other areas of the UK.  Military spending is an issue which used to be higher on the nationalist agenda, largely because it was an obvious area where an independent Wales could make sizable cuts, and use the savings either to offset Wales’ deficit, or else spend the money on other things.
In recent years, many nationalists have seemed almost afraid of dealing with the question of armed forces and Independence.  Indeed, one of my anonymous friends left a comment on another post a couple of weeks back, which coupled a suggestion that any discussion of Welsh Independence needed to consider the question of military forces with a hint perhaps that it was a subject which was being avoided.
There’s some truth in that, sadly.  For my part, it’s not so much a wish to avoid the subject as a result of spending more time on issues which are more immediate and which interest me more.  But I am, and always have been, willing to discuss any aspect of the Independence question; it’s the only way of increasing understanding of, and support for, that option.
I’d accept though that many do avoid discussing it at all.  Partly it’s because of a strong pacifist tendency running through nationalist thinking; partly it’s down to the same lack of confidence in the case for independence which leads some to avoid the whole subject, never mind its consequences; and partly it’s a fear of appearing to be in some way anti-British, and/or deterring potential voters.
But any rounded view of the implications of Welsh Independence has to consider what that means for defence.  And given that it has been a long-standing contention amongst nationalists that Wales would spend a great deal less on defence than the UK government spends, it’s also an important element of the economics of independence.
On spending, this table of military expenditure is interesting.  Whilst the UK spends around 2.7% of GDP on military activity (and has the fourth largest military budget in absolute terms worldwide), a small country such as Ireland spends only 0.6% of its GDP.  In parallel with that, of course, Ireland has a much more limited set of objectives (summarised here) for its military.
Every country faces different circumstances, and there will always be objections from some to any comparisons, but it seems to me that an independent Wales would have military objectives much more similar in nature to those of the Republic of Ireland than to those of the UK – and that expenditure levels would tend to follow that approach.  Why would that not be the case?
Debate around ‘defence’ at a UK level seems to broadly accept the status quo as a starting point, with the effect that the UK is trying to behave as though it were still a major power on the world stage.  France, another post-imperial power, has a similar outlook, and spends around 2.5% of its GDP on its military.  The comparison with Germany – at 1.4% - is instructive; and it’s notable that Germany is the large European country with the least pretension to being a world military power.
History (to say nothing of the wars of the past) plays a role in these attitudes of course; but that same history encourages some governments to want to see their role and importance as being greater than it really is.  And they then seek the military muscle to back that up.  It has long seemed to me that the UK Government’s attitude – regardless of party - has never really adapted to the loss of empire.
It was surprising last year to hear some nationalists arguing that Wales should have its ‘fair share’ of military expenditure; it was a complete reversal of positions taken in the past.  The superficial logic of that position is clear, since the GDP of those areas where the money is spent benefits from military expenditure. But I’m glad that that has not been the response to yesterday’s story.  It’s a fair share of total expenditure which we need, not a fair share of each individual budget line, and simply moving military expenditure to Wales in the interests of ‘fairness’ isn’t the best way either of achieving that aim or of preparing Wales to take more responsibility for her own future. 
What we really need is not to divert more military expenditure to Wales, but to be able to take advantage of the 2%+ of GDP which would be freed up for other purposes.  It’s a not insignificant part of the potential Independence dividend.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's also instructive to compare how much each state spends on 'culture'.

The UK (... and Wales 'cos Labour accept the UK norm) spend about 1% other more enlightened countries spend 4-5%.

I'd say defending and promoting one's culture and language is as important for Wales as 'defence' is for the UK.

More on culture less on defence in an independent Wales.

Anonymous said...

the SNP with its independence agenda has more of a pressing need to talk about the UK military and military spending because the UK's nuclear weapons are in Faslane and the number of RAF bases in Scotland.

Plaid Cymru can't get a hearing on devolving powers on broadcasting and corporation tax to the Assembly, talking about military spending in a independent Wales as well plays into opponents hands that Plaid Cymru is no longer relevant, a view gaining traction with voters in my neck of the woods.

Boncath said...

John
Good timing
The President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez has today called Britain (England) a crude colonial power in decline

John Dixon said...

Anon 17:25,

Not entirely sure what the point is that you are making. It is impossible to argue for an Independent Wales without being willing to discuss the economics thereof, and it is impossible to properly discuss the economics without being willing to discuss all areas of government expenditure. Unless, of course, you are suggesting that Independence should never be mentioned at all...

Anonymous said...

Article on viablility of Welsh armed forces in Sion Jobbins's book, 'How many aircraft carriers would an independent Wales have?'

Plaid have got to have an answer to the question in any case.

You mean there's more??? said...

Ahh Deja Vu back to Barry Plaid where one member had signed up to the english army because he believed you had to fight fascism on day one of WW II and another had decided on moral grounds it wss wrong to fight anyone. Fun times!!!!

