A guest post from Martin…
“Warning this document contains large amounts of back of the fag packet maths and studying it in too much detail might lead to fatal laming’. All figures are based on real world costs but do not take into account BAE or MOD accounting standards.
The Department for Foreign and International Development (DFID) budget in my mind highlights the ineptitude of the current coalition government. While SDSR was a farce designed as a justification to simply cut the budget I think we can all agree that it was at least in part necessary. With the nation insolvent moves have to be made to cut back on expenditure and it’s only right that defence plays a part in that. Other government budgets have fared worse than the MOD from the cuts with some expected to make 40% reductions up to 2015. Even the much loved political football of the NHS will see a spending freeze up to 2015. However after talking tough about wasteful spending and the need to make tough choices “while still punching above our wait” the same government is now preparing to not only maintain but increase our current aid budget by 40% in real terms up to a level of 0.7% of GDP. The current government’s policy is to turn the UK into a “foreign aid super power”. The only justification for this seems to be honouring the millennium goals set up by the last government where all G8 nations committed to spending 0.5% of GDP on aid. At present the budget is some £10.6 billion per annum and may rise to £14 billion in 2015. Looking at other G8 nations the government is very close to reaching its goal of being a foreign aid super power as not one G8 nation excluding France is anywhere near 0.5%.
Why the government has decided to do this is beyond me. The DFID budget is now a significant amount of money approaching the size of the UK’s transport budget. An East and West Coast high speed rail network connecting every major city in the country would cost some £70 billion. With this budget we could achieve this in five years without a penny of private money invested. I doubt a single citizen of the UK would complain if this budget was cut or even removed all together (Bono not being a citizen of the United Kingdom).
The government has decided to change the aim of the budget. We no longer give money to the likes of China or Russia. The lion share of the discretionary budget will now be spent on supporting our efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Much of this money seems to be wasted on corruption and I would not be surprised if a substantial part ends up in the pockets of the very people we are trying to fight.
We might advocate simply scrapping the budget all together. However I myself would like to see it spent in other ways. Given government expenditure of £772 billion in 2013 this money would make very little difference if spread across various departments. Even if it was given to arguably the most deserving budget, defence, what would we really get? Some extra Frigates, an extra brigade and maybe an extra couple of Dave squadrons. Hardly a transformation and as we all know the chances of defence benefiting at the expense of health are zero.
The great thing about this budget is the fact that it is already in place and accounted for. We don’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul. Instead we can rob Bono and pay Bernard. As long as the money is spent on helping Johnny foreigner and promoting UK diplomatic efforts then no one except Sir Bob and Claire Short can complain. I am going to try and outline a number of ways we could spend the money on foreign aid in a way that really benefits both the UK and the countries we are helping.
Building a Humanitarian Armada
The Royal Navy maintains one of the largest amphibious ware fare fleets in the world. This is a great capability to have however in all honesty it is something we rarely use. I think the use of Bay class units to provide disaster relief are commendable. Arguably the Bays have done a better job in the Caribbean than the frigates they fill in for. Even tasks like fighting piracy have been carried out very effectively by this type of platform.
When the s**t really hits the fan as in Haiti there is arguable no platform better suited for helping people than a large amphibious warship like an LPD or LHD. It has lots of room, hundreds of beds; space for ISO containers (must mention ISO containers), medical facilities and can land large equipment by sea or air with no need for port facilities. It can also fly dozens of helicopters to rescue people while not putting our own people at risk by setting up onshore facilities in a disaster area. Couple all that by the fact they can move to almost any disaster area on the planet in a relatively short period of time and you really do have the perfect platform for delivering humanitarian assistance.
Most people in the UK probably think the majority of the aid budget goes on helping people in need following disasters. However less than 15% of the budget is spent on such things. The Royal Navy out of its own pocket actually provides for many of these emergencies as in Haiti.
So we have a need for a large amphibious fleet not to mention a worldwide network of frigates and other vessels that we rarely desperately need to use. And we have a large aid budget which should really be spent on helping the people in the greatest need. Why not combine the two?
