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Life Experience

The case against spending more on defence Don’t give more money to this man.

Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence

In the face of  underpayment of staff in UK caring professions, and the destruction of the NHS by not addressing staff shortages, I have been shocked by the way the government is hugely increasing spending on “defence”. The UK has the fourth largest military budget in the world. This century UK wars have been mainly wars of aggression causing untold misery. In my view this ministry needs holding back not given ever more money.

I have spent several days researching this article which I hope readers will find informative and useful. The media I feel should be giving proper prominence to this important issue.

Dear Readers, I’d be interested to hear your views on this topic. You can comment at the end of this article.

Ben Wallace, our Secretary of State for Defence, is making a bid for still more increases in defence spending citing “an historical low in defence spending,” “the Russian threat” and “The War in Ukraine.”

These arguments deserve examination.

Historical low
Since when has the spending of a government department been based on spending many decades earlier? Current and predicted need should be the only guide.

The Russian Threat
This is a problem. For most of the last sixty years we have lived with the Russian Threat. Diplomacy prevailed and violence against the western European countries never erupted. In fact Russia (actually the Soviet Union) withdrew from country after country, as a result no doubt feeling itself diminished. A sign, perhaps, that NATO, could also relax.

Tensions were reducing and this new relaxation began to be exploited with trade with Russia improving, and proving very valuable, even vital, to some western European states.

NATO’s inappropriate response
Thinking only with a military mindset NATO courted states formerly within the Soviet sphere of influence to join NATO so that “NATO countries” began to encircle the remains of the Soviet Empire (and become customers of western arms manufacturers). Surely something which would discomfort Russian leaders, even humiliate them in the eyes of their population – especially when NATO forces exercise along the borders of Russia. In these circumstances how could Russia “look strong”?

Fighting Russia today
It is unbelievable that the rhetoric remains aggressive towards Russia. Our only secure defence is friendly relations with other countries. This may seem impossible to some but a look at history shows that most of our former enemies whom we fought for years, decades or even centuries are now our trading partners and allies, not because they fear our armies and weapons, but because it is the only policy that makes sense. I’m thinking especially of Germany, Japan, France, Spain, the Netherlands.

A war with Russia
It would be suicidal lunacy to engage in actual fighting with Russia, and we seem to be on the edge of this at this moment (March 2023). We are so vulnerable it wouldn’t even take nuclear weapons to destroy Britain. We have sitting targets which, if struck with missiles, would make Britain uninhabitable. I’m referring to our nuclear power stations and especially our nuclear waste storage facility in Cumbria. This is the largest store in the world of the most toxic substances known to man, radio-active nuclear waste. At huge cost and for the next hundreds of years and more we will continue to struggle to keep this material safe. Its release into the environment would create devastation on a scale never previously experienced by mankind. Brief extracts from a Guardian article, a government report and facts about the toxicity of the waste material are printed below.

We therefore need better diplomacy not more weapons to handle “the Russian threat”. We are heading dangerously in the wrong direction

Does the war in Ukraine justify more spending?
Presumably part of our current vast defence budget is earmarked for war fighting so this is where the money should come from. We are no longer fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq.

We are not a protagonist in the war in Ukraine, just a supporter of the Ukrainian side. Are we contributing enough or should we contribute more?

In fact we are contributing far more than any other country in Europe – £2.3 billion in 2022 with £2.3 billion pledged for 2023 – roughly equal to the financial contribution of all other European countries put together. [Source:House of Commons research briefing 15 February 2023. See below.] Several countries will supply only non-lethal materials.

It would seem reasonable for us to contribute less and encourage other European/NATO countries to contribute more.

Britain’s Defence Record

British “defence” has been a disaster and a disgrace for the last 25 years. We have engaged in wars of aggression against Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq. The social, economic and political fabric of Iraq and Serbia were deliberately destroyed and Afghanistan, already one of the poorest countries in the world, has been weakened significantly by our 20 year intervention alongside the Americans. The consequences of these wars has been death and destruction, millions fleeing from their homes, vast increases in human misery, in terrorist threats and millions of refugees. These wars have not been in defence of Britain. Our leaders have failed us. Twenty years in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban left the Taliban in control. Some of the facts of these conflicts are set out below.

The running of the ministry of defence has been incompetent, lacking strategy, proper planning and serious failings in administering its spending. More details below.

