Why is protecting the US so expensive?

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Calorus
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Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Calorus » Tue Nov 11, 2008 3:05 pm UTC

With no hostile border neighbours, relatively modest natural resources and a fairly unremarkable armed forces in terms of quantity of personnel, why does it cost as much to defend a country with only two land borders, with peaceful countries with whom they feel comfortable enough to operate an [economic] open borders policy (see NAFTA), as for the entire rest of the world, including Western Europe to defend theirs? Do you think it's value for money? And do you think it's worth it for the defence of the country?

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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Mzyxptlk » Tue Nov 11, 2008 3:40 pm UTC

Protecting the US isn't that expensive. What is expensive is using government money to finance the military-industrial complex, maintaining bases and financing terrorists around the world and generally performing military actions without approval from the UN Security Council.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Lemminkainen » Tue Nov 11, 2008 3:49 pm UTC

If the US only was concerned with defending its own territory, it would have to pay a fraction of the cost. However, the US has many bases guarding its allies in South Korea, Japan, and NATO, and also protecting its oil interests in the Middle East. It also has a tendency to invade other countries without multilateral support, and funnel money to leaders who fight things that it doesn't like (such as drugs or Islamic militants).

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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby TheStranger » Tue Nov 11, 2008 4:03 pm UTC

Before WWII the US military was relatively small. It was only after the US became an international power that things changed. Interests around the world required protecting, the threat of the USSR loomed large, etc...

In more modern times the global nature of the world means that the just because the country next door is not hostile that a country cannot still be threatened.

Plus military spending is not something to do cheaply... as letting things go lax has a nasty habit of biting you on your arse.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Azrael » Tue Nov 11, 2008 4:11 pm UTC

This threads should not turn into another circular sharing experience where we all state an unsupported opinion and vehemently tell other people that their unsupported opinions are wrong.

If you make a claim, refer to widely known factual instances that support your claim, or link to a reputable source that strengthens your assertion.

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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby clintonius » Tue Nov 11, 2008 5:43 pm UTC

Here's a link to the 2008 DoD budget (warning: it's a 200+ page PDF).

Looking at Table 1-3 in that doc, there are a number of things that explain the tremendous military budget of the US: even the minimal salary paid to troops gets prohibitive when it's paid more than a million times over (nearly $120 billion, according to the budget); "operation and maintenance," which presumably includes costs for food, fuel and the like, runs $165 billion; I assume "procurement" to mean acquisition of supplies, which runs at roughly $100 billion; and about $2.5 billion for management.

What's interesting is the level that goes into RDT&E (which I'm assuming stands for research and development of technology and electronics, or something to that effect): about $75 billion. Every now and then you'll hear a story about a particular new piece of technology the military is developing -- the Bradley tank and the stealth plane series were both ones that got pretty wide public exposure (the Bradley even had a movie made about it). The Discovery Channel's show "Future Weapons" also focuses on these new pieces of machinery.

One of my biggest issues with the defense budget is the amount that goes into technology. I understand the importance of our troops having adequate equipment, and I also support the use of weapons that track targets as specifically and accurately as possible (if we've got to blow something up, we may as well hit the right target and not kill anybody we don't intend to). At the same time, I also have extreme reservations about the efficacy of military technology development (see the Bradley movie linked above for a reason; also look at the fact that our missiles still miss their targets), and I have a difficult time trusting such an expansive program with so little transparency. And yes, I understand the necessity of keeping much of our military technology a secret. This is unfortunate because it's problematic.

Another expense of note is "atomic energy defense activities." If this means what I think it means, then I sincerely hope the nearly $16 billion spent in this area is proving more fruitful now than it has in the past. From all I've heard, current countermeasures for nuclear warheads are iffy at best. I also question their necessity and therefore the necessity of this expense.

Alright, so, why? Why are we spending all this money? For one, we feel the need to keep a standing army of over a million troops, and as I showed above, just paying their salary is an enormous chunk of the budget. A big part of this perceived need is the fact that the US keeps bases all over the world, as someone mentioned above. Another reason we maintain such a large army is our level of military activity, which also greatly influences all other aspects of the budget, particularly ops & maintenance and procurement. The degree to which it influences R&D likely depends on the extent to which research focuses directly on developments for a specific theater of operations.

(As an aside, something to clarify: the military-industrial complex has already come up in this thread and is bound to do so again. Let's agree that when we say "military-industrial complex," we're not talking about a giant conspiracy wherein corrupt government individuals intentionally try to funnel money into defense corporations. Certainly I don't doubt that corruption influences military contracts, etc, but it's also a fact that our current military operations require a shit ton of supplies (and this probably isn't the place to spout off how much of that is due to corruption without some legit sources). The MIC encompasses all companies that provide these supplies.)
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby frezik » Tue Nov 11, 2008 7:39 pm UTC

As a percentage of GDP, US military expendatures are much lower than most other countries.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby clintonius » Tue Nov 11, 2008 7:52 pm UTC

Ours is 4.06%; number 17 on that list was 5.5%. It's lower than some and perhaps many, but if you look at the area on this map covered by countries that spend less than 4%, it becomes difficult to justify your use of the word "most."

Also, you have to keep in mind the fact that the US has by far the largest GDP in the world, by both absolute numbers and PPP.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Mzyxptlk » Tue Nov 11, 2008 7:56 pm UTC

frezik wrote:As a percentage of GDP, US military expendatures are much lower than most other countries.

Some more numbers:
Wikipedia wrote:The United States spends 4.06% of its GDP on its military (considering only basic Department of Defense budget spending, while complete military spending is higher by more than 50% due to additional DoD funding and funding of other federal military departments)
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Yakk » Tue Nov 11, 2008 8:08 pm UTC

*nod*, the Military Industrial (Congressional) complex simply refers to the Military spending money on Industry (as it should) to provide its needed goods. The spending on Military bases and on Military Industry results in a demographic that wants more military spending, which is represented in Congress. In addition, the Industry tosses money at Congress members when they support Military spending, and doesn't when they don't.