Italy another G7 nations only spends 0.15% of GDP on foreign aid. The Italians use part of their tiny aid budget to subsidise the construction of large ship’s such as the Cavour that can and are used in disaster relief operations. I would like to see the UK use a similar approach.
By 2020 – 2025 the UK is either going to have to scrap or replace four major elements of its amphibious fleet. These are the LPH HMS Ocean, two LPD’s Albion and Bulwark and the casualty receiving ship/aviation training ship RFA Argus.
My suggestion would be to replace all of these vessels with four new LHD vessel built along the lines of the Spanish LHD Juan Carlos. The Royal Navy and the Foreign Aid budget would split the cost of constructing and operating the vessels equally.
The vessel would be constructed so that they can be rapidly converted from amphibious assault to a large floating medical and disaster relief facility with a 300 bed hospital on board. At any time the RN would maintain one of these vessels configured as a hospital ship at the dockside ready to move on just 24 hours’ notice.
While an LHD is relatively cheap to run a 300 bed hospital is not. However let’s not forget the British Government is the largest employer of medical staff in the world with 500,000 nurse and 100,000 doctors on the payroll. I would imagine it to be relatively simple for us to find 200 nurses and 50 doctors willing to volunteer to be part of an aid operation in say Haiti on 24 hours’ notice if they knew they would get to stay on a well-protected air condition RN vessel off the coast.
The reconfiguration of these vessels should also be relatively simple. Using the vehicle deck below as well as part of the Hanger deck for storage of ISO containers would allow us to have mobile x-ray units, surgical theatres, extra beds, intensive care units and almost anything else we can think off. As TD has pointed out on several occasions much of this stuff is already available off the shelf.
In addition the accommodation required for a battalion of soldiers can just as easily be switched over to hospital beds or berths for refugees.
The great strength of the LHD is its ability to offload men and supplies from the dock at the stern. In a disaster relief operation this would allow us to deliver large heavy items such as diesel generators, digging equipment and desalination plants (all available in handy ISO containers) straight to a beach or small harbour.
While it would be difficult to paint the rotating vessels white as they are still military ship’s it would present little difficult to put a removable giant red cross on the side of which ever vessel was being used as the medical vessel.
In a time of war the vessel would be used as our primary casualty receiving ship as HMS Argus is used today.
Imagine the kind of diplomatic recognition and respect this would bring us. Next time the US government drops the ball following a major hurricane how good would it be if we showed up of the coast of New Orleans with a 300 bed fully equipped hospital and 30 rescue helicopters. How effective would such a vessel have been of the coast of Indonesia following the Asian Tsunami or even off Pakistan following the earth quakes? How many hearts and minds could we have one in the Muslim world that way?
If anyone has a problem with a military vessel delivering aid then I say f**k them. If Iran has an earth quake and HMS Mercy shows up to help the people and the Ayatollah refuses us entry then who comes off as the bad guy.
If Argentina experiences a disaster how long would the president hold on to her policy of not allowing RN vessels to dock?
The vessel does not just have to be used for disaster relief. Imagine one of these ship’s on a tour of Africa stopping of at every port dispending vaccinations and carrying out surgical operations along the way.
Using our foreign aid budget in this way would also give the British people a great level of pride helping support both the Navy and Foreign aid budgets. Would you not love to see one of these vessel’s on BBC news first on the scene to the next earth quake or flood? How much more pride would you have in your country?
In addition to the LPD’s and LPH’s the navy will also have to replace its fleet of Bay Class LSD’s. We could use the same arrangement as before, buying four vessels with the RN and DFID splitting the bill down the middle. These vessels could specialise more on disaster recovery than being a hospital ship. Landing large amounts of excavators and relief supplies (by mexi float have to mention mexi floats). We could even pre-position these vessels for instance in the Caribbean in Hurricane Season so they can get to disaster areas in the first 24 hours. We could keep one fully loaded at all times anchored in Diego Garcia able to reach any disaster area in the IO with in the first 72 hours. The vessel could stay there and we could simply rotate the crews by aircraft. Even if we need specialist we could fly them in within 24 hours then borrow a V22 Osprey from our buddies in the US Air force base to fly them out to the ship already on route.
