A GUEST POST FROM MARTIN
I have written several articles on British Grand Strategy in the 21st Century. Owing to many of the comments and criticisms of my ideas on Think Defence I have modified many of them to a more realistic and achievable level. I am a firm believer that without a goal beyond cutting NHS waiting lists the British people will become increasingly lost. I also believe that we are only limited by the power of our imagination and we should seek to constantly challenge the historical conventions and ask why we do things the way we do and whether or not we can do things better.
The next 50 years will present us with many challenges. However, it will also lead to many opportunities. If we take a bit of time today to think about things then we can shape that future world in a way that will benefit us, our children and grandchildren.
- Total Defence
- Historical Reference
- Home Front
- Trade Deficit
- Fiscal Deficit
- Energy Independence
- Exploiting Foreign Resources
- Military Strategy and Alliances
Over the past two decades the United Kingdom has become somewhat lost in its strategy towards the world. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, our foreign policy lacks a clear goal which has meant that our military policy has had little to follow.
Our current strategy is a mixture of desperately trying to hold on to our “special relationship” with the USA, while half-heartedly trying to foster some form of European Common Foreign Policy. Lack of a clear goal has seen our foreign and military policy become reactionary, which has been further enhanced by liberal interventionism leading to the disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq.
While it is difficult not to react to situations like Kosovo, Libya and the Global War on Terror it should not be our only aim as a nation.
The world of the near future will present us with challenges every bit as difficult and potentially dangerous as our forefathers faced. Shortages in basic natural resources, global warming, over population and the rise of new great powers will present us with possibly one of the most challenging periods in human history. Add to that the formation of a United States of Europe and we can see that UK foreign and security policy will be presented with challenges every bit as difficult as those of the Cold War or World War Two.
We need a strategy that covers all aspects of economic, foreign, military and security policy. This strategy must have one simple goal, to enrich the lives and enhance the safety of the British people while at the same time enhancing the lives of the people in the rest of the world. It must also guarantee our ability to provide for our people even in a world facing substantial constraints on its natural resources.
In order to meet these goals we will have to combine almost all aspects of government policy towards a common objective, while at the same time coming up with new and better ways to do things. I call this approach Total Defence.
Total Defence seeks to remove the economic and political levers others may use against us while at the same time enhancing the levers we can use against others. This increases the United Kingdom’s diplomatic and economic influence while at the same time enhancing the safety, security and economic prosperity of the country. It also seeks to make the United Kingdom more self-sufficient and give us more control over resources we can’t produce at home.
From the 17th century, the United Kingdom depended on its Merchant Navy for wealth and the Royal Navy for defence. The Merchant navy allowed trade generating money to build warships. The warships of the Royal Navy protected the Merchant Navy and allowed it to conduct its trade, which allowed it to generate the wealth of the nation. The people of the United Kingdom understood the relationship between the wealth they received from the trading operations of the Merchant Navy, which meant that they supported spending on the Royal Navy. As time went on and trade grew so the country began to build an empire.
This is obviously a simplistic view of British Imperial policy, however it serves to illustrate a situation whereby British Military, Foreign and Economic policy were combined to enhance the economy and the security of the United Kingdom.
The resulting Pax Britannia guaranteed a relatively peaceful world from 1815 to 1914 and enhanced the lives of millions of people right across the globe.
Obviously we cannot do anything on the same scale as our ancestors achieved, however we can do something similar on a smaller scale.
Total Defence begins at home. In order to begin such a strategy we must remove the levers that other nations can use against us, while at the same time enhancing our economic ability to influence others. We also need to become more self-sufficient, while at the same time reducing our environmental impact on the world.
In addition, we need a strong economy to pay for our military and foreign policy which can hopefully generate further income for our economy and so on.
The first thing we need to tackle is our trade deficit i.e. the amount of money we borrow from the rest of the world.
The UK has normally run at a trade deficit since the end of the 19th century. The fact that we have yet to go bankrupt proves in part that much of this deficit is caused by the invisible exports of our financial system.
