Saturday, 16 July 2011

Why we cut our defence budget & increase aid spending

Every week on television, in the newspapers or online we see or hear about DFID (the Department for International Development) spending money on aid abroad, while we face public spending cuts at home. Indeed, the last Labour government gave £800million a year in aid to China, and the current government gives millions each year to India despite both economies being larger and faster growing than our own. This week the UK development secretary Andrew Mitchell committed the UK tax payer to a further £53million in order to help ease the effects of drought in East Africa. In-fact, despite the Coalition government's controversial current and planned spending cuts across all other departments, DFID's budget has been 'ring fenced'. However, having trawled DFID's website, I can find no justification for their existence or indeed for this amount of public expenditure. So, what's going on? Surprisingly, the answer is essentially '9/11'.

Future friend or foe?
As ever, the policy in practice is founded in a seemingly abstract academic political theory, in this case from the arena of Critical Security Studies (CSS). Without going into laborious detail, the idea is that it is 'emancipation, not power or order which produces true security', which translates as the idea that true security is achieved only when the individual is able to live a life free from threat.

Among the populations of the West, such threats are commonly perceived as foreign military attack or more recently, the actions of those engaged in terrorism. Against this backdrop, CSS argues that most wars or terrorist actions  are undertaken in order to improve the living conditions and political aims of those who live in societies where the threat to individual security is more likely to be famine, thirst, rape or genocide as it is to be war or terrorism. Quite simply, emancipation from exposure to these threats is the type of security that those in the developing world are willing to fight and die for.

In the developed and the developing world, all countries have traditionally spent vast treasures on the formation and maintenance of conventional armed forces i.e. land, naval and air power, in order to protect against threats posed by those states or non-state actors who are willing to fight and kill us. Surely then, in the field of international conflict and security, prevention would be better than cure? 

Indeed, CSS argues that money spent on the emancipation of individuals from such threat motivations (hunger, disease etc) in the developing world also keeps us safe here in the West. i.e. our own national security is linked to the individual securities of those who might become our enemies. 

Essentially, sharing our resources with those who are dying from socio-economic threats will bring about emancipation from such threats, and will also
prevent the kind of anger which has expressed itself through terrorism against the West in growing regularity since the 1980's. Imagine for a moment an Afghanistan of the 1990s which was emancipation from the threat of hunger, violence and lack of education. It is difficult to imagine that such a country would have ever become the breeding ground for terrorism as indeed it became in the period before 9/11.

Te government is slashing defence spending and increasing the budget for DFID. It is hoped that by spending less on traditional armed forces, like tanks, aircraft carriers and battalions infantry, and more on International Development, the UK is ensuring the emancipation of those who might become our enemies from the reasons that they would want to do so. It is hoped that in the long run, prevention will be cheaper than cure.   

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1 comment:

  1. Martin - you're absolutely right. Enlightened self-interest as well as the moral duty to help those who genuinely need our help. Wouldn't it make sense to combine all the EU development budgets into one fund and achieve massive fire power and efficiency? After all the threats you list above are common threats to our region.