How well is our money being spent by the Ministry of Defence?
Unfortunately the Ministry of Defence is legendary for its delays in contract fulfilment, over-spends, and cancelled and failed projects. Currently it is short of shells and artillery and possibly manpower. This suggests that money has been misspent elsewhere. As an example, one suggestion is that the two new super aircraft carriers costing £7 billion (plus the cost of aircraft) and an astronomical sum to run were a mistake. They are targets not easy to hide and their anti-missile defences may be overwhelmed.

So far they have not proved reliable. The second of the two, “HMS Prince of Wales, which has a crew of 1,600, spent fewer than 90 days at sea during its first two years of service after suffering multiple leaks, according to The Guardian.” – Business Insider report.

Might they be sailed into the Baltic and the planes used to attack Russian forces? Of course not. Are we going to take on China? For practical modern day warfare they are useless unless used against some poor defenceless country, and we wouldn’t want to do that. Sell them.

Was enough being spent on defence in 2021?
It jolly well should have been enough. Britain is almost top of the table for big military spending in the world. It’s fourth in the world after the US, China and India. We spend more than Russia, or Germany or France. [Source Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report 2022, therefore 2021 figures.] We spend more of our GDP on defence that any other country in NATO except the US. Why are we trying to look like a super power and delude ourselves that we could ever survive another all-out war?

The answer is, I think, that spending is not related to our calculated needs but to spending targets set by America.  It is as if we are incapable of thinking for ourselves as an independent country.

Present Day UK Defence Spending

● 2019 Conservative Manifesto commitment to increase defence spending every year by ½ percent ABOVE INFLATION.
● 19 November 2020: Government announced £16.5 billion increase in defence spending ABOVE MANIFESTO COMMITMENT – the biggest increase in defence spending for thirty years.
● Total increase in arms spending £24.1 billion over four years compared to 2019
● Further huge increase in defence spending promised in next 7 years.

Liz Truss planned to spend 3% of GDP on defence by 2030. To do this the government would need to increase defence spending by about 60% in real terms. This is equivalent to about £157 billion in additional spending. I believe this target is still in place.

We need to scrap the proposed increases in defence spending and spend our existing defence budget more appropriately in relation to actual needs. We need to pay more attention to developing friendly relations with all countries.

Appendix – Sources and Facts

  1. Destruction in Afghanistan

  2. Destruction in Iraq

  3. Contribution to war in Ukraine

  4. Radio-active nuclear waste – the problems of containment

  5. The astonishing danger of nuclear waste a serious war risk​

Destruction in Afghanistan


December 2022

“The United States war in Afghanistan continues destroying lives due to the war-induced breakdown of the economy, public health, security, and infrastructure. Afghans have been massively impoverished by the conflict. 92% of the population faces some level of food insecurity and 3 million children are at risk of acute malnutrition. Some regions are currently facing famine. At least half the population is living on less than $1.90 per day.

[Death toll]

About 243,000 people have been killed in the Afghanistan/Pakistan war zone since 2001. More than 70,000 of those killed have been civilians.

Key Findings

• As of September 2021, more than 70,000 Afghan and Pakistani civilians are estimated to have died as a direct result of the war.

• The United States military in 2017 relaxed its rules of engagement for airstrikes in Afghanistan, which resulted in a massive increase in civilian casualties.

• The CIA has armed and funded Afghan militia groups who have been implicated in grave human rights abuses and killings of civilians.

• Afghan land is contaminated with unexploded ordnance, which kills and injures tens of thousands of Afghans, especially children, as they travel and go about their daily chores.

• The war has exacerbated the effects of poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation, lack of access to health care, and environmental degradation on Afghans’ health.”

“The CIA armed Afghan militia groups to fight Islamist militants and these militias are responsible for serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings of civilians.

Even in the absence of fighting, unexploded ordnance from this war and landmines from previous wars continue to kill, injure, and maim civilians. Fields, roads, and school buildings are contaminated by ordnance, which often harms children as they go about chores like gathering wood.

The war has also inflicted invisible wounds. In 2009, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health reported that fully two-thirds of Afghans suffer from mental health problems.

[Effects of the war]

Prior wars and civil conflict in the country have made Afghan society extremely vulnerable to the reverberating effects of the U.S. post-9/11 war. Those war effects include elevated rates of disease due to lack of clean drinking water, malnutrition, and reduced access to health care. Nearly every factor associated with premature death — poverty, malnutrition, poor sanitation, lack of access to health care, environmental degradation — is exacerbated by the current war.”