I am not suggesting we use the foreign aid budget to pay for SSN’s or Destroyers however the RN has a need and very little budget for smaller more general purpose vessels. These vessels are often spread across the world and our likely to be the first vessels on the scene of any disaster. We could purchase a total of 12 Absalon type vessels that would be used to carry out many of our standing patrols. Twelve vessels would mean four on station at all times. That means that we could keep one in the South Atlantic, One in the North Atlantic and West Indies, One in the Western Indian Ocean and One in the Eastern Indian Ocean and Pacific. A large relatively well armed vessel such as the Danish Absalon would be able to carry out any required military or security task’s while at the same time offering us the ability to deliver a large number of ISO containers and a 60 bed hospital to a disaster area on very short notice.
As part of this RN crews on board these ships would have to be trained in disaster relief operations, search and rescue and casualty treatment. However many RN personnel are already trained in these fields. It would cost very little to teach them the extra things they would need to know to say help in recovery operations after an earthquake, give basic medical treatment of injured people following a hurricane or set up desalination plants for people suffering from drought.
The best thing about this plan is the cost. Vessels built to commercial standards such as Juan Carlos or Absalon cost bugger all. With modern automation systems they cost very little to run as well.
A Juan Carlos style LHD cost’s around £300 million to build. A bay Class LST £165 million to build and just £9 million a year to run while an Absalon Class Support Ship cost around £166 million.
Splitting both the running cost and construction cost of this fleet of 20 vessels between the DFID and Royal Navy and assuming a 20 year build program would add up to a cost on the foreign aid budget of around £379 million per year in today’s prices (assuming we don’t let BAE build the ship’s). That is around 3.7% of the current aid budget and just over 2.7% of the aid budget post 2015. In addition we would massively enhance the RN’s amphibious capability not to mention taking off all the pressure on its ever decreasing number of high end warship’s to provide basic standing patrols and constabulary duties. To cap it all off we would secure the future of every British shipyard for two decades providing thousands of British jobs for years to come.
Peace Keeping Corps
Arguably the best development aid we can provide developing nations is security. If a country is safe and secure then globalisation will generally take care of the rest. However we have a relatively small army. British soldiers are expensive. Using a highly trained comparatively highly paid British soldier to police the streets of a small poor African country makes very little sense. It’s like buying cigarettes in the shop in the UK to take on holiday. Why not buy duty free?
With our army numbers shrinking we will find it increasingly difficult to provide the required number of troops especially for low intensity policing operations. At the same time we have seen a dramatic increase in the need for such operations over the past few years. Using third world soldiers to police third world countries in my mind is the most economic and feasible solution to the problem.
India has a 1 million man all volunteer army. It runs this force on a budget of around $18 billion dollars per annum. That’s including all the high end stuff like attack helicopters and MBT’s. Now I am not suggesting a force of that size. However the British Army could set up a Peace Keeping Corps. Soldiers could come from across the world to join up. The Corps would be based in Africa probably in Kenya and Sierra Leon. Senior NCO’s and officers could initially be selected from the regular British Army. This is a light force to be used only for policing and peace keeping. It’s not deigned to make an armoured charge to Tehran. It will not have heavy armour or artillery. If it ever gets into a situation where these types of capabilities are required these would be provided by the regular Army. It is not meant for fighting high intensity COIN operations. Its soldiers do not need to be under water knife fighters. They don’t need Javelin ATM or Apache Gun Ships. They will get buy will light armour and patrol vehicles most of which we can probably provide form Army surplus. As third world soldiers living in third world countries they only need third world salaries.
