Letter: Defence estimates fail to quantify military threats

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The Independent Online
Sir: The new defence estimates are a disappointment (reports, 8 July). They neither quantify the risks the nation is said to face nor offer a programme for risk reduction through arms control and diplomacy. Taxpayers used to be told that we could only judge potential enemies' capabilities and not their intentions. We were shown charts of the tanks and planes held by the Warsaw Pact. Today we are presented with no such list of capabilities, just imprecise statements about risk.

There are good and bad reasons for this imprecision. For example, it is tactful for governments not to mention in public the risk that Turkey might change into a fundamentalist Muslim state. More important, the Ministry of Defence is trying to defend its budget with a bogeyman.

Britain and its allies are overarmed against any combination of threats. Britain and its European Nato allies spend three times as much on defence as the entire Muslim world from Morocco to Iran. Once allies such as Israel and Egypt are counted, the ratio rises to more than 10 to 1. We have sea and air supremacy. Our armies are approximately equal in troops and weapons to the whole of the Middle East, with a clear qualitative edge. Even if the Muslim world achieved a unity not seen since the seventh century, and declared war on a Europe bereft of American help, we would still dominate.

To the East, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe provides Nato with verifiable superiority over Russia or any smaller state. Thus there is plenty of money spare for a peace dividend. With more enthusiasm for conflict prevention, that dividend could become even larger. Today we allocate less than pounds 200,000 to the new institutions of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe and less than pounds 10m to the non-proliferation safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. These bodies need strengthening.

There are still some military risks, but only if we and our allies provide the weapons, as happened in the cases of Argentina and Iraq. What is lacking is any government policy to halt the sale of arms. Senior members of the US Congress have asked the Prime Minister to join them in seeking a halt to the sale of advanced combat aircraft to the Middle East. He should take the opportunity to increase stability and the peace dividend.



Director, British American

Security Information Council

London, WC2