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How Will Military Divestment Affect Regional Economies in the UK?

Pratiksha Saha, Finn Cousins & Ian Harijanto 


The defence sector as a whole in the UK is a very important industry, aptly put in a government paper:

Defence plays a special role in the UK economy for several reasons. It is a strong contributor to the manufacturing base, employing directly more than 140,000 people and providing places for 4,300 apprentices. It is an important export sector, with exports averaging £7.7 billion in 2010-14 (ADS, 2016). Moreover, it is strategically important for national security (HMG & DGP, 2014)

A 2002 paper looked at the economic cost and benefits of this export sector. It looked at the effect of a 50% cut in defence exports. It suggested that these exports are of little importance to the UK economy and a halving of them would have relatively little impact on government finance. However the more significant effect argued was the defence industry having significant outlays in R&D – 15% of total outlays. Therefore a reduction in the size of the defence sector would affect the future productive capacity of the UK economy. There would be fewer spin off technologies which can be applied to civilian products, such as GPS, EpiPen and duct tape. This would, and is argued, outweigh any effect of crowding out by the large amount of government spending in the sector.

Finally it is worth noting that whilst the defence sector does produce a large amount of goods for the export market £7Bn it is the domestic market that firmly outweighs that with the MOD’s annual budget of £34bn.


As the largest nation in the United Kingdom, the economy of England has many aspects. However, there are some key factors to point out. The driver of the English economy is London, it accounts for just over 20% of the English GDP, with GDP per capita also significantly above that of England as a whole. Recently it has also been argued there is the presence of a pronounced North/South divide with differences in opportunities, incomes and well paying jobs.

The defence industry jobs in England have a high concentration in rural areas as opposed to urban centres. This is a stark difference compared with the job distribution in Scotland. In Scotland they tend to be near the biggest urban centres, Glasgow and Edinburgh. However in England there is not the same concentration of jobs in London and similar cities. This results in the sector being important for creating skilled and well paying jobs outside urban centres in England.The MOD invests significantly in the English economy with per capita spending equal to £290, only slightly less than Scotland and Wales.

Northern Ireland

The MOD’s investment in Northern Ireland is significantly below levels in other nations. It stands at £60 per capita, around 1/5th lower than the level for England, Scotland and Wales, equivalent to only £108 million in 2017/18.

The defence industry in Northern Ireland is based mainly around the aerospace industry. Historically it has always been a hub for aviation, with the Short Brothers who manufactured the world’s first production aircraft in Northern Ireland. The headquarters of the company was moved to Northern Ireland in 1948, and has played a major role in building and supplying parts to the Armed Forces. It was then bought by the Canadian Firm Bombardier in the 1980’s and has continued to play an important role in the Economy of Northern Ireland, with Bombardier is the largest manufacturing employer in Northern Ireland, producing 10% of Northern Ireland's manufacturing exports. It is also home to Cooneen Defence, this is the biggest manufacturer of clothing for the UK armed forces and also is a large exporter. It was estimated that sales made by the defence industry in 2011 were at £128 million. However it is estimated only 750 people were working in the defence sector in Northern Ireland as of 2011. As a result it can be seen that the impact of the defence sector is of limited importance overall.


Current Status of the Economy

Scotland can be broadly divided up into a few regions where those economies have a focus. There is the central belt, home to several large cities, which historically have a strong history in manufacturing and engineering. Whilst the central belt has changed somewhat from its historical roots, manufacturing and engineering still form a big art of the character of the cities. The rise of the retail and service sector are providing a shift in the focus of the central belt’s economy. Then there are the borderlands and Highlands which are characterised by agriculture. Finally with the discovery of oil in the North Sea, cities on the eastern coast have seen an oil boom namely Aberdeen and Dundee. These distinct characteristics mean the defence sector plays a different role in the respective regional economies. The defence sector's main area of influence is in this central belt, in particular in the large shipyards on the Clyde and the Firth of Forth.