However, becoming a surplus nation insulates us from economic controls others may choose to try to use on us. Indeed this is the method the USA used to force a back down from Britain over the Suez crisis in 1956. Nations such as China with large budget surpluses hold substantial amounts of US debt. This gives them the ability to a certain degree to influence US policy removing US independence. While currently 90% of UK debt is in UK hands we should not lose site of the influence that others can have on us even with just this small holding of 10%. As our debt to GDP level continues to worsen, the control others have over us increases.
In order to improve our trade deficit we must focus on three policies: removing the structural fiscal deficit; increasing exports; and decreasing imports. These three items are the holy grail of modern economic policy, however by thinking outside the box there are a number of things we can do to influence all three.
A major contributor to the trade deficit is the government spending beyond what it earns. Imposing a legally binding golden rule where buy the government cannot borrow more than it takes in over a five year period should allow for long term fiscal restraint.
The number one priority at present has to be getting the economy back to growth. If that means more short term borrowing and infrastructure projects then that’s exactly what we should do.
The UK was in a trade surplus the last time the government experienced a fiscal surplus which just goes to illustrate how critical government borrowing is to the trade deficit.
Currently the UK is a net importer of energy. While we are still a relatively large oil producer, since the mid 1990s we have become a net importer of both oil and gas. Despite having large coal reserves, we import much of the coal we use and most alarmingly due to the the large amount of gas used in the UK for electricity generation we are rapidly becoming the biggest gas importer in the world.
While our government has sought deals especially with countries like Norway and Qatar to supply much of what we need, we are still open to the vagaries of price fluctuation on our economy. It is no coincidence that when oil has spiked above $100 a barrel in both 2008 and 2012 our economy has experienced a sharp slowdown. As resources become increasingly scarce in future we are likely to see more constraint on our economy by high energy prices.
Through price volatility, what happens in other areas affects us even when we don’t use the resources from that region directly. Just because we don’t import oil from the Middle East does not mean that our economy is unaffected by the geo-politics of the region. Just because we don’t import gas from Russia it does not mean that Russian Gas politics have no power over us.
The need to import ever larger amounts of energy affects our trade deficit as well. If we did not require the oil we produce for domestic demand we could easily export it which would boost our exports. At present, just the oil and gas deficit in the UK costs around £5 billion per year while production of oil and gas is some £40 billion per year. The UK’s trade deficit is around £50 billion per year or about the same as our oil and gas imports and production combined. There are several new technologies that could help us rapidly wean ourselves off of oil and gas and help to give us energy independence while at the same time boosting exports and decreasing imports.
Liquid Fluorine Thorium Reactors (LFTR)
For those of you who are unaware of this technology I suggest you watch the following documentary on you tube:
You may also want to read the economic analysis and technical specs at:
The Liquid Thorium reactor was first developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s. The program was scrapped due to lack on interest in 1973. The lack of interest was caused primarily because the reactor did not produce fissile material capable of being used for Nuclear weapons. As such the DOE in America and subsequently the rest of the world built light water pressurised reactors which did produce plutonium. There are many advantages of using a Liquid Fluorine Thorium Reactor which I have listed below:
- The liquid metal core prevents meltdowns as happened at Chernobyl and Fukushima. The reactor is inherently safe and can operate in a hands-off configuration i.e. with no input the reaction will stop.
- The fact that the reactor does not operate under pressure means that there is no need for a high pressure casing which substantially reduces the cost of the building and increases the overall safety of the design.
- The reactor can be switched off and on rapidly allowing it to better respond to fluctuations in electricity production especially when combined with intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar.
- To start the nuclear reaction a Thorium reactor requires Uranium 233 nuclear waste. This means the reactor actually eats nuclear waste.
- The reactor produces much less waste than a conventional Uranium reactor. Of the small amount of waste produced, 90% is only radioactive for 10 years while the remaining waste lasts for around 300 years. This contrasts with the plutonium produced in a Uranium reactor which requires storage for some 10,000 years.
- Many of the radioactive by-products from the reactor are incredibly useful such as Plutonium 238 for spacecraft and Bismuth-213 for cancer treatment. Currently both of these isotopes are in desperately short supply.