It doesn't require any hidden backroom deals to explain -- no more than the self-perpetuating US farm subsidies do. You throw money at a well defined interest, and that interest will find it in their interest to encourage that the money keeps flowing. The disinterest in spending the money is more diffuse, as there isn't a narrow group who is paying for it -- but rather a broad group.

...

The US is a militarily active nation, unlike most first world nations. Going back to that map, you can see that there are other nations in the world who spend about the same as the US does, but nearly none of them are first world nations.

As far as I know, US overseas military presence is concentrated in the Persian Gulf area, in South East Asia, and in Europe.

Persian Gulf forces attempt to keep the region reasonably stable and non-hostile in order to facilitate oil exports.

South East Asia forces are there to keep an eye on the remnants of communism, which includes China. Japan, Taiwan, South Korea -- all are first world nations sitting on the edge of some reasonably non-friendly nations. They also keep the naval trade routes in the area free of piracy.

European forces are a remnant of the forces used as a "tripwire" against Communist expansion.

Finally, note that Europe relies on the implicit and explicit guarantees of NATO to have such low military spending levels.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby SJ Zero » Tue Nov 11, 2008 9:04 pm UTC

As others have mentioned, the reason the military is so expensive is that the US is in so many different places. During the election, the Ronpaul provided plenty of statistics which show the problem. You've got military bases in over 100 countries. You've been in South Korea for over 50 years. Of course the armed forces is expensive!

If the US cared about the cost of their military, they'd be able to prevent attacks like 9/11, stop illegal immigration, and protect the United States from attacks simply by pulling out of those countries, keeping those people at home defending the borders, and cutting back on the massive costs of maintaining a global empire.

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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby frezik » Tue Nov 11, 2008 9:11 pm UTC

Paranoid Android wrote:What has been described above sounds allot to me like the US government is trying to be the world police.

Yes, in the days of the USSR it was necessary but today there is no superpower to fight, protecting intrests abroad doesn't have to be done the brute force way.


Some of those bases (like Japan or the Marshall Islands) are there because of treaty obligations.

As for the Middle East, how else do you expect to protect against the coming of Maud'dib? I make this point half-seriously; it's nice to say that it isn't worth fighting over oil, but the fact is that oil is just as important as the Spice in fiction.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby TheStranger » Tue Nov 11, 2008 10:00 pm UTC

SJ Zero wrote:If the US cared about the cost of their military, they'd be able to prevent attacks like 9/11, stop illegal immigration, and protect the United States from attacks simply by pulling out of those countries, keeping those people at home defending the borders, and cutting back on the massive costs of maintaining a global empire.


The US does care about the cost of the military, but the benefits of a global presence have (so far) out weighed the associated costs. In an environment where a wealthy nation will have interests in may different parts of the world it makes a great deal of sense (to me at least) to have such a global military presence, to ensure that it's interests are 'well looked after'.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Katrina » Tue Nov 11, 2008 11:41 pm UTC

I think it is *slightly* disingenuous to state that the US DoD budget is the sole spending the USA uses for defense. In fact, it is incorrect.

Moving aside from the whole MIDC thing (although, if you look at the way black / semi-black projects are procured, there is a *LOT* of politics & back handers going around - esp. in states where corporations such as Lockheed Martin are based), you've got at least the following:

CIA - $30 bil [source: Washington Post, see http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=6114 ]
Israel - $18.9 bil l / 6 years [source: http://projects.publicintegrity.org/mil ... World.aspx ]
Egypt - $12.1 bil / 6 years [ditto]

And so on: vast sums are spent per annum by the USA in either direct (giving weapons) or indirect (giving training, see the infamous School of Americas)

In addition to this, there are numerous indirectly linked committees, funds and training programs that money is pumped into - with very little public over-sight.

For instance, see: http://www.fas.org/asmp/resources/110th/Function150.pdf .This is an important document if you're wanting to seriously discuss this issue.

Whilst some of it looks innocent enough (spending on foreign aid programs, helping children, water etc), you get little gems such as "Cuba -- $45.7 million to further implement program recommendations from the Committee to Assist a Free Cuba II, including strengthening civil society". In case you didn't realise it, that's $45.7 million US tax dollars funding operations to destabilise the government of a sovereign nation. See also: "Kosovo - The $279 million FY 2007 supplemental request will support the outcome of the political process under the auspices of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari to determine Kosovo’s status. As settlement, expected to be completed early this year, will fall outside of the normal budget process, we are requesting significant resources to support the outcome." If you've a mind, looking at the history of the KLA and CIA funding is rather eye opening.


http://www.fas.org/man/crs/RL32209.pdf is also a useful document, as is http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/weapons/RL34723.pdf which details arms exports to developing countries (the USA is #1, unsurprisingly, although arms deals with developing nations only accounts for 70% of the USA's arms trading, look to Israel / Egypt for the whys).

Oh - and this: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf - The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11. Look at the numbers - it is rather more than you'd imagine. $864 billion - although compared to bailing out some banks, perhaps it is cheap.

In fact, http://www.fas.org/man/crs/ is a gold mine of congress reports. Strange location for it though...


Oooh, oooh.. a little gem: "Project BioShield countermeasure procurement is funded by the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2004 (P.L. 108-90), which advance-appropriated $5.593 billion for FY2004 to FY2013" http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RS21507.pdf


It is a little treasure trove of money you didn't know existed, being spent on projects you didn't know existed. Yum! Ever heard of RRWs? I hadn't... I have now: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL32929.pdf

[edit]:

For those who don't know: the CRS is the Congressional Research Service, a part of the government that provides information packs to elected representatives so that they can accurately assess situations - it is scrupulously researched and 100% guaranteed not to be intarweb bullshit. Forget conspiracy theories, reading the real stuff is much more fun :)
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby SJ Zero » Wed Nov 12, 2008 12:22 pm UTC

TheStranger wrote:The US does care about the cost of the military, but the benefits of a global presence have (so far) out weighed the associated costs. In an environment where a wealthy nation will have interests in may different parts of the world it makes a great deal of sense (to me at least) to have such a global military presence, to ensure that it's interests are 'well looked after'.