In Scotland there is a heavy and historical presence of the defence Industry. The defence sector employs an estimated 12,600 people, concentrated in a few main areas such as the shipyards on the Clyde. Such projects like the building of the Aircraft Carriers have done much to support thousands of directly and indirectly employed people often in highly skilled occupations. Some of the biggest companies in Scotland are BAE systems, one of the largest defence suppliers in the world, Babcock. Furthermore Scotland's geographical position in the North Sea and close to the Arctic Ocean means its strategic importance is valued. This has meant it has received investment for surveillance including the new Poseidon Aircraft in Lossiemouth which are responsible for finding and tracking submarines. The MOD also invests significantly in the Scottish economy with the average per capita investment at £300 per person. This was equivalent to £1.6 billion in 2017/2018 . This spending helps support 10,200 jobs in the private sector.


Glasgow is one such city where there is a strong presence of the defence sector. On the shores of the Clyde, which flows through the city, has grown up an important manufacturing industry. For example the two BAE shipyards outside of Glasgow, Govan and Scotstoun, directly employ 2,723 people. This is supported in part by the £1.6bn the MOD spends on shipbuilding and repair in the docks along the clyde. Many of these in high skilled roles. Furthermore the industry helps support countless others in the supply chain. It is estimated that the total number of jobs supported by these shipyards is 5,943 and £162.7 million in wages. However, as a large metropolitan centre, Glasgow has a diverse economy, which allows it to be less reliant on the defence sector. However many areas in Scotland of less population density do not have such an independence such as in Moray where the MOD provides 1 in 8 jobs and in the region of Argyll and Bute where the MOD employs 1 in 13. This is starkly different to Glasgow often seen as a city interlocked with the armed forces where the MOD only employs 0.3% of the workforce.


Historically in Wales the three key industries have been agriculture, mining/metals and engineering. These dominated the economy which sees fewer well paid opportunities. This can be seen by the lower average income compared to the UK as a whole, being only 85% of the UK level. There are also strong income inequalities within wales as shown by this map which depicts income level at the turn of the 21st century. The Graph shows particularly low levels of income in the North West with much higher average income in the South around Cardiff, highlighting the disparity in income within the country.

The Military

The MOD invests more in industry in Wales than the other nations that makeup the UK. It stands as the equivalent of £310 per person - £10 higher than the next highest Scotland. This was equivalent to £960 million in 2017/18. This in turn supports more than 6,000 jobs , many of them being highly skilled. Some of the projects that are going on are the maintenance of the UK’s new F-35 fighter jets as well as the maintenance of the Sentinel surveillance aircrafts.

The mitigation of the defense system would be counterproductive to the country’s goal of de-Londonizing the economy. Rural areas like Wales and Scotland rely on the business provided by the defense industry. The government has nearly 200,000 active service personnel thus providing a great employment alternative to debt-laden university studies.

Current Divestment

The need for such steep equipment spending is questioned by many other sectors in the UK [1], judging the current role of tanks and artillery in actually protecting the UK, and as to whether any actual territorial threat to the UK exists to require this increase in land forces. It has been argued that an increase in spending has reduced funding for other sectors including the Department of Health. The MOD budget is £41.3bn for the year 2020/21, as part of a ten year projected equipment plan that the National Audit Office has regularly reported as ‘unaffordable’ [2].

Currently the UK spends 2.1% of GDP on defence [3] ( £57bn), shaped in part by its NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. By comparison to other countries, it is among the top four defence spenders in NATO by GDP share [4], however paling in comparison to the US, by spending 3.42% of GDP on defence. The Ministry of Defence, in the breakdown of expenditure in 2017/18, spent around 26.5% on Service Personnel, money that is used to deploy service personnel and civilians on missions in Iraq, Syria, Estonia, Poland and Bulgaria etc. Equipment Support also claims a huge percentage of expenditure, 18.7% and specialist military equipment 15.6%, which is additionally used in the provision of troops and equipment to African countries [5].

The conservative government has pledged to give the Ministry of Defence a 2.6% spending increase, equivalent to £2.2bn, renewing Trident, and further exceeding the NATO target of defence spending [6]. However this does not in its entirety go directly to additional spending on defence capabilities, including an additional £700 million for extra employers’ pension contributions

With current threats against cyber attacks, an investment of over £40 million has been made into developing  a new Cyber Security Operations Capability [7], and funding continues towards the Defence Cyber School. The government aims to look to improve “collaboration with scientists and technology companies” to better develop British investments in space and advanced computing technologies to bolster national security.