- The by-products of a Thorium reactor cannot be used to make Nuclear weapons removing much of the concern over proliferation.
- Removing the need for large pressurised containers means that the Thorium reactor can be made in a smaller more modular design. This would allow for rapid building in a factory further reducing cost.
- As the Thorium reactor is a breeder, it uses its fuel much more efficiently than a solid fuel uranium reactor. Thorium is incredibly abundant and right now represents a waste by-product from rare earth mineral extraction. Currently US stocks that are already mined and stored could power the USA for 400 years. While total US reserves could power the country for up to 10,000 years. The USA has nowhere near the world’s largest reserves of Thorium. There may well be enough Thorium on the planet to power the world for literally thousands of years.
Currently no country in the world has an active LFTR program although since Fukushima many have begun to look at it. With the difficulty we are experiencing in manufacturing a new fleet of uranium reactors the time may be right for the UK to pursue this technology with the same sort of vigour we devoted to the first generation of Nuclear power plants.
One of the most costly and difficult parts of an LFTR is the associated turbines and high strength tubing that produce the electricity and cools the reactor. This could be prime work for a company like Rolls Royce in the future.
If we were to devote £10 billion spread over ten years to an LFTR research program we could likely have a workable reactor design. If we made that design a modular 100 MW reactor then we could build it in a factory much the same way that we do with aircraft today. With a factory that created one of these reactors a day we could convert the entire United Kingdom electricity generating capacity to Thorium reactors in just 2.7 years. If the same factory kept producing, it could replace all coal burning capacity in the world in 38 years removing 10 billion tonnes of CO2 per year from our atmosphere.
A Thorium reactor built in a factory could under-cut the electricity cost of even the cheapest coal power plants.
Obviously, there are financial risks associated with developing any new technology and industry. However, given that an LFTR was built in the 1960s and any subsequent reports have suggested that the technical hurdles to building a power station can be overcome, I think the reward is well worth the risk.
While it’s relatively unlikely we would consider Thorium extraction in the United Kingdom (although it could be done) we could easily buy and store enough Thorium to last us for 100 years. One tonne of Thorium produces roughly one gigawatt of electricity for a year. The UK’s total electricity demand is close to 100 gigawatts. At a price of £20,000 a tonne, we could purchase enough Thorium to produce all our electricity for a century for £20 billion. We could store the 10,000 tonnes of Thorium in a container roughly about as big as a medium sized office block.
In addition to electricity, the heat given off by a Thorium reactor can be used to manufacture hydrogen. This fuel can be used to supplement areas where it is difficult to replace oil such as air transportation. In addition, this hydrogen can be used to make synthetic fertiliser giving our agriculture sector the ability to be self-sufficient from oil. Cheap and plentiful supplies of fertiliser could also allow us to farm very marginal areas of the third world increasing world food supplies.
Obviously changing over our electricity supply is only part of the battle. Much of the oil we import is used for transportation. New plug-in hybrid vehicles could present us with a solution to this problem.
Plug-in Hybrids use a conventional petrol engine for long journeys and an electric battery charged from the mains for shorter journeys. The major advantage of this technology is that much of the electricity produced at night by renewables, nuclear and coal plants is wasted. The vast majority of electric car charging will take place at night so the energy is essentially free to the economy.
Since the average journey is well within even the 15 mile limit of the cheapest plug-in hybrids, we could substantially reduce our need to use petroleum.
In order to do this, the government would first need to invest in public recharging facilities especially for people living in urban areas.
Secondly the government could introduce a new road tax which would kick in after five years. The tax would be levied on all new road vehicles that do not have say a 15 mile all electric range. Over time, the tax would be increased until eventually almost all new vehicles bought in the UK have electric only capability. Eventually as batteries improve and the recharging infrastructure becomes more widespread we may see all electric vehicles becoming the norm.
Obviously, you could argue that we are swapping our dependency on oil for a dependency of lithium. However, we can buy and store all the lithium we need. Use of recycling could allow us to maintain our Lithium stocks almost indefinitely.
In addition to electric vehicles the government could increase its railway electrification program allowing almost all land based transportation in the UK to be based on electricity.