It seems to me that saying the US does care about the cost of the military but they want to have a global empire is like the people who say they care about the cost of housing but take out million dollar mortgages.

Something like "talk is cheap, but your army isn't"

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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby clintonius » Wed Nov 12, 2008 10:10 pm UTC

That doesn't mean that the US disregards any consideration of expense. The hypothetical person in your analogy probably isn't rushing out to buy the first million-dollar house on the market. Shopping around and bidding are common practice for military contracts; also, the US's investigation into potential fraud by food suppliers shows that expenses don't go entirely without auditing.

That said, I do agree that the US places more weight upon its presence and operations than it does on calls for budgetary restraint, and I'd be very interested to see what, if any, areas of the defense budget get reduced or cut in the future.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby TheStranger » Wed Nov 12, 2008 10:26 pm UTC

SJ Zero wrote:
It seems to me that saying the US does care about the cost of the military but they want to have a global empire is like the people who say they care about the cost of housing but take out million dollar mortgages.

Something like "talk is cheap, but your army isn't"


We seem to have different definitions of what "care" means in this case. To me it is saying "we are watchful of our budget, but are willing to spend when/where it is needed".

The defense budget is huge, and could probably use a good trimming (but then the same could be said about most areas of the US budget).
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby SJ Zero » Wed Nov 12, 2008 11:05 pm UTC

It seems to me that the difference is in our definitions of "care".

I don't live in Toronto, because I care about housing costs, and I don't want to spend a million dollars on a house. The person who will actually spend that much on a house pretends to care by whining about it, but refuses to do anything about it, and thus obviously doesn't care all that much about it.

I don't drive a porsche 911, because I care about not having excessive debt for a vehicle. The person who makes as much as I do and buys a porsche 911 on credit may pretend to care by whining about it, but refuses to do anything about it, thus obviously doesn't care all that much about it.

In this case, the US could pull out of 150 countries and spend a fraction of the money protecting itself, and probably get better protection that way, but the government pretends to care by whining about it, but refuses to do anything about it, and thus obviously doesn't care all that much about it.

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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Solt » Thu Nov 13, 2008 3:56 am UTC

Yea, the expense isn't defense, it is force projection. The US has one of the few navies in the world that is capable of doing anything significant beyond its own borders. Those of you saying a country can get by with a relatively cheap self defence force? Our military exists to be able to overwhelm any self defence force in the world with minimal pre planning.


Paranoid Android wrote:What has been described above sounds allot to me like the US government is trying to be the world police.

Yes, in the days of the USSR it was necessary but today there is no superpower to fight, protecting intrests abroad doesn't have to be done the brute force way.


Yes, that is probably true to an extent. There still needs to be a way to project military power to any point on the globe without having to use nukes. How else would we attack known anti-american terrorists on the other side of the planet? It isn't an imagined threat, those towers really did fall. Now, would pulling out of the Middle East, for example, cause Al Qaeda to lay down arms? It is possible but I think there is more than a little doubt about it.

Don't forget that there were no true world powers before either of the world wars.

clintonius wrote:One of my biggest issues with the defense budget is the amount that goes into technology. I understand the importance of our troops having adequate equipment, and I also support the use of weapons that track targets as specifically and accurately as possible (if we've got to blow something up, we may as well hit the right target and not kill anybody we don't intend to). At the same time, I also have extreme reservations about the efficacy of military technology development (see the Bradley movie linked above for a reason; also look at the fact that our missiles still miss their targets), and I have a difficult time trusting such an expansive program with so little transparency. And yes, I understand the necessity of keeping much of our military technology a secret. This is unfortunate because it's problematic.


GPS. Spy Satellites. Spy planes (U2, SR-71, Global Hawk UAV). Stealth planes. Nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. ICBMs. Radar. Digital computers. Cryptography. I'd say US and allied military technology investments have in fact been quite successful.

If you study European military history (not in the 20th century but even earlier) you will find that for the most part the name of the game has been technology. The side with more investment in research and development has usually won.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Adalwolf » Thu Nov 13, 2008 4:32 am UTC

Because we aren't just protecting the US. We are protecting our interests 'round the world, and using out power to do what's best for the US. (generally speaking).
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby SJ Zero » Thu Nov 13, 2008 7:07 am UTC

Generally speaking, bankrupting the state is bad.

I mean, it's how the Soviet Union fell...

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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Yakk » Thu Nov 13, 2008 7:50 am UTC

That was bankrupting the economy of the country, not the state.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Mzyxptlk » Thu Nov 13, 2008 8:29 am UTC

Solt wrote:Yes, that is probably true to an extent. There still needs to be a way to project military power to any point on the globe without having to use nukes. How else would we attack known anti-american terrorists on the other side of the planet? It isn't an imagined threat, those towers really did fall. Now, would pulling out of the Middle East, for example, cause Al Qaeda to lay down arms? It is possible but I think there is more than a little doubt about it.

If the US had done that fifty years ago then the problem wouldn't have arisen in the first place. The main reason the US is now in Afghanistan and Iraq is because their previous interference (installing Saddam Hussein, supporting the Afghan freedom fighters terrorists, installing the Shah in Iran, installing the king in Saudi Arabia, supporting Nasser in Egypt, the whole Israel problem, I can keep going but I trust you get the point) is now coming back to bite them in the ass. The only surprise here is that it hasn't happened anywhere else.

Besides that, the threat of Al-Gaeda to the US and Europe is not nearly as big as its portrayed; in the West, in the past 10 years, more people have died from accidents with home improvement tools than because of terrorist attacks, and that's including 9/11. We're perfectly OK with turning over constitutional rights to alledgedly fight terrorism, but we'd shout bloody murder if the same was done for home improvement tools. The history of the Neo-Conservatism and radical Islamist movements is very interesting stuff. I can recommend The Power of Nightmares, a 3 hour documentary by Adam Curtis.