Post Brexit

The UK defence industry has a special relationship intertwined heavily with the government and all facets of the political system. Post Brexit, one must analyse the UK’s position in world affairs militarily and beyond. As one of Europe’s only two nuclear powers, and furthermore, permanent member of the UN Security Department, the UK forms an essential part of Europe’s combined defence. Similar to many other world powers, with the exception of the US, China and Russia, the UK relies upon a substantive amount of non domestic technology and production to ensure its weapons systems remain effective . Despite the effects of Brexit, one must note that the current military contracts in place will run on for years and decades indeed MAN trucks, Boxer and Eurofighter are developed with, or bought from Europe [8]. Indeed, similar to all other industries, there are items sourced from Europe embedded in all links of the supply chain, unbeknownst to even the companies within the industry and those who invest in them.

The UK’s signing of a plan to establish a central EU defence budget [9] immediately after the Brexit vote does not entirely make logical sense, and this appears to pose some concerns for the future of our defence industry. The EU’s European Defence Action Plan has included proposals to set up a EU Defence Fund to pay for joint EU military units and EU defence research. The aim to create a centrally coordinated defence strategy is not damaging in essence to the UK, but the creation of a single market for military defence is especially concerning. Providing incentives to defence companies to develop aspects of technology that might have previously been unaffordable puts great pressure on UK firms, as this will exclude them from participating as primes or subcontractors to any future EU Defence Project. This can be shown through the subsidiary aims of the EU Budget ‘to ensure that the European defence technological and industrial base can fully meet Europe’s current and future security needs [10], voicing a desire for a centralised, self sufficient Europe. Regional areas of technical specialisation in Europe support the idea of European autonomy in the defence industry, which threatens the permanence of the two defence related regional development organisations ‘clusters’ already established within the UK, the Marine South East Cluster in Southampton and the Dual Use Technology Exploitation (DUTE) cluster in Daventry [11]. Does this European rhetoric threaten the competitive edge of the UK Defence industry, leaving it a less attractive place for investment? And what will be the effect of this divestment if it does occur?

Despite this argument, it can be argued that Britain’s Defensive and Intelligence capabilities could play an even more significant role after leaving the European Union. Indeed defence does remain a very attractive market, dissimilar to the fossil fuel market, due to its high return on capital, and a sovereign owner for a programme is generally regarded as more reliable than a commercial owner. Indeed this can be shown through looking at BAE systems finances, in 2018/19, 13.7% of annual expenditure of the UK’S MoD went to BAE [12].However we can see how there are partnerships forming between public and private sectors with companies aligning themselves with government defence priorities; there is a greater enmeshment of the commercial and government field.

The Impacts of BAE Systems

Barrow in Furness, is where BAE Systems Submarines boasts one of the only global shipyards capable of designing and building nuclear submarines [13]. Currently running production of the Trident nuclear submarine programme, its substantive impact upon Barrow Island stretches beyond its physical infrastructure; BAE employs around 80% of Barrow’s working population.

Looking at the overall national impact of BAE,  the business contributed £3.2 billion to UK GDP in 2016, or 0.2 percent of all economic output in the country [14]. As with employment, this total contribution represents the sum of three types of impact—direct, indirect, and induced. Of this combined total, the business itself contributed £0.9 billion gross value added to national GDP, whilst the remaining £2.3 billion was supported through its supply chain and consumer spending multiplier effects.

Universities are known to be a huge driver of the divestment movement, historically in regards to the fossil fuel industry, but this movement has also expanded to delegitimise the defence industry, an example being the University of Michigan student government’s resolution calling on their school to look into divesting from companies that violate Palestinian rights [15]. Their motion includes Hewlett Packard, United Technologies and Boeing and has received the support of faculty, including tenured professors.

However it is important to note how distinctions between defence, security and “IT” are blurred; it is becoming almost impossible to decide what constitutes a “defence” product: DUTE is Dual Use Technology Exploitation.

As other industries rather than just typical tanks, ships, guns, and planes are included in ‘defense’, the defense divestment movement becomes less-focused but is nonetheless growing.