If we were to use the same economics as the Indian Army then we would be able to run a corps of 30,000 soldiers for around £330 million per year or around 3.3% of the DFID budget. Obviously we may have some moral considerations about using the aid budget to pay for our Army. However we could enshrine in law that these soldiers could only be used in support of a UN mandate then we are effectively gifting the UN an army (all be it one that can only be used with our approval). The troops could even ware blue berries permanently. Arguably we should never deploy ground forces anywhere morally or legally without a UN mandate so in reality we are giving up very little.
Using such a system would allow the Regular British Army to concentrate on high intensity situations. Whether it’s kicking in the door as in 2003 or protracted COIN operations as in Afghanistan. The Peace Keeping Corps could provide follow on forces for stabilisation operations or give us the ability to commit forces to a wider range of operations especially training of local forces. African countries have proven themselves willing to participate and provide peacekeepers for many civil wars on the continent however they often lack the training and capability to make these a success. Being able to send 5,000 of our peace keepers as well as say 1,000 from the regular British Army could give a solid core which to build a much larger operation around.
Segregating forces to only work in peace keeping operations also means those forces could specialise better. Officers and NCO’s could be specially qualified in local force training and conflict resolution. Brigades could be formatted to place more emphasises on engineering rather than armour and artillery.
Given the relatively small size of the required budget we could look to increase the size of the force. A Corps of 100,000 men cost’s us just over 10% of the DFID budget. The UK could announce a goal of ending every civil war in Africa over the next ten years. Ending perhaps the biggest blight on world politics today. That’s the kind of legacy I could see a reason to fight for and invest substantial amounts of treasure and even some blood. It’s a far more realistic goal than trying to stabilise Pakistan by bombing Afghanistan as we are currently trying to do.
Strategic Air Lift
The UK operates one of the largest fleets of strategic airlifters in the world. However even with 10 C17’s and 20 + A400M’s you will never have enough of these platforms when you need them. The C17 with its ability to carry massive loads into small un-prepared airfields offers a fantastic capability for providing aid and disaster relief to the people who need it most.
The DFID could purchase ten of the civilian version of the C17 and the RAF could run the aircraft. They would be primarily used to support humanitarian operations but could be made available to the MOD at any time to support military operations. We could even use these to help deploy and sustain the Peacekeeping Corps.
I have no idea what it cost to run a C17 for a year. Much will depend on how much it is used. Based on RAF figures the marginal operation cost is £5,000 per hour and the total cost is around £42,000 per hour. The MOD leased 4 aircraft from Boeing at a cost of £100 million per year. On that figure the DFID could at least acquire 10 aircraft for a cost of £250 million per year or around 2.5% of the existing budget.
One thing that really bugs me about the MOD is its complete lack of space based assets. Yes we have a pretty good communications system in Skynet 5. However what we lack is any recon capability. Yes I know we use US satellites and their data is by far the best. Commercial imagery is improving all the time and is relatively cost effective. However there are issues. Relying on the US can be problematic. Even if their government supports us it does not mean the NRO gives two hoots that we need imagery. Even the Pentagon has problems getting timely data from the NRO. Commercial imagery is great however do we really want to trust a foreign private company with details of who we are snooping on. In a massive disaster such as the Asian Tsunami everyone will be buying satellite time making it difficult to get the imagery we need. Commercial SAR satellites are almost non-existent. Do we allow cloud cover to compromise our relief efforts?
Two things make this situation even worse. We have perhaps the world’s preeminent builder of small photo satellites in the UK. SSTL has made massive strides in developing small low cost highly effective satellites. What is even worse is the MOD paid for their development in the form of TOPSAT and now NovaSar but has no plans to actually purchase any. If the MOD, DFID and SSTL were to conduct a PFI deal basically splitting all cost’s evenly between them where by SSTL could sell imagery not needed by the other two then we could have a constellation of 5 photo recon satellites with 2 m resolution and 5 SAR satellites for a total of £305 million including launch and insurance cost. That’s just over £100 million to the DFID budget or 1%. If we assumed on replacing the satellites say once every five years then the annual capital cost of the constellation comes to £20 million per year for the DFID or 0.2% of the budget. The UK would then end up with a fleet of 10 recon satellites giving us the ability to image any point on the earth several times a day, a capability than only the USA really enjoys today.