Wales would need to think it's defensive roles through if it was on it's own. Handy hints would include not buying aircraft carriers unless you have airplanes to go on them, a bit simple I know but the poor Sais are a bit like that.

On a more serious note you could probably get by without for examples main batttle tanks which are expensive hardware so long as you had enough people who could operate anti tank weapons. Meaing more goes on people and less on steel.

A bit like having longbows when the enemy is in armour on a bloody big horse.

Ooops bad analogy, look how that one turned out.

Anonymous said...

Wales would not need aircraft carriers, jet fighter aircraft, destroyers etc. Only helicopters (large and small) and some gunboats to combat smuggling etc.

Siônnyn said...

I think that the point here is that military expenditure has to be taken into account when calculating a fair funding formula for Wales - and the other devolved countries.

The shape of our military after independence is something else entirely.

Democritus said...

Looking first at the scottish issue, although it is concievable that England and Scotland could negotiate a kind of lease back agreement for Rosyth and Faslane aloing the lines of the Treaty Ports or Ukraine hosting Russia's Black Seas fleet, the more likely (default) scenario would see the whole operation moving to Devonport (of course scottish withdrawal from the union might have a significant impact on England's own estimation of whether it needs a nuclear deterrent submarine fleet at all). Presumably the RAF could relocate fairly smoothly. The Scottish regiments one assumes would cease to exist entirely, unless the Scottish Parliament ressurected them as the basis for its own army.
Scotland would also have to decide whether to remain a member of NATO - assuming it did, then the basing of other NATO forces on Scottish territory would be far less problematic. I think its fair to assume that, as with Eire, Scottish nationals would still be eligible to enlist in an England/NI/Wales army.

Turning to Wales, you'd see an immediate impact in south Powys and some sort of cost splitting might be in order for RAF St Athan and Valley. On the positive side Wales - with no immediate enemies and no historic committments - would indeed be spending a lesser share of GDP on the military, which would go someway toward mitigating the loss of other transfer payments (e.g.) old age pensions which a Welsh Treasury would need to meet from domestic taxation.

Given that many people are, understandably, proud of our armed forces and the service personnel who staff them, it's obviously not a comfortable issue for celtic nationalists since the bottom line is that post Scottish / Welsh independence, none of the successor countries could afford to sustain anything like the current position (which may not be susainable anyway). If nationalists do not address this fact, the unionists will do so on their terms.

Adam Higgitt said...

It's worth pointing out that if an independent Wales wished to be a member of NATO she would be obliged under that organisation's terms to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence. That said, most current members of NATO don't manage this.

John Dixon said...

Anon 15:45,

"Wales would not need aircraft carriers, jet fighter aircraft, destroyers etc."

I'd broadly agree with that. The point is that much of what the UK spends on 'defence' is actually buying an 'offensive' capability; and it's time that was challenged even at a UK level.

Siônnyn,

I certainly agree that all expenditure, including military expenditure, has to be taken into account in assessing whether Wales is receiving a 'fair' share of total UK expenditure or not, but it doesn't really affect the 'fair funding formula' issue. All realistic discussion around funding formulae has been about a comparison of needs within the narrow band of services devolved. A wider consideration of total expenditure at a UK level is not relevant to the formula for the block grant.

As to the shape of our military post independence, I agree that it's hard to say what it should be at this stage, but without making some sort of assumptions about expenditure levels, it is not possible to debate the economics of independence.

Democritus,

I agree with your conclusions in fhe final paragraph. It is an uncomfortable issue, but ignoring it merely allows others to frame the terms of debate; it's a mistake, therefore, to ignore it.
And you are absolutely right to start questioning whether even the UK can afford its current pretensions.

Adam,

You're right - on both counts. Although Ireland, to extend the comparison, is not in NATO either, of course.

You mean there's more??? said...

The whole defence thing has been a big sham for a long time.

Britain only had tanks to send out to the gulf first oil grab by stripping the whole fleet of their drive trains and leaving the army of the rhine to fend off the then perceived societ threat with turretless bare shells of tanks.

The jaguar fleet was scrappped just after an extensive expensive refit so that we could keep Tornado a plane not designed for any of the roles it currantly does and which is a real problem to operate in Afghanista as the atmospherics out there make it dificult to get off the ground.

Harrier which was desgined by the late Sydney Camm, the man who desiged the Hurricane, the aircraft that really won the Battle of Britain was actually the tool for the job just as it is what is needed to enforce sanctions in Lybya has as we all know been scrapped.

As have the through deck carriers which rarely saw aircraft anyway once the sea harrier was scrapped in favour of the far less capable GR4.

We are now operating Typhooon and Tornado which require massive logistical manpulation to get to Libya from Cyprus and neither aircraft was designed for the job in hand anyway.

Wales contributes to a really professional armed force which is let dow badly by political posturing around procurement.

Thats why i made the point about buying lots of anti tank missiles that need people to operate them rather than challenger tanks that cost a fortune, don't need lots of salaries to deliver and at the end of the day don't work.

Thats before we question exactly what the military are about anyway.