That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Arm for an arm

Not normally a big fan of Simon Jenkins’ superwise pontifications, I was still glad to see him lunge at the taboo here, especially considering we’re approaching Armistice Day. Question: Why should Britain have an army?

As for the threat of a conventional attack on the British Isles by another state, we can only ask, who? The threat is so negligible as to be insignificant. It is like insuring one’s house for billions of pounds against an asteroid attack. Is the attack to come from Russia, or France, or Germany, or Ireland? Defence pundits to whom I put this crucial question look down their noses, as if it were impertinent or undergraduate. They murmur that one can never know.

Armies with nothing to do tend to distort the purpose for which they were formed. They become institutionalised. They coalesce into a wide constituency of veterans, territorial and political supporters, above all, equipment suppliers.

He doesn’t quite get to the question of where we’d be if every country in our global friendship group took his advice to abolish their armies, of course. But anyhoo… one of the points I think he’s making is that Britain may well face some real threats in the form of terrorism or natural disaster, but that these threats fall more squarely under the remit of a beefed-up Home Office than a Ministry of Defence.

There is an injustice in how public funds are spent across departments that most often benefits Defence. The armed forces, certainly in the UK, enjoy this aura of noble mythology and vainglory that you dare to tarnish at your political peril. But around the world, from Canada to the UK to almost anywhere you like, defence departments continue to enjoy an inflated and illegitimate immunity to the “value-for-money” credo. The UK has ringfenced its development funding, for example – but every penny of humanitarian aid and every capacity building project in the developing world is now under increasingly rigorous scrutiny. Measurable impact is paramount. Every action must have a clear and positive outcome.

No one sets such terms to the Armed Forces. Value for money? How do you measure the “value” of a multi-billion pound nuclear arsenal that has absolutely nothing but hypothetical (thank god) applications?

You don’t – because Defence Ministries trade in fear of the unknown. Could Russia invade the Canadian Arctic? Better get a bunch of these puppies.

To criticise it is to invite sustained pantomime outrage from the spending government. It’s to let yourself get framed as the reckless anti-patriot softie versus the Noble Protector. With terrorism and cyberwarfare as the genuine threats we face, though, it seems like the thing a Department of Defence is best able to defend is itself.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, UK, , , ,


November 2010

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