Secrecy = culture of waste.
Is keeping military funding secret truly necessary for national security? Not according to Pieter and Siemon Wezeman. Greater transparency not only makes governments more accountable, it also helps reduce the causes of insecurity and conflict.
By Pieter Wezeman and Siemon Wezeman for SIPRI
The secrecy of military matters is an illusion
Many governments justify secrecy in military budgets on the basis that such information should not be allowed to fall into the hands of potentially hostile forces. However, maintaining secrecy about military spending and key military procurement projects is practically impossible. For example, SIPRI has had 45 years of experience in collecting information about military budgets and international arms transfers. Open sources, official or non-official, provide SIPRI with a wealth of information about the procurement of major arms. If organizations like SIPRI, with minimal resources and working only with open sources, can calculate military spending and map global arms transfers with a high degree of comprehensiveness and accuracy, then national intelligence agencies in potentially hostile countries are obviously able to achieve a lot more.
Therefore, instead of complete secrecy, governments can only achieve partial secrecy, which can actually create confused debates on national defence, the appropriate allocation of national resources and the appropriate military tools for maintaining national security. Rather than letting half-truths guide discussions and policymaking at home or in neighbouring countries, a more open approach would contribute to confidence building and would help prevent misinterpretations and miscalculations of state intentions that can lead to a waste of resources, corruption and interstate tensions.
Partly because of the open availability of data on the arms trade, an increasing number of key arms-supplying countries have concluded that secrecy is an illusion. As a result, they have begun to provide official information on arms exports to their parliaments and the general public. Such information sharing is not endangering national security interests—on the contrary, it is needed in order to ensure that civil society understands and can contribute to responsible arms export policies that do not create or exacerbate conflict.
Moving beyond a culture of waste
Secrecy in military budgets and procurement also has the potential to create economic waste. It leads to unnecessary acquisitions and reduced accountability, and encourages corruption and unclear price-setting for military equipment. Ultimately, secrecy may well result in dangerous and wasteful arms races and military build-ups. Transparency is crucial precisely because it increases accountability. No parliament can fulfil its role while being kept in the dark about military budgets and procurement. In many developing countries, in particular, governments face tough choices when balancing scarce resources between development and security. A lack of transparency and accountability only exacerbates this difficulty. Hopefully the new Arms Trade Treaty, agreed in 2013 and close to becoming active, will provide an impetus for increased transparency in the arms trade.
Nevertheless, transparency is not a goal in and of itself. Rather, it is a tool for promoting discussions about issues of national and international importance. Furthermore, in the absence of an environment in which a variety of stakeholders are included and informed decisions can be made by all stakeholders on defence policies, budgets and procurement, transparency in military matters is merely a futile exercise in public relations.
Phi Beta Iota: In the USA the primary use of secrecy is to protect lies to Congress and theft from the public treasury. The terms toxic secrecy, wrongful secrecy, and deep secrecy (unrecorded secret understandings) are all part of why the USA is now close to a civil war between the public and the 1% and their corrupt public servants.