Chancellor George Osborne recently claimed that he estimates the cost of the RAF bombing campaign in Syria will be in the ‘low tens of missions of pounds’. It is almost certain that Osborne is being misleading. For a start both he and David Cameron have stated that the campaign could last for years. How many they do not say so any estimate by Osborne is likely to be kite-flying at best or simply disingenuous It is instructive to look at similar air campaigns as articles such as this one by TruePublica has done. They point out that a very similar campaign in Libya in 2011 cost Britain over £390 million for just 7 months of bombing. Furthermore CND has estimated that the total cost in Libya to the UK (including ‘advisers’ etc) was as high as £1.5 billion.
Even if we take Mr Osborne at his word the point is frequently made that whereas money is freely and abundantly provided for war, other activities including flood defences (let alone schools and hospitals) have seen financial cutbacks. Simply, it is a matter of priorities or, as some cynics have suggested, a question of investment in arms companies by decision makers. The attitude of Ministers is especially provoking, on the one hand assuming a mealy-mouthed attitude to helping the disabled and vulnerable when ‘austerity’ is often cited, compared with an almost enthusiastic glee for military action for which austerity has apparently ended.
So what are the priorities, and leaving aside the moral concerns, is bombing cost effective? One of the issues that all politicians and the vast majority of the public agree on is that a primary role of Government is to keep its citizens safe from external threat. It is also agreed that IS-Daesh presents a clear threat to the UK, which if not of an existential nature is certainly significant enough to take very seriously. Where there is sharp disagreement is the way to tackle the threat. I want to focus on just one of the UK Government aims (such as they are!) of removing President Assad and ending the Syrian civil war leading to an all-out combined ground assault on IS-Daesh. But bombing IS-Daesh will NOT remove Assad who still possesses the most effective force in the country, Already the aim is dangerously subverted. But recall that it was only in 2013 that Parliament was asked to bomb Assad. Strangely enough, no politician questioned the role of Syrian banks. As this Washington Post article pointed out, despite sanctions which have seriously damaged the economy none of the 6 state owned Syrian banks have collapsed. Furthermore the 14 Private regional Banks (owned by Saudis and Quataris amongst others) have stayed put despite a massive physical and financial onslaught. The rise of ‘regime-businessmen’ have led to a financial class intent on protecting the Assad government.
Where our Government is particularly disingenuous is in the fact that the cost of bombing is likely to be minimal compared with the cost of reconstruction and building a robust civil and political society. Syria reconstruction is likely to cost at least USD170bn according to a World Bank study.
The Government should be committed to both protecting us and providing well-run effective public services. In a world of scarce resources it must ensure that both are cost effective. The problem for the UK establishment is that ending the financing of both Assad and IS-Daesh (inluding ending oil sales) will impact the plutocrats and profiteers, including its Saudi allies. The IS-Daesh problem is likely to be complex to solve and take a very long time. Support for bombing by the British public had already plummeted, even before the Commons vote. It is about time Government Ministers stop misleading and dissembling in this most important of issues.