A smaller US or a larger Netherlands?
Hopi has a great post up on the current polls. In the comments there has been an interesting debate on Trident renewal.
Much of the argument has revolved around the cost. All of this reminded me of a line in Willem Buiter’s ‘memories of Eddie George‘.
Eddie viewed the UK as a small version of the USA. I viewed it as a somewhat larger version of the Netherlands.
Now Professor Buiter was talking about the macro-economy, but I think the quote cuts to the heart of a debate on defense spending, of which Trident is only the most visible (and contentious) issue.
I think this raises two issues for all those involved in politics.
(i) Is it right that Britain still claims a global role (as does the US)? We are after all one of the world’s larger economies, possess a seat on the Security Council and historical links around the globe. Or should accept that we are actually little different from our cousins on the continent and be contend to be ‘a larger Netherlands’?
(ii) In what Charlie has dubbed the coming age of austerity, can we afford a global role and the defence spending that entails? Not just Trident, but the planned aircraft careers, etc.
We currently spend 2.4% of GDP on defence, much less than the US at 4% but more than Holland at 1.6%.
A very important side issue here, as noted by Hopi, is the role of the aerospace & defence industries in the UK economy. They are success stories and would a cut in our own expenditure badly affect them? I would mention that Sweden (only 1.4% of GDP spent on defence) has a vibrant and successful exporting defence sector.
Personally I support Britain having a global role. However I am mindful of a quote that good friend of mine is very keen on – ‘the language of priorities is the religion of socialism’. In an age of austerity, if cuts have to be made to public expenditure then defence would be on the front end of my list.
Even if we it means becoming a larger version of Holland.