One of the ‘advantages’ of the union that is often touted by the likes of Eric “Rentaquote” Joyce and his ilk is that, as a part of Britain, Scotland “punches above its weight” in the world or that we derive superior defences against whatever terrorist nasties might be set on dropping the Squinty Bridge into the Clyde during rush-hour. This week’s Economist publishes a rather stark graphic that puts this nonsense into some kind of context.
The US’s $700bn dwarfs the next-biggest (China at $119bn) and makes Britain’s third place seem very much an also-ran at $65.6bn (rather less than this year’s government record interest payment of $76.27bn). That spend, however, does not even provide us with a carrier (we scrapped Ark Royal and Illustrious was seen sneaking down the Forth this month but in no state to help in Libya). The US Navy deploys 11 Carrier battle groups, plus a training group, around the globe, with a naval air wing of over 50 strike aircraft on each. In other words, the UK does not even register, let alone punch its weight.
British conventional ‘punch’ is weak. With no maritime air strength remaining, much of the UK defence spend (over $16bn) is absorbed by Trident. With most (10,000+) of our deployable troops committed in Afghanistan and an air force that struggles to contribute its share to NATO’s shellacking of Libya, there is little that any putative enemy has to fear from Britain. Looked at objectively, Britain’s defence strategy is fragmented and its current posture a deep embarrassment to service chiefs who know about these things.
Then consider Norway (defence budget of just $7bn—don’t even bother looking for it on the chart above). They just increased this budget by $63m to allow extra training and support for their F16 squadron enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya, plus their infantry battalion on peacekeeping duty in Palestine and the frigate on anti-pirate duty off Somalia. They have a modern, balanced defensive force. This is used generously as a component of international peacekeeping so that they are highly regarded throughout the Western, muslim or any other part of the world. No-one is threatening to bomb them.
So, you decide: who’s really punching above their weight?
By the way, Scotland’s contribution to Britain’s current defence budget, over which we have minimal control, is $5.4bn. Why not be another Norway for that kind of money?