Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Blood, treasure, cost and benefit

While you're waiting for the Chilcot Report to come out, it's worth reading John Quiggin on the wider context of recent military interventions:
Even more penetrating was [Eisenhower's] observation that
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed
The logic of opportunity cost has rarely been put more simply or sharply, particularly as it applies to military expenditure.

Nearly 50 years after Eisenhower’s death, the lesson he stated so simply and forcefully has not been learned. Every crisis in the world brings forward a call for military intervention, often from people who regard ‘foreign aid’ as a proven failure.

The failure rate for these interventions is far higher than for ordinary foreign aid projects. Of the major US military interventions in the past 20 years (Kosovo, Somalia, Gulf War I, Afghanistan, Gulf War II, Libya and Iraq/Syria) only Kosovo could be regarded as a success, and even there the outcome is a bitterly divided between two hostile communities, kept apart by armed peacekeepers.

But even when military action works as planned, it is hard to justify in terms of opportunity cost. The total figures are staggering. The Afghan and Iraq wars between them are estimated to have cost the US between $4 trillion and $6 trillion dollars in wartime expenditures and future medical bills for veterans (Bilmes). That’s ten times the total amount of aid received by the whole of Africa since 1945, an amount regularly cited to show the futility of foreign aid.
Here in Britain, the unexamined assumption that military intervention must always be a more effective way to spend money than than giving aid carries many dangers, not least to the blood pressure of curmudgeonly Telegraph readers, on seeing headlines like this:
Official: Third world aid spending to outstrip defence budget within 15 years
Fury as House of Commons library finds Government likely to be spending £27.1 billion on defence in 2030/31, against £28.3billion on aid
This looks a lot like ideological blindness to the amount of waste in the defence budget (as the Eisenhower quote reminds us, even if you strip out the mind-boggling cost of misconceived military adventures, there's also the seemingly bottomless money pit of defence procurement). The subject looks even more political in the light of what looks like a sustained propaganda offensive to promote uncritical admiration of military values, from worship of the sacred credibility cow that we must commit to spending 2% of our country's GDP defence,* to the creeping metamorphosis of Gordon Brown's idea for a British Veterans' Day into our very own Pyongyang-style "Armed Forces Day" and the increasing promotion of a conformist "military ethos" as the default solution for societal problems, as highlighted in the short film The Unseen March, released by the Quakers earlier this year:
£45 million of new programmes with “a military ethos” committed since 2011. At the same time, the government has slashed Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and mental health services for young people.

Former Education Secretary Michael Gove stated “every child in Britain could benefit from a military ethos”, an agenda pursued by his successor Nicky Morgan and allocated to Edward Timpson, Minister for Children and Families. Quakers, who oppose all war, are asking the British government to reconsider its policy to militarise the nation’s classrooms.

Quakers are not the only ones alarmed. The film offers critiques from a range of educators including Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders. He says "A 'military ethos' is not a learning ethos". Education requires the ability to question and evaluate different perspectives.

Each new ‘military ethos’ programme is presented as in children’s best interests, boosting self-discipline, building character, developing ‘grit’. The agenda has led to military-led activities being integrated into national education policy, aggressive plans to spread cadet forces to state schools (550 by 2020); arms companies and the military sponsoring new academies and influencing what they teach; military personnel being fed into classrooms as speakers, recruiters and teachers, and all of this is taking place with virtually no public debate or wider scrutiny. 
Although I've cited a film produced by the Quakers, I'm not reblogging Quiggin's argument from a pacifist standpoint  - this piece by Alex Harrowell is a timely reminder of how valuable military assets, rightly used, can be. What impresses me is the way Quiggin overturns the unwarranted framing of aid as a self-evidently ineffective drain on national resources, perpetrated by well-meaning but wooly-minded do-gooders, who get to waste our scarce resources on corrupt governments, whilst our far more wasteful military interventions are routinely presented as Serious People making Important Decisions about Serious Issues with, if you'll excuse the linguistic bias, military efficiency.

*'To see how silly this is, imagine you wanted your family to eat more healthily. So you "commit" to spending 5% of your weekly household budget on fresh fruit and vegetables. You then spend £20 on a single carrot, and as you feast on this, you celebrate meeting your commitment.'


Anonymous said...

That Ike was an ex-military Republican President shows the massive change that has occured in the Political Landscape.He also warned about the military-industrial complex and its influence.The beatification of the armed forces is a tactic the Tories have taken from their ever open book of right-wing Republican strategies.It enables any attack on the political agenda the forces are used to pursue to be falsely conflated with an attack on the "poor bloody infantry" themseves.The terrible suffering of men in Afghanistan and Iraq meant that the anti-war majority view disappeared after the start of fighting.Perhaps they have an even deeper motive in mind.If the scales were ever to fall from peoples eyes and they started to protest about Posh Boy and Gideons attempt to take us back to 1815 it will be much easier to use the troops to put them back in their proper place