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Slash global military spending!

April 15, 2011

How can one take seriously the arguments being made for maintaining or even increasing military spending?  Here are some current levels:

Country             Military (billions $)        Per Capita

United States              $741                         $2,382

Germany                        42                             516

United Kingdom              51                             821

France                           54                             827

Spain                             16                             353

China                            380                            283

Russia                            83                            577

What can justify such expenditures?  Philip Stephans tries to make the case for even higher European military budgets in today’s Financial Times.

The threats are obvious enough. The Arab uprisings hold out the long-term prospect of a more stable and prosperous neighbourhood south of the Mediterranean. In the short term, as we are seeing in Libya, the risks are of prolonged conflict and chaos on Europe’s doorstep.

Oil prices may rise some with a civil war in Libya but it’s absurd to think it’s a security threat to the average European.  A real threat, in fact, arises only if their governments decide to jump into the conflict – which of course they have done.

The western Balkans are another source of danger. Some 15 years beyond the Dayton accords, the region remains one of armed instability. Bosnia looks perilously close to ethnic fracture. Serbia refuses to accept Kosovo’s statehood. Much of the former Yugoslavia now serves as a command and control centre for international crime, drug-dealing and illegal migration.

Like Libya, this is a civil war and poses no danger to greater Europe.  Is Stephans seriously suggesting that military action will diffuse these tensions?  International crime, drug-dealing, and illegal migration are police matters, not military dangers.

Across the eastern half of the continent, there are justified fears that a more assertive Russia will exploit the departure of the Americans to reassert hegemony over the former Soviet space and beyond. Dmitry Medvedev has given Russian foreign policy a slightly friendlier face. The real decisions are still made by Vladimir Putin.

This is cold war hysteria, nothing more.  Russia poses no threat to Europe.  Its military budget is less than half of European spending and its GDP but a tiny fraction.  The GDP of the European Union is $16.2 trillion compared to Russia’s $1.4 trillion.

Stephans and his ilk are ideologues that seek to perpetuate a militaristic world view.  The proper course isn’t increased military spending but rather its opposite – concerted negotiations to substantially reduce militaries worldwide.  But when have we ever heard a government seriously make such a proposal?   Answer – never!  Instead, all we hear are cries that we’re in an increasingly dangerous world. That’s because military spending is supported by very powerful corporate interests, misguided nationalism, and perhaps even a bit of fear of internal democracy.

Finally, how about the US?  It’s failed in every one of its post World War II adventures – from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan.  It’s wasted untold trillions of dollars that could have been spent on its own people while contributing to the slaughter of literally millions.  The only lesson that can reasonably be taken from these tragedies is that military power is useless in the world today.  That Americans are somehow conned into supporting a military establishment costing annually over $700 billion, $2,300 for every man, woman and child, is nothing but staggering.

Military spending has at least two costs: the first being the redirection of resources that could have been much better spent.  The second is the very real temptation it provides the elites to embark on foreign adventures.  Contrary to Stephans, the actual risk to global peace and prosperity is the continued failure to confront the obscene and dangerously high levels of military spending through international disarmament measures.

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