As for a solution... That's a good question. I think that pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan now would probably a bad idea. Partly because they'd just fall back to chaos (the life you save will always be yours, and all that) and partly because at this point in time, it's no longer a solution. The main problem is that it's all so interconnected. The only permanent solution that I see is trying to negotiate a settlement for all the problems in the Middle East at once (which I admit is easier said than done).
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Yakk » Thu Nov 13, 2008 8:41 am UTC

Mzyxptlk wrote:If the US had done that fifty years ago then the problem wouldn't have arisen in the first place.

*nod*, the world would be crushed under the soviet boot, and dissidents would be mass slaughtered and/or liquidated. The US would probably be engaged in a war against soviet puppet states in South America, or it would have Soviet / Chinese expeditionary forces on it's border.

The only surprise here is that it hasn't happened anywhere else.
"It" happens lots of places. Insurrection against imperial powers -- hell, any power -- is relatively common. Or do you mean inside the USA?

Besides that, the threat of Al-Gaeda to the US and Europe is not nearly as big as its portrayed;

*nod*, barring the non-linearities. The thing with aggressive conquest-aimed organizations (and make no mistake, Al-Quaeda is a conquest aimed organization) is that they can snowball. The airplane attack was a one-off thing: people no longer _trust_ hijackers to want to live.
The only permanent solution that I see is trying to negotiate a settlement for all the problems in the Middle East at once (which I admit is easier said than done).
And if you commit yourself to such a plan, you have already lost. If you are not willing to step away from a negotiation, you are engaging in unconditional surrender, not negotiating.

Note, however, that many of the insurrections require large amounts of hidden cash and resources. So one goal is to simply cut off those resources. This is hard, because as you attack the dark cash economy, it becomes more and more profitable to support it. And it is harder to justify invading, say, Switzerland, because of bank secrecy than it is invading Iraq because SH is a bad person
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Mzyxptlk » Thu Nov 13, 2008 9:52 am UTC

Yakk wrote:
Mzyxptlk wrote:If the US had done that fifty years ago then the problem wouldn't have arisen in the first place.

*nod*, the world would be crushed under the soviet boot, and dissidents would be mass slaughtered and/or liquidated. The US would probably be engaged in a war against soviet puppet states in South America, or it would have Soviet / Chinese expeditionary forces on it's border.

I guess it's better to be slaughtered and/or liquidated by US-backed tyrannies. As for "crushed under the Soviet boot"; I feel like I'm back in the 50s.

Yakk wrote:
The only surprise here is that it hasn't happened anywhere else.

"It" happens lots of places. Insurrection against imperial powers -- hell, any power -- is relatively common. Or do you mean inside the USA?

By "it" I was referring to armed assault on the US. By "anywhere else" I was primarily referring to Latin America.

Yakk wrote:
Besides that, the threat of Al-Gaeda to the US and Europe is not nearly as big as its portrayed;

*nod*, barring the non-linearities. The thing with aggressive conquest-aimed organizations (and make no mistake, Al-Quaeda is a conquest aimed organization) is that they can snowball. The airplane attack was a one-off thing: people no longer _trust_ hijackers to want to live.

You're arguing against conquest-aimed organisations in defence of the USA? That makes no sense to me. Since WW2, the US has overthrown many largely peaceful and democratically elected governments, installed and supported bloody puppet-dictatorships around the world, causing the deaths of untold millions. Don't even get me started on the suffering caused by direct US military intervention. While I am in no way supporting the violent response (and frankly, the entire notion of shocking the masses into seeing the light of Islamism is fairly ridiculous), I can understand it.

Al-Qaeda is utterly incapable of conquering anything. It is a loose collection of Muslim extremists who look to Osama Bin-Laden (among others) for funding, without the rigid structure, discipline and equipment required to fight a proper war against any country, let alone the US. The reason they resort to terrorism is because they don't have the capacity to do anything else. In fact, if you could present some kind of evidence that Al-Qaeda is even interested in conquering nations, I would be very glad.

As for the snowballing effect, I would say that invading a country is generally not a good way to prevent an organisation from snowballing. It tends to anger the inhabitants of that country, especially if hundreds of thousands of people die in the process (Iraq).

Yakk wrote:
The only permanent solution that I see is trying to negotiate a settlement for all the problems in the Middle East at once (which I admit is easier said than done).

And if you commit yourself to such a plan, you have already lost. If you are not willing to step away from a negotiation, you are engaging in unconditional surrender, not negotiating.

Note, however, that many of the insurrections require large amounts of hidden cash and resources. So one goal is to simply cut off those resources. This is hard, because as you attack the dark cash economy, it becomes more and more profitable to support it. And it is harder to justify invading, say, Switzerland, because of bank secrecy than it is invading Iraq because SH is a bad person

Most of your post is quite reasonable (though I obviously disagree with it), but the first part of this quote is utter rubbish. What exactly would be lost by attempting to negotiate? Where did I say I was unwilling to step away from a negotiation? What makes you compare negotiating to unconditional surrender? Much of the problems in the Middle East today are directly caused by US unwillingness to attempt to solve long standing issues.

Instead of simply attempting to fight the violent anti-American movements, it might be worth asking the question why there are anti-American movements in the first place. If they hate you, there must be a reason. What is it?
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Zamfir » Thu Nov 13, 2008 1:11 pm UTC

*nod*, the world would be crushed under the soviet boot, and dissidents would be mass slaughtered and/or liquidated. The US would probably be engaged in a war against soviet puppet states in South America, or it would have Soviet / Chinese expeditionary forces on it's border.


I can see where you are coming from, and it is probably true that no resistance at all against the Soviets would have ended badly. But I am always surprised how strongly people extrapolated Stalin's attitudes to the whole cold-war Soviet-Union. Basically, the mass-murdering stopped immediately with Stalin's death. That doesn't mean the USSR became a benevolent paradise, but it definitely wasn't the murderous villain it used to be.

