Since the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month the British media have been openly discussing what Britain’s response should be. Indeed David Cameron has announced that he intends to bring forward another vote on air strikes in Syria which is expected to be supported by the House of Commons as many Labour MPs have said that they would defy any whip. Terrorism is a very complex issue and there are many ways that it should be addressed but I would like to discuss the idea of creating a humanitarian service.
What is a humanitarian service?
A humanitarian service would be a collection of trained personnel that would be employed by the British government to travel around the world improving the economic and societal capabilities of the host nation. In an army a battalion is comprised of between 300 and 800 soldiers, all of whom are government employees. A humanitarian service would be essentially creating this kind of structure under the control of the Department for International Development.
The service would be comprised of around 200 battalions of around 500 personnel thus putting about 100,000 people into employment. As a part of this job each member would be taught a trade (bricklayer, plumber, electrician etc., which would also stimulate job creation across the country as these courses would have a lot more students. These personnel, I must stress, are not a part of the military; this is not a plan to expand the size of the military by half a million people, it is a way of making the world more stable.
According to the Ministry of Defence the starting salary for a soldier in the army is around £18,000 annually, which would rise to around £27,000 after five years.I wouldn’t suggest instituting a rigid hierarchical system like in the army but I guess there would be the equivalent of officers in the form of project manager-type people. If we split the difference that’s an annual salary of £22,500, which if my maths adds up would be a total bill of about £2.25 billion. In terms of equipment there would also have to be a significant investment in construction equipment and vehicles which would be manufactured in Britain, thus creating jobs. The Prime Minister recently said that he would be spending around £178 billion on military equipment for the next ten years, but it is well documented that military equipment is much more expensive than construction equipment. Construction equipment is significantly cheaper that stuff that can fire missiles but I’ll take that figure for the sake of maths.
Based on the above figures total expenditure would be at around £20 billion annually. At first that looks like a large number however it’s worth pointing out that according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2014 the UK spent around £40 billion on the military. They way to think of this expenditure would be as an economic stimulus, humanitarian aid increase, and counter-terrorism package all rolled into one. This would be paid for in a number of different ways.
Firstly there would be increased tax revenues (around £238 million in income tax alone), decreased unemployment benefits which would save the government a nice little sum for the Treasury, and other indirect tax revenues, like VAT, will go up due to more people being employed.
Secondly the military budget would be cut. The two biggest threats to national security are terrorism and the impact of climate change, having loads of tanks and nuclear missiles would be illogical. New government figures released in the last few days have shown that the cost of renewing Trident will be around £41 billion over its 20 year life, or £2 billion annually. If the rest of the military budget (£38 billion) was cut a fifth in order to respond to the realities of the 21st Century, another £7.6 billion would be saved.
Finally the remaining £10.2 billion would come from clamping down on tax avoidance, which sounds like a politician’s answer but this is not remotely difficult. Last year a report was conducted by the PCS Union, many of whose members work for the Treasury, and they estimated that the tax revenues lost due to evasion and avoidance is around £119.4 billion annually. Recouping all of this money should be the priority but only getting back 10% of that figure (£11.9 billion) would fund the rest of the service.
What would be the purpose of this service?
It would be sent by the British government to places in the world that need to be stabilised. For example when Britain has invaded countries in the past (cough, Iraq, cough) the military has been sent in and has massively destabilised the country; to quote the French Revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre: “no one loves armed missionaries”. Therefore the solution is not to invade countries in the Middle East, it is to improve them. There are some countries in the Middle East which are not exactly the nicest places to be in the world (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Yemen) however there are some that are much more moderate (Tunisia, Jordan Algeria). The service would be used to improve the countries that are already moderate in order to prevent radicalisation.
Take Tunisia as an example. Tunisia was one of the only countries in the Middle East that was successful in ousting their dictatorial leader Zine Ben Ali and establishing a democracy, albeit a fragile one. After a brief period of a transitional government the 2014 Presidential election resulted in Beji Caid Essebsi being elected who was the candidate of the secular social democratic party Nidaa Tounes. If this policy were to be implemented, the government would then offer the Tunisian government use of trained labourers to build up the country’s infrastructure and generate job opportunities in the country. Furthermore few locals would resent the presence of these people as they’re not invading their country, they’re trying to improve it. It would be hard for ISIS to argue that a group of people from Cornwall were crusaders when they’re purpose is to rebuild the sewers of Masakin.
This would also be more popular in Britain as one of things that angers right-wingers the most is the UK’s foreign aid budget, which is seen as giving money away to countries without any oversight. If the foreign aid budget was expanded in a way that created a massive amount of skilled jobs Britain as well as countering terrorism the objections may not be as loud. The benefit of this strategy would be that it enhances British influence in the Middle East without killing loads of people, an act which only fuels extremists’ propaganda.
Another key aspect of this strategy would be that it would be different to the way that China have been enhancing their influence in Africa. Having the service going into a country wouldn’t be dependent on a country having to surrender a huge amount of its natural resources as this too could be exploited by terrorists seeking to advance a narrative. In its entirety deploying these personnel in a country would cost the host country no real money as it would be funded by the British government. This would enable the government of the host nation to spend its resources elsewhere: if spent on its military to fight ISIS, that’s good; if spent on other social programmes to improve the lives of its people, that’s also good as this would discourage people from seeking out material that could radicalise them.
Having a humanitarian service Britain would increase the country’s diplomatic influence whilst also combating terrorism and creating jobs. In terms of dealing with terrorism increasing the stability of countries will prevent the spread of extremism and challenges the narrative of Western powers seeking to invade or exploit Muslim countries. This kind of programme is a way of improving British foreign policy in a non-controversial way that doesn’t involve perpetual warfare and cosying up to Saudi Arabia. We need to get this policy implemented ASAP.