By José Luis Ibáñez Santa María
The Achilles Heel of America’s Imperial power is its Armed Forces. Different is the vision of public opinion that sees them as a bulwark of the country. However, a reference invites us to meditate. When the Soviet Union came to an end, its Armed Forces were very powerful; so powerful that the Empire the USSR was at such time could no longer pay for them. Thirty years later it seems to be the turn of the United States, whose Armed Forces to operate in the great theater of the world that its Administration imposed on itself, require resources that exceed the financial and economic capacity of the Empire that the United States became. It can no longer ignore the imbalance in its public accounts or the urgent reduction of the public debt. Such debt reached critical and very serious levels for a country whose currency is today the most used in international transactions and as a reserve currency by the Central Banks of the world.
The military conflicts the United States faced after World War II made the imperial path difficult for it. The Vietnam War was a real catastrophe: nearly 60,000 United States’ soldiers died during ten years of war, reaping a defeat that forced the United States to a dramatic withdrawal from Vietnamese territory. Consequences of the defeat: Twenty years after the end of the war, the parties resumed diplomatic affairs and soon after, The United States became a good friend of its executioner. What was the real need for the sacrifice of the young people who died in Vietnam? Why the war then? Who is responsible for the death of America’s youth? Who is responsible for the 4,000,000 deaths due to the war?
The End of the Conscription
Many young citizens of the United States were fatal victims of the wars that started after World War II. In 1973, the authorities put an end to Mandatory Military Service that forced young people to join the Armed Forces. As a replacement instead, professional mercenary soldiers came in, those who for payment agreed to face death. The United States Armed Forces from that moment on were supported by mercenaries.
The end of Military Service was no trivial change: wars ceased to have personal costs for citizens or their families. That is why they became an abstraction for public opinion in the United States. It allowed the American people to overcome the strong anti-warfare of the 1960s and view wars as something distant. From then on, before each new war, citizens in the United States looked to the side and ignored them. In a matter as serious for any country as a war, the Presidency of the United States was subject only to an eventual control by Congress. From 2001, as explained below, not even Congress could intervene.
The use of armed forces based on the sacrifice of its citizens was not a good path in the search for imperial power or a unipolar world. It forced wars to have the approval of public opinion. Without caring for it, and supported by mercenary military forces, the United States was able to make its voice a dominant one. The horror and suffering of the wars that once also affected the citizens of the United States started to fall with the arrival of mercenaries, almost entirely from those countries in which they were fought: Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Grenada, Panama, Serbia, all weak or very weak countries. They caused hundreds of thousands of victims, but victims too distant to impress the American public opinion.
Since it is not of the human essence to accept the orders of foreign powers, military force is essential for whoever wants to be obeyed. Employing mercenary armed forces allows the candidate’s authorities to run the unipolar world, to act with much more freedom. The first twenty years of the 21st century show it.
It is paradoxical how the pacifist movement of the 1960s ultimately allowed exactly the opposite of what it was after: The United States, shortly after the Vietnam War, became a dangerous country, a champion of wars, some of which have gone on forever: Syria, Iraq and Libya. Doing away with military service allowed the American society to live a calmer life at the cost of freeing up its authorities to play the imperial game. The United States is now the warmongering country par excellence.
In case anyone has doubts
That the United States seeks imperial power was revealed in 1991 by the Wolfowitz doctrine (so named in that year after the United States Under Secretary of Defense), the new doctrine that emerged with the fall of the Soviet Union: “Our first objective is to prevent the surfacing of a new rival, whether on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere”. It was the arrogance of someone who thought it was the winner of the Cold War and felt almighty, but he did not measure where his arrogance would take him.
In 1957 the future President Kennedy then senator, warned “… if we fail to meet the challenge of either Soviet or Western imperialism, then no amount of foreign aid, no aggrandizement of armaments, no new pacts or doctrines or high-level conferences can prevent further setbacks to our course and to our security. “ (quoted by Cynthia Chung). Shall Kennedy have thought that, 60 years later, his ideas would explain the problems of his own country that stumbles and loses its course and security thanks to the imperial spirit that took over his government?
