Another year, another war in Iraq. Like the sunspot cycle, they seem to come ‘round about every 11 years. But this is not a natural cycle – this is caused by the instability built into a planet that is closer than ever before. Artificial “nations” created by outside powers with inherent instability, such as Iraq, are a burden on everyone.
There’s little point going into the strange history of Iraq and other nations like them because as it currently stands there are few ways to fix the problem. The climate of constant war makes redrawing boundaries in the Middle East (or, for that matter, in Ukraine) hard to imagine without making the situation worse in the short run. It usually takes years of peace and stability to contemplate a peaceful transition, such as the one that Scotland will vote on next week.
One question we can contemplate is why the burden always falls on the US. The short answer to that question is that we are by far the dominant military on the planet. But why?
The sheer size of the US military is almost impossible to contemplate. In 2012, the last year for which there are good figures from around the world, we spent $683B on military – not counting military aid, Homeland Security, and so on. It represents 39% of the planet’s total military spending, and four times the nation in the number two slot, China.
The US and its close allies together spend a solid three quarters or more of earth’s military expenditures.
If we spent nothing more than our fair share of the planet’s military, given that we have 22.6% of the planet’s total product, we’d spend about $397B, or nearly $300B per year less. That’s about half of our total budget deficit.
What do we have for this? There are 36 Aircraft Carriers in active commission right now, and 19 of them are in the US Navy. Our close allies – NATO, Japan, and South Korea – account for 11. The remaining 6 are scattered among nations like China, Russia, and other nations that seem unlikely to start something with us.
In addition to this, we have 20 B-2 Bombers in service, which in terms of projecting force at a great distance has to equal several aircraft carriers.
There is no doubt that in terms of being able to take care of a situation like the one posed by ISIL that we are capable of putting a lot of fighters where needed. Cutting our aircraft carrier fleet in half would still have at least 20 among our allies out of 26 in the world. Our capability is hardly unique, and even with allowances for training, patrol of dangerous places, etc, it’s hard to imagine being caught off guard.
As President Obama has explained, taking action against ISIL is going to involve a large coalition of close allies and local states that have a solid stake in containing the situation. We have not fought a substantial war since Vietnam without doing this. When looking at our military needs we have to take our allies into account and presume that we are never going to go into anything alone. Even half the military we have now must be big enough to meet these challenges.
The exact cost of bases all around the world is hard to calculate precisely, especially since the Pentagon has proven to be unauditable. Studies have been done at various times that generated estimates, but overall we can’t be entirely sure where all of this money is being spent. An advocacy group, Audit the Pentagon, points out that every Federal Agency except the military has been in compliance with audit requirements set forward in 1990. The current plan is to try again sometime in 2015 – maybe.
The answer to the question at hand is obvious. The responsibility for cleaning up any mess, anywhere in the world falls to the US because we have a military that is oversized by any measure, either as a share of our GDP or in comparison to our allies or potential threats. We spend this money with no substantial accountability, meaning that money flows to wherever it appears to be needed without question.
This is utterly ridiculous. The US can and must do its part in a chaotic world, but there is little reason to believe that our contribution to the world cannot be met with substantially less money than we put towards it today. The first step may be to audit the Pentagon to find out where the money goes, but forcing an audit may take substantial cuts first to get their attention.