Belaboring the Obvious

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Well, that's an interesting take...

... on "peace." The New York Times reports yesterday that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates thinks that the "demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st...."

Most countries in NATO, apart from the U.S., have militaries suitable to their territorial defense, and probably in excess of any threat they might encounter (near zero, these days). The U.S., on the other hand, has been overspending for so long that it thinks overspending is normal.

Aside from that, how to deconstruct the notion that not buying huge new weapons systems is "an impediment to... lasting peace?" Gates is not only being positively Orwellian here, he's also being highly disingenuous. What he means, of course, is that the well-to-do NATO countries aren't spending enough on U.S. weapons. They're cheating U.S. arms manufacturers out of profits!

Some of this has to do with the government of the Netherlands falling due to its continuing participation in the Afghanistan debacle. Some of it, undoubtedly, is also due to recent calls for the U.S. to remove its nuclear weapons from EU countries. However, just step back and wonder in amazement at the insanity of suggesting that not doing what the U.S. wants is an "impediment to peace." The United States has not only been at war for going on nine years in Afghanistan (as have a number of NATO allies) and nearly seven years in Iraq, but has broadened those wars into Pakistan and Yemen. In those areas, there is no peace.

Where has there been peace for more than sixty years? Yup, that region which had been previously the focal point of wars for more than ten centuries--Western Europe. Precisely the place that Gates now wants to start overarming itself, presumably so it can go on supporting U.S. aims far afield from NATO's core territorial interests.

Consider the possibilities, though. If Western EU countries start spending on defense at the horribly excessive rates which the U.S. has come to view as ordinary, the money will have to come from somewhere, very likely encouraging a diminution of the European social safety net, which may bring on both internal civil strife (along with a corresponding lopsided distribution of wealth as in the U.S.) and cross-border economic conflicts. If those appear and intensify, the gross expansion of various militaries in Europe might result in use of the military inside those newly militaristic countries, or for the use of one's military against neighboring countries. Ultimately, a breakdown of cooperation inside the EU would probably bring an end to the EU.

Exactly the sort of problems common to Europe prior to the end of WWII. Western Europe has avoided war in its region by not following the example of the U.S., and it's getting well-weary of the decision to follow the U.S. into Afghanistan, because of NATO commitments, after nearly a decade of stasis in Afghanistan. The dissolution of the coalition government in Holland over Afghanistan is evidence enough of that.

One could see the first indications of this U.S. pressure to suddenly increase arms budgets in U.S. relations with Canada after 9/11. Canada, with a population of only 35 million or so, couldn't possibly meet the demands of the Bush administration to greatly increase defense spending without sacrificing in other ways--the most obvious being virtual abandonment of its national health care system, which, at the time, seemed the most likely underlying reason for the Bushies' demands. Can't have a workable public health system so close to the U.S., as a desire for one might rub off on us....

Virtually all of the first-world nations today can afford social safety nets that minimize the sort of civil strife that tore apart Germany between the two world wars because they don't spend absurd amounts of money on war materiel, large standing armies, or war itself. As the U.S. continues to decline in power and influence, because of its military and war spending, the more it will try to spend on those items in a vain attempt to stem that decline, and the more stark the contrast will become between the relatively stable countries of Western Europe and the increasingly unstable United States.

This across-the-bow shot by Gates at Western Europe has nothing to do with actual military requirements, and much to do with that growing contrast.


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