Friday, 5 October 2007

How the United States has paid for world peace and its moral obligation to keep paying

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.

(Nothing follows)

20 comments:

Nilk said...

Jack, I've not yet read this essay, as it's heading on for midnight.

I will congratulate you on some of the best linkwhoring I've seen in ages :) Each time I see you lately you've got a plug for your blog. I love it.

And I like what I've read so far - hope that doesn't sound condescending.

Keep up the good work.

See you over at Tim's and LGF and Bolta!

cheers :D

Jack Lacton said...

Well if I don't plug myself then nobody else will! It actually makes more sense to comment with a link back to my blog than write it all out multiple times around the net.

Nilk said...

Very true. :) I just think it's great, that's all.

RoseCovered Glasses said...

Politicians make no difference.

We have bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) ever since we took on Russia in the Cold WAR.

Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control.

I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.

The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.

So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.

This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.

The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.

For more details see:

http://www.rosecoveredglasses.blogspot.com

Jack Lacton said...

RCG,

For the 'conspiracy' (and I only use that term because people think it's deliberate) of the military industrial complex to be correct the military would need to be a much larger proportion of the US economy than it is. I don't disagree that politicians probably don't know whether they're coming or going with the amount of information they have to deal with (what Scooter Libby had to deal with is amazing in volume and seriousness, for example) so they have to rely on self-interested parties across the entire spectrum, which seems to make for less efficient outcomes. That said, the US take of the tax dollar is a lot less than in Europe and they're only just now having to face up to their structural issues. They lack one thing that would be of great help - American entrepreneurship.

Doug said...

I am sure that the people of Iran, Iraq, Guatamela, Afghanistan to pick a few countries at random are all extremely thankful for the peacekeeping efforts of the US is supplying large amounts of weapons and training in encouraging and supporting a range of wars during the past half century.

Jack Lacton said...

Doug,

How about doing some research on US arms supplies to those countries and come back and comment again?

PS - start by having a look at arms to Iraq and Iran for their war, who supplied them and what percentage was from the US.

Anonymous said...

Another excellent post, Jack. Would that I awaken one morning to find more of my fellow Americans who appreciate and love our country as much as you do.

-Krumhorn

Francis W. Porretto said...

The United States Department of Defense appropriates and spends about $500 billion per year at current rates. That's quite a lot of money -- about 4.5% of our GDP -- but it defends a huge country and, in a diffuse way, a huge part of the world.

A lot of people want to know why military expenditures are so high. They rant about the occasional weirdnesses, the $600 toilet seats and $7000 coffee pots, without understanding anything about the bizarre accounting practices forced on military contractors. As it happens, when we "present our bill" for a new weapon system to the Customer, we have to allocate proportional amounts of the Non-Recurring Engineering -- almost always the biggest fraction of the costs -- to every physical item in the system. So a system with, say, 1000 items that accrued $1,000,000 in NRE burdens each and every accountable item with $1000 in NRE. That's how a $50 Mr. Coffee drip-o-lator becomes a $1050 item in the final accounting.

Are there inefficiencies? Of course. But they're unavoidable. Here's the great Herman Kahn on why:

"Let me suggest to any Congressmen, members of the Budget Bureau, and others who tend to be overcritical of minor inefficiencies in the Department of Defense that they imagine themselves in the following position: They are made responsible for the operation of all aspects of a business and must make all the decisions; but they are to make them in a curious environment. They are told in only the most approximate and casual way what things cost and when they will be available, often by people who are actually trying to mislead them; in any case, nobody really knows. They are not told what items "sell." They are not told what items are causing extreme dissatisfaction among customers. They have to deduce these things by reading records of what similar stores sold ten or twenty years ago, and by making some general and purely theoretical calculations on what current customers are like. No specific observations on real customers or their buying habits are allowed. The business is a highly fashionable one in which the desires and tastes of the customers are known to change rapidly, though the management has only the most indirect clues and paper studies as to what these changes are. Nevertheless, they have to order merchandise years in advance to meet the fickle whims of their customers.

Finally, this business makes most of its money on a sale day which occurs once every decade or two at a time unknown to the management. The management does have a signal on the morning of the sale that this is the day. This helpful signal consists of leading competitors coming into the store, breaking up all the equipment, shooting most of the help, and generally causing as much damage as they can." [Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War, pg. 160-161]

The unarmed nations will always be prey to the armed nations...unless there's a still stronger armed nation that will selflessly stand in their way. Today that stronger power is the United States. May God grant that it remains that way.

Jack Lacton said...

Very well said as usual, Francis.

The Old Man said...

Whew. Not sure I agree with all the percieved altruism of the selfless country but we are the present definition of "no better friend, and no worse enemy". Wonder how long we can keep it up without going to pieces ourselves...

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