With the hindsight of open Soviet archives, it has become pretty clear that the 1950's Russian leaders were deeply scared about the US. In those days, the US had an enormous nuclear advantage, was almost religiously anti-communist, and had serious discussions about the preemptive destruction of Russia. Those 'Soviet boot' posters from the 50s look silly to us, but the Russians took them as threats. I wonder what would have happened if both sides had been a little bit more trusting, if for example Khrushchev's visit to the US had ended better. American-Soviet relations might have become much more like the current American-Chinese relations then an extended cold war.

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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Yakk » Thu Nov 13, 2008 4:44 pm UTC

From a letter on July 2005:
Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote:...The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate- over as much territory as you can to spread its power...

...The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq...

...And it is that the mujahedeen must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal. We will return to having the secularists and traitors holding sway over us. Instead, their ongoing mission is to establish an Islamic state, and defend it, and for every generation to hand over the banner to the one after it until the Hour of Resurrection...
Al Qaeda's goal is, basically, a pan-Islam super-state under Islamic law. This isn't common knowledge?

Now, there are theological differences between the different types of Islam and the Islamic dictatorships they are forming.

Mzyxptlk wrote:As for the snowballing effect, I would say that invading a country is generally not a good way to prevent an organisation from snowballing. It tends to anger the inhabitants of that country, especially if hundreds of thousands of people die in the process (Iraq).
Yes, it is. Without access to the apparatus of state (which, in a failed state, doesn't exist), projecting power at more than the terror level is difficult. While being attacked by terrorism sucks, being attacked by an entire state's weapons of war sucks more.

Mzyxptlk wrote:I guess it's better to be slaughtered and/or liquidated by US-backed tyrannies. As for "crushed under the Soviet boot";

And yes, the Soviets crushed a number of states under their boot. And yes, Germany and Japan crushed a number of states under their boots. And yes, US imperialism is _related_, but not _identical_, to the imperialism of those other 20th century empires.

Most of your post is quite reasonable (though I obviously disagree with it), but the first part of this quote is utter rubbish. What exactly would be lost by attempting to negotiate? Where did I say I was unwilling to step away from a negotiation? What makes you compare negotiating to unconditional surrender? Much of the problems in the Middle East today are directly caused by US unwillingness to attempt to solve long standing issues.
If you are negotiating, but are willing for the negotiations to fail, then nothing is lost in the negotiations.

IF you are negotiating, and are unwilling for the negotiations to fail, then it can harm you. Because if you are unwilling to fail, and the other side is stubborn, you either fail or give into every one of their demands.

You must be willing to accept the possibility of failure in negotiations.

Instead of simply attempting to fight the violent anti-American movements, it might be worth asking the question why there are anti-American movements in the first place. If they hate you, there must be a reason. What is it?
I'm not American, so you are asking the wrong person?

Zamfir wrote:Those 'Soviet boot' posters from the 50s look silly to us, but the Russians took them as threats.

They don't look that silly to me. It was the ideological goal of the Soviets to spread communism by force of arms to every corner of the world, and they had shown that they would engage in occupation and industrial-scale murder to do it, by the 50s.

Yes, the Soviets failed. That doesn't make the fear of it happening silly, and more than the fear of a WW2 Germany and Japan taking over the world was silly.

Currently, there are a handful of expressionistic violent ideologies that clash with US-style democratic market capitalism. (Note that US imperalism, while expressionistic and violent, does not clash with US-style democratic market capitalism). One of them is the building of a pan-Islamic caliphate. China is slightly expressionistic (which it always phrases as "bringing old provinces back into China").
In 1793, the British envoy Lord Macartney travelled by boat to Beijing to visit the emperor. The sail bore the humiliating words that formed the condition for an imperial audience with Qianlong: "Tribute bearers from the vassal king of England."
In short, justifying the occupation of past vassal states is a pretty wide net.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Mzyxptlk » Thu Nov 13, 2008 5:45 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:From a letter on July 2005:
Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote:...The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or amirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate- over as much territory as you can to spread its power...

...The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq...

...And it is that the mujahedeen must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal. We will return to having the secularists and traitors holding sway over us. Instead, their ongoing mission is to establish an Islamic state, and defend it, and for every generation to hand over the banner to the one after it until the Hour of Resurrection...
Al Qaeda's goal is, basically, a pan-Islam super-state under Islamic law. This isn't common knowledge?

Now, there are theological differences between the different types of Islam and the Islamic dictatorships they are forming.

Common knowledge? I don't know, I think the only Muslim extremists most people know are Al-Quada, whom in turn are known as nothing more than "those Afghans that did 9/11". Thanks for finding that for me though.

I refer to my previous post however, Al-Quada (and other movements) simply aren't capable of conquest. They might be able to rule a country, but only if there's sufficient popular support; without that, they're largely powerless (and al-Zawahiri admits as much in the letter), only capable of terrorism. Back in the day they tried to use violence to "shock the masses into seeing the true light" (paraphrased). They killed thousands, but in the end all they accomplished was that the people turned against them. It is not unreasonable to expect that they've learned from that debacle.

On a sidenote, having found full text of the letter, I can recommend reading it, if you haven't already. There's a lot of interesting stuff in there.

Yakk wrote:
Mzyxptlk wrote:As for the snowballing effect, I would say that invading a country is generally not a good way to prevent an organisation from snowballing. It tends to anger the inhabitants of that country, especially if hundreds of thousands of people die in the process (Iraq).

Yes, it is. Without access to the apparatus of state (which, in a failed state, doesn't exist), projecting power at more than the terror level is difficult. While being attacked by terrorism sucks, being attacked by an entire state's weapons of war sucks more.

Come on. There isn't a country on the world that could realistically pose a threat to the United States.

