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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Monday, April 28, 2003

Shock And Awe

Greg Easterbrook, writing in the Sunday NY Times, delivers the shock and awe of overwhelming US military capability to your breakfast table.

...The American military is now the strongest the world has ever known, both in absolute terms and relative to other nations; stronger than the Wehrmacht in 1940, stronger than the legions at the height of Roman power. For years to come, no other nation is likely even to try to rival American might.

Which means: the global arms race is over, with the United States the undisputed heavyweight champion. Other nations are not even trying to match American armed force, because they are so far behind they have no chance of catching up. The great-powers arms race, in progress for centuries, has ended with the rest of the world conceding triumph to the United States.

Now only a nuclear state, like, perhaps, North Korea, has any military leverage against the winner.

Paradoxically, the runaway American victory in the conventional arms race might inspire a new round of proliferation of atomic weapons. With no hope of matching the United States plane for plane, more countries may seek atomic weapons to gain deterrence.

Surprisingly (shockingly?), he does not mention state-sponsored terrorism as another means of offsetting US conventional power.

Now, how much does this cost?

This huge military lead is partly because of money. Last year American military spending exceeded that of all other NATO states, Russia, China, Japan, Iraq and North Korea combined, according to the Center for Defense Information, a nonpartisan research group that studies global security. This is another area where all other nations must concede to the United States, for no other government can afford to try to catch up.

The runaway advantage has been called by some excessive, yet it yields a positive benefit. Annual global military spending, stated in current dollars, peaked in [Go ahead and guess] at $1.3 trillion, and has been declining since, to $840 billion in 2002. That's a drop of almost half a trillion dollars in the amount the world spent each year on arms. Other nations accept that the arms race is over.

OK, when did world military spending peak? Anyway, $500 billion per annum is quite a peace dividend. Don't anyone think of it as the US contribution to foreign aid, however. The US is stingy!

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