The virus does not stop wars but will reduce military spending. And that’s not good news

The idea that the virus has stopped the conflicts, however, remains a vain hope, as can be seen by examining even the bloodiest and best known wars.

Source: Bundeswehr/Alyssa Bier

The original article has been published in AnalisiDifesa by Gianandrea Gaiani. Translation and editing by Defenseweek’s team.

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In the analysis of the consequences of the coronavirus, the evaluations of analysts and observers stand out regarding the effects of the pandemic on conflicts and many consider that the fear of contagion has interrupted the wars in progress while the authoritative Foreign Affairs wonders if the virus will promote the peace in the world.

More than imagining widespread peace, the hypothesis advanced is that the condition of economic and social weakness of the powers resulting from the epidemic could make the political class, especially in the West, less inclined to favor interests across borders and is more willing to resolve controversy with negotiations instead of using muscle policies.

The idea that the virus has stopped the conflicts, however, remains a vain hope, as can be seen by examining even the bloodiest and best known wars.

In Syria, the stop to fighters in the northwestern province of Idlib has been in effect since March 5 on the basis of the truce sanctioned by the agreements between Russians and Turks, not because of the virus.

Indeed, the United Arab Emirates are ready to pay $ 3 billion in Damascus to induce Assad to resume the offensive in Idlib against jihadist militias supported by Turkey. Assad does not intend to collide with Russia, his great protector, but Covid-19 has nothing to do with these political and strategic assessments.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban rejected the offer of a ceasefire during Ramadan put forward by President Ashraf Ghani. “While the lives of thousands of prisoners are endangered by the coronavirus, calling for a ceasefire is neither rational nor convincing,” said Suhail Shaheen, one of the insurgent spokesmen, accusing the government of “hindering the peace process” .

The tension has been high for weeks between Kabul and the rebels, with the Taliban continuing the offensive against Afghan forces across the country demanding the release of all their fellow prisoners, foreseen by the peace process started with the agreement between the USA and Taliban in Qatar. In Kabul, therefore, the virus is just another pretext that allows the insurgents to ask for the release of terrorists and militants.

In Yemen the ceasefire declared by the government (supported by Saudi Arabia) precisely to face the epidemic was not only recognized or respected by the Houthi rebels but after the declaration of independence of the southern secessionists who control Aden (supported by United Arab Emirates) the war is likely to register an upsurge turning into an “all against all”.

In Libya, the conflict closest to us is raging with unprecedented violence. The Tripoli government, backed by Turks and Syrian militias enlisted from Ankara, is on the counterattack on all fronts: it has reconquered the west of Tripolitania and is now aiming to recover the territories south of Tripoli.

In short, the virus does not bring peace, nor are there indications that it can reduce global conflict. On the contrary, considering that the collapse of the world economies that is foreseen will increase poverty it is easy to hypothesize an escalation of the struggle for resources. This means greater risk of conflict between States but also of insurrections, secessions, ethnic revolts and popular unrest.

What seems certain and inevitable, on the other hand, is that the need to devote financial resources to relaunching the economy and productivity, as well as assisting the strata most affected by the crisis caused by the coronavirus, will induce many countries to reduce many of the expenditure foreseen in the budgets of States, including military ones.

The first official example comes from South Korea which announced defense budget cuts for 2020 due to the economic consequences of Covid-19.

Seoul expects a limited drop in GDP of 1.48% while private consumption has fallen by 6.4%, exports have contracted by 2% and imports by 4.1% but the government has allocated a fund set up with resources withdrawn from various ministries including 738 million US dollars cut to the defense, 79% related to the purchase of weapons and equipment while 21% to management and maintenance costs.

The cut amounts to 1.75% of the 2020 defense budget which had been increased by 7.4% this year compared to 2019 reaching 42 billion US dollars.

The Ministry of National Defense of South Korea (MND) has minimized the size of the cuts, stating that the impact of Covid-19 had already resulted in a reduction in military activities and delays in the acquisition programs of armaments, warships, helicopters, F-35 fighters and the new locally produced KFX.

Measures similar to those taken by Seoul, but much more substantial in terms of percentages and amounts, will in all probability concern many other states hit by Covid-19 much more seriously than South Korea in terms of economic and collapse of GDP.

International Monetary Fund estimates forecast GDP reductions of between -7.5% and -12% in Europe this year and the consulting firm Avascent, which specializes in the Aerospace and Defense sector, has estimated overall cuts in European Defense budgets between 21 and 56 billion euros.

In fact, these would be cuts between 2 and 5 times greater than those recorded in European military allocations following the 2008 financial crisis and it is not difficult to imagine that the greatest cuts will be recorded in the countries most affected by the epidemic, Italy in the lead .

Cutting military spending, especially those related to the purchase of new vehicles, equipment and armaments or maintenance of equipment already in service could prove to be a boomerang especially for those States that have an important Aerospace and Defense industry, as is the case of Italy and the major economic powers.

Cutting the orders of the armed forces therefore means compromising thousands of jobs that would require public interventions such as layoffs or unemployment benefits with costs certainly higher than the funds recovered by cutting resources to the armed forces.

