Increasing defence spending isn’t a silver bullet

By William Yarwood, Media Campaign Manager

With World War 3 supposedly on the horizon, defence spending has become the latest political football which politicians of all colours have been taking their best shot at kicking around.

Conservative MPs, including Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, have been insisting that the government needs to be
spending upwards of 3 per cent on defence. Labour has recently committed to spending 2.5 per cent on defence if they win the upcoming general election.

Unsurprisingly given the wars in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, politicians are increasingly competing over who would spend more on defence. But the reality is that more defence spending does not necessarily mean a more effective or better-equipped military.

Take Japan for example. Japan spends just over 1 per cent of its GDP on defence and yet it is one of the
top five best-equipped militaries in the world. According to a 2015 Credit Suisse report, it has the fourth largest submarine and attack helicopter fleets, falling behind only global superpowers such as China, Russia, and the US. Japan also came in just behind the UK in the most recent Global Firepower Index, sitting at 7th while the UK sits above at 6th.

While Japan has recently
increased its defence budget quite dramatically, approving a record 7.95tn yen (£41bn) for defence spending over the next few years, this will still only amount to around 2 per cent of Japan’s overall GDP.

In addition, Japan has
brought forward its plans to acquire US-made Tomahawk cruise missiles as well as accelerating its plans to build more missiles domestically. The country, as Nikita Marianeko writes, also boasts a robust modern military-industrial complex through private corporations, including giants like Mitsubishi and Kawasaki, and has for years prioritised the independence of its defence capabilities. This policy has led to Japan being able to cover up to seventy per cent of its own defence capability needs.

The Japanese military certainly has its problems,
especially in regards to recruitment, but considering how much they spend on defence compared to a lot of other countries, they certainly punch above their weight. It has a remarkably well-equipped and well-stocked military with an effective modern military-industrial complex behind it all the while only spending a modest 1 per cent (soon to be 2 per cent) of its GDP on defence.

Compare this to Britain where our military suffers from a
£17bn black hole in its own equipment plan and defence projects are consistently over-budget and over-schedule. Factor this in with a Ministry of Defence that has consistently rewarded failing projects, shirked responsibility, and has been unable to cut through endless layers of bureaucracy and you end up with a system which is, as the Defence Committee revealed last year in a report, completely ‘broken’.

So why do politicians think that the government can just ‘spend more money’ on defence to fix these problems?

For comparison, many rightly roll their eyes when politicians tell us that we just need to spend more on the NHS for it to work properly. Those who argue this point are correctly rebuffed and presented with the reality of the situation. Namely, that despite more money than ever before going into the NHS, there are
countless inherent systematic problems within it that cannot simply be solved by turning on the money taps. 

The same logic applies to defence and indeed any area of government spending. If a system is innately broken, throwing more taxpayer money into it won’t magically solve the problem, nor provide taxpayers with value for money. Spending more money, despite what politicians may say, is not a silver bullet when it comes to dealing with systematic policy failures. It’s often just a cheap political gimmick to appease their base and gloss over the more serious and complicated policy issues at play.

This is not to say that the TPA are against higher defence spending in principle. After all, having a well-funded and strong military is one of the few things that all agree the state should spend money on. But until our political establishment gets to grips with our failed system we should question calls to increase the defence budget.

This may only lead to taxpayers being forced to foot the bill for more ineffective bureaucrats, DEI programmes and over-budget projects instead of an effective, streamlined, and dynamic military which this country needs and deserves.

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