In today’s complex world, the variables in global warfare have never been more diverse. People with nothing or little left to lose, often encouraged by religious doctrines that offer life in paradise instantly to those who die in their bizarre perception of the service of God, use their bodies strapped with explosive devices as weapons. More sophisticated societies use pinpoint missiles launched antiseptically from submarines or drones. Military “hit and run” irregulars have been wreaking havoc with concentrations of professional troops with superior firepower in places like Cuba in 1959 or Vietnam in the early 1970s. And the most amazing and indirect weapon of them all – economic hegemony – has moved from the domination of the British over global trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, the American supply-demand behemoth of the late 20th century to the current and most agile economic power on earth today: the Peoples Republic of China.
It’s not that China is the biggest economy in the world or that its people enjoy a particularly high standard of living, it’s just that they have excess capital to deploy in furthering their political ambitions in a world where the United States, Japan and the Western World are struggling to recapture economic stability and perhaps even growth. China can’t begin to compete with the United States on military might – at least not for a few decades. Their “paltry” $114 billion annual military budget (2.2% of their GDP) doesn’t begin to threaten the $700 billion spent by the U.S. every year (a very hefty 4.7% of our GDP); they spend between 7% and 8% of the world’s military expenditures, while we are up somewhere between 44% and 47% of the global spend. Wikipedia.
China’s superior firepower has been relegated to economic conquest: (i) locking up natural resources worldwide, (ii) supporting U.S., South African and European currencies giving them profound de facto abilities to support or bring down those economies simply by buying or not buying currency (and establishing pricing), and (iii) building a universe of trading partners among nations that the Western World has long relegated to secondary status for decades. “[The] majority of China's trading partners aren't in Europe or America: They're in Asia and Africa and South America. In other words, precisely those countries which have always spoken last on the world stage. China is using its economic relationships to create an alternative bloc of power, which can directly compete with the political might of the E.U. and America.
“You could call it checkbook diplomacy, and it's vastly different than the bedrock of our own diplomatic efforts. Granted, the U.S. does use its economic relationships abroad as a carrot, but the stick has always been our armed forces. China, by contrast, isn't exactly threatening countries overseas with potential military action (with the exception of Taiwan, of course). Instead, it's doing hundreds of billions in business with countries that are usually also-rans on the global stage.” FastCompany.com, October 19th.
The problem with this scenario is that our having a vastly superior military force without a concomitant solid economy to pay for it – without sustainable long-term growth – is a recipe for disaster. In fact, as our military budget stays high as the rest of the economy deteriorates, the further erosion of our economic wellbeing simply accelerates until we can no longer afford even a moderately-sized military and are left with an economy that has been seriously and permanently downgraded. As China deploys her massive economic weapon, on the other hand, she grows stronger and more powerful, able to afford a military build-up that would threaten our superiority on all fronts.
The corollary to having a large military budget is our proclivity to justify its existence by using it way too easily. While China is not militarily engaged anywhere beyond its direct claim to its own borders, our forces are deployed all over the earth, with large flotillas and military bases planted everywhere. We seem to be in everybody else’s civil war, and our military excursions have not seemed to serve us well since our catastrophic loss in Vietnam, our moving the Iran-dominated Shiite political parties to majority rule in Iraq and our interminable (over a decade now) and failing efforts in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Would we have engaged in these wars without a massive military capacity? Are we safer as a result, and have we protected our standard of living? Have we tamed the stinging bees by swinging a baseball bat against their hive?
I’m Peter Dekom, and wondering if we reduced our military might to merely 30% of the global military budget, wouldn’t we still be powerful enough to protect our interests?