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.
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:
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.
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!
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 such a major part of our GDP that to run out of enemies would be economically disastrous. 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 the US economy 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 could be a financial disaster of the magnitude of the Great Depression! Some say Russia's situation now is nearly as bad as our Great Depression, which resulted mostly from shutting their war machine way back. Millions of US citizens would be out of work, especially in the technical area . 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.
If new enemies cannot be found then a collapse of the US economy is likely. We have been on a war footing since World War II and we have forgot how to live on an economy based on peace. We are massively dependent on the war footing. 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?
It makes no sense for China to attempt to challenge the US militarily for to do so would be to commit economic suicide. China today is extremely dependent on income from exports to the US. They might not mind kicking ass with the US military, but they damn well do not want a hair touched on the US buying public or one blemish placed on a Wal-Mart store!
S. Leon Felkins, Major, US Army (Ret)
|Mr. Felkins is a retired former military officer, college professor, and computer systems engineer. He is now an activist in the fight for the reform of the forfeiture laws now plaguing the US and the world. He is presently serving as the Executive Director of F.E.A.R., the forfeiture reform group. In addition, he maintains a web page on Political Philosophy, "A Rational Life" and another on the history of politics, "The Political Almanac". Email is welcome.|