Friday, 13 February 2009


It is better to try to keep a bad thing from happening than it is to fix the bad thing once it has happened.

Go to any decent bookshop, find the section on history, and see how many books you can find about World War II – I am confident you will find a significant number. It was, after all, responsible for the deaths of some 60 million over the close to six years it lasted.

Now see if you can locate a book about the battle to eradicate smallpox; I will guess that you might find one, although it is more likely to be part of a more general book about medicine or, areference to our local hero Edward Jenner. Yet, smallpox killed between 300-500 million in the 20th century and by the 1950s was killing 50 million a year. But people don't buy books on preventing disease, they buy books about war.

There is a fascination with war and the machinery of war and this is at its highest with those who practice it. The Ministry of Defence mandarins and goldbraiders in Whitehall are obsessed with boys toys; aircraft carriers, nuclear missiles, tanks, multi-role combat aircraft. Unfortunately they are supposed to be responsible for the security of this country, not playing some high value game of Top Trumps with the French or Germans.

In 2008, the government published the “National Security Strategy of the United Kingdom”.
It concluded that “no state threatens the United Kingdom directly” and that the statement in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review that this situation will last “for the foreseeable future” still holds true. No state can combine “both the intent and the capability to threaten the United Kingdom militarily, either with nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction or with conventional forces” and there is a “very low risk of military attack”

The greatest threats to the United Kingdom, the report says, include terrorism (especially violent extremism), trans-national organised crime (particularly drugs), and civil emergencies (particularly a new outbreak of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic which the report estimates would cause 50,000 to 750,000 deaths in the UK alone). Tanks and nuclear subs are not very effective in countering these types of threats.

The report goes on to list the drivers that cause global insecurity and thus threaten the UK’s national security. Page 18 of the report begins “Climate change is potentially the greatest challenge to global stability and security, and therefore to national security. Tackling its causes, mitigating its risks and preparing for and dealing with its consequences are critical to our future security”

There is only one way to do that. Scrap the “boys toys” that are effectively useless for the defence of this country, reduce our military expenditure from the 2.5% of GDP it currently consume down to at least the 1.5% the Germans manage with, and better still down to the 0.8% the Japanese defend their islands with, concentrating the reduced military expenditure on better training and preparation of counter-terrorist, anti-drugs, and civil emergency measures. At Japanese levels of defence expenditure, that will free up about £20-25 billion a year that can be used to do what the report says is “the overarching national security objective”, which is to protect “the UK and its interests, enabling its people to go about their daily lives freely and with confidence, in a more secure and prosperous world”.

£20-25 billion a year invested in renewable energy freeing us from “competition for energy” with countries like India and China (highlighted in the report as another major driver of insecurity) and thus removing our need to get involved in wars and conflict that breed the extremist terrorism that explodes bombs in our cities is the best way to improve the future security of this country and all its people – not more boys toys.

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