Friday, October 03, 2008

America's debt to her military

As America, pulling the world along with it, plunges ever deeper into a financial crisis and as politicians feverishly struggle to make cosmetic repairs to the symptoms of a broken economy, it is sobering to observe how little attention has been given to the root causes of the problem. Surely one of the root causes of the credit crunch is that the increasing national debt has got out of control. And surely one of the largest factors in America's national debt is the enormous amount of money spent every year on an overgrown military that has long outlived its usefulness.

John McCain has said that if elected president he would repair the failing economy by lowering taxes and aggressively scrutinizing every branch of government except the military for wasted expenditures that could be eliminated. This is like a surgeon telling a patient he is going to go into the body and remove every organ except the one that has been invaded by a malignant tumor. The most obvious source of wasted expenditures is the military. Unfortunately, not even Democrats (with the possible exception of Dennis Kucinich) have the courage to point this out. The military has become a cancerous tumor that no one is willing to talk about in polite company.

The principal justification for the military, given by those who defend the resources poured into it, is that we live in a dangerous world filled with countries that want to harm us and that are eager to destroy our freedom. What this line of rationalization fails to acknowledge is that no one in the world has any desire to destroy American freedom. The reason America has enemies is not because it is a constitutional democracy, but because it interferes in the affairs of other countries and maintains a military presence in so many countries. According to an article on George Mason University's History News Network, in 2004 the United States had more than 700 military bases in about 130 countries. A more recent story published in 2007 puts the number of bases at 737 and the number of United States military personnel around the world at more than 2,5000,000. The cost of maintaining such a network of military establishments is as unnecessary as it is astronomical. It is a cost that has been bleeding the American economy to death for decades and that has done far more to increase our risks of being attacked by hostile forces than it has done to provide national security.

In her vice presidential debate with Senator Joe Biden, Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin made the claim that America uses its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent. This seemed to legitimate America's nuclear arsenal in her mind. The implication was that other countries that have, or aspire to have, nuclear weapons would have the weapons for reasons other than deterrence and defense. Yet, as former Iranian president Mohammed Katami pointed out, there is only one country in the world that has actually used a nuclear weapon in warfare: the United States of America. It is not unreasonable for nations toward which the United States government has shown strong disapproval—if referring to a country as part of an axis of evil counts are strong disapproval—to feel vulnerable and in need of defense. If it is reasonable for the United States to have more than 10,000 nuclear warheads stockpiled, it is not unreasonable for Iran to aspire to have nuclear weapons as a deterrent against being attacked, especially when a Presidential candidate has said that preemptive military strikes against Iran are “not off the table.” and has repeatedly mocked his opponent for saying he is willing to negotiate with Iran without making Iran's abandoning its nuclear program a precondition for diplomatic talks.

As John McCain might say, “It's time for some straight talk, my friends.” It is time for the United States to disband its nuclear arsenal entirely. It has long outlived its usefulness (granting, for the same of argument, that it ever had any usefulness) and serves now only to bring unnecessary alarm and anxiety, not to mention terror, to the rest of the world. It is without a doubt part of the reason why others feel they have no option but to attack the United States and its allies. America's nuclear arsenal is not a deterrent to war but a provocation to attacks by people who desire nothing more than to be left alone to live undisturbed by an imperialistic superpower.

Disbanding America's nuclear arsenal is a necessary step to take in ensuring world peace, but it is not sufficient. America must also disband its 737 military bases on foreign soil and reduce its military to much lower levels. Canada maintains an armed force of 62,000 personnel. Canada's population is about one-tenth of that of the United States. A force that size is sufficient to defend Canada's land mass, airways and coastline, all of which are considerably larger than those of the United States. A force ten times that size would be more than adequate to defend the United States. The United States needs no more than around 625,000 military personnel, approximately 25% of what it now has.

If America's nuclear arsenal were disbanded, its foreign bases closed down and its personnel reduced by 75%, much of the huge drain on the American economy would disappear. Money saved could be used to increase foreign aid, thereby creating good will and dramatically decreasing the incentive of others to attack us. Other savings could be used to provide needed services to America's own citizens and residents. Desperately needed repairs to the country's infrastructure could be made. Education and health care could be dramatically improved.

John McCain's plan to maintain the most costly institution in the country—the military—while reducing the tax resources by which that bloated institution is paid for, is a prescription for disaster. That he makes such a proposal shows that he may be heading down the path of senior dementia that diminished the effectiveness of Ronald Reagan during his lackluster presidency. That his Democratic opponent has not been more aggressive in pointing just out how bankrupt a militaristic America has become is almost as great a source of concern. The change America needs does not seem to be just around the corner.


Jayarava said...

Maybe you should run for Prez... I'd vote for you :-)