12/04/2015 16:12 BST | Updated 09/06/2015 06:59 BST

UK Military Spending Should Be Cut, Regardless of Who Wins in May


Trident Nuclear Submarine HMS Victorious, Ministry of Defence

The last few days have seen the UK's military strategy brought to the forefront of the election, with Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Fallon accusing Miliband of 'bartering away' the UK's costly and deadly nuclear submarines and 'gambling' with the UK's national security.

Unfortunately, despite the personalised tone, the political differences are actually far less pronounced than the rhetoric would suggest. Miliband emphasised this in his response: "Our position is continuous at-sea deterrence, like the Conservative Party, renewing Trident, like the Conservative Party, multi-lateral disarmament, like the Conservative Party."

The issue goes wider than Trident, with both parties agreeing on most of the fundamentals of foreign policy and national security.

At the moment the military lobby in both parties is working overtime to ensure that the UK maintains the sixth largest military budget in the world.

The last few months have seen former defence secretaries from both sides joining NATO heads in calling on the UK to "show leadership" by maintaining its current budget. Senior military chiefs have threatened to quit if there are any cuts and last month the House of Commons Defence Committee urged the government to 'rebuild its military capacity.'

All of this alarmist talk needs to be put it context. Despite recent cuts, at £37 billion the UK military budget is still far higher than in a number of much bigger countries, such as Brazil or India. It also represents a far higher percentage of national GDP than any other European country and almost all NATO members. Very often this money is pumped straight into bloated, costly and unnecessary procurement projects like the two aircraft carriers, F35 Jets and trident missiles.

These skewed priorities have contributed to a UK foreign policy that has been characterised by militarism and disastrous foreign interventions, like the catastrophic wars in Libya and Iraq. This emphasis on war has been mirrored by a consistent and hypocritical support for tyrants and dictatorships like in Saudi Arabia as long as they buy UK weapons.

One of the effects of the current debate has been to overlook a number of the underlying drivers of national and international insecurity; such as climate change, cyber-crime and the sustainability of our energy sources. The government's latest National Security Strategy review (published October 2010) found that all of these pose far greater and more immediate threats than the likelihood of any military strike against the UK.

Part of what is fuelling the current focus is the close and politically compromising relationship between arms companies and politicians from across the spectrum.

This was on full display when the ADS, a trade body for arms companies, held its annual dinner at the Hilton Hotel in Mayfair two months ago. The dinner was attended by hundreds of arms company representatives and over 40 MPs, from across the three main political parties; including the Minister for Business, Vince Cable, and Shadow Defence Minister, Vernon Coaker.

This high-level political support has been complemented by a structural support, which has seen a 'revolving door' between arms companies and the corridors of power.

Research from The Guardian has found that senior military officers and MoD officials received approval for over 3,500 jobs in arms companies between 1996-2012 alone. One of the most notable examples is former defence minister Geoff Hoon, who is now the 'head of government affairs' at AgustaWestland, after having given them a £1.7 billion contract while in office.

Furthermore, arms companies are regularly seconding staff to the very departments that are responsible for buying and selling their wares. Surely if government is to take a neutral and dispassionate view on national security strategy then these sorts of potentially back-scratching deals need to come to an end?

Regardless of who wins the election, what we can't have is five more years of the same. It is not manufactured and personalised arguments about Trident that are needed. Rather it is a whole new approach to national security; one that isn't constantly focused on projecting strength, providing military solutions to all threats and taking part in catastrophic foreign interventions that make us all less safe.

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade