We Need New Thinking for the New Threats That Lie Ahead
© 2020 Karl Albrecht. Adapted from Blueprint For a New America, pp. 121+
Reading Time: 3 minutes
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched,
every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense,
a theft from those who hunger and are not fed,
those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone.
It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
Five-Star General, US President
Let’s take a mega-factual perspective on the military state of the planet. Then we’ll proceed to explore some of the mega-issues and mega-opportunities.
The Pentagon, the largest building in the world, serves as the headquarters for the entire US military establishment. The iconic five-sided building, built during WW2, has five concentric rings of offices arranged around a central courtyard. With seven floors and over 6 million square feet of work space, it houses more than 25,000 workers. It has all of the functions, activities, and logistical systems of a small city.
About two million active duty personnel and some 700,000 civilian employees make up the Defense Department’s work force.
As of this writing, the US operates about 800 military “sites” in 70 countries. They range from tiny outposts to giant bases the size of complete cities.
At home, all 50 US states, special territories, and protectorates have multiple military bases of various sizes and for various purposes.
Overseas, we have some 0 so-called named bases with significant operations.
We have about 50,000 active-duty military personnel stationed at more than a dozen bases in Japan, along with about 40,000 family members and about 5,000 American civilian employees.We have about 30,000 military personnel in South Korea, at more than a dozen bases, with equivalent numbers of dependents and civilian workers.
As of this writing, we still operate bases in Iraq. Military operations in Afghanistan continue—after 19 years—with several thousand combat troops there.
We also operate a Navy and Marine base on the southeastern tip of the island of Cuba—Guantanamo Bay—a peculiar legacy of the Spanish-American War. The US took control of “Gitmo” and established a naval base and coaling station there in 1898 as part of the peace agreement that ended the Spanish-American war.
The UK, France, Russia, China, and various small military powers have a total of about 40 overseas bases.
Recent figures put the number of military aircraft owned and operated by the US at about 13,000. Russia has an estimated 2,000–3,000 planes. China has roughly the same.
Similar estimates indicate that the US Navy has about 300 ships of all kinds, including carriers, destroyers, specialized support ships, and submarines, with about 100 more in development or planning stages. China has more ships than the US, while the Russian navy has a much smaller fleet.
The Defense Department operates a system of universities that train military officers. The four service academies—the Army’s Academy at West Point, New York; the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland; the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado; and the Coast Guard Academy at New London, Connecticut—operate as fully accredited colleges, granting degrees while preparing future officers for their careers.
Money Makes the War Go Around: the Two-Percent Addiction
In the brief summary above, we’ve looked at the physical dimensions of warfare. But to understand the current strategic situation, we need to shift the focus of our thinking, especially about both Russia and China, from the military dimension to the economic dimension.
Every war ultimately comes down to a contest between two economies. One side might have smarter commanders, and luck often plays its part, but in the long run the stronger economy usually prevails.
In the US Civil War, for example, the southern Confederacy just couldn’t match the resources controlled by the established government—the Union. The South’s fragile economy, based mostly on cotton and tobacco, stood against a stronger, more broadly based Northern economy and a military machine that took advantage of better weapons, a more extensive railroad system, and the new technology of the telegraph.
In the early days of the two World Wars, the attackers— Germany and the Ottoman Empire in WW1; and Germany, Italy, and Japan in WW2—seemed to have seized the permanent advantage. But as the war dragged on, the combined resources of the Allies finally overpowered them.
If we want to rethink the role of military operations in the future of the Republic, we can analyze the various options and their costs in the cold, hard logic of return on investment. We face two questions: 1) how much peace of mind can we buy for any given level of military investment; and 2) how much will we consider enough?