Yakk wrote:
Mzyxptlk wrote:I guess it's better to be slaughtered and/or liquidated by US-backed tyrannies. As for "crushed under the Soviet boot";

And yes, the Soviets crushed a number of states under their boot. And yes, Germany and Japan crushed a number of states under their boots. And yes, US imperialism is _related_, but not _identical_, to the imperialism of those other 20th century empires.

So if I'm reading this correctly, you're justifying US crimes by saying "yes, the US did install and support violent tyrannies, but they weren't quite as violent as Nazi Germany, so it's ok"? Well that's comforting.

Yakk wrote:
Instead of simply attempting to fight the violent anti-American movements, it might be worth asking the question why there are anti-American movements in the first place. If they hate you, there must be a reason. What is it?

I'm not American, so you are asking the wrong person?

It was a rhetorical question, but if it makes you happy:
Instead of simply attempting to fight the violent anti-American movements, it might be worth asking the question why there are anti-American movements in the first place. If they hate America, there must be a reason. What is it?
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby clintonius » Thu Nov 13, 2008 5:52 pm UTC

The odds that Iraq would fall into the hands of Al Qaeda, I think, are quite slim. Just because the formation of an Islamic state is their goal doesn't make it realistic. I can set a goal to become a billionaire, and the fact that I forward you a letter from my financial advisor as evidence of my plan doesn't mean it's any more feasible. Pulling out of Iraq immediately is not the best strategic choice, but for reasons that have little to do with Al Qaeda as it stands. The faster we get out of that country, the sooner we will start to see massive defense budget cuts for the region (and the cost of US defense is what we're talking about here, right?).

Solt wrote:GPS. Spy Satellites. Spy planes (U2, SR-71, Global Hawk UAV). Stealth planes. Nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. ICBMs. Radar. Digital computers. Cryptography. I'd say US and allied military technology investments have in fact been quite successful.

If you study European military history (not in the 20th century but even earlier) you will find that for the most part the name of the game has been technology. The side with more investment in research and development has usually won.

I agree that technological investments have been "successful" in the sense that they do what they do very, very well, and I never said or meant to imply that they were anything but. My issue is that I feel as if we're not "a side" any longer, with allies and treaties and agreements all over the place, and there's not something to "win." The developed world isn't seeing massive border shifts like it did several hundred years ago, and we're not at war with one another for territory. The states that want to start shit with us aren't able to -- I think that's a sign that our techology is just fine. And of course, I recognize that if we leave it at current levels, other countries will catch up, which we find threatening. Regardless of that fact that I think it's not as great a threat as some would perceive, I still have trouble swallowing the idea that we need $75 billion per year to maintain our lead.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Mzyxptlk » Thu Nov 13, 2008 6:05 pm UTC

clintonius wrote:(and the cost of US defense is what we're talking about here, right?).

I had actually forgotten. Quite amazing.

I'll attempt to connect my recent posts to the original topic.

The reason I brought up US policy in the first place was to explain why the US defence budget is so large. If your position allows you to interfere in other countries' business, and you take advantage of this ability, the people in those countries are bound to get angry. The US government knows this, so they increase the military budget to protect against these people. This budget (or part of it, at least) is then used to interfere even more, angering even more people. It's a vicious circle, and it's very hard to break out of it. That's why protecting the US is so expensive.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Yakk » Thu Nov 13, 2008 6:36 pm UTC

No: I'm putting forward the argument that it is quite possible to build a violent expressionistic movement (including taking over a country, then the next country, then...), barring someone stopping you violently.

Convincing people to die for a cause isn't very hard. Nearly every nation on Earth has done it. Seeking to not produce any causes that can be used as an excuse for which massive numbers people are willing to die for ... is practically impossible. It is impossible to be so inoffensive that nobody would attack you.

And yes, the threat to the US from a nation engaged in snowballing conquest of the world would not be immediate. The US could nearly completely dismantle its military, and in a 10 to 20 year time horizon the only damage that could occur would be indirect and economic (as trading partners are interfered with) and the like -- there would be no military threat to the continental USA for at least that long of a period.

Overseas possessions of the USA might fall before then. Erstwhile allies of the USA might fall before then. The ability for multinational corporations to do business might be damaged, as sovereign risk skyrockets, which would damage trade flows and economic efficiency. Other nations who haven't withdrawn from the world -- such as China, Russia, Iran, North Korea -- would extend their influence, destabilizing, conquering or vassalising various nation.

I'd expect the old soviet bloc to grow again. I'd expect South Korea to fall to North Korea. I'd expect Japan to militarize in response to the withdraw of security guarantees, and China to view this as provocative. I'd expect Taiwan to fall or rejoin China. I'd expect trade flows in south east asia to contract as piracy shoots upwards. Africa would probably remain about as fucked up as it is now. I'd expect at least 2 or 3 arabian states to fail and fall into chaos, and those that don't to expand their influence in self preservation. Possibly a nuclear war would break out in the middle east within a 10 to 20 year time span (but that might happen regardless).

Russia's re-conquest of it's western and southern frontier would probably make Europe say stern words, then either militarize in response or fall into the Russian sphere.

Maybe one of these many actors would manage to take over enough resources that they can take on yet another neighbor with resources.

The removal of the US naval trump card (the US navy is ... well, not something that can be contested at this point, but it isn't cheap, and it isn't needed for short-term defense -- on the other hand, it is a capital good, so you don't save _that_ much by destroying it immediately) might encourage a number of nations to build up their blue-water navy.

All of these things take time. But I see little reason why some nation wouldn't go on an expressionistic conquest and slaughter drive, without a credible threat of military response? It isn't hard to convince people to die for you, and each nation you take over increases your source of resources to continue the drive. If you base your reasons on ideology that you can convince your newly conquered to support (with dissenters killed), your starting population isn't a limit.

Stopping that kind of thing -- being able to send a military force to stomp flat military adventurism -- is expensive. The US has that ability -- to project force anywhere in the world -- and you can argue that a nation that consists of a good what, 25% of the world's GDP? -- the state of the world geopolitical situation is something that would heavily impact the US in the short term, let alone the long term.