If the government was to start this program immediately it may very well help to stimulate our economy in the near term. The extra borrowing necessary to pay for such a program would likely be offset by the future cost of energy imports not to mention the increased tax revenue from more growth.
Exploiting Foreign Resources
We should remember than Britain does not simply begin at John O’Groats and finish at Land’s End. It stretches across the world through our network of foreign territories and our millions of overseas citizens. Total Defence seeks to leverage this overseas network for the good of the country.
The UK has the fifth largest EEZ in the world. However, much of this EEZ is not part of the United Kingdom but contained in the waters around territories such as the Falkland Islands and St Helena.
If we were to consider a union of these territories (at least the ones who want to) with the United Kingdom, then these resources would become our resources. I have no doubt that the non-tax haven British territories such as St Helena and the Falkland Islands would vote to join the United Kingdom.
It’s not as crazy as it sounds; the French use a similar set up with places like French Guiana in South America which is actually a part of France rather than a territory.
We are already beginning to find substantial oil and gas deposits in the water around the Falklands. We may well find substantial mineral and oil deposits around Ascensions and St Helena.
If we took the same impetuous to exploiting these resources today as we took to developing the North Sea in the 1960s and 1970s, then we could build a major new industry that could produce a substantial number of jobs and pay a lot of tax revenue to the treasury.
Subsea mining is a technology that is only in its infancy so we are likely to need substantial government backing to get it under way. However, with the UK’s deep sea expertise in oil and gas exploration, not to mention the fact that most of the largest mining companies in the world are based in the UK, this is well within our capabilities.
The United Kingdom has more citizens abroad than any other country. There are some 5.5 million British citizens living outside the United Kingdom. Currently, unlike America where citizens have to pay tax no matter where they are based, these British citizens (me being one of them) pay little if any tax to the UK exchequer. In order to help pay for defence and foreign policy I would like to see the United Kingdom introduce a Citizens Tax. This tax would be levied at a 5% rate, small enough so that most people will pay it, but large enough to make a difference.
We are likely to find that the vast majority of British Citizens who have emigrated to Australia and Canada simply hand back their passports. However, there is little cost to us of this. If we assume that half of these people don’t hand back their passport, and we assume that 2 million of them earn roughly the same as the UK average about £24,000 per year, then we could raise an extra £2.4 billion per year in tax revenue (more than the Royal Navy’s current budget).
As many of these people are well paid expats in finance and the oil industry, the sums may be substantially more. It is a relatively simple tax to collect as well. If you don’t file annual returns you won’t get your passport renewed.
We may also want to consider offering British passports to wealthy third world individuals. Many high earners in developing countries find it difficult to travel due to their passport. In today’s world it’s almost impossible to gain citizenship anywhere without being resident for five or more years. Many wealthy individuals, especially in countries such as China or Russia, find it prudent to have at least permanent residence if not citizenship in another country in case they either fall foul of their own government or find the country turned on its head by revolution. A citizenship tax at 5% of income is probably small enough for these individuals to consider. It could also turn many of the world’s most powerful and influential people into British citizens while at the same time raising more money for the exchequer.
With taxation, would obviously come representation. France currently has Members of Parliament representing not just French overseas territories like French Guiana but also large groups of French expats. France even has an MP for London.
We could appoint British MPs for countries that have substantial British expat populations such as Singapore, Australia or France as well as giving islands such as St Helena and the Falklands their own MP.
The United Kingdom will soon have the largest aid budget in the world. Due to our complete lack of direction on foreign policy much of this money is pissed up the wall in Southern Asia. What is left is spread thinly around Africa trying to reach the millennium goals. The benefit of this program to the British people is at best hard to derive. At worst, we could say there is zero benefit to the people of the United Kingdom.
This budget, which will soon be around £12 billion per year, could be used in a far more productive way, better for the people of the developing world and better for the most important people: the British tax payer.
My proposal is to get every scrap of this budget that we can and focus it on two regions in Africa. To start with we would invite both Kenya and Sierra Leone to join our African Partnership. We would then devote our aid budget to building these partner countries’ infrastructure. We would start in West Africa by building a large port in Freetown and in East Africa by expanding the port of Mombasa.