[1] de Castella, Tom, 2013

[2] Chuter, Andrew, 2019

[3] [12]Ministry of Defence, 2019

[4] NATO Public Diplomacy Division, 2019

[5] MoD Annual Report and Accounts, 2017/18

[6] Inman, Phillip, 2019

[7] Cyber Security Operations Capability, 2019

[8] Wright, Georgina, 2020

[9] Office for National Statistics, 2019

[10] Csernatoni, Raluca, 2020

[11] European Network of Defence Related Regions, accessed 2020

[13] BAE Systems Site Infrastructure, Furness Economic Development Forum, accessed 2020

[14] Combat Air, BAE Systems, accessed 2020

[15] Arbor, Ann, 2019

Development of Fossil Fuel Divestment

The movement to divest investment portfolios away from oil and fossil fuels could be a possible predictor of the effects of military divestment. The fossil fuel divestment movement started in 2010 by students urging their university administration to divest their endowment investments in fossil fuels. By December 2019, a total of 1,200 institutions and over 58,000 individuals representing $12 trillion in assets worldwide had been divested from fossil fuels[1]. However, over the same time period, annual CO2 emissions have only risen since the 2010s and fossil fuels are expected to increase until 2023, with a slow in 2025 until expected levels flattens out in 2030s[2]. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel[3] on Climate Change also found that all future carbon dioxide emissions must be less than 1,000 gigatonnes to provide a 66% chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

However, recent developments may change the eventual outlook of the fossil fuels divestment campaign. The main fossil fuel industry which has been affected is coal. In 2016, Peabody, the world’s largest coal company announced plans for bankruptcy, citing the divestment movement as being one of the reasons, explaining that the divestment movement had shaped a narrative that resulted in difficulty generating investment capital. Peabody joins other coal companies such as Arch Coal and Patriot Coal in declaring bankruptcy[4]. Whilst bankruptcy might be used as more of a financial reorganisation method rather than a precursor to liquidation, it does show the general downward trend of the coal mining industry. Specifically to Britain, the last deep coal mine was closed in 2016, and its last coal-fired power station is due to close in 2025[5]. In general, fossil fuels in the UK fell to a record low proportion of its energy mix in 2019, with renewable energy now being the UK’s biggest source of electricity power[6]. This highlights the power and the aim of the divestment movement. The divestment movement from its initial birth recognized that it alone would be unable to move the economy away from fossil fuels. However, it aimed to create social pressure in an effort to enact society-wide normative change, to portray the use of fossil fuels as immoral, and paint the companies that profit from fossil fuels as immoral.

These effects are yet to spread be seen in the oil and gas industry with major oil and gas companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon experiencing no real stock price drop off in the last 10 years. However, in 2018, Shell announced that it considered the divestment movement as a material risk to its business, as it made generating new capital more difficult[7]. Hence, whilst we have yet to seen any true debilitating effects towards the oil and gas industry, and fossil fuels as a whole are still the main source of energy in the world, the divestment movement has played a perhaps acceleratory role in the demise of the coal industry and we may continue to see similar results into the next decade.

Society at large is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, and while there has been a push towards the promotion of renewable energy, the pace with which the world is incorporating renewable energy sources is not enough to offset the impact of worldwide economic expansion and growing populations. Furthermore, current subsidy policy towards fossil fuels, defined as fuel consumption times the gap between existing and efficient prices, leads to societies under-pricing the cost of fossil fuels, resulting in their externalities such as global carbon emissions and air pollution costing society more than the benefit of the fossil fuel industry. In 2015, it was estimated by the International Monetary Fund that should fossil fuels be priced at their efficient prices, taking into consideration the economic externalities, global carbon emissions would have been reduced by 28%, leading to a knock on effect of a 46% reduction in fossil fuel air pollution deaths and an overall increase in government revenue of 3.8% of GDP[8].