Up to now we have reallocated just 9.7% of the DFID budget. I have gotten a fleet of 20 rescue ship’s, a peacekeeping force of 30,000 men, a constellation of 10 recon satellites and the second largest force of strategic lift aircraft in the world. So far the major consequences have been around 20,000 British jobs secured and a major dent in the share price of Mercedes. Sir Bob and Bono have spit their dummies out but the Daily Mail is on side. Not a bad day’s work granted.
However in part two I am going to start going really crazy.
Warning this article contains ideas that some readers might find too revolutionary to even contemplate. However please read it all before heading to the comments box.
Rebuilding the British Empire
A title like that may lead many of you to think that I am either crazy or a member of a right leaning party with delusions of grandeur caused by hours of staring into the past with rose tinted spectacles. However I am neither. What I want to look at is how we can use our current economic, diplomatic and military standing in the world to enhance our future position by means of expanding our current network of over-seas territories. This is an exercise of thinking outside the box to extreme levels. However I find in modern society and especially the UK we spend too much time thinking inside the established norms. We have to remember that in the long term we are limited only by our imagination and as such thinking to the extreme can be a useful exercise.
What I will advocate is not some form of 1940’s type military expansionism but rather developing a major part of the third world through our foreign aid budget to give us the ability to compete in a world increasingly dominated by large developing nations.
I want to look at the foreign and military policy we would need to make this a reality inside current budgets.
What’s in it for us?
We already spend more per capita and almost in total than any other nation in the world on aid. What this means is that we can do this without increasing any budget beyond the 0.7% of GDP we already spend. That’s important. Britain’s first empire learned that it’s only worth having an empire if it turns a profit and I believe we can turn a profit on this venture.
Britain today is stuck at a cross roads. With the near collapse of the Eurozone and the efforts that have been made to save it we can see that weather it wants to or not Europe is going to have to move towards closer integration. The UK’s position of being in a single market rather than a Federal States of Europe means that over the coming decades we will be increasingly isolated from the organization that we have placed all our hopes on to help maintain our economic and trading advantages in a world increasingly dominated by nations with hundreds of millions of people.
While today we can justify our place on the UN Security Council how long can this position realistically last? A small island with a population of just 60 million will find it increasingly difficult to justify its position when a country like India with over 1 billion people does not have a permanent seat, let alone a veto. No matter how rich or successful our nation is we will never be able to over-come our Achilles heal of being a relatively small island in a big world.
What we need to do is find a way to turn our weakness into strength. We need a way to directly tap into the growth of the developing world without simply opening the flood gates and letting millions of foreigners into our country with all the social and political consequences that would bring. We need to find a way to increase our economic and diplomatic weight in the world to maintain our position at the top table without compromising our ethical or social standards. Expanding our overseas territories into Africa will allow us to do this and help us compete against the rising super powers through the 21st and into the 22nd century.
Support for Sterling
It looks clear that the UK will now keep the pound indefinitely. Today the pound is the fourth strongest currency and still held by many nations as part of their reserves. However as nations like China, India and Brazil continue to grow how long can the pound maintain this position.
London is still the world’s preeminent financial center. This fact earns the UK billions of dollars per year and is arguable one of the few things that keep our economy afloat. As the pound loses its relevance how much longer can we maintain this position?
Establishing a second currency which is pegged to the pound where exchange rates are controlled by the Bank of England could not only allow us to support sterling but also potentially reap us billions in exchange reserves in the way that China currently earns money.
What’s in it for them?
Just to reiterate I am not advocating any form of military operation here. What I am advocating is a mutually beneficial expansion of British Overseas Territories through democratic means. In order to do this we must demonstrate a clear benefit for the people of the countries we are expanding into. So what are the benefits for those people?