The problem of being rich
Removing first public opinion from wars and then Congress seems like a very practical system for promoting the Empire. But a great question swings in the air: How long can the United States persist in its eagerness to start new wars to develop and consolidate the Empire?
The United States, candidate for kingship of the unipolar world or Exceptional Nation as it proclaims itself, is a country with high standards of living and that is why salaries there are high. Education, medical services, housekeeping or maid services have become almost prohibitive. It is no wonder then that its obviously very personnel-intensive Armed Forces makes the defense budget in the United States increasingly difficult to pay. Today the cost of the Armed Forces is a very important factor in the growing deficit of the Federal Budget and in the astonishing levels that the public debt reaches.
How could one finance the Armed Forces that must prevent the surfacing of rivals everywhere? Will the Defense budget follow the path of American education that is becoming more expensive and difficult to fund every day? It is enough to think today of the so-called “enemies” (China, Russia and Iran), to weigh the burden borne by the United States Armed Forces. These “enemies” are no “no brainer” for the “Exceptional Nation” and its allies, no doubt more indigestible, than those the United States “has swallowed and digested” one after another after the disgraceful Vietnam War. All countries that a generous rating would call second- or third-class nations.
Norfolk Naval Base on the East Coast of the United States
Technology versus Military Personnel
Surely the United States Armed Forces are trying to replace part of their personnel with technology trying to lower costs and become more powerful. A new way that is not ” hunky-dory”. Here are three reasons that make it difficult.
It is very likely that the United States will have to rethink seriously the desirability of continuing with the current structure of its arms industry. It seems to lead the country to a dead end. President Eisenhower upon retiring in January 1961 warned:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex … The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” (quoted by Cynthia Chung)
2) The impossibility of transferring all the functions of military personnel to technology. This is the case with “boots on the ground”, the irreplaceable old role of the soldier who fights on the ground, a role that cannot be substituted when exercising a stark dominance in enemy territory. (According to Wikipedia: “The term is used to convey the belief that military success can only be achieved through the direct physical presence of troops in a conflict area”). With mercenary Armed Forces the cost of “boots on the ground” becomes prohibitive; it is that the mercenaries make themselves pay, something very different from the old recruits of the Military Service. The new “soldiers” have all the freedom in the world to enlist and do not see much exposure in the field of battle well in their future.
3) The intervention of political interests in military supply decisions, especially when the amounts involved do not leave anyone indifferent. That is why the private sector weapons industries (Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed, etc.) distribute the execution of new contracts among a large number of States to engage the support of those politicians representing such States. The result is obviously more expensive contracts since majorities in Congress do not care much about the costs of the projects if they mean more work in their states. In Washington, the arms lobby is powerful, a force that plays a decisive role in the approval of the Defense Budget.
PRESENCE OF UNITED STATES MILITARY FORCES
The future of America’s defense has only one direction: increasingly high costs. They are already at a level that unbalances the country’s economy, which is of course a consequence of seeking universal dominance with two obstacles difficult to overcome: China y Rusia. China and Russia. (See article on new Russian hypersonic weapons announced by President Putin in March 2018). Each one in itself formidable; that it is said the two acting together as it happens today thanks to the inattentive actions of the bureaucracy of the international politics of the United States. It succeeded in throwing Russia, a traditional European country, into the arms of China.
China’s Sea or United States’ Sea?
The only thing that excuses the error of the bureaucrats of the United States is the amazing and unexpected speed of the development reached by China, today the main economic power of the world. Anyone could be fooled! However, instead of surrendering to the evidence of a China that regains its rightful place due to the size of its population and the richness and time immemorial of its culture, the bureaucrats of the Exceptional Nation Empire believe that they can lock the wheels of the Chinese bicycle: sanctions, lawsuits, accusations, smear campaigns, uprisings of the Western Fifth Column within China, etc. Too little too late. The Chinese bicycle is already unstoppable, even more so with the gigantic financial resources that drive it thanks to the very high savings rates of its austere population.
The presence of the United States Armed Forces in the world is significant, as shown in this article published by ABC of Spain that mentions 686 military bases outside the United States according to official information from 2015. It is possible that there are more than 800 considering the secret bases. According to Wikipedia there are probably more than 1000.
