Sunday, October 1

Military spending: one thing and its opposite

Why should we fool ourselves, the world in which we have had to live is not, precisely, a space of peace, concord and harmony. It is certainly not the one of perpetual peace dreamed of by the great Immanuel Kant. On the contrary, it rather resembles the hobbesian from the Latin phrase homo homini lupus, Man is a wolf to man. The history of Humanity is also the story of its endless wars and, if you push me, especially those waged in the long-suffering European land. It has been an illusion to think that the last contest was going to be the Second World War. Throughout a single generation – mine – we have suffered a lot of them: that of China, that of Korea, that of Vietnam, the innumerable colonial wars, those of the Balkans, those of the Middle East, etc., in the that we Europeans have been, in one way or another, involved. Perhaps De Gaulle was right when he argued that peace was not the natural condition between States, but that “the world is full of opposing forces and international life, as well as life in general, is a permanent struggle”. It is a rather pessimistic vision of our world, but frankly realistic if we take into account the economic system that dominates. Today, without going any further, we have multiple and dangerous conflicts in different scenarios around the globe. Obviously, the war in Ukraine -which disrupts everything-, but also the extremely dangerous tension between the US and China regarding Taiwan and other issues; the eternal Israel-Palestinian dispute, or the open conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya and the multiple military coups that have overthrown governments in Mali, Chad, Guinea, Sudan and Burkina Faso, turning Sub-Saharan Africa into an explosive zone. As there were few of us, the grandmother gave birth and now the tension is growing between Turkey and Greece or between Morocco and Algeria.

The causes of all these conflicts are heterogeneous and some of these confrontations have distant antecedents. However, these convulsions are not arbitrary, they are certainly not justified, but they are due to causes, almost all ignoble if not criminal, of an economic, religious, geopolitical nature or a pure struggle for power. In the case of Europe, after the Second World War we learned the lesson and, in order to put an end once and for all to the “European civil wars”, the process of building the EU began, a decisive project in our history and that positively conditions our future. Now, it is clear that the Union has a deficit in security and defense, which is mainly due to the fact that it has not advanced enough in the political union. In this way, its strategic dependency on the US is a fact since the end of that terrible conflict, since it lacks sufficient autonomy in the face of adverse nuclear powers that could exercise, at one time or another, threats or forms of blackmail. It is true that at the end of that world war two hypotheses were presented: either to continue, in some way, with the collaboration of the powers that had defeated Hitler and his associates, an option that Henry Wallace, Roosevelt’s vice president, defended in his day before a Truman in favor of confrontation, who was the winner in the primaries for the Democratic party’s candidacy. In other words, either a pan-European security system was built that included, in some way, the USSR, or the cold war and bloc politics were inevitable. For years the Warsaw Pact – that is, the USSR – and NATO – that is, the USA – coexisted badly. When the former and the USSR disappeared, the same question could be raised: either a shared European security system that takes into account the security concerns of all and its guarantees, or bring NATO to the border of an economic, social and institutionally authoritarian, but loaded up to the eyebrows with energy and nuclear warheads. A dangerous operation as George Kennan or Henry Kissinger warned. It is clear that, in theory, each country is free to join a military alliance of its choice, but in practice it is important to take into account the consequences, which are not always pleasant. It is obvious that the US would not accept, for example, a military alliance of Russia or China with its neighbors in the American hemisphere.

Faced with this situation, most of the EU countries chose to remain under the US’s -strategic- nuclear umbrella, in the form of NATO. The efforts of France – and Great Britain – to equip themselves with nuclear weapons have had a limited scope that, for the moment, do not cover the needs of a credible nuclear deterrent. However, this strategic dependency on the US cannot last a lifetime. Among other reasons, because we Europeans cannot depend on a US president, as was the case with Trump, with dubious democratic credentials and who hardly coincides with our basic proposals. Which, obviously, can be repeated in the future. Thus, if the EU seriously intends to be a global actor, it must move, without hesitation, towards obtaining autonomous security and defense capabilities, which does not mean that it is incompatible with NATO.

In this sense, the position of certain exponents of the left who do not wish to depend on NATO-USA and, at the same time, are opposed to EU countries, including Spain, spending more and better on security and defense is contradictory. . Because there is nothing more incoherent and useless in politics than wanting one thing and its opposite. Another issue is that pacifist positions are defended -which is different from peaceful- that do not serve to govern in real terms. Let us be clear, if we want the EU -and Spain within it- to achieve the famous “strategic autonomy” one day, that is, the political and military capacity to make independent decisions in the face of all the possible challenges and threats that affect our security, we have to invest more and better in defense. How much more and how better? That is the question we have to discuss and decide. In how much more, the need to reach 2% of GDP in seven years has been raised. It does not seem to me an exorbitant figure, if we avoid demagoguery or pure disinformation. Let us choose the case of Spain. The budgetary effort that such a commitment would require would depend on the starting point taken with respect to current spending relative to GDP.

The variation is considerable depending on the criteria we choose. It is often claimed, with little foundation, that Spanish defense spending is slightly above 1% of GDP (1.03% in 2021). However, if we use the NATO criterion, this proportion increases to 1.78% of GDP, not far from the “fateful” 2%. If we were to eliminate questionable items such as war pensions, passive classes or Isfas from this figure, the Spanish effort would be around 1.3% of GDP. In order to reach 2% we would have to increase by 0.7% over seven years, that is, a growth of 0.1% of annual GDP. If the GDP of Spain is situated at 1.2 billion euros, 0.1% is 1,200 million per year. In the worst case, if we start from 1.01%, that figure would increase to 1,700 million. These amounts are not exaggerated if we take into account what the objective or purpose of the expenditure is and not another: to increase the strategic autonomy of the EU, a desirable and fundamental social good for the future. The argument according to which it would be better to allocate that amount to social purposes -education, health- is not consistent. In the first place, because the same could be said of any amount dedicated to military spending and, by that rule of thumb, we should dispense with all spending on defense and remain defenseless against aggression or blackmail. Secondly, because the argument does not respond to reality, since it is compatible to invest more in education or health, and in defence. Countries with much better social systems than ours spend more on defense than we do. The European average is 1.5% of GDP: Germany 1.54%; France 2%; Holland 1.4%, in proportions equivalent to our 1.03%.

Thus, the apparent contradiction between social and defense spending is not resolved with simplistic or demagogic arguments, but simply with more robust fiscal models than the Spanish one. What is not logical is that a country like Spain, one of the 20 largest economies in the world and the fourth in the EU, spends so little on security and defense, that is, it contributes so little to the much-desired “strategic autonomy” from the EU. In addition, the risks for Europeans and for Spain do not come only from the Eastern border, but also from the Southern border, which in the medium term could become a powder keg. I don’t know where the idea that the left is antimilitarist and against investment in security came from. As far as I remember, it was with democracy, with the support of the entire left -socialists and communists-, when investments in defense were guaranteed and some Armed Forces were modernized that the dictatorship, so “patriotic”, had left a few foxes, invalids to defend ourselves.