I’m not yet a member of the Rand Corporation, but I do occasionally have some big thoughts. I have pondered the apparent success of the US in its new self-assigned role as “World Cop” and I see a disaster in the making.
Events in the last 20 years or so have proven that the US has become so powerful that there is now no other country that can seriously challenge us. “Balance of power” no longer has any meaning as there is no other country that even comes close to having the military and economic power that the US does.
While a democracy cannot keep the peace, a powerful despot can. The concept of forming a union of the states of the world expecting it to police itself, i.e., the United Nations, in a democratic forum is a flawed concept as any student of Rational Choice can tell you. It is like telling a gathering of young children to police themselves. It will not work. However, a powerful overseer can keep the peace be it a bunch of unruly kids or the nations of the world. The US has now stepped up to that role. On the other hand, the “balance of power” that supposedly existed when the former Soviet Union was a viable challenge to the US, was a very dangerous situation. We came very close to a nuclear holocaust several times. Having one great power is far more dynamically stable and safer for everyone. To be fair, we will quickly note that safety and liberty have almost a negative correlation with each other.
It is dynamically stable because having great power creates the opportunity for further enhancement of that power and diminishes the opportunity for any other country to become stronger. There are many reasons for this, among them being:
- A dispersed group, even if the sum total of the individual powers in the group would exceed the US, can be effectively managed by subduing any states that attempt to challenge the US, one at a time.
- The US has almost unlimited espionage capability and the power to severely degrade that of its enemies.
- Powerful satellite, spy plane and ship surveillance make it nearly impossible for any other country to move any amount of military personnel or equipment without the US having full knowledge of it.
- Sophisticated weapons systems allows the US to quickly destroy any defensive mechanism. For example the radar beam that a radar site uses to track an incoming plane becomes the target of airborne radar tracking missiles which then knock them out.
- The US has essentially unlimited funds and a vast logistics system in place to be able to put unlimited pressure on any point in the world in a very short time.
- The US has vast nuclear weapons superiority and the hardware to deliver these devices to any place in the world in a matter of minutes.
We have shown that we can subdue a country, such as Afghanistan, in short order and without any significant losses to our side. It is important to note that just a few years back the Russians failed at the same effort, took years to accomplish that failure, and sustained major losses. We have demonstrated convincingly that we can police the world.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union the US is the only remaining war power to have such world dominating power. Who we haven’t intimidated by force, we have subdued with money and other aid. The current US/Pakistan relationship is the best example of that approach.
In summary, for all practical purposes we have run out of traditional enemies (you would not know that by looking at our budget but that is another problem that we will take a brief look at later). The terrorists showed up just in time. Thank goodness, for even the apathetic American Public was getting a little restless about spending more money, many times over any other country in the world, when there was no noticeable enemy. The terrorist attack came along just in time. The spin is already on to get the public accustomed to the idea that we desperately need to beef up the military budget for a whole new round of technology. The TV news pitch is that we need to add to the present massive inventory of military equipment for it is just not adequate for fighting terrorists. Through no fault of our own, we suddenly find that we need to spend billions for new technology at the airports, for detection of terrorist activity throughout the land, for increasing the presence at the Canadian and Mexican border, and for even smarter devices to be used in terrorist/guerrilla wars such as we just had in Afghanistan. The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) has kicked in with full force to supply this need even before we knew we needed it.
While the president is still promoting the bogus Star Wars scheme, the National Missile Defense (NMD) system, he has to worry that the docile public might eventually get skeptical of spending such a huge amount of money defending against imaginary enemies. On the other hand, for now anyway, with an 80% approval rate, Bush could get away with funding the building of steel domes over all our cities! So , it looks like the lucky taxpayers will be paying for both Star Wars and a major build up to fight terrorism, simultaneously.
Even if all threat of terrorism ended tomorrow, the MIC should be able to ride the terrorism thing for 10 years are so keeping the military budget at or near its present $300 billion or more level. In fact, the Bush Administration is requesting $343.2 billion for the Pentagon in Fiscal Year 2002, almost back to the spending peak of the Cold War!