Approximate values: (in order, didn't skip anyone)
EU: 30% of world GDP (6% Germany, 5% UK, 5% France, 4% Italy, 2.5% Spain, ~7.5% other)
USA: 25% of world GDP
Japan: 8% of world GDP
China: 6% of world GDP
Canada: 2.5% of world GDP
Brazil: 2% of world GDP
Russia: 2% of world GDP
India: 2% of world GDP
SK: 2% of world GDP
Aus: 1.5% of world GDP
Mexico: 1.5% of world GDP
Rest of world: ~17.5% of world GDP

The more than 2/3 of the world that is individually wealthy and in the US defensive block is what the US is defending, effectively. That's EU, USA, Japan, Canada, SK and Australia (and smaller nearby states, like NZ, Swiss, etc).

Viewed from that perspective, it doesn't seem that surprising that the US is spending that much. Basically, the consequences to the US not spending that much is that, with far less money, you can use your military to generate quite good profits -- just shoot up a nation, and take their stuff.

It could be argued that defending the 'free world' can be done cheaper. It can be argued that most of the 'free world' isn't spending their 'share' of defending it. Ie, the USA could choose to take the position that other nations take, and say "fuck it, let someone else pay for my defense", or decide to go with short-term savings in exchange for long-term increased instability.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Philwelch » Thu Nov 13, 2008 9:43 pm UTC

Mzyxptlk wrote:Come on. There isn't a country on the world that could realistically pose a threat to the United States.


Then our defense spending is working exactly as intended. Any government (save Russia or China, or anyone with sufficient nuclear retaliatory ability) could fall to the American military within weeks or months if we chose to. (Iraq only proves that we can't properly pacify the country afterwards if we try to act ethically, not that we can't conquer it in the first place.) That's the safest situation possible as far as the United States is concerned.

We don't always use that power wisely, which bothers people and puts us at greater risk. But simply having it works great.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Mzyxptlk » Thu Nov 13, 2008 9:52 pm UTC

Philwelch wrote:
Mzyxptlk wrote:Come on. There isn't a country on the world that could realistically pose a threat to the United States.


Then our defense spending is working exactly as intended. Any government (save Russia or China, or anyone with sufficient nuclear retaliatory ability) could fall to the American military within weeks or months if we chose to. (Iraq only proves that we can't properly pacify the country afterwards if we try to act ethically, not that we can't conquer it in the first place.) That's the safest situation possible as far as the United States is concerned.

We don't always use that power wisely, which bothers people and puts us at greater risk. But simply having it works great.

That presents a problem for other countries though, because absolute (let's assume) security for the US requires non-existant security for every other country on the planet. Why do you have the right to security, but no one else?
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Gunfingers » Thu Nov 13, 2008 10:13 pm UTC

We're almost all on the same side. A secure US is a secure UK, France, Germany, Canadia, and possibly some other countries.

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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Philwelch » Thu Nov 13, 2008 10:43 pm UTC

Mzyxptlk wrote:That presents a problem for other countries though, because absolute (let's assume) security for the US requires non-existant security for every other country on the planet. Why do you have the right to security, but no one else?


This isn't about rights and fairness, it's about reality. We can and we did so here we are. Rock you like a hurricane.

And no one bothers to contest us because any country that can afford to compete with us military can't afford to go to war with us economically and politically. Also:

Gunfingers wrote:We're almost all on the same side. A secure US is a secure UK, France, Germany, Canadia, and possibly some other countries.


Exactly.

In addition, we're never going to use force against countries we're economically entangled with (i.e. China) because we'll go broke as a result. It's all about globalization. Which means we attack Yugoslavia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq...countries that aren't globalized but still present either a humanitarian threat or a security threat to the globalized world.

The gameplan for the next 50-100 years is for a globalized core of nations to guard themselves from the remaining fringe, unglobalized countries of the world. As it stands, the US is the tallest pillar of force. If it's a war like Kosovo where the Europeans will feel good about themselves for intervening in, other globalized countries can join. In other situations (arguably Iraq?), America can do the dirty work and the rest of the world can feel smug.

Conquest? We'll let culture do that. The military is for defense only.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Katrina » Thu Nov 13, 2008 11:17 pm UTC

*sigh*

I covered some of the costs that you've all ignored. There's more, much more.

Now I have to turn to *the* greatest paradigm shift in military terms that has occurred since 1914 (well, perhaps the Crimea):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asymmetric_warfare

Russia - Chechnya
Russia - Afghanistan (although moderated: those stingers weren't cheap, or available without the CIA)
USA - Vietnam

And so on.

Iraq is actually a bad example of modern warfare. Essentially 10 years of sanctions / bombing (yes, daily bombing, allied forces put down more than three times what was used in Cambodia onto Iraq in the "peace" between GFI and GFII) and propaganda from both sides lead the western media to portray it as a "straight up fight" where battles etc would be fought. Of course it wasn't. There were no major battles, and Western forces went through to major urban areas without much resistance.

If you count "free-fire" zones (all targets are military targets), using napalm / phosphorous weapons and multiple counts of Geneva busting tactics as "winning a war", then check out Fallujah. If you count winning asymmetric warfare via gross use of military force, destroying >60% of buildings, then you've learnt absolutely nothing from Vietnam. Sure, a desert requires less agent orange, but you're not going to win. Ask Israel about it sometime, and about their spanky new Berlin wall.

Don't believe me? Try reading current US military doctrine, they sure do.

There's also the "small" issue of 'stretch'. The UK military is currently completely over-stretched in two operational zones, plus African missions. The USA is hitting it, with perhaps one or two (depending on geographical location) fronts being viable before they couldn't operate a force due to prior commitments.

How do I know this? Well, I have a friend in NATO command who was planning Afgan stuff in Germany recently. The Congo came up, and it was a serious suggestion that mercs would have to be used.


p.s.