A potential case study of the effects on regional economies due to divestment would be the effect of coal-fired power stations closure on Australia’s regional economies. Between 2012 to 2017, around a third of Australia’s coal-fired power stations closed, with the remaining expected to close in the future. Investment in coal has dropped and is instead being redirected to alternative forms of power, with wind and solar energy receiving the most investment. Coal’s decline can be attributed to the increased prominence of natural gas, coal’s carbon footprint and policies favouring renewable energy. In part, the fossil fuel divestment movement can be proposed to have an accelerating or supporting effect to the negative view of carbon footprint and the resulting green policies. Burke, Best and Jotzo [9] researched on the effects of these closures on local Australian economies that relied heavily on these plants and concluded that for every closure, the local economy experienced an uptick of 0.7% in the unemployment rate, persisting for several months following the closures. This uptick accounts for the direct job losses from the closure, and the indirect job losses that may result from the closures, such as up the supply chain at local coal mines, or in industries supplying locally consumed goods and services. The research found that key to maintaining a lower unemployment rate was the need for possible transfers of jobs to other stations through a work transfer scheme designed by the state government and the injection of capital into local projects in infrastructure and other initiatives which help stimulate the economy as done in Hazelwood when state and federal government committed 300 million dollars towards the local economy. However, the general consensus is that there has been structural-decline in coal mining areas, leading to social disadvantages and the deterioration of local economies, with transitions away from coal being poorly managed.Thus, coal-fired power stations closure in Australia and other countries such as Canada has the potential and in some cases greatly affected local economies, leaving any future similar military divestment to be more carefully considered, with possible need for government intervention to stimulate local economies previously dependent on singular industry.

In conclusion, the fossil fuel divestment movement which began in the 2010s, has effectively created a narrative painting such companies as negatively impacting fossil fuels companies. This has led to many funds and trust divesting away from fossil fuel companies and reinvesting in environmentally friendly industries, resulting in several coal-mining companies declaring bankruptcy and Shell recently identifying it as a threat. However, the divestment movement to date has been largely ineffective in slowing the usage of fossil fuels, and the world is still experiencing rising CO2 Emissions. This is largely due to economic growth and rising populations demanding high levels of fossil fuels and outstripping the effects of the shift towards renewable forms of energy, further worsened by government subsidy resulting in an under-pricing of fossil fuels. Therefore, the fossil fuel divestment movement may be finally showing signs of impact, yet the world remains highly dependent on fossil fuels and will remain so for the predicted future.

[1], n.d.

[2] Stevens, Pippa, 2019

[3] Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report

[4] Quiggin, John, 2016

[5] Vaughan, Adam, 2018

[6] Ambrose, Jillian, 2019

[7] McKibben, Bill, 2018

[8] Coady, Parry, Le and Shang, 2019

[9]Burke, Best, Jotzo, 2019

Broader Impacts

The defense sector plays a large part of the economy in most countries. Not only does it provide sizable employment, but it is also a major hub for research and development. Through the military, several inventions that were intended for military purposes have now made it to the commercial market and are used for everyday purposes. Inventions such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), virtual reality and even the basis for the modern internet. Agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which was launched by President Eisenhower in 1957, were given enormous freedom to pursue what they felt were the most promising technologies, shaping the modern world[1]. Under Boris Johnson, Britain is trying to recreate its version of the DARPA, and has promised to double research funding to £18bn in the next five years. Dominic Cummings, the chief advisor to PM Johnson, has noted that DARPA’s initial budget was trivial to the “trillions of dollars of value” it created. Yet, whether defense expenditure is beneficial to the growth of an economy remains a highly disputed topic, with much research done since the 1960s and conclusions falling on both sides of the debate.

Simple Keynesian aggregate demand arguments suggest that the expansion of government spending below full employment would increase investment, income, employment and hence higher rates of economic growth. There were also suggestions that military spending may lead to higher economic growth through positive spillover effects. In contrast, a neoclassical perspective would see military spending, financed by taxes or borrowing, as crowding out private investment and reducing growth. Though there may be security benefits to the economy as a result of the spending, the diversion of resources away from more productive government activities such as education or health, leads to large opportunity costs (Dunne, Smith, and Willenbockel 2005)[2]. This lack of consensus in the theoretical approaches meant the debate became a largely empirical one.