111 Thayer Street,   Brown University, Box 1970   Providence, RI USA   02912-1970

P +1 401 863 2809

© 2023 Watson Institute

Afghanistan deaths

UK forces’ deaths in Afghanistan since 2001 – 456.

“As of September 2021, more than 70,000 Afghan and Pakistani civilians are estimated to have died as a direct result of the war.”

Destruction in Iraq


December 2022

“No one knows with certainty how many people have been killed and wounded in Iraq since the 2003 United States invasion. However, we know that between 275,000 and 306,000 civilians have died from direct war related violence caused by the U.S., its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces from the time of the invasion through October 2019. The violent deaths of Iraqi civilians have occurred through aerial bombing, shelling, gunshots, suicide attacks, and fires started by bombing. Many civilians have also been injured.

Because not all war-related deaths have been recorded accurately by the Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition, the numbers are likely much higher. Several estimates based on randomly selected household surveys place the total death count among Iraqis in the hundreds of thousands.

Several times as many Iraqi civilians may have died as an indirect result of the war, due to damage to the systems that provide food, health care and clean drinking water, and as a result, illness, infectious diseases, and malnutrition that could otherwise have been avoided or treated. The war has compounded the ill effects of decades of harmful U.S. policy actions towards Iraq since the 1960s, including economic sanctions in the 1990s that were devastating for Iraqis.

Despite more than $100 billion committed to aiding and reconstructing Iraq, many parts of the country still suffer from lack of access to clean drinking water and housing.”


111 Thayer Street,   Brown University, Box 1970   Providence, RI USA   02912-1970

P +1 401 863 2809

© 2023 Watson Institute

War-related deaths in Iraq 2003 to present

According to Iraq Body Count there have been approximately 200,000 civilian deaths and 88,000 military deaths. For details and their meticulous methodology see iraqbodycount.org

UK Service personnel deaths in Iraq
“Operation Telic was the codename for British operations in Iraq, which lasted from 19 March 2003 to 22 May 2011. During the campaign, 179 British service personnel died.” – Wikipedia.

War-related refugees in and from Iraq

“As of 2020, 9.2 million Iraqis are internally displaced or refugees abroad.”


War in Ukraine (House of Commons report)

“Who is providing military assistance?

The US is the largest provider of military assistance to Ukraine, having committed $30 billion since the start of the Biden administration. $29.3 billion of that assistance has been provided since February 2022.

As the second largest donor, the UK has committed £2.3 billion in military assistance to Ukraine so far and has pledged to match that assistance in 2023. The UK is also hosting a training programme (Operation Interflex), which is supported by several allies, with the aim of training 10,000 new and existing Ukrainian personnel within 120 days. The UK has recently committed to training Ukrainian fast jet pilots but has said that combat fighter aircraft will not be provided, at least in the short term.

NATO, as an alliance, has been clear in its political support of Ukraine and fully supports the provision of bilateral military assistance by individual allies. NATO is helping to coordinate requests for assistance from the Ukrainian government and is supporting the delivery of humanitarian and non-lethal aid. Ukraine is not a NATO member, however, and therefore isn’t party to NATO’s mutual defence clause under Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty. As such, NATO troops will not be deployed on the ground in Ukraine. Allies have also ruled out imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine because it would bring Russia into direct conflict with NATO forces. At the Heads of State and Government summit in Madrid at the end of June 2022 NATO allies agreed a new package of assistance for Ukraine that will provide long term, sustained, support.

The European Union is also providing non-lethal and lethal arms through its European Peace Facility (EPF). This is the first time the bloc has, in its history, approved the supply of lethal weapons to a third country. To date, the EU has committed €3.6 billion. In October 2022, the EU also approved a new training mission for the Ukrainian armed forces.”


Radio-active nuclear waste problems, longevity, costs – 1

The toxicity, enormous quantity, difficulty of containment even in peace time, the timescale of this risk are all on a scale that is difficult to comprehend. Most people can’t begin to try to grasp it and so the most dangerous and vulnerable feature of life in Britain isn’t thought about. The issue deserves our attention.

These are tiny extracts from an important article in The Guardian by Samanth Subramanian

“Nothing is produced at Sellafield anymore. But making safe what is left behind is an almost unimaginably expensive and complex task that requires us to think not on a human timescale, but a planetary one.

