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Business is good defence

Britain is very good at making equipment for the world's armies. Numbers vary depending on the source, but if we take the figures used by David Cameron when announcing a new programme to support the UK's defence sector last month, the total global equipment spend is £82billion and the UK's portion of this is £9.8bn.

The new programme as part of the Defence Growth Partnership (DGP) initiative is aimed at improving how our own military is equipped but also for developing new, exportable defence technologies.

Here at New Electronics we recently looked at the Catapult network and how it was effectively doing the same thing in other sectors where the UK had particular expertise. So why not do it for defence?

It depends on what we want the role of our government to be. The Conservatives have for many years described its role as 'small' government. Supporting business, keeping taxes low but not determining how people should live their lives. A government that is 'small' therefore has the economy as its main priority rather than societal issues. Supporting the defence industry therefore makes sense - it is good for many UK companies, including many electronics companies in the supply chain.

However, there is currently outrage about the pictures coming back from Israel and Gaza showing children being killed in UN shelters. It is a depressing war (is there any other kind?) where hatreds seem so ingrained, and opinions so polarised, that resolution seems impossible.

The UK supplies Israel directly, and still has licenses in place to supply Syria, who are almost certainly the supply route for Hamas' longer range rockets, with such things as military vehicles, body armour and the dubious 'dual-use chemicals'. In other words we are in the supply chain for both sides.

Equally you could argue that, despite all the recent tough talking, export licenses still exist with Russia, despite the loss of British lives on the Malaysian aircraft shot down, allegedly by pro-Russian separatists. And we still supply a long list of equipment to Argentina - technology for launching missiles and naval electronic equipment, for example - despite its Foreign Minister making overtures about reclaiming the Falklands. Hopefully his intention is to use, and abide by, diplomatic channels.

Finally, although this is an argument that could go on endlessly, we theoretically recoil at selling arms to regimes that may use them against their own people, yet we still sell to Sri Lanka, Egypt and many more. And does it really matter whether the person killed is of the same nationality or another?

It is an age-old argument and one that is dismissed as naive by those who either disagree in principle or can't afford to agree in practice.

The UK's defence is important and worth investing in, and the defence industry is a very important part of the UK's electronics industry. The international arms business is both huge and something we, as a nation, play a prominent role in. But should we?

Small government, which in this respect we have had since the year dot, would say that it is up to the market to sort itself out. But small government doesn't need to be small minded - there needs to be some morals and common sense involved.

Author
Tim Fryer

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What you think about this article:

Tim - that all makes sense to me. Nicely argued.

Posted by: Richard Parker, 04/08/2014

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