The recent request by 50 M5S senators to suspend the F-35 program for one year to allocate one billion to Healthcare represents another example of how ideological speculations aim to leverage the impact of the virus to achieve the goal of always: demolish Defense industry and national military capabilities.

You don’t have to be a huge fan of the American fighter-bomber (and this web-magazine and who writes these lines certainly have never been) to understand that stopping for a year a program that has already accumulated delays and running slowly from time means to endure the layoff costs for thousands of people among those who work in Cameri and related industries, including the manufacturers of aircraft components that would risk being ousted from the supply chain in favor of other companies operating in countries that are more respectful of the international commitments undertaken . Overall, the damage would be far greater than the billion euros saved this year.

Proposals such as that of pentastellated senators unfortunately highlight the level of immaturity and poor knowledge of the issues on which they should legislate expressed by the first Italian party for parliamentary representation.

The second proposal contained in the question by M5S senators, which asks to cut 35 of the 90 F-35s envisaged by replacing them with “national and European aeronautical programs much cheaper, more reliable, and responding to the real operational needs of the Defense”, is more reasonable.

Acquiring further Typhoon Tranche 3 or Leonardo’s M-346FA light fighters (to replace the AMX), renouncing first of all the 15 F-35B destined for the Air Force would entail advantages for the national industry also in terms of employment repeatedly underlined also by Defense Analysis but today it would require rapid decisions, which also take into account geopolitical and, for once, definitive evaluations.

It is indeed certain that a cut to the F-35 program would reduce US industrial compensation and the workload for the FACO plant in Cameri and the Italian companies involved and would also lead to further difficulties in the dialogue with the United States of which today, also due to of the pro-Chinese drift of the Italian government, the need is certainly not felt.

The issue does not only concern political aspects but also assessments relating to military orders. To be clear (just as an example), it would be difficult to press on Washington for the US Navy to choose Fincantieri’s Fremm for its new 20 frigate program after curtailing again the F-35s, already dropped in 2012 (with the Monti government ) from 131 to 90 units.

Moreover, it is clear that the crisis caused by Covid-19 is devastating the entire tourism and transport sector, including cruises and airlines, and will have very strong and prolonged repercussions also on the aeronautical and shipbuilding industry.

It is therefore easy to foresee that in the coming years we will not see a boom in orders for cruise ships or ferries or airliners, which is why maintaining jobs in large companies such as Fincantieri and Leonardo, with all the vast supply of small and medium-sized enterprises (suppliers and sub-suppliers), will depend to a large extent on the military orders acquired by the national armed forces and by foreign customers, including warships, helicopters, fighter planes, training and transport.

An inevitable trend, in spite of the pasdarans of the “reconversion of the war industry” that animate pacifism as an oratory and as a people’s home.

For this reason, the recent German order for 93 new Typhoon fighter-jets will constitute an important breath of fresh air for all the companies involved in the Eurofighter consortium, especially Leonardo and Electronics in Italy but also many SMEs.

For the same reason, it would be the case that the government took a move by authorizing the transfer to Egypt of two FREMM frigates already in service in our Navy. A contract that Cairo has been calling for for some time, which would pave the way for further Egyptian naval and military orders and which would also attribute to Fincantieri the works to create further new replacement units for the Navy after the go-ahead for the construction of two new submarines.

Better, however, that the government and the Farnesina rush to provide the necessary authorizations for the Egyptian contract since if Cairo is in a hurry to equip itself with new ships (the request was to be able to receive the two Italian frigates by the end of April), there is no shortage of direct competitors from the Italy already in business to offer alternatives to our FREMM.

The deep crisis caused by the coronavirus will make a Defense market even more cruel in which the goodness of the products has not been a sufficient feature to win contracts for some time if it is not accompanied by a strong political and institutional support.

In a world in economic crisis, perhaps the coronavirus will bring about a slowdown in the globalization process, as some economists believe, but certainly the struggle on the markets will be more savage and with no holds barred. It is therefore better not to reduce the ability to defend ourselves and to protect national interests, market shares and areas of influence.

The Italian tendency to take (or waste) time, magnified with the current government, risks jeopardizing many opportunities on the markets and in the big game on the areas of influence. The most striking example in this regard concerns Libya, where Rome has lost almost all its weight in a few months due to carelessness, distraction or incapacity.

Just one example: in December 2019, the foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, announced the appointment of an Italian special envoy for Libya of which, more than four months later, there was no more news.

What impression will this demonstration of superficial vagueness have had in Tripoli, Tobruk and all the other states involved in the Libyan crisis?

The other serious impact that the coronavirus could have on the world of Defense concerns, in operational terms, the hypotheses of reducing or even eliminating the presence of Italian military contingents present abroad in crisis theaters, as some exponents of M5S and of the pacifist world.

A choice that would risk translating into a sensational own goal. It is one thing to evaluate the operating theaters in which to remain present or not based on reasons of national interest and another is to use the epidemic to justify a general demobilization.

As we have seen, the virus will certainly not eliminate wars and international tensions but, once the health emergency is over, we will probably find the problems we left before our politics and our media decided to deal only with Covid-19. [end]