Okay, I realise that its usual euphemism is ‘Ministry of Defence’.
The US is apparently not very happy with Britain this week. Yesterday, the British government announced an 8% cut in the Defence Expenditure which amounts to a reduction of some £4.7billion over the next five years. A decision on a new generation Trident Submarine system has been kicked into the long grass of 2015. Military bases are to close. Many hallowed icons of the British defence shield have been scrapped, including the Nimrod jets, which will now never fly, although they have cost the taxpayer £3billion already. The Harrier Jump Jets are also scrapped, leaving the two spanking new aircraft carriers that will be finished in 10 years with no aircraft to carry. Meanwhile the PM, David Cameron, has telephoned Barrack Obama to assure him that the UK ‘defence’ budget will still stay above the 2% of GDP recommended for NATO countries.
Inaction was of course not an option. The £16.2 billion borrowed last month took the national debt to some £950 billion. But Britain should probably not take deficit-reduction advice from the USA.
Many in the Defence Contracts world will be furious to learn that the DFID budget is to be ‘ring-fenced’. Why can’t the millions of pounds destined for projects in aircraft-carrier-building India and China be spent supporting British jobs in the Defence industries, they might well ask. Yet, this ring-fence – even more than the new focus on cyber-threats – may yet prove to be this government’s most inspired ‘Defence’ policy. Spent judiciously, that budget may help to move the focus of this world system from building high-tech war machines to the more cost-effective maintenance of low-tech peace.
The example of North Korea should prove to us that a sophisticated military capacity cannot scare away economic realities. True, the West is no North Korea, but Greece is not a comfortable half-way point either. There were riots on the streets of Paris yesterday and later today, after the Chancellor’s spending review, there may well be protests in London as well. Such domestic problems don’t augur well for world peace. Our recent history has shown us that North Korea’s Kim is not the only belligerent head of state who will fire rockets at his neighbours to distract attention from his domestic crises.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress. The world needs leaders with the courage to break ranks dramatically. One way to solve the world’s economic crises is to go back to 2001 and reinvest the trillion-dollar warchest blown up in the futile search for bin Laden and nukes in Afghanistan and Iraq in more productive ways. Unfortunately, that option is not practical. Yet, we can make sure we don’t repeat the same ‘sensible’ mistakes of the past. A new £5 billion aircraft carrier will not tame terrorism, neither will another hundred thousand tons of bombs dropped on the mountains of Afghanistan. But low tech time and resources spent succouring the dispossessed will starve the extremists of suicide-bomb fodder for a start. As we engage our ‘enemies’ without weapons, we will change, even as our so-called enemies change.
Of course, my heart goes out to the families who will suffer unemployment as a result of the contraction of the war industry. But many more families will breathe easier around the world, for what is a 9-to-5 job for some is a life-and-limb issue to others. In the end, the economic AND physical well-being of the British people requires a far more intelligent approach than borrowing billions of non-existent funds to build a star wars system that will hopefully not be used in thirty years, and then destroyed at great cost… which is as it should be, for what happens to a bomb deferred? Does it dry up or fester, et cetera? Actually, it just explodes; like the arsenal that blew up hundreds of innocents in a Lagos munitions dump back in 2002.
So, the 30-year old British flagship, the Ark Royal aircraft carrier will be properly scrapped in a few days. The grimy ship graveyards of Bangladesh now have something to look forward to. Indeed this Defence and Spending Review is a bonanza for all cemeteries of war machines worldwide. Imagine the fleets of Harriers and Tornadoes, the convoys of MBTs – perhaps the doom-sayers have ignored the employment and economic potentials in recycling war machines. I can actually feel a new poem brewing… but wait a minute… (and this is what comes of living too long:) it is not new after all. It is the five-year-old Antiquity in Suburbia, inspired by a session at the Ashmolean, Oxford.
We are back to Freezer Towns and Auto Towns,
And towns that process waste plastics…
And as for serene Suburbia, we are an elite town.
We mine the vast and stockpiled dross of war.
We process bombs.
They are not buried now, not any more,
There is no sense in burying them,
These munitions, these bombs,
Our rampant ancestors have left…