Buying Peace? – 13 January 2011

I’ve been working with some clever folk from KCL’s Centre for Defence Studies on a project looking at the future of the UK’s Defence Estates. You’ll hear more about this project in the coming few months as we seek to finalise it and then roll it out to an unsuspecting (although increasingly suspecting) policy community.

Without going into the nitty gritty of the project or its preliminary conclusions, it did set me thinking about what we (as tax-payers, citizens etc) want from our defence estate, and from our defence community. When the War Studies Department was established all those years ago it made a lofty claim to capture the rich interdisciplinary underpinnings of war studies (wrapping in strat studies, defence studies, psychology, economics etc) and it was as correct then as it is now. The key question I have asked myself throughout the project aside from fitness of purpose is ‘how much peace does this buy’? And whilst it’s a simplistic question I think it should capture the essence of most defence thinking. We pay vast amount of money for defence equipment partly because of its cutting edge qualities but mostly because we aim to buy peace with it (whether it works in a deterrent form, or an offensive form). For the defence estates, the question of how much peace is it buying is partly one of whether the estates contribute to operational effectiveness (and as a base line should not hinder it) but also whether service personnel live in acceptable (and better than acceptable) conditions and whether the morale of the services and the communities they are drawn from, live in and serve is also boosted.

I was pleased to see that overseas development has gently nudged down this road, its purpose is now to contribute to regional stability, so what seemed to be inexplicable ring-fencing, now at least seems to serve a joined-up government goal. The Military Covenant Commission called upon a through-government commitment to the covenant, and I think it is only through a through-government approach that we can work out ‘how much peace we are buying’.

No sane individual would want to go to war on a whim, or because it seems like jolly good fun. The question should always revolve around ‘how much peace am I buying’, and if the answer is very little then that should be a cause to pause. Buying peace does not exclude war, nor does it exclude the manufacture of weapons, or the intellectual work in how to deploy them most effectively. But buying peace should not involve the sorts of cuts to manpower and capability to invite on an adversary to think that victory via a war is possible or desirable.

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