The United States also has eleven naval squadrons, each headed by an aircraft carrier, projecting the power of the United States into all the world’s oceans. True and powerful floating bases.
The measure of the importance that the United States Armed Forces have reached is given by the size of the US Defense Budget, which fluctuates between 4 and 5% of GDP, representing more than double the proportional budget of a normal country in these matters. However, the comparison with the budgets of other countries is not adequate if certain factors that make the United States budget more expensive are not considered, such as staff salaries (a soldier in the United States has a much higher cost than the cost of its eventual enemy-counterparts in the United States such as Russia, China and Iran); the cost of “veterans” (retired soldiers who receive a government pension); the cost of equipment and the cost of new technological developments. An adjusted indicator of defense spending by something similar to the PPP (Power Purchase Parity) circumscribed to the factors of military cost, would deliver surprising results on the comparative defense spending of any of these three countries. Today´s Chinese budget is very likely to be equivalent to that of the United States; in the future it will be much larger because the Chinese economy will at least double or triple that of the United States. What a disgrace for an Empire limping from its economic inability to sustain itself, for the economic monster that is China to emerge simultaneously! Despite the statements of a Biden, who promises to curb the Chinese momentum, the force that China brings is more overwhelming than a Tsunami. Good luck Mr. Biden! What an enemy he has chosen to challenge! When comparing relative powers, it is also necessary to bear in mind the tasks assigned to the Armed Forces in each country. Those of the United States have the most extensive tasks in that they must “prevent the emergence of new rivals anywhere in the world” (Wolfowitz doctrine). A self-imposed task that can only be explained by a drunken enthusiasm from Pentagon politicians and planners in the United States at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union. “…Anywhere in the world”! Have those who developed the military doctrine of the United States measured the scope of this phrase well? It gives a very clear idea of the poor criteria and imbalances that prevail in Washington. The same that have led to the unpresentable deterioration of the public accounts of the United States. “The old Greek Hubris” seems to have taken over the United States, the territory where today a “New Rich” mentality reigns: America can do everything, America wants everything. But at what cost?
Free-rider and Eternal Wars: the end of the show
After the Vietnam War, people, families and the public opinion remained in the United States in a secondary role with respect to the wars that its authorities conducted to achieve the leadership of the unipolar world. At the fall of the Soviet Union, the way was clear to use wars as an active instrument of politics. And it was enshrined in 2001 immediately after the fall of the Twin Towers, with the Patriot Act, a law passed by Congress that gave the Presidency portentous powers to initiate military actions. Although with some modifications, the Patriot Act subsists to this day. It is enough for the President of the United States to declare that a country protects or encourages Terrorism for divine wrath to fall on the unhappy inhabitants of that country. Wars have continued without intermittence since 2001: Afghanistan, Iraq, Arab Spring, Syria, Libya, Yemen… Justice actions by the President of the United States. Everywhere! Movies “live” like the alleged assassination of Bin Laden in Pakistan witnessed by Barak Obama and his entourage. Drones and missiles as deadly weapons assassinating generals and scientists in Iran. Victims like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and others with names that are impossible to pronounce. Murders in the style of the Far West according to Hollywood: the sheriff of the world executes the criminals following the instructions that he gives himself. But modernity allows the President to do it at ease, sitting quietly in an armchair in the elegant Oval Room of the White House.
Nothing stops wars today. The White House has taken Von Clausewitz seriously: war as a continuation of politics … by other means. By other means? Yes, the military media. But they require money available in the account. What if there isn’t? What if creditors don’t want to lend? Will the wars end? Will the Unipolar World End? Will the targeted killings end? Will the Hollywood movie showing the justice of the Far West come to an end?
The pitcher goes so often to the well…
The abuse of wars has put the United States in a very complex financial situation with an unbearable public debt that is entirely explained by the excess spending on defense after the Vietnam War. Where, if at all, will future public resources go? To pay interest? To debt repayments? To solve citizen problems? Will there be anything left for wars?
The ghost of the Soviet Union’s fall haunts the Capitol and the White House in Washington!
José Luis Ibáñez Santa María is a Chilean-based geopolitical analyst and author who publishes his work regularly on Substack.
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