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The West should spend on teachers, not tanks

Sean Gallup/Getty

Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, the West is remilitarising, says Simon Kuper in the FT. Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has promised an “eightfold expansion in forces on high alert to 300,000”; for member state defence spending, he says, 2% of GDP should be “a floor, not a ceiling”. But is all this really necessary? Russia spends $66bn on its military a year – a fraction of the $801bn splurged by the US, and the $363bn spent by other Nato members. Even if the US abandons Europe after the 2024 election – a possibility if Donald Trump wins – “other Nato states would outspend Russia more than sixfold”.

Wouldn’t Western governments prefer to spend their money on teachers, say, or doctors? Americans, in particular, have learned that “spending on wars is self-perpetuating”: between 2001 and 2020, the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs almost quadrupled to $240bn, “more than triple Russia’s whole military budget”. Then there is the danger that, as governments increase the size of their militaries, they’ll feel more inclined to use them. As diplomacy professor Dan Plesch puts it: “Worst case is we stumble into unintended global war. Best case is we stockpile and never use the weapons, but use our scarce resources on them.”