When the General State Budget is presented, the Minister of Defence of the day insists that the multimillion-dollar expenditure dedicated to the purchase of armaments generates employment. But, as the authors point out, a comparison of the jobs created in the military and in other areas allows us to question the dominant narrative.
Military investments are usually justified by the jobs they create. The latest example is the army’s logistics base. Several municipalities competed to host the installation and, in the end, the Ministry of Defence decided to install it in Cordoba, as it was the option that offered the most advantages. The choice of this city as the site of the base has had the support of all the city’s political, economic and university sectors. Even the political left has joined the municipal initiative with little debate. The initiative has not been questioned, at least not publicly.
The base is part of the plan for the Concentration of the Army’s Central Logistical Organs, which aims to concentrate the current twelve army logistical centres into three. It is estimated that the future Cordoba base will require an investment of 350 million euros. The Cordoba City Council approved an allocation of 28 million euros (with the corresponding modification of the municipal budget). The Andalusian regional government has pledged to contribute 100 million euros to the project. All this with the aim, they say, of “creating employment”.
It is very significant that, in the Moncloa press release announcing the construction of the base, a very visible box highlights that the base “will contribute to the creation of more than 1,600 jobs”.
When the General State Budget is presented, the Defence Minister of the day, whether from the PP or the PSOE, insists that the multi-million-dollar expenditure dedicated to the purchase of armaments generates employment. Job creation is also used to justify arms exports, even the most controversial ones. The military industry, and those who promote it, insist that their activity generates employment. All of this, surely, to counteract, silence or attenuate the majority rejection of arms manufacturing among the civilian population. Unfortunately, as a rule, they succeed.
Any industrial investment generates employment. But in many cases, this is not enough to justify certain activities, such as those that have undesirable impacts on people or the environment. Fortunately, on some occasions, projects have been stopped for precisely these reasons thanks to the denunciation and pressure of organised civil society.
A given investment in the health sector generates 2.8 times more jobs (almost three times more!) than the same amount invested in the military sector.
Every economic actor, including the military, should be accountable to society for its activities. And while it is true that military investments generate employment, the harmful effects on people and the environment should be included in their assessment. We cannot forget the direct effects of the use of weapons (people killed, wounded, disabled, with physical and psychological consequences, etc., as well as serious damage to the environment). In addition, however, the promotion of the military industry increases the militarisation of society, so that armed and violent conflict resolution is encouraged instead of mediation and peaceful conflict resolution. And how does the military industry evaluate these pernicious effects – should it only take into account the jobs created? But even the military industry’s much-vaunted job creation is questionable; let’s look at it.
In a study by Heidi Garrett-Peltier, published by the Watson Institute at Brown University, employment multipliers are calculated for a million-dollar investment in different sectors, including the military sector. The results are compelling.
According to the study, for every million dollars of investment in the military sector, 5.8 jobs would be generated in the military industry and another 1.1 indirect jobs, most of which would be jobs associated with the supply chain. That is a total of 6.9 jobs per million of investment.
In contrast, if the same investment were made in the renewable energy sector, a total of 8.4 jobs would be created in the case of wind energy and 9.5 in the case of solar energy. Retrofitting to improve energy efficiency would provide 10.6 jobs for every $1 million of investment.
Infrastructure investment (construction of streets, roads, bridges, schools, public buildings, etc.) would create 9.8 jobs per $1 million.
Job creation in the education and health sectors is even higher. Thus, for each million dollars of investment, 14.3 jobs would be generated if the investment were directed towards health and 19.2 if the investment were made in primary and secondary education.
In other words, according to the study, a given investment in the health sector generates 2.8 times as many jobs (almost three times as many!) as the same amount invested in the military sector.
Thus, according to this report, if the objective of an investment is job creation, investments in the military sector are the worst option. It is surprising that this fact is not taken into account in the discussion of military investments.
In Spain, the arms industry plays an important role. In recent decades, Spain has been one of the world’s largest arms exporters. According to Sipri data, Spain was the seventh largest arms exporter in the period 2016-2020. But its export activity in other sectors is not so relevant; according to World Bank data, Spain is the 16th largest exporter in the world.
Why does the Spanish state occupy such a prominent role in arms exports while it lags behind in exports as a whole? The answer lies in the notorious support given to arms exports by the different governments, whether of the PP or the PSOE. This support has even included the direct intervention of the Royal Household. The arms industry is therefore a matter of state. Surely, being among the main arms exporters is of geostrategic value for Spain and gives it international prestige among its allies. It is not, therefore, only a question of job creation.
Let us remember that some of these exports, such as those to Saudi Arabia, are particularly controversial and have been denounced by several organisations, which believe that they should be considered illegal under Spanish and European legislation on arms exports. And we cannot forget the corruption related to the arms trade; we cite as an example the case of the Defex company (51% state-controlled through SEPI) selling arms to Saudi Arabia.
Public investments should pursue the public good and the improvement of people’s lives and the preservation (and repair) of the environment. Investing in sectors such as education, health, renewable energy and infrastructure would satisfy the needs and demands of the population and generate many more jobs than the same investment in the military industry. Moreover, military investments cause an opportunity cost, i.e. they reduce the benefits that would be obtained if the investment were directed to other sectors that would create more jobs.
Moreover, do we really need so many weapons? The recent pandemic has highlighted the weakness of the health, care and education sectors in Spain. Would it not be more beneficial for the population to invest in these sectors rather than in the military sector? Given the current situation, immersed in a social and environmental crisis, would it not be more appropriate to invest in housing rehabilitation, the installation of renewable energies, the hiring of more teachers and health personnel? In this way, in addition to generating more jobs, it would improve people’s quality of life.