A numbers game

So after all the noise has died down, the headlines scrunched up into yesterday’s chip paper, and our excitable MPs finally rest their angry larynxes, we wake up to a UK that will continue to spend much the same on defence tomorrow as they apparently did yesterday.

A commitment was made to raise defence spending in real terms, adding 0.5% each year for the duration of this parliament.

Some other numbers to send your way include establishing a £1.5 billion Joint Security Fund for military and intelligence agencies and a commitment in maintaining the regular army at 82,000.

So the UK meets the 2% target, which it should be remembered is the bare minimum that NATO asks of its club.

As we’re talking abbackground-20050_1280out UK military spending, it wouldn’t be right not to immediately compare it to what the US is up to, as a certain broadcaster did so yesterday by getting the US ambassador on the line for a grilling.

After finding the usual niceties about allies, security and partnerships out of the way, the top US diplomat in the UK was asked if, in the light of the 40,000 troop cuts, his country too will meet the 2% target.

Probably choking back his last cup of coffee for the day, Ambassador Barzun did a decent enough job of playing it with a straight bat, although a flash through the covers might have been better (sorry to any American readers for the cricket imagery).

Indeed, the broadcaster in question only had to look at this incisive report to see the US, although registering a drop compared to five years ago, still manages to find enough cash under the couch to spend 3.6% of its GDP on defence.

If we’re talking about percentages being used as a barometer of military capability, that correlation is relative to GDP, as the near 11% spent by one Gulf State doesn’t equate to what it can actually do in a contested battlespace. Money is not quite the same thing as capability, and cost is not the same as worth.

We must all then await this year’s SDSR with interest, the outcome of which should apply some contextual substance to yesterday’s numerical barrage. Then hopefully we can start talking about capacity and capability, rather than the dollar value of the bottom line.

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