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Counting the Cost of War in the Age of Coronavirus



The obscene financial cost of war is starkly apparent and the redeployment of tax-payers money has never been more urgent

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British army reserve paratroopers train with US counterparts in preparation for Afghanistan deployment.


Britain has the sixth biggest defence budget in the world, set to reach £55 billion this year. Defence spending in the UK is the fourth largest area of government spending - that’s 5p in every tax £ going towards the military. It is equivalent to just under one third of total health spending.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) notes that the UK is “by far the largest NATO defence spender in Europe in absolute terms”. The UK is one of only three countries in the 29-member NATO alliance to spend at least 2% of GDP on the military. 

Britain’s military budget has risen in the last few years in absolute terms and relative to GDP. The government has committed to raising the military budget by 0.5% above inflation annually during this parliament. 

However, in September 2019 Savid Javid, UK Chancellor at the time, announced a 2.6% real terms increase in the defence budget to cover the cost of new hardware.

The key aim here is not actually defence, but projecting power and influence internationally in the pursuit of what the government calls ‘Global Britain’. In the words of Defence Minister Ben Wallace its purpose is to “cement the UK as a Tier 1 military power.”

This increased spending is taking place at a time when it has become clear that the NHS lacks a range of basic equipment and staff to test and treat Covid-19 cases, and to address other potential health pandemics. The British Medical Association warned on 5 March 2020 that “the crisis in NHS pensions, pay and capital funding has left the health service close to collapse”. It urged the government to implement “an urgent package of measures to increase investment”.

Britain’s recent foreign military interventions have cost an estimated £34 billion, they have caused untold misery and contributed to making the world a much more dangerous place. Continued military presence in war torn regions only increases tensions and perpetuates conflict, often in areas vulnerable to rapid spread of disease. Withdrawing foreign troops would ease tensions internationally and free up huge resources to improve our response to Cornavirus and to rebuild our public services after years of austerity.

1) Foreign Interventions

British service personnel are operating in at least 30 countries around the world. There are still more than 1,000 British Troops in Afghanistan, engaged in a war that has lasted four times longer than World War One. There are more than 1,300 in the Middle East, including in Iraq and Syria, both countries that have been brought to the brink of collapse by war and foreign intervention. British special forces are participating in the Saudi-led war on Yemen which had created a desperate humanitarian catastrophe before the pandemic and continues despite public commitments to a ceasefire.   

In addition to permanent bases (see below) British service people are also active in other countries including Estonia, Gabon, Gambia, Malawi, Nigeria, Poland, and South Sudan.

The extra cost of these deployments was estimated by House of Commons researchers as £855 million in 2018. The MOD provides a limited breakdown of key operations and their costs do not include wages or ‘regular’ running costs:

Net additional cost of operations

 

Area

Cost £million

Afghanistan

89.4

Wider gulf

41.9

Counter-Daesh

448.4

eFP and NATO Reassurance

4.8

Deployed Military Activity Pool (DMAP)

46.6

Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF)

88.5

Others

0.4

MOD Annual Report and Accounts 2018-19

The aggregate cost of these operations - £855 million - would be enough to fund the programme of food packages for extremely clinically vulnerable people who have been advised to shield themselves from the Coronavirus at home.

2) Permanent Foreign Bases

Cyprus, annual cost £80-million

The UK’s two military bases on Cyprus house over 3,500 personnel. The Royal Air Force has used Cyprus as a launch pad for bombing Iraq, Libya and Syria, provoking protests from anti-war activists on the island. 

Canada, annual cost £27.9-million

The British army has an enormous military base in Alberta, Canada. More than 400 British soldiers are permanently based there, along with over 1,000 vehicles including Challenger 2 tanks. 

Kenya, annual cost £9.3-million

The UK military’s vast base at Nanyuki, Kenya provides access to 13 training grounds, which are used for preparing troops before they deploy to Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some 100 UK personnel are permanently based there.

UAE, annual cost £7.7-million

The Royal Air Force’s uses Al Minhad airbase in the United Arab Emirates for flying troops on to Afghanistan. It also provided support to the UK’s bombing of Libya in 2011. The UAE is an extremely repressive dictatorship in which BP extracts 160,000 barrels of oil per day.

Bahrain, annual cost £4.2-million

Bahrain hosts the UK’s first new major naval base east of the Suez Canal since 1971. Bahrain is an absolute monarchy where pro-democracy activists are imprisoned, tortured or killed for speaking out.

Oman, annual cost £3.5-million

In 2017, Oman agreed to allow the Royal Navy to use a port in Duqm and establish a “joint logistics support base”, which is deep enough for Britain’s new aircraft carriers to access. Oman is another Gulf dictatorship heavily dependent on British military support for the survival of its ruling family.

Chagos Islands, annual cost £3.4-million

The US uses Diego Garcia, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, as a long-range airstrip for bombing the Middle East and routed rendition flights through the base. From 1968, the British government forcibly removed the entire population of 1,500 people from the Chagos Islands, in contravention of international law. The Royal Navy and Marines maintain personnel on the Islands.

Qatar, annual cost £2.6-million

The Royal Air Forces No 83 Expeditionary Air Group is based at Al Udeid airbase, which is run by the US military in Qatar. Aircraft at the base have been used to carry out bombing raids directed at ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It is one of Britain’s four military bases in a Gulf dictatorship.

Belize, annual cost £1.4-million

The British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) is near Belize City. British troops have access to one sixth of Belize’s land, including a protected forest area, for jungle warfare training, which includes firing mortars, artillery and “machine-gunning from helicopters”.

Singapore, annual cost £1.2-million

The UK naval logistics base is at Sembawang Wharf in Singapore. Singapore is close to China £3-trillion a year of goods pass through the South China Sea. Human rights groups say Singapore’s ruling party has an “authoritarian grip” on power and draconian laws restricting protests while its press freedom rating is lower than Myanmar, Russia and Zimbabwe.

Total extra spending on military bases adds up to £141 million. That money would be enough to more than double Britain’s supply of medical ventilator machines, which are critical to help victims of Covid-19 continue breathing if they are hospitalised.

Thanks to Phil Miller Declassified UK 19 March 2020 for details on UK bases

Equipment

The increase in the military budget is mainly due to extra orders for new hardware. In the coming decade Britain is set to spend £183.6bn on military equipment; that’s £18.3bn every year. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) annual report 2018-2019 provides an outline of planned military equipment spending over the coming decade.

Planned expenditure 2018-2028

 £ Billions

Submarines

44.6

Information systems and services

24.8

Ships

19.5

Air support

18.6

Land equipment (inclu personal equipment)

18.4

Combat Air (eg. Typhoon, Tornado)

17.8

Weapons (air and sea)

13.8

Helicopters

9.6

The remarkably high navy spend is particularly crucial to the British military’s capacity for global reach and intervention. Britain spends more on its navy than Italy, France and Germany combined. The shipbuilding programme will provide the UK with much greater offensive military capability. Referring to its new generation of aircraft carriers and associated craft, the MOD states: “Once fully operational, UK Carrier Strike Group will be a formidable force around the world”.

The annual spend of £18.3bn could more than cover the cost of a year’s furloughing of workers estimated at just over £1bn/month.

The obscene financial cost of war is starkly apparent, and the redeployment of tax-payers money has never been more urgent. With the UN calling for a global ceasefire there has never been a better time to campaign against foreign intervention and military deployment overseas. Join our campaign, sign our petition, become a member of Stop the War.

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