Military growth

Guns before butter?






A huge proportion of the productive wealth of many societies goes into military investment. In the case of the Soviet Union it brought low standards of civilian life with shortages of many necessities.

In the case of the United States it has brought a huge federal budget deficit, low investment in civilian industry and a difficulty in competing with economies with a low military expenditure: Germany and Japan. It has been suggested that Britain too has failed to invest in civilian industry because of very high military expenditure, and, as has been revealed in the Iraqi weapons scandal, is dependent for employment and foreign earnings on the sale of weapons, often to unsavoury customers.

Some oil producers have also spent a large part of their incomes on military equipment. Two examples are Iraq and Iran where the military has absorbed almost all the benefits of oil production leaving the ordinary people little better off than they would be without oil. In Saudi Arabia the military are the largest spenders.

Many Asian, African and Latin American countries have spent more on the military than on education or other necessary development investment.

The result is poverty, constant political instability and regional wars. Almost all the armies in the world are not primarily concerned with intimidating the neighbors but with keeping the local population in order. Thus most Latin American countries maintain large armies (except Costa Rica) but have few or no external enemies. In many of these countries the soldiers have been used to seize power from the local citizens. This is a pattern found throughout the post-colonial countries. Perhaps it is a continuation of the habits of the later Roman Empire.

It can be argued that military expenditure tends to be less in democratically controlled societies. Elected governments which have to answer to the taxpayers are perhaps more reluctant to spend money. However, this would seem not to apply to the United States, where pork barrel politics (corruption) requires senators and representatives to bring military projects to their home area.

Because so much wealth has gone into the military, there are military controlled governments in numerous countries.

Countries with military dictatorships, where the government owes its legitimacy, like a Roman Emperor, to the support of the army:

In Africa: Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Congo all have or have had governments which owe their origin to the military. In Latin America military regimes are rarer than they were a few years ago. Peru and Surinam were probably the last military regimes.

Many regimes which in reality are controlled by the military have a veil of corrupt elections, where the forms of election are used but the results are influenced by the military. El Salvador is the best example of this in Latin America. Guatemala and Honduras have been accused of the practice. Panama before the American invasion (1989) was another example. Paraguay, Chile, Brazil and Argentina have had military regimes in the past. Many Arab regimes have similar origins. These include Libya, Mauritania, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria.

In Asia the Pakistan government is often a military regime. The Indonesian regime before its overthrow owed its origin to the military (aided by foreign intelligence agencies) when it overthrew the previous regime of Soekarno in 1965.

However, in recent years there seems to be a trend away from military regimes. South Korea has moved away from direct military control. Thailand seemed to have moved also but reverted in March 1991 and then returned to democracy and back to military in 2006.

Were the Communist regimes military? In Russia (former USSR) the regime was not created by the military but by an armed political party. The civilian Marxist-Leninist party always seems to have been in command. It remains to be seen whether the civilians will retain control. The events of August 1991 suggest that the Russian military will now come under closer civilian control and be reduced in influence and power. A failure of the civilian regime could create such social disturbance that the government may rely on the military for authority, as it did when the Yeltsin government shelled the parliament building in August 1993. However, Yeltsin's successor Vladimir Putin seems to have exerted his control over the military, so the danger has probably passed - but the regime could not be classified as a democracy.

But his successor, Vladimir Putin, seems to represent the power of the Secret Police - former KGB.



Possible Solutions

The productive capacity and human ingenuity which goes into the military may be needed for "ecological defense" or geotherapy, such as investing in new non-polluting energy systems, replanting forests on a continental scale and tackling the economic imbalance between different areas of the world.

Democracy seems to be the only antidote to military bloat. However, if it is true that democracies spend less on defense this raises the question of the real nature of the United States. Some dissident writers (such as Gore Vidal) have suggested that as less than half the eligible population votes in US elections (80% registers and of those sometimes fewer than 50% vote), and that as it uses a rather primitive electoral system not responsive to minorities, it ought to be reclassified as a semi-democracy (And Britain, too).

The economic consequences of military investment are inflationary in that money paid to workers is not the consequence of the creation of exchangeable wealth. The money must be raised either by taxes or by borrowing. The US has borrowed. Hence the federal deficit.

The break up of the Soviet Union has resulted in budget cuts for military projects. If the Soviet Union had had a conventional budget its deficit would have been many times that of the United States and is now proving to be so as the successor republics adopt conventional accounting.

Vladimir Putin is making use of the high price of oil, and therefore the growth in Russia's income, to increase spending on the military again.

The arms industries built up during the Cold War are still churning out weapons for sale on the world market. Russia's weapons factories are the only efficient part of the economy. Perhaps food aid could be supplied to some countries (such as Somalia) in exchange for weapons to be destroyed.

Some people talked about a Peace Dividend - the money to be saved by not spending on military activity. What would this money be used on? The evidence is that it ought not to be used on increased consumption but is needed for ecological defense to combat the general crisis. Politicians may be tempted to reduce taxes as they are not yet convinced of the reality of the world crisis. In fact the peace dividend never occurred as wars continued, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another aspect of the world's military problem is that current wars are quite unlike the Cold War for which the military have been preparing. Nuclear weapons are no good for UN peacekeeping (or anything else). In practice, larger armies may be needed, but with fewer technological weapons. That is, the military may be needed for world police operations rather than all-out battle. Already Britain has canceled some of the troop reductions planned at the end of the Cold War. If the small wars continue to multiply the western powers may find themselves increasing their manpower to cope.

Last revised 30/10/11


World Info


Return to the top

Since 30/10/11

eXTReMe Tracker