Firstly we have to remember that even in this day we still have over-seas colonies. From Bermuda and Gibraltar to the Falklands and The Cayman Islands there are today around 260,000 people living essentially in British colonies. Now that’s not a huge number of people however in 1997 that number was nearly 7 million about 15% of the UK’s population. Even in the 1980’s with places like Brunei and Kenya still colonies and protectorates that number was in the tens of millions. My point being here that the thought of the UK having overseas territories with millions of people in them is not as crazy as it sounds. It happened in relatively recent times. It’s not a thought from distant history.
No one asked the people of Hong Kong if they wanted to stay a British territory however I am sure if they had they would have as with the FI and Gibraltar today found an overwhelmingly massive majority of people in favor of the status quo.
The simple fact is there are a number of economic and social benefits for nations to be British Overseas Territories. According to the CIA world fact book six of the top twenty richest countries in the world are British Overseas Territories. Of the rest there are only 10 that were never a part of either the UK or its overseas dominions and territories. The simple fact is that if you plant a British flag in the ground the value of your country improves considerably.
If we look at Hong Kong as a prime example, when the British arrived it was nothing more than a hilly island with a few fishing villages. Today it’s a city of 7 million at the head of the world’s largest urban conurbation the Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou region in China home to 120 million people and all because someone planted a British flag in the ground.
Globalization is the most powerful force in history. If a country can demonstrate that it is a fair, stable and safe place to do business then billions of dollars of investment will flow into an economy raising the living standards and improving the lives of the people of the country. The problem in today’s world is that few developing nation’s including the likes of China and India are able to clearly show this. Being a British Overseas Territory virtually guarantees that items such as ownership, contract law and human rights are a given.
Globalization does have its problems I am not denying that however growing pains as we ourselves experienced in the 19th century are inevitable. Would anyone in the UK today choose to go back the life expectances on the average Brit in 1812?
We must also appreciate the view that other people in the world have of the historic British Empire. Often the BE is viewed far more negatively in the UK itself than in the countries that were our former colonies. Just to give you an example. I currently live in Malaysia arguable one of the most successful examples of decolonization. Malaysia today is a relatively wealthy country with GDP per capita of $15,000 the country will likely join the OECD by 2020. I was speaking to an Indian Malaysian taxi driver yesterday who said to me he wished the British would come back and run things again. “When the British were in charge there was none of the racist economic and social policies in place that came in post-independence to protect the Malay population at the expense of the Chinese and Indian minorities. There was also virtually no corruption and human rights were respected (unless you were communist)”. Now that’s just one example and maybe not a good one. However the historic BE left a legacy across the world and it’s not all bad. In fact most of it’ is good. What it brought was peace, the rule of law and an end to slavery. Yes it had its dark moments but an empire that lasted for 300 years and covered 25% of the planet was bound to have dark chapters. Especially when viewed by the standards of today.
If a man today living in a successful former colony would support the return of British rule what might someone in Sierra Leone living through decades of post-independence poverty and war feel. Would they be open to the idea? I think the answer may be yes but only if it is done with their consent.
We should also not forget that the UK has a massive foreign aid budget. Not including the money we give to the EU each year for economic assistance the UK spends £10.6 billion pounds a year on aid. This may soon rise to £12 billion. That’s allot of money to spend in counties which have per capita GDP’s of less than $1000 per year.
At present this money is spread around the world with the lions share going to failed or nearly failed nations such as Pakistan and Afghanistan who don’t like us very much. Imagine these levels of resources concentrated on small African nations where we could build roads rather than female only theme parks. What could be achieved?
Where to begin?
There are a number of areas where we could look for candidate countries. The most obvious area would be Africa. The continent has so far been left behind in the wave of globalisation that’s has transformed Asia and Latin America.
In terms of individual countries much will have to do with finding a suitable partner that is actually willing to be involved. The best candidates would likely be smaller countries. Small nations are far more open to the idea of becoming part of large groups that say future potential super powers like Nigeria. Our aid budget can also have a much bigger effect when focused on a population of say 5 million than 50 million. What we really need to do is find one country to make a shining example of. Once we have done this I believe other countries will be queuing up for the opportunity to join the program.
