The Herald croaks for doom … again! Will Scotland be unable to defend itself?
Its “expert’ says: ‘I have no answers to any of these problems, all I can point out is that it’s difficult and it’s expensive’
May be we should just give up on independence now – this all sounds too, very scarily scary!
Good try by The Herald but there is an alternative. Let’s try to make good the glaring deficit in this ‘scary’ coverage of what’s in store for an independent Scotland needing to defend its territory and people.
The nature of the ‘deficit’ is easily identified: it’s one that has become commonplace in The Herald, in most other parts of the corporate media and in much BBC Scotland coverage when it comes to just about any issue bearing on Scotland’s self-determination or indeed on the performance of the present Scottish Government. This ‘deficit’ can be summed up in one short phrase – absence of perspective!
This contribution is not based on any defence and security expertise. It is intended to offer up some (readily available) perspective – and hopefully give some food for further thought!
How do other smaller countries survive?
According to NATO, the UK defence budget in 2019 was £46,861 million. Among the 30 members of NATO (when all expenditures are converted to US$), the UK has the highest absolute expenditure after the USA.
More useful for international comparison is the defence budget of each NATO member as a percentage of nation state GDP. In 2019 the UK’s defence budget was 2.14% of UK GDP. This is the third highest level after the USA (3.42%) and Greece (2.28%).
However, the defence budgets of some NATO members in 2019 were less that 1% of GDP, including Belgium and Spain’s. The defence budget as a percentage of GDP for certain other NATO members is also notable for perspective: Czech Republic (1.19%), Denmark (1.32%), Estonia (2.14%), Latvia (2.01%), Lithuania (2.03%), The Netherlands (1.36%), Norway (1.80%), Portugal (1.52%), Slovak Republic (1.74%) and Slovenia (1.74%).
For further illustration, whilst Norway’s defence budget in 2019 was 1.80% of GDP its defence expenditure per capita (in US$) was $1,384. This is the second highest per capita spend after the USA. The equivalent UK figure was $985 per capita, the third highest amongst the 30 NATO states.
So even within NATO, with its (and USA’s) pressure on members to meet higher defence expenditure targets, many smaller countries (and indeed some larger ones) decide – and seemingly still ‘survive’ – with proportionately much smaller defence budgets relative to GDP than ‘global Britain’. Why could an independent Scotland not afford to devote between 1% and 2% of its GDP on defence just as all those other smaller countries are doing: and why would this general level of spend not be appropriate or sufficient?
Surviving outside NATO
Of course not all European countries are members of NATO, notably Ireland (with a large marine Exclusive Economic Zone to protect), Sweden, Finland and Switzerland. The Irish Times on 8 October, 2019 reported this: “Ireland currently spends 0.29 per cent of GDP on defence. In 2020 it will be 0.27 per cent.”
Now that is very low by international standards: I wonder if Ireland feels able to invest so little on national defence because outside NATO it is not threatening to others?
(Notwithstanding the relatively small scale of defence spending, Ireland and its defence forces have a notable international reputation for humanitarian and peace-keeping missions throughout the world. For example see: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/defence-forces-receive-award-for-humanitarian-work-1.2902714 – so not only a country doing less harm but also one doing more good? )
The World Bank reports that Sweden spends 1.1% of its GDP on defence, Finland 1.5%, and Switzerland 0.7%. For further interest, the Bank reports that New Zealand spends 1.5% of its GDP on defence (2019 data).
How much does Scotland ‘spend’ now?
The GERS 2018-19 report provides some interesting statistics in this context – taking the GERS data, much favoured by BritNat/Unionists, at face value for present purposes.
Scotland’s total public expenditure in 2018-19 is reported as £75,338 million. This is reported to be 41.7% of Scotland’s GDP when including a geographic share of ‘North Sea’ oil & gas. By calculation then, Scotland’s GDP is equivalent to £180,667 million. (Scotland’s onshore only GDP from the same source is, by calculation, £166.309 million.)
The same GERS report records that expenditure on UK defence being allocated to (i.e. the spend FOR) Scotland in the same year is £3,305 million (4.4% of Scotland’s total public expenditure). By calculation, the total expenditure on defence in 2018-19 FOR Scotland is therefore 1.8% of Scotland’s GDP including a geographic share of ‘North Sea’ oil & gas. (The spend on defence FOR Scotland is 2% of its onshore only GDP.)
To speculate, affording to devote between 1.8% and 2.0% of an independent Scotland’s GDP to defence would rank around the middle of the 30 NATO members on this metric. And 1.8% of GDP on defence would be substantially higher than Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and New Zealand.
There are a few other points to make to give ‘perspective’.
The effectiveness, efficiency and economy of defence spend by an independent Scotland has the potential to deliver substantial improvements in value for public money, including the investment of a defence posture better aligned to our own particular needs and the perceived threats to Scotland’s security.
Scotland will have no need for expensive weapons of mass destruction; no need for aircraft carriers ‘projecting global power’; no need to maintain military bases on foreign soil. It will need other things – just as Ireland, Norway, Denmark and New Zealand need them and succeed in having them.
In closing it is relevant to recall that New Zealand’s security and intelligence capabilities (based on its defence spend of just 1.5% of GDP on behalf of its 4.8 million population) still permits it membership of the Five Eyes Security Alliance. This brings together the UK, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in “the world’s most complete and comprehensive intelligence alliance” (according to the UK Defence Journal).
How could Scotland possibly aspire to what New Zealand achieves – even if it wanted to? Is it because we are too …..? You know the rest!