Here are some interesting numbers to mull over while you reflect on the relative peace and stability the world has enjoyed since the end of World War II. In the period 1900-1925, 2.3% of the world's population was killed by war and atrocity; 1925-1950 4.2%; 1950-1975 1.6% and 1975-2000 0.3%.
How has it come about that the toll is so much lower in the second half of the century than the first? War weariness after WWII is often cited as the major reason for the drop - people got sick of war - and while there is a grain of truth in the statement it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the real reason.
So what is the main reason? Why have we been able to enjoy a period of such relative peace and stability. Has it been due to an Enlightenment in Europe? Is it due to the rise of the United Nations? Our friends on the Left won't like the answer but I'll tell you anyway. The reason is because the United States had the moral strength and a firm grip on the reality of the consequences of not standing up to the Soviet threat and was prepared to pay for it.
In the period from about 1870 through to the Second World War the United States, which had been a stabilising world force beforehand, chose to pursue a policy of isolation. During this period the strength of the US military declined, its involvement in major international affairs was minimal (as evidenced by its lack of participation in WWI, the Spanish Civil War and any conflict that Britain was involved in) and it's no fluke that this vacuum, along with the decline of the British Empire, saw the rise of socialism in Russia, fascism in Germany and general despotism elsewhere such as in Spain and Italy.
At the outbreak of WWII the United States component of GDP spent on its military was just 1.7%. This figure of less than 3% is significant among major nations, as it seems to be the level at which a nation feels safe from threats. Consider the following table of US military spending by GDP since 1940:
To understand what a powerhouse the US industrial complex was even back then the figure rises quickly to represent 37% of every good produced and service undertaken in the US. The size of its economy was a boon to the Allied forces, as they were doing it tough with England, for example, devoting 60% of its economy to fighting for its life.
Looking through the table you can see the impact of the Korean War (1950-53) and the build up due to the Cold War from that time on. In overall terms, the cost of the Vietnam War (1959-75) was not that great by comparison to the Cold War. What's clear to see is that the 'warmongering' and 'Imperialist' United States has been devoting less and less of its economy to its military with a terrific dropping off after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. Its spending drops to the 3% figure mentioned previously indicating a perceived lack of threats in the world. That figure is now back up to 4% with the build up due to 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Through the entire period 1950-1990 the United States invested heavily in fighting the Cold War. This included establishing bases throughout Europe and maintaining hundreds of thousands of troops to protect Europe from the threat of Soviet expansion. Unfortunately, this level of commitment was not matched by the European nations who were allocating much less of their economies to protecting themselves, preferring instead to rebuild their economies that were initially revitalised under the Marshall Plan (or its correct name, the European Recovery Program, a four year plan starting in 1947 in which the US pumped billions of dollars into getting a broken down Europe back on its feet) and expand the social programs that have now become a huge millstone around their necks.
In spite of this massive expenditure in defeating the Nazis in WWII and then dealing with the Soviets at their source so that they wouldn't be able to advance on America (which has a direct current day parallel in Afghanistan and Iraq) the US took over no country and, as Colin Powell succinctly put it, asked for no territory other than that required to bury its fallen soldiers. The United States demonstrates time and again that it really is the world's first non-imperial superpower.
The United States' decision to spend blood and treasure in confronting evil in the second half of the twentieth century is the only reason that it was such a peaceful period. A lot of noise is made about the cost of the Vietnam War, and even Korea, but when you look at the reality of what was achieved even with those less than favourable outcomes (98% due to the massacres perpetrated by the totalitarian regimes established when the US left the battlefield, it should be noted) then the results are still a ringing endorsement of the wisdom and effectiveness of the overall strategy of confronting evil at its source.
France today spends 2.6% of GDP on its military, higher than the UK 2.4% or, amazingly, Germany at just 1.5%. It is no coincidence that Germany, which has benefited the most from the US security that led to the reunification of East and West Germany and still has tens of thousands of US troops stationed on its soil, spends the least on defending itself.
So why does the United States have a moral obligation to keep paying for world peace and stability?
Basically, because it is the only superpower and is the only nation that can project its force to any part of the globe at a time of crisis (the majority of these crises are actually events such as the tsunami off Indonesia and earthquake relief etc). The EU can't (and won't). NATO has been used once, in Kosovo, and even then went kicking and screaming into the fray. The United Nations is a corrupt and pathetic joke. Russia has a broken military, France is miles behind, as is the UK, and even though people see a rising China and think they could challenge the US I can state categorically that China is a million miles from being where the US is. It also lacks the cultural values that see world peace as a worthwhile goal. Not only does the US spend as much on its military as the rest of the world put together but it also spends three-quarters of the world's military R&D dollars. This three to one R&D spending advantage maintains its position at the leading edge of technological development, which it does in order to ensure that it can deal with any threat in the future.
Thus, the intention to maintain it position as the world's only superpower, combined with its status as the solitary country that can project itself effectively into a crisis situation, gives the US the moral obligation to continue to invest in ensuring peace and stability in the world.