Baseless defence budget criticism
THE criticism of defence budget is unfounded. Europe and America have dealt with defence cost in two different ways but what is common in both cases is that it is not free.
The EU member states made a security agreement with NATO for their protection and in return each state promised to contribute 2% of its GDP to the alliance for their national security umbrella. NATO and the EU were created in 1949 and 1950 respectively.
Pakistan has no such privilege. The ratio of its GDP to military spending from 2009 to 2019 was 3.2% to 3.98% with highest 4% in 2019. In 2021, Pakistan allocated $7.85bn, which is one tenth of India’s 2020 $72.9bn (2.9%) defence budget.
The top ten 2020 defence budgets included America 3.7% (778bn), China 1.7% ($252bn) and Germany 1.4% ($52.8bn) respectively.
The security situation on borders and inside Pakistan aims to drain it financially and recent media campaign is part of it.
Both America and the EU used the agreement to build their national economies. It was only in 2016 that Trump unravelled the agreement but it had given both parties 66 years of head start.
Trump accused the NATO members of building their economies with US taxpayers’ money.
Reportedly, it cost $17 trillion to maintain NATO from its start while America shared 70 percent of its cost.
It explains why Trump was so angry with the transatlantic allies for failing to pay for their security by the US.Europe refused to pay for NATO. The security alliance ended and the future of NATO is uncertain since then. The EU member states even failed to pay for 30% remaining budget.
Eastern Europe was too poor to pay and rich members never paid 2% of their due GDP share. Merkel failed to cobble European military alliance.
Johnson left EU “fighting” publicly to avoid paying $41.2bn Brexit divorce bill while trying to make military alliance with the US secretly under special relations.
After Brexit, the first UK defence budget in 2021 saw an increase from $59.2bn to $62.5bn. According to BBC, it will be $72.89bn by 2024-25. During NATO alliance, the annual UK defence spending fell by $9.3bn in real terms from 2010 to 2017. There was a cut of 14.6% as compared to budget of 2009-10.
The UK defence spending as an independent state has increased to 2.66% of GDP and the amount will increase with size of the economy.
A representative of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) told BBC News that it would enable the government to put a higher proportion of defence spending towards things like technology and research and development.
In Pakistan, likewise the focus should shift to modernizing military to meet the IT, cyber security and space technology challenges along with conventional capabilities to prepare for geo-economic, military and strategic objectives.
The West uses military alliances to protect their economies. The pre-and-post-Brexit British politics is case in point.
The UK has acted as the US ally in the EU including invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and the disintegration of the (former) Soviet Union. The British leadership enjoyed special relationship with America while denying them military bases on the UK territory.
Biden’s G-7 NATO statement shows use of alliances to save defence spending, build economies and accessing global markets in the ME, Asia and Africa.
Pakistan education and health budgets cuts are not unique. UK has cut 9% education and 25% healthcare (NHS) budget in 2020-21 in real terms. According to OECD, there is 45% corruption in healthcare sector in member countries including UK.
Our government is failing to punish embezzlement of public money in government setups and giving it to private setups as political gratification while giving 90bn tax breaks to so-called charity organizations charging commercial prices with its staff drawing ten digit pay packages. It is clear that the priority is corruption not public service and nation building.
US government is using $28tn pension fund for the pensions. The average Rs 450bn national saving deposits helped governments to pay pensions.
The political governments deliberately destroyed saving system in public banks, NSC and post offices to facilitate loan mafia. The financial institutions are profiting by loaning public tax money up to 36% interest rate.
It should not be more than 15 paisas and exchange rate be fixed at Rs115. The saving system be restored to preserve pensions.
Pakistan should ask for return of $100bn spent on Afghan war. UK, Germany and Canada only spent $31.3bn, $19.68bn and $18bn respectively.
Our government should get this money from $2tn that US spent on Afghan war. They should also get financial support for Pak-Afghan border fence as departing forces obligation to help keep peace in the region.
Borders fences have helped countries including Saudi Arabia during peace and war. The comparison Pakistan’s defence spending shows that it is ten times less.
The reduction in health and education budgets shows government priorities than financial constraints as evident in rich UK budget cuts.
PM should accept failures of his government to control prices, end corruption, and improve tax collection to fund expenses of state and public sector.
—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.