Russia currently spends more on updating / keeping the nukes warm than the US. The US, under Bush, have various projects covering Neutron weapons more than nukes: this doesn't alter the balance of the cold war.

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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Philwelch » Thu Nov 13, 2008 11:55 pm UTC

:oops:
Katrina wrote:Now I have to turn to *the* greatest paradigm shift in military terms that has occurred since 1914 (well, perhaps the Crimea):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asymmetric_warfare

Russia - Chechnya
Russia - Afghanistan (although moderated: those stingers weren't cheap, or available without the CIA)
USA - Vietnam

And so on.


There's two sides to this:

1. Asymmetric warfare (also known under its original title, guerrilla warfare) is not a threat to the United States, it's a response to foreign intervention. Without some serious problems in Quebec, we won't face those tactics in Anglo-America.
2. Asymmetric warfare is a desperate response from an impoverished fringe. In the Cold War it was a desperate response from an impoverished fringe that was being fed weapons by a larger power but today, there are no other superpowers left.
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Katrina » Fri Nov 14, 2008 12:08 am UTC

Yakk wrote:I'd expect the old soviet bloc to grow again. I'd expect South Korea to fall to North Korea. I'd expect Japan to militarize in response to the withdraw of security guarantees, and China to view this as provocative. I'd expect Taiwan to fall or rejoin China. I'd expect trade flows in south east asia to contract as piracy shoots upwards. Africa would probably remain about as fucked up as it is now. I'd expect at least 2 or 3 arabian states to fail and fall into chaos, and those that don't to expand their influence in self preservation. Possibly a nuclear war would break out in the middle east within a 10 to 20 year time span (but that might happen regardless)



North Korea is practically defunct in terms of feeding itself [see: massive internal starvation / famine] - when Kim finally kicks the bucket, N. Korea will end up like Albania. Odd, bewildered, but hardly a massive threat; more than likely, you'll see a schism in party lines and internal faction fighting for a while. S. Korea can count on enough support outside of the US to oppose a "yellow horde", if we go back to 1950's US propaganda.

Japan will never militarise again in the way you're talking about. If anything, if the US withdrew military presence, it would spend billions of Yen addressing Chinese hurt feelings over WWII, and start towards making itself a partner with China. New world economy -> China and Japan have much more to gain as partners than in opposition.

Next nuclear war in the middle east? No. Most bets are on Kashmir, and India / Pakistan - something getting closer every day due to Pakistan's current state, and continuing political / financial melt-down. War in the Middle East will be localised, non-nuclear and over water rights. Several states currently propped up by the US might slide into Islamic rule / more socialistic governments, but tbh: this isn't a bad thing. OPEC has a limited life span as we speak in any terms. Although, you really should reference the fact that bases in Iraq have a 50 year tag on them by the US.

Soviet influence wouldn't grow in the bloc formation you're talking about. See Georgian war - Russia is all for small, "independent" (read: Russian friendly) states surrounding it, along the lines of Latvia, Estonia etc. The major pressures there have been driven by the US, in terms of missile shields and NATO membership. Russia, atm, would prefer allied trading partners, as long as they're not getting military support from W. Europe / US. Russia atm has no aims for a new Empire, as they're still sorting internal issues out. They just bailed out a couple of oligarchs so that Russian economic assets would remain in Russian hands, they're playing Capitalism as well now.

And so on. I feel this is descending into the mod's warning category. I'll try and provide citations for all of these when I can. Although a couple of them are like the CRS: not usually available to the public.

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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Katrina » Fri Nov 14, 2008 12:19 am UTC

Philwelch wrote:1. Asymmetric warfare (also known under its original title, guerrilla warfare) is not a threat to the United States, it's a response to foreign intervention. Without some serious problems in Quebec, we won't face those tactics in Anglo-America.
2. Asymmetric warfare is a desperate response from an impoverished fringe. In the Cold War it was a desperate response from an impoverished fringe that was being fed weapons by a larger power but today, there are no other superpowers left.


There's actually a large point to it:

You can't budget / defend / stop asymmetrical warfare via conventional defense spending, thus see the massive amounts of grey funding put into "Homeland Defense". I already pointed you to $5.5 bil advanced appropriated on "project bioshield" - do you really think this is even 5% of the budget spend? Its also no longer the provision of the impoverished fringe - its a main stream tactic. I mentioned it as S. Hussein was counting on it as a response to the invasion of Iraq. Why it didn't quite go that way is particular to the country; however, the US DoD certainly spends enough training troops in both the proactive and reactive forms. So.. not so :blush: ? (and please: keep that 24 hr thing, ok? No idea who you are)

Read up on some CIA sources: the break up of the USA was / is a major concern of some parts (including some neo-cons). Ironically, Obama is probably making more than a couple of the Bush administration quite happy atm, given prior concerns [see: project for the new American century, read the parts over internal lack of cohesion, and needing a "new pearl harbour" to unite the country]. Simply put, there's not many countries in the world that have such a disparate cut between two political opposing viewpoints.

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Azrael
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Re: Why is protecting the US so expensive?

Postby Azrael » Fri Nov 14, 2008 1:15 am UTC

Locked because I don't know what else to do with it yet. I've had to edit out bitchy responses, name calling and condescension that are the typical precursors of SB knife fights. I've had to delete a handful of single sentence posts that do nothing to further the debate and, thus, don't belong in SB. Same with another pile of wildly off topic ideas and even still, I'm left with a single page discussion flowing inevitably towards ... I'm not sure ... "Let's talk about US Military Strategy, Predictions and Feelings."

I am going to ponder this for a while longer. PMs with helpful and relevant suggestions are always welcome.

-Az


EDIT (12/10): I pondered this so long that someone actually PM'd me with a relevant suggestion. Unlocked.

EDIT THE NEXT (12/17): Grumble.
Last edited by Azrael on Fri Dec 17, 2010 4:18 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.


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