We would then work our way into the interior of the country brining roads, railways, electricity and telecommunications. Once we were finished with these two countries we would then expand into others.
From Kenya we may consider Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Tanzania. If the political landscape changes we could also consider Zimbabwe. From Sierra Leone we may consider Liberia and Guinea. We could also look at Cameroon and Ghana as separate projects.
In addition, we would support education especially the teaching of English, access to clean water and basic sanitation as well as basic health care such as inoculations and family planning. All of our efforts would be geared towards generating rapid economic growth.
In return, these countries would agree to remove tariffs against British companies and allow British companies to operate freely inside their territory. British companies would also be allowed to own land with no local participation. British Banking licences would also entitle a bank to operate in any of these countries with no local licence.
We would focus the infrastructure primarily on the natural resource sector with mining and agriculture top of this list. We would also have to insist on basic environment and anti-corruption legislation as well as on-going democratic elections in the country.
If we take away our compulsory obligations on the DFID to the UN and the like, we might be able to pump £8 billion a year into this program. Just to give you an example, if we could match the road building cost of China of around $1.3 million per mile we could build 9846 miles of road per year. That’s enough to go from Freetown to Mombasa three times each year.
Building this African Partnership would allow us to greatly improve the lives of the people of Sub-Saharan Africa. It would give Britain and UK PLC prime spot in the opening of perhaps one of the most important un-tapped economic regions of the future. The extra profits these companies derived would be funnelled back into the UK creating more jobs and paying more tax.
It may be the case that the extra tax revenue raised and jobs created does not cover the £8 billion per year. However, we would get a damn site more return on investment than we get from the current set up and I suspect we would help significantly more people. By putting basic environmental controls in place we could develop Africa in a more sustainable way than we have seen in Asia and Latin America for the good of the local people and the world environment.
By focusing the infrastructure on primary resources such as minerals and food stuffs we will gain better security of supplies in the future should we ever find the world lacking in such essentials.
By removing tariffs on British goods we can start to build a captive market for high-end British manufactured products. For example, many developing countries charge import tariffs of as high as 100% on luxury cars. If people have to pay this tariff on BMW or Mercedes you can bet they will buy Jaguar or Bentley instead.
This example may work equally well for foreign companies who produce in the United Kingdom such as Ford and Nissan. Either way it would help us get back to a manufacturing export economy and improve our trade deficit.
The African Partnership would be a free trade area. We would control the membership. This means that say 20 years down the line when Kenya is no longer receiving large parts of the aid budget, it will still have reason to stay in as its industries will be enriched by the new frontier we are building in places like Uganda or Zimbabwe.
No doubt one day in the distant future we would be squeezed out. However, that may well take more than 50 years to happen. As with Hong Kong and South East Asia today the prime position of British companies would likely continue for many years after our departure.
If we are forced at some point in the future to leave the European Union then this African Partnership would help the UK better deal with any economic ramifications of departure.
Military Strategy and Alliances
Combining much of our foreign and economic policy on this strategy would give us a clear direction to follow in our military strategy rather than the vague notions we have at present.
Obviously if we are going to invest £ 8billion per year of tax payer’s money into Africa then we need to safeguard our investment. Firstly, we would require at least some naval forces based in both Mombasa and Freetown. These naval units would primarily be tasked with anti-piracy roles as piracy has a detrimental effect on shipping and hence economic prosperity.
To foster the best security situation, we would work very closely with both the members of the African Partnership and other surrounding African nations.
We would need to build up the Army’s strength on the ground particularly its role in training of indigenous forces. We already have a training facility in Kenya but we would also need one in Sierra Leone.
One of the major economic drags on the region is civil war. Working closely with the African Union we could try and end or at least contain many of these conflicts. I am not suggesting large scale deployments of British Army units except in extreme situations however training, logistics, C4 and financial assistance could all go a long way to improving the AU’s ability to police its own back yard.
The Army’s key role would be to clear a path ahead of our infrastructure projects ensuring that a peaceful secure situation is present to allow conditions for rapid economic growth to take place.