Dunne and Tian (2013)[3] found that of 168 studies, military spending had negative effects on economic growth in 44% of cross-country studies and 31% of case studies. Only 20% of studies found positive results, while about 40% reported unclear results. These studies may be heavily influenced by the large amount of military spending during the cold war era, and that using post-cold war data may provide different and more enlightening results. A comparison of time periods indicate that studies utilising post-cold war data conclude that military spending results in negative impact on economic growth 53% of the time, a figure much higher than the 38% found during the cold war period.

A more contemporary empirical study by d’Agostino, Dunne and Pieroni (2012)[4] studied military spending across both the cold war and post-cold war periods, across multiple countries ranging different economic statuses. This study concluded that military spending has consistently negative impacts on the economic growth of a country. The study also compared military spending to other forms of government spending, concluding that military spending often hampers instead of aids growth when compared to other forms of government spending. An estimated 9% decrease in economic growth is the result of a 1% increase in military spending. This effect is worsened in the “Global North”, where countries’ economies are more service-based and knowledge reliant.

While military spending may produce short term gains due to a surge of government spending, these benefits usually are clustered in specific industries, mainly conflict industries. These industries tend to be isolated, and the wider economy does not receive development as a result of these government investments. Furthermore, government investment into military expenditure usually results in debt that leads to an increase in taxes, which eventually results in the consumption and investment in a country decreasing, culminating in negative effects on jobs and growth. Therefore, military spending tends to displace more efficient and needed government investment in infrastructure and education as examples, and the short-term economic gains are only in isolated industries that do not affect the wider economy in the same way education would, resulting in military spending largely providing negative economic consequences.

[1] The Economist, 2020

[2] Dunne, Smith, Willenbockel, 2005

[3] Dunne, Tian, 2013

[4] d’Agostino, Dunne, Pieroni, 2012


Our paper presents military divestment as a characteristic, rather than merely a trend which will shape regional economies' reliance on defence in the future. We analyse the importance and relationship of the sector to the government, highlighting its strategic importance and upward pressure on wages, however also its defining lack of competitiveness and inefficiencies. Further exploration by region demonstrates a strong historical reliance on the defence industry but highlights how this reliance has lessened with the expansion of different sectors that contribute higher value to regional economies.

We vision the purpose and value of the defence industry in a globalising world with changing threats, a world where physical artillery and tanks play less of a role in establishing security than robust cyber security and skilled inter-governmental diplomacy. With the ability for information to cross territorial borders with ease and speed, the value of legacy military contracts needs to be challenged. This is explored in the context of Brexit, analysing whether the defense industry will pose as of greater sovereign importance in a less Euro-centric Britain. We compare the effects of the fossil fuel divestment movement to attempt to model future effects of military divestment, however it is important to note that higher economic growth and rising populations has demanded an increase in fossil fuels a trend that is not mirrored exactly in the defense industry, with the value of this industry changing and perhaps declining in this new, globalising world. Positive impacts on growth of military spending have been evidenced as being predominantly short term with consistent post cold war implications of a negative impact on growth.

The value and strategic importance of the defence industry for the UK will and is being questioned nationally but military divestment, through the increasing prevalence of more attractive investment opportunities and pressure through universities and NGOs is likely to increase in the future, but it is if the negative impacts on regions reliant on this industry can be mitigated through governmental involvement e.g. effective work transfer scheme and reskilling. The defense industry is a boon for a de-Londonized economy with many rural regions relying on the MOD as an economic driver. A smaller industry will need to look how else they can support these communities.

The current pandemic has changed global interpretation of the value of human combat, in a ‘war against the virus’, national security has been reframed as about personal protective equipment supply chains rather than troop numbers. The UK army’s ‘Covid support force’ is supporting our National Health Service in managing testing centres and using military tanks to transport gear to field hospitals. Globally, national armies have been used to enforce lockdown, such as in Italy. Military exercises have been scaled back globally, with training being deferred, with emphasis being put on promoting and teaching resilience, the process of strengthening civilian infrastructure to survive pandemics. Security, with the current crisis, has become a collaborative national effort rather than the task of an isolated, secretive military institution.

Many argue defence may play an even more crucial role in the future, providing stability and conflict control in a world that will be ‘less safe’ in the future, with crucial capabilities like missile defence being even more important. However, with the world facing an imminent and destructive global recession, it is difficult to envision governments prioritising defence spending over health and social care.



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