One of the arguments that you hear over and over again in the budget debate is the cost of the US military. Our country spends more on its forces then all of Western Europe combined and in terms of quality and reach we certainly have gotten our monies worth.
Our bases span the world. The sophistication and training of our troops is second to none. On the sea our carrier and submarine forces are in every ocean, our air forces have a global reach and can strike from an ocean away.
This doesn’t even take into account our nuclear deterrence. The ICBM’s from the cold war are still in place and can be targeted or re-targeted in a matter of minutes. Our submarine force is in a position to deliver a devastating strike to any country at any time if we so choose.
In terms of rival military forces on a nuclear level only the Russians with their cold war ICBM’s and subs could conceivably hit us directly. China’s forces and reach are improving but are not yet in a position to threaten the US mainland. Neither of them have the naval reach to bring ground troops to bear directly upon us.
And on our own continent, the difference is even greater. Canada is a friend but even if they were not, their army long ago became a shell of the forces that once stormed the beaches of Normandy. Mexico is a basket case that is having issues controlling its own territory. And no South American country has the navy to reach our shores. Any land force from the south would need to pass through the neck in Panama before they could get anywhere near our border.
In short there is not military in existence that can credibly threaten us on any level short of Mutually Assured Destruction, and with the development of Missile Defense even that prospect is an uncertain one.
All of this being true and given the amount of time and money necessary for any other nation to even conceive of threatening us the question becomes. Is it our interest or even necessary to maintain a military to play defender of the world?
Isn’t it up to Libyans to free Libya and up to Syrians to free Syria? Shouldn’t it be up to South Korea to defend itself from the north? Japan is a technological powerhouse; surely it can develop weapons to defend itself without us. Israel is a military and economic powerhouse that dwarfs their rivals and have never once needed US forces directly and if Europe can spend Billions on welfare states surely they can pony up for their own military well-being? As far as the terrorist threat we are now facing with our technology we can identify and neutralize terrorists without setting a foot on dry land anywhere in the world. And if we DO have to set foot, our special forces and be in and out in minutes with nobody the wiser as was amply demonstrated at the beginning of May.
And really what’s the difference to us if North Korea gobbles up the south, if Israel falls, if Mugabe slaughters his own? When Vietnam fell, when the killing fields took place, what practical effect did it actually have on us? What practical effect did the violence in Rwanda or the killing in the Sudan have on us now?
That’s one side of the argument that we hear a lot from the Ron Paul side of the conservative isle and from many on the left. It’s an argument that has some appeal to Americans who live under the Mr. Rumson principle from Paint your wagon: “You don’t have to love your neighbor you leave him the hell alone.” We’ve got wide oceans and overwhelming power, what do we have to worry about?
It’s a powerful argument, particularly if you are thinking of today instead of tomorrow, but this is not what history teaches us.
Consider the world after 1815; for the first time you had the situation where a single power England, was in a position to not only control their own destiny but project its power independently through their overwhelmingly powerful navy, around the entire world. No power was in the position to rival them. Their naval reputation was so huge that no European power could even consider trying to face them. (A young United States might try, but they were culturally more related to England than they wished to admit).
As a result for almost a century you had the odd regional war, the Crimea in the 1840’s, France vs. Prussia/Germany in 1870, the Boar War in South Africa but no major conflagration. England projected not only their power but their values and culture, ending slavery, advancing science, industry, Christianity and British common law throughout the world. It is no accident that great advances that lifted the human race immensely took place during this period.
The lack of these major wars was not because human nature had changed, the ambitions and ego of man is a part of him. Nor was it because nations were not interested in increasing their power or influence, they were. The problem was to realize these ambitions they would have to challenge the power of England and no nation was positioned to do so and even if they were, the unbroken string of victories on the ocean and the reputation of land forces that had conquered Napoleon that could be delivered anywhere their navy could take them gave even the most ambitious pause.
This reputation has consequences even after war finally broke out. Consider, the great World 1 Naval Battle of Jutland the new and powerful German fleet, acquitted itself quite well against a superior foe, yet the Germans never again challenged the British fleet at sea, not because of inferior sailors or ships, but because there was a history of British naval superiority and a mystique ingrained into the world culture that the Germans were unwilling to challenge. When Admiral Scheer withdrew he was not close enough to see his rival admiral Jellicoe on the bridge of his flagship, but through knowledge of history he and the German Naval command who would not venture out again could still see the shadows of Rodney, Cochrane and Nelson standing behind him.
Although the US land forces played a role in the defeat of Germany in 1918 it was the US supply train that really made the difference. The single most demoralizing event for the German army during their final offensive in 1918 was seeing the supply situation of the enemies they overran. Even without US forces on the ground that ability of the Allies to supply their forces due to England’s Control of the seas spelt the eventual end for Germany.
After the First World War the world saw the United States go back across their oceanic walls, England retreat from its role of International peacekeeper and the rise of The League of Nations. Instead of a firm and powerful England to contend with, ambitious nations would have to deal with an international body of nations all with their own interests. Attempts were made to control arms via treaties and League of Nations resolutions. They fail. The retreat of England meant there was no restraint to Japan in China, to Italy in Africa, or to Germany in Europe until far too late, resulting in a Second World War that was only in the end won by the overwhelming industrial and military might of the United States.
Yet it did not have to be. Consider if a Victorious England after WW 1 decided to resume its role, perhaps helped with the rising star of an allied America. Do the Germans, Italians or Japanese imperial ambitions come to fruition? Are they willing to challenge a willing power as opposed to an international body that needs agreement among different parties?
Or conversely what if England decides to stay out of World War one altogether? It is often forgotten that the Germans nearly reached Paris and it was only a grand counter attack that stopped them. Does that grand counter attack take place if there is no BEF on the ground with the French?
By the end of World War 2 we are left with only the United States on its feet and largely untouched by the devastation. Once again a single nation becomes the guarantor of the world’s peace and the safety of half of Europe and Asia and other than the small wars in Korea and Vietnam (and yes they were small wars) thanks to the Pax America for a second time in two centuries the Human race leaps forward with technological and medical advances undreamed of in history. Yet all of this doesn’t have to happen.
Think of a cleverer Soviet Union that retreats back to its borders defusing an immediate military threat to the west, giving the United States an excuse to withdraw again beyond its salt water borders. Think of an unoccupied Japan or Germany. Do the cultural changes that change two of the most warlike nations on the planet take place, or do they simply re-arm? Does the Soviet Union, with their tanks in easy striking distance of Western Europe and American troops back across the Atlantic project power through the entire continent of Europe?
How lucky is the entire world that the US stays engaged, that Japan is occupied, that Germany is not given the chance to rearm. How lucky is the world that the US position means that only small wars take place over that time. How many people on how many continents remained free because an aggressor feared the potential intervention of American Troops?
And for America, how much of our post war prosperity was fueled by the Pax Americana we have lived under? How many hundreds of thousands of our men did not find themselves in graves all over the world because it was not necessary for the United States to re-arm and come to the aid of a Europe under siege?
Your enemies always grow stronger on what you leave behind. America can at any time choose to retreat from the world, but an ever shrinking world will not retreat from it. American military power, projected on a world stage and the American Soldier sailor and airman well-armed, well-trained and ready to intervene in both humanitarian or military situation wherever it is necessary is the best insurance policy against another Global War that humanity has ever seen.
In tough economic times it is always tempting to cut down on your insurance to save money but everything costs something, and unlike a house fire or an earthquake human nature and history guarantees that an unwillingness to pay the cost now, will mean we will have to pay a higher and bloodier cost later. American military power is not only the right thing to do for the world, it is the smart thing to do for America.