Public spending is being slashed across Europe in what is being heralded as a new “age of austerity”, yet defence and homeland security spending continues to break records with every passing year. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of Europeans are safer now than they’ve ever been.

With so few people challenging the bankruptcy of the “politics of fear”, the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins has written several refreshing articles on needless defence spending and the growing power of the security lobby in the UK.

Jenkins’ arguments are no less relevant to a European Union now committed to increases in military and security expenditure in perpetuity. Here’s a snapshot of what he says:

On Homeland Security…

Events such as the G8, the Olympics and the World Cup offer massive paydays for the security industry. Charles Hill, formerly of Scotland Yard’s art and antiquities squad, was this week quoted complaining that “virtually nothing” was being spent on security for Britain’s museums “during the Olympics”, leaving the door wide open to criminals. This is despite the police budget for just two weeks of games having risen to £800m, reputedly dwarfing what even Beijing spent in 2008. The new security minister, Lady Neville-Jones, is said to be “conducting a review” of Olympic security. Might she reduce it?

There appears to be no attempt to assess value for money from an industry that has vastly expanded since 9/11. If an incident occurs, it is a reason for spending more on security. If no incident occurs, it justifies what is already being spent. Britain has little by way of a libertarian tradition to resist the onward creep of the risk-aversion agencies dealing with safety, surveillance and security, all manifestations of a rising public paranoia…

The public should be invited to reject the politics of fear, that sees life as a perpetual terror of what might happen and a perpetual investigation of what has. It should not be asked to regard every child as a victim and every adult a paedophile, a terrorist or a mass murderer. The government should stop spending stupid amounts of money on a security lobby now running amok through the public sector.

Read the full article here

On defence…

Labour lacked the guts to admit that it was crazy to plan for another Falklands war. It dared not admit that the procurement executive was fit for nothing but appeasing weapons manufacturers. No armies were massing on the continent poised to attack. No navies were plotting to throttle our islands and starve us into submission. No missiles were fizzing in bunkers across Asia with Birmingham or Leeds in their sights. As for the colonies, if it costs £45bn to protect the Falklands, Gibraltar and the Caymans, it must be the most ridiculous empire in history. It would be cheaper to give each colony independence and a billion a year.

Lobbyists reply that all defence expenditure is precautionary. You cannot predict every threat and it takes time to rearm should one emerge. That argument might have held during the cold war and, strictly up to a point, today. But at the present scale it is wholly implausible…

Whenever I ask a defence pundit against whom he is defending me, the answer is a wink and a smile: “You never know.” The world is a messy place. Better safe than sorry. It is like demanding crash barriers along every pavement in case cars go out of control, or examining school children for diseases every day. You never know. The truth is, we are now spending £45bn on heebie-jeebies.

For the past 20 years, Britain’s armed forces have encouraged foreign policy into one war after another, none of them remotely to do with the nation’s security. Asked why he was standing in an Afghan desert earlier this year, Brown had to claim absurdly that he was “making London’s streets safer”. Some wars, as in Iraq, have been a sickening waste of money and young lives. Others in Kosovo and Afghanistan honour a Nato commitment that had nothing to do with collective security. Like many armies in history, Nato has become an alliance in search of a purpose…

There are many evils that threaten the British people at present, but I cannot think of one that absolutely demands £45bn to deter it. Soldiers, sailors and air crews are no protection against terrorists, who anyway are not that much of a threat. No country is an aggressor against the British state. No country would attack us were the government to put its troops into reserve and mothball its ships, tanks and planes. Let us get real.

I am all for being defended, but at the present price I am entitled to ask against whom and how. Of all the public services that should justify themselves from ground zero, defence is the first.

Read the full article here

According to the organisers, “the DGI 2010 Conference is Europe’s largest annual gathering dedicated to high-level discussion addressing the major challenges of the defence and government geospatial intelligence community. Bringing together Heads of Geospatial Intelligence, GIS, Remote Sensing, Operations, and Imagery and Analysis, the conference provides a unique forum to discuss and debate the development of geospatial intelligence capabilities across the globe”.

The conference takes place in London on 25-28 January 2010. Highlights include:

  • Operations – Hear case study presentations from military & national security GIS professionals, who will show you how they have used GIS in-theatre and operations world-wide. Find out best strategies and practical realities of supporting soldiers in-theatre with effective and timely GIS intelligence. Case studies from Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and many other hot-spots around the world will give you unique insight into the role of GIS in current warfare.
  • Olympics Focus – This year DGI 2010 will bring you a number of case studies from defence and government organizations responsible for GIS information and intelligence during the London 2012 Olympic Games. We are currently working with many GIS executives who have been involved in the Olympic games around the world, as well as with the London Olympic Games team.
  • National Security Focus – Interoperability between nations and organizations has become imperative. Your organization will be co-operating with many defence and national security organizations on many levels. This is why DGI 2010 is bringing you a range of national security case studies from around the world. Learn how police, ambulance, fire, transport & infrastructure services use GIS to make decisions, plan for large events and build plans for the future.

Click here to register for this event directly (you’ll need the best part of £4,000).