We must be careful to avoid countries with significant Islamic populations. We have already spent a decade fighting in Islamic nations and we have a major PR problem. The last thing we want is to get stuck in some form of COIN operation started by extremists who are opposed to development. This rules out most of North Africa. We also want to avoid nations boarding large countries such as Nigeria and South Africa. It would likely be easiest to choose a nation with a coast line and access to ports as well as one that is surrounded by other smaller nations that we may be able to attract in the future. It would also be useful to choose a nation we have strong relations with where we are viewed in a good light. The nation I keep coming back to is Sierra Leone.
We already have a solid position in Sierra Leone following our successful intervention in the country’s civil war in the year 2000. While 60% of the population are Muslim the country has a long track record of good relations between Christians and Muslim’s. The country has a functioning democracy at both local and national level. The population is between 5.6 and 6.6 million. Its home to the world’s third largest natural harbour and has significant deposits of Diamond, Titanium, Gold and Rutile.
In addition Sierra Leone is a commonwealth country and English is the official language of government. The country also continues to practice common law. Its nominal GDP is just $300 per person and 70% of the populous live in poverty. The British civil service has been working very closely with SL civil service since our intervention.
Sierra Leone is also surrounded by a number of smaller nations such as Liberia and Guinea that could potentially become future candidates for expansion.
What we would need to do.
We have to be careful what we sign ourselves up for here. Pumping massive amounts of money into a country as with Afghanistan can cause more harm than good. Also people may be initially sceptical of our motives and capabilities. We must make sure everything we do is seen to be legitimate and for the benefit of the people.
We must make every effort to stamp out corruption and make sure the money we spend does not end up in the back pocket of the nearest Mercedes dealership or some Swiss bank account.
Our offer to the country would be simple:
A ten year program where we agree to give 1/3rd of our foreign aid budget (around £50 billion) with a referendum to become a British Overseas Territory at the end of the process.
Our conditions would be relatively small. The government would agree to implement legislation allowing for strict anti-corruption legislation. British companies and individuals would be allowed to own 100% of local companies. Contract law would be improved and the Sierra Leone courts would assume subservience to the Law Lords which would become the highest court in the land as is currently the case for Canada and Australia. The country would also have to allow annexation of the Sierra Leone Army into the British Army.
The Sierra Leone government and parliament would stay in place however the civil service would be augmented by British Civil servants on secondment from the UK.
We would be in control of all development money being spent however the Sierra Leone government would have a substantial say in where the money went.
The country would remain independent until the referendum in ten years and if a majority of parliament voted to end the program it would stop at any time.
If the country eventually decides to become a British Territory then the Sierra Leone government will stay responsible for all matter’s with the exclusion of foreign and military affairs as well as currency control in much the same way as Bermuda or the Isle of Man have today.
How to Spend the Money?
A sum of £50 billion spent on a country the size of Sierra Leone is a vast amount of money. We must focus our efforts on improving the country’s infrastructure while making sure the people see a substantial improvement in their standard of living. The people also need to know who is responsible for both.
The first priority should be to institute national education and health programs. Giving people access to basic health care such as vaccinations and malaria eradication programs is possibly the best way to show the country the benefits of the program. It also makes it far easier for business to move in. Foreign companies won’t open factories in a place where typhoid or malaria is rife. Tourists would be reluctant to travel to a country where the might become infected by TB or bubonic plague.
As part of this we would also put the majority of our funds in the early years towards providing basic services. Starting with water and sanitation and eventually spreading to electric power and telecoms.
Concurrently we would invest large amounts of money in new schools and universities. If the people are not sufficiently educated they will not be able to take advantage of the rapid industrialisation of their country. It also gives us a major forum to interact with future generations making sure that they can for instance speak English fluently and that they understand our program and what we are trying to do.
We should avoid the mistakes of the past where buy we try to do things separately from the local government. All these programs should be local government programs paid for by local taxes but supplemented by our aid money. This way we avoid the mistake of setting up programs that will fall apart once the aid money stops. While we would decide where to spend the money we should give the local government the chance to veto and spending so we don’t end up wasting money on things like women only theme parks.