“I’d gone to Sellafield not to observe how it lived but to understand how it is preparing for its end. Sellafield’s waste – spent fuel rods, scraps of metal, radioactive liquids, a miscellany of other debris – is parked in concrete silos, artificial ponds and sealed buildings. Some of these structures are growing, in the industry’s parlance, “intolerable”, atrophied by the sea air, radiation and time itself. If they degrade too much, waste will seep out of them, poisoning the Cumbrian soil and water.


“The best way to neutralise its threat is to move it into a subterranean vault, of the kind the UK plans to build later this century. Once interred, the waste will be left alone for tens of thousands of years, while its radioactivity cools. Dealing with all the radioactive waste left on site is a slow-motion race against time, which will last so long that even the grandchildren of those working on site will not see its end. The process will cost at least £121bn.


“ All of Sellafield is in a holding pattern, trying to keep waste safe until it can be consigned to the ultimate strongroom: the geological disposal facility (GDF), bored hundreds of metres into the Earth’s rock, a project that could cost another £53bn. Even if a GDF receives its first deposit in the 2040s, the waste has to be delivered and put away with such exacting caution that it can be filled and closed only by the middle of the 22nd century.


“High-level waste – the by-product of reprocessing – is so radioactive that its containers will give off heat for thousands of years. It, too, will become harmless over time, but the scale of that time is planetary, not human. The number of radioactive atoms in the kind of iodine found in nuclear waste by-products halves every 16m years.


“Somewhere on the premises, Sellafield has also stored the 140 tonnes of plutonium it has purified over the decades. It’s the largest such hoard of plutonium in the world, but it, too, is a kind of waste, simply because nobody wants it for weapons any more, or knows what else to do with it.

“Sellafield now requires £2bn a year to maintain.”

The Guardian, Samanth Subramanian

Read the full article at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/dec/15/dismantling-sellafield-epic-task-shutting-down-decomissioned-nuclear-site

Radio-active nuclear waste problems, longevity, costs – 2

House of Commons Public Accounts Committee

Extracts from the Report on the work of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) Session 2019–21

23 November 2020

[This report is primarily about the clearing up of radio-active materials and equipment from the British Magnox nuclear reactors which have so far been closed down, but it makes clear the worrying uncertainty about the unprecedented timescale to complete the task of decommissioning nuclear power stations and the unknowability of the escalating costs.]

“The uncertainty affecting the Magnox sites reflects a wider uncertainty about the costs and timetable of decommissioning the whole civil nuclear estate. According to the NDA’s [Nuclear Decommissioning Authority ] most recent estimates it will cost the UK taxpayer £132 billion to decommission the UK’s civil nuclear sites and the NDA estimates that the work will not be completed for another 120 years.”

“The cost of the long-term liability to decommission the UK’s civil nuclear sites now stands at £132 billion, though by its nature this estimate is inherently uncertain. When pushed to provide us with a full and final figure for the cost of decommissioning the Magnox sites, The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s management of the Magnox contract the NDA could not do so and stated that this will not be possible until the work has been completed.”

“Public accountability is hindered by a lack of transparency about the scale and nature of the challenge of decommissioning and the performance of the NDA. Nuclear decommissioning will cost current and future generations of taxpayers’ substantial sums of money “

Source https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/3703/documents/36067/default/See section 2 of Conclusions and Recommendations for this information.


The astonishing danger of nuclear waste  –  a serious war risk

Nuclear waste is the most toxic mix of substances known to man. The biggest repository in the world of such material is in Cumbria, UK. Very large sums of money are being spent trying to contain this material until such time, in decades to come, that it can be buried in caverns bored deep into rock far below the earth’s surface to keep it “safe” for tens of thousands of years.

There are several kinds of radio-active substances with different degrees of danger to life. Just as an example look at plutonium-239. Its radio-activity reduces over time. It is calculated to have decayed to half strength after 24,110 years.


“Plutonium-239 emits alpha particles to become uranium-235. As an alpha emitter, plutonium-239 is not particularly dangerous as an external radiation source, but if it is ingested or breathed in as dust it is very dangerous and carcinogenic. It has been estimated that a pound (454 grams) of plutonium inhaled as plutonium oxide dust could give cancer to two million people.

from wikipedia

Sellafield stores 140 tonnes of plutonium. See The Guardian” article above.

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David Roberts

Writer, publisher, music promoter

Born in 1942, I now have time to enjoy life more widely and reflect on my experience, interests, and contemporary events.

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