At Large

British Priorities

Prime Minister Cameron has slashed defense spending. So where is all that money going now?

By 10.11.11

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British Prime Minister David Cameron has cut British defense below the minimum level for national security, despite pleadings from service chiefs, much of his own party, and large sections of the public.

Britain's front-line Air Force is now hardly bigger than Belgium's, with only seven squadrons of modern bombers and fighters (Belgium has six). The Falkland Islands are defended by just four aircraft. The Navy does not have a single capital ship. The air operations in Libya have had to be conducted without a single dedicated aircraft-carrier, multiplying their cost and diminishing their effectiveness.

The Army has lost one historic regiment after another, and a succession of coroner's inquests has blamed the deaths of British servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan on skimped and inadequate equipment.

Where American troops have armored vehicles, British troops have been forced to travel in ancient Land Rovers, leaving them vulnerable to improvised roadside explosives.

Servicemen in all three services have been sacked without warning in mid-career, sometimes receiving notice of dismissal while actually in action.

There also seems to be a peculiar decadent passivity. An elderly British couple in a yacht off Somalia were kidnapped by pirates and severely mistreated while a Royal Navy auxiliary ship, the inappropriately named Wave Knight, with heavy machine-guns and a contingent of heavily-armed marines aboard, stood by, virtually alongside, and did nothing, lest the pirates' human rights be violated (I am not making this up).

When the pirates attempted to seize a Russian ship, the oddly, but perhaps more appropriately, named Moscow University, the Russian authorities evidently decided it was time for the Moscow University to teach them a lesson: they stormed the ship, captured the pirates, and sent them home, but apparently without benefit of their boat. Given they were several miles from shore, and in shark-infested waters, it is perhaps not surprising that they and their colleagues have attacked no more Russian ships.

Meanwhile, Cameron has said Britain's foreign aid expenditure is "ring-fenced" and will not be cut in any circumstances. International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell claims that lavish foreign aid makes the UK something called a "development superpower" and that voters should take the same pride in it as they do in their armed forces.

Britain has actually decided to increase foreign aid spending by 34 percent to about $24 billion. Mitchell claims this spending is achieving "brilliant" results and gaining the country admiration around the world.

One wonders if there is not some kind of impulse for national suicide at work in Westminster. Mitchell claims: "My ambition is that over the next four years people will come to think across our country -- in all parts of it -- of Britain's fantastic development work around the poorest parts of the world with the same pride and satisfaction that they see in some of our great institutions like the armed forces and the monarchy. This is brilliant work that Britain is doing."

This includes $600 million a year to India, which, as Tory MP Phillip Davies pointed out, is spending billions on defense and has its own space program. It has a navy with about twice as many ships as Britain, a booming economy, and probably more nuclear weapons.

This is despite the arguments of LSE economist Lord Peter Bauer, whose Dissent on Development was published in 1972, and others including a growing body of African economists, who believe foreign aid, except for emergency disaster relief (where something like an aircraft-carrier might be useful), is actually counter-productive and hinders rather than helps long-term development.

Now, however, the British Daily Mail reports that African countries which persecute homosexuals will have their aid slashed by the government in a bid by David Cameron to take his homosexual rights crusade to the Third World.

Mitchell has already cut aid to Malawi by about $40 million after two homosexual men were sentenced to prison.

A spokesman for Mitchell said: "The Government is committed to combating violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in all circumstances, in this country and abroad. We take action where we have concerns." This could be taken as a naked declaration of cultural imperialism.

Meanwhile, Pakistan will continue to receive more than $400 million a year, but there the victims of persecution are only Christians, who don't count. Hundreds of millions go to such dubious beacons of liberty as the Democratic Republic of Congo and the gulag-police state of Vietnam (try founding an opposition political party there, and see where it gets you!), with no suggestion that aid be tied to ordinary human rights.

While all persecution is worse than deplorable, it seems the British Conservative government considers the rights of homosexuals in Africa worth cutting aid over. Not the case with innumerable other instances of persecution, nor its own national defense.

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About the Author
Hal G.P. Colebatch's "Immram," Counterstrike, is being published by Australian publisher Imaginites.