Financial TimesFinancial Times

Western voters won’t give up the peace dividend

By Janan Ganesh

28 Mar 2023 · 3 min read

Editor's Note

For decades, defense cuts helped pay for growing welfare states across Europe. It's unlikely voters will sacrifice those benefits in order to fund military expansions, argues the FT's Janan Ganesh.

Imagine for a moment that Emmanuel Macron had left the retirement age well alone. In this other France, the president chose to economise on defence instead. Fewer troops. Humbler ambitions in the Pacific. A budget nearer 1 than 2 per cent of national output.

Would the republic now be aflame with protests? There would be hurt pride, no doubt. Michel Houellebecq would get a didactic novel out of it called something like Impuissance. But who thinks France would be so tense as to be unvisitable by the monarch of an allied state? It is beyond imagining. Take the nation’s guns, if you must, voters would say. Just don’t touch the butter. And this is France, with its martial pedigree, its militarised Bastille Day. If a culture so steeped in hard power prefers civilian spending, what will the average nation choose?

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