I am going to avoid the apparent and terrifying implication in the decision to bomb Syria to protect British National security: that foreign lives are somehow worth less than British lives. It’s a real implication, as the government has agreed to an unknown body count of foreign innocents to stave off terror attacks on British soil that may result in a body count of 100 (estimated number, on my part, based on an average terror attack claiming 10 people or less and there being 10 terror attacks ― which is a high number).
I am also willing to play Devil’s Advocate here and simply accept that bombing Syria will stop terrorism on British soil. I don’t believe it will. But, I will accept that and see where it leads us. Let’s start with having a look at what the airstrikes will cost, in purely financial terms:
George Osborne has estimated the cost will be in the ‘low tens of millions of pounds’. He has given no indication of how it will cost so much less than our current spend in Iraq, exceeding £200 million every year. He also hasn’t explained how it will cost less than the £250 million spent on a 7-month involvement in Libya. More importantly, action in Libya didn’t get the results anybody wanted, so military action was increased and its total cost was £1.5 billion.
Oh dear. We have uncertainty margins ranging from the ‘low tens of millions’ to ‘£1.5 billion’, with further uncertainty regarding a potential £200 million annual subscription (or, £1 billion every 5 years).
It has to be said that £200 million is cheap. It’s barely enough to plug the gap between medical workers’ salary and giving them a decent salary. I doubt it will cover the costs of getting more medical staff to improve the working conditions of the existing staff (i.e. them being allowed time off1). But £1.5 billion? That’s a very different kind of sum of money: that would improve the NHS.
I’m not bringing up the NHS for nothing. The NHS is a real tool for increasing the national security of the UK. It saves lives. It means the poorest people don’t go without healthcare. It adds hundreds of thousands of life-years2 to the population every year, more than has ever been taken away by terrorism on British soil. But people still die in the NHS: the number of mistakes being made is increased by poor funding. Poor funding makes communication and training difficult, and makes the NHS understaffed and the employees tired. We could fix this with well-planning funding.
So, that brings us to what the British people should be more scared of: terrorism or poor health. The British live in a country where it isn’t really apparent how quickly poor health could kill us. If I cut myself while cooking, I live in a society where I can expect it to be an acute and minor problem. Without the NHS, it is possible that cut could kill me. With an NHS, the odds of that shrink away into barely needing to be thought about. Terrorism: I’m already doing just fine not thinking about terrorism.
I say, if we really care about British lives, we pump the money we can expect to spend bombing Syria into the NHS and look at political agreements to starve Daesh of its oil revenue.
1 I’m not arguing that working in the NHS should be a normal 9 – 5 style job. But doctors and nurses should be allowed to rest. The 16-hour day should not be standard (would you want a surgeon to operate on you on the far-end of a 14 hour shift?).
2 I don’t know that a ‘life-year’ is a normal metric. But it doesn’t always make sense to talk about ‘saving a life’, because everyone dies eventually. Life years are a metric to show how much life someone had left after they were saved from their immediate problem.