To ward off any serious threats and improve our ability to deploy rapidly to the region, we may also wish to consider leases for RAF bases located in Sierra Leone and Kenya. There would be no need to station aircraft in these bases and to keep costs down we may consider using indigenous people to guard them.
Investing substantial amounts of money into the exploration and exploitation of resources in the South Atlantic will require us to provide more in the way of military presence in the region. It will also be vital to gain support from Brazil. As Brazil moves its resource hunt further into the Atlantic it will face increasing security challenges of its own. Developing a joint security framework may help us solidify an alliance that would see Brazil recognise our rights in areas such as the Falklands. To further sweeten the deal we may look to make an all-out diplomatic effort on Brazil’s behalf for at least a permanent seat on the Security Council. In addition, we could consider basing rights for Brazilian Maritime Patrol Aircraft on Ascension.
Argentina is likely to be unhappy about our moves for union with the Falkland Islands. However, it is difficult to see how Argentina could become more belligerent than it is now on the matter. It may be that over time a more reasonable administration comes in to Buenos Aries and we can cut a deal on extended EEZs. However, if it’s not possible then we should simply say f**kem and get on with drilling. If this means putting a larger force down south then so be it. If there really are 60 billion barrels of oil down there then it’s worth it. We should also consider offering drilling rights to Brazilian and US oil companies to increase international support for our claim.
Obviously with such large and valuable resource extraction taking place we would need a larger military presence in the region. Fortunately, we already have much of the infrastructure in place at Ascension and Mount Pleasant. We may have to consider permanent naval facilities in the Falklands and possible RAF basing at the new airfield in St Helena. We would also probably require an increase in MPAs and surface vessels with an SSN based full time in the region as well. It would also seem prudent to increase the Army strength on the FI up to a battalion with additional heavy equipment and possibly attack helicopters as well.
The UK has a claim to a large part of the Antarctic Peninsula. At present current agreements prohibit commercial extraction of resources until the middle of the 21st Century. Our claim is disputed by Argentina and Chile and at present not recognised by the USA.
I am not suggesting we begin exploration of resources in Antarctica however we should keep an eye on the situation. We should gear our diplomatic efforts over the coming decades to receiving recognition from both the USA and China for our claim. We should also make every effort to come to agreement with at least Chile if not Argentina. At some point exploration and extraction will happen in Antarctica and we don’t want to give it a way for lack of forethought.
To improve our claim we may wish to permanently base people on South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and we should also consider patrolling the waters of the Antarctic Peninsula to deter illegal fishing which is happening today.
With the current Euro crisis one thing is becoming clear, a United States of Europe (USE) is not only necessary to fix the Euro crisis but also desirable to many of the European Political classes. With the current Euro crisis and the weak public support for the EU in the United Kingdom, it is likely to be only a matter of time until we have to leave.
It may be that we stay in the EU while others form the USE, and the EU becomes more of a trading agreement like EFTA. However this will leave us increasingly isolated. Total Defence would improve our ability to operate independently of Europe both economically and politically.
Rest of the World
By adopting Total Defence we would be far less dependent on the rest of the world than we are today. This would allow us to take a more relaxed position in our relations. We could also act far more independently than we do today. We would still be part of NATO (although NATO would have to recognise our southern territories), and we would still contribute to international operations but we would perhaps be less likely to be the first to action as we are now.
All of our diplomatic efforts would be aimed towards total defence possibly trading British support on issues to gain recognition of claims in Antarctica or get Brazil on the Security Council. Everything else would become a secondary consideration. Between our independent energy strategy, trade surplus and our control of natural resources both from the South Atlantic and the African Partnership we could become self-reliant.
Total Defence sets an economic target of self-sufficiency in basic resources and generating a trade surplus. It gives our Foreign policy a clear goal to help achieve this and allows our military strategy to be properly planned to support our foreign policy. The success of our foreign and military policy improves our economy and allows us to reach our targets of self-sufficiency and trade surplus.
I have outlined some relatively radical strategies here. However, there is nothing here than could not be done relatively easily and within current budgets. All we need is the foresight and imagination to make it a reality.