The third initial area to concentrate on would be security. Taking over the Army prevents anyone from holding us to ransom in the future. It also allows us to improve security in the country. Soldiers would be trained to British standards and equipped in the same way. We would also look to supplement their force with British NCO’s and officers while also offering their officers the chance to serve in the British Army. This could all be done in very much the same way we currently operate with the Gurkhas.
Importantly we don’t need to pay these guys the same as a British soldier (unless it’s someone who is actually serving in the British Army) however bearing in mind the average soldier in Sierra Leone probably earns less than $50 per month how difficult would it be for us to triple there wage over-night. This would likely bring us allot of support amongst the military. It may be neccessary for us to retire a number of their senior officers however we could afford to do this on generous pensions without scratching the budget. In addition to the Army it would also be necessary to improve the local police force. Rotating UK police officers through Sierra Leone should allow us to bring them up to a standard that we would expect over a number of years.
Once the basics of sanitation, security, health and education are taken care of we can begin to spend large amounts of money on infrastructure.
Primarily we would focus on large scale infrastructure projects such as building container ports, roads, railways and power stations. Sierra Leon has large mineral resources which are largely unexploited. We should make every effort to get large British companies such as BHP and Rio Tinto on board with exploitation of these resources. This will help to provide jobs and additional tax revenue for the country. However at the same time we must make sure that minimal environmental standards are in place. The last thing we want to do is poison local water supplies or cause mass deforestation.
In addition to getting British companies on board it is important to get British NGO’s and the British people on board as well. We should encourage charities like VSO and GAP year to help send British professionals and even students to the country helping in areas from teaching children English to improving medical care. It’s just as important that the British people understand the program and its benefits as much as the people of Sierra Leon.
It’s also important to start integrating cultural elements as well. Having BBC news broadcasted on local channels, royal visits to open schools and hospitals and tours from Manchester United and Liverpool could all play their part.
After five years assuming this program is successful we might look for one or two more candidates countries to expand it to. With our current aid budget we could run three concurrent programs at the same time.
After 10 years
At the ten year mark the people of the country would have the chance to vote in a referendum on becoming a formal British Overseas Territory. If they vote yes their government would resign from the UN and the UK would represent them in all foreign and diplomatic bodies. They would make a contribution of 2% of GDP for defence (something I think all over sea’s territories should do) and 0.7% of GDP for aid (to be used to expand the program). In addition we would commit to spending an additional £50 billion (at future values) over 20 years. If they vote no the aid program would stop and we would go our separate ways.
Even if the country votes no we have not lost anything. Lest not forget this is money we already spend today not new money. Arguable it would be better spent in building up a strong stable country in West Africa than wasted in the mountains of Central Asia. Even if they vote no British companies will have a strong foot hold in the country allowing us to benefit from the spread of globalisation in the way that Hong Kong has allowed us to benefit from China’s growth.
If the program is successful and they vote yeas and we are able to expand this program to say 5 countries of similar size over twenty years then we have access to a combined population of over 100 million people and a combined economy approaching the size of Japan’s. We could build up massive foreign exchange reserves and we could have a significantly larger military as all these territories begin to contribute towards the defence budget.
Our combined economy and share of world trade would probably make it possible for us to hold our own in the WTO if we decide at some point to leave the EU.
While the people of Sierra Leone would hold British Over Seas passports they would not have the right of abode in the UK in the way that someone from Bermuda does not today (just as we do not have the right of abode in Bermuda) However once Sierra Leone reaches western income levels and development levels we may consider even allowing the people to vote on becoming an actual part of the Union in the way that Scotland or England are today.
Given the fact that this type of program would cost us nothing we are not already spending, would arguably be a more effective allocation of development resources and most importantly would actually give the British people a return on their money why are we not doing it? All I can see is a lack of imagination and some form of liberal guilt about our perceived failures of the past.
We should not forget this process is already happening. China has signed 100 year lease agreements with several African nations. We can either continue to sit on our moral high horse or get on the ground and get stuck in.