Military Spending: The US vs. the World
Following is a nice summary from the CDI article, “World Military Expenditures”:
- At $343 billion, the U.S. military budget request for FY’02 is more than six times larger than that of Russia, the second largest spender.
- It is more than twenty-three times as large as the combined spending of the seven countries traditionally identified by the Pentagon as our most likely adversaries (Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria).
- It is more than the combined spending of the next 15 nations.
- The United States and its close allies spend more than the rest of the world combined, accounting for roughly two-thirds of all military spending. Together they spend over thirty eight times more than the seven rogue states.
- The seven potential “enemies,” Russia and China together spend $116 billion, roughly one-third (34%) the U.S. military budget.
- Global military spending has declined from $1.2 trillion in 1985 to $809 billion in 1999. During that time the U.S. share of total military spending rose from 31% to 36% in Fiscal Year 1999.
We have run out of incontrovertible enemies and the number of third world dictatorships that are willing to challenge our power is rapidly diminishing. Iraq is still making noises but it appears from the hints being spun to and by the press that they will be next to be leveled if they don’t straighten up and act right. After the trouncing the US gave the Taliban, surely Sadam will pause before he gets too rambunctious. Only an extreme fool would now challenge the US.
The impact of running out of enemies would severely impact the US economy. The defense department budget is so important to government’s friends that to run out of enemies would be economically disastrous for them. See “Money Talks: The Implications of U.S. Budget Priorities”, a special report of Foreign Policy In Focus website. According to that article: Alone, the U.S. accounts for about one-third of the world’s military expenditures and more than all other NATO allies combined. We spend over three times as much as the most exaggerated estimate of Russian spending, over four times that of China. Indeed, with our allies and friends, we account for about three-fourths of global military spending. Eight of the world’s ten largest military budgets are those of our allies. Since we supply over half of the world’s arms supplies (see “Military-Industrial Complex Revisited”), if per chance the warring nations of the world decided that their efforts were futile and that they would likely feel the wrath of the “World Cop” if they started something, a reduction in their “military needs” could also impact important interests in the US negatively. The impact on our military spending is significant because it smoothes the purchase of new supplies if the old stuff can somehow be dumped on some other country. (An alternative customer for aging but still functional military equipment is the various cities in the US to “help fight crime.” However, several cities are beginning to balk at accepting this free armament as being inappropriate for domestic use, especially things like tanks and poison gas. (See The “Militarization of ‘Mayberry'” and “The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments”.)
While the military budget is often quoted is around $300 billion (the US spends more on defense than China, Russia, North Korea, Iraq and Iran combined), the actual cost is approximately $500 billion, or worse see “Military Costs: The Real Total”.
This loss of the military budget would be a financial disaster for the MIC. The drug war, which the public seems to be getting a foggy signal that it just might not be on the up and up, cannot be counted on to replace our defense industry as a source of funds and employment. Were talking $300 billion, not $30 billion.
We have been on a war footing since World War II. I again quote from “Money Talks: The Implications of U.S. Budget Priorities”: With this budget, the Pentagon fields a military force without rival in the world. It sustains over 1.4 million men and women in active duty plus another 870,000 in the reserves. Standing forces include 10 active Army divisions, three Marine divisions, 13 active and seven reserve Air Force fighter wings, and 12 aircraft carrier battle groups (11 active), plus around 7,200 deployed nuclear warheads capable of being launched from the ground affixed to MX and Minuteman missiles, by sea from Trident submarines, and by air from B-52 and B-2 bombers. The Pentagon has basically completed its post-cold war drawdown and, with minor reductions, plans to sustain this force structure indefinitely. The Pentagon budget also includes over 770,000 civilian employees, almost 40% of total executive branch civilian personnel. Further, about 20% of the government’s budget goes to the military (now over half (50.5%) of all discretionary spending see “Fiscal Year 2002 Budget” at CDI). Serious economic ramifications would result in causing all these military people to find peaceful, useful employment and to cut government expenditures by that much. The government cannot let this happen. It must find new enemies somewhere. But where that might be is a mystery today.
What about China, you say?