Monday, 25 October 2010

Economics: Military Strength and Political Power (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on November 29th, 2008
We do not live in the worlds of Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, or Charlemagne when military expansion entailed economic prosperity through military conquest and direct looting and thus political might for the duration of military supremacy. There is a school of thought among Roman historians, whose thesis is that the decline and fall of Rome was caused primarily by internal decay, especially economic in the consuming Latin-speaking West, while the commercial Eastern half of the empire (Byzantium) survived. Similarly, the path to military and political power contributed to the downfall of the mighty European empires whose existence rested on war and occupation, as there is a direct correlation between long-term defense spending and economic decline. After WWII Japan and Germany, with very low defense expenditures, quickly became the strongest economies in their respective continents and trailed the US that helped re-industrialize them and subsidized their defense. By contrast, the USSR, which was a political and military power, spent itself out of existence as it sacrificed its civilian economy for an outward-looking defense sector. Who knows how the history of the USSR would have evolved if it focused on inward-oriented economic growth and development, instead of extraordinarily costly military and political power beyond its borders? And what affords today’s Russia more leverage domestically and internationally, the gas and oil pipelines or its nuclear weapons?
After the Nixon visit, China, transitioning to global capitalist integration and currently spending 10 times less on defense than the US, is a serious contender for the preeminent economic and political position at some point later in this century. After the demise of their empires, Great Britain and France continued to devote considerable resources on defense as members of the nuclear club and continued their ambitions for continental and overseas preponderate influence. But the political and military influence of either France or UK on a world scale is minor in the absence of the US behind them. And is India a rising power because it has nuclear weapons and presumably deterrence, or because its economy has been strengthened in the past two decades? Also part of the nuclear club, Israel, which has a military-based if not a war economy, enjoys regional power status at the expense of its own population, but it status is largely owed to the US as a devoted ally in every respect. The US became a great power with global military and political influence because it first established the foundations for global economic preeminence in the 19th century and took advantage of its preeminent role in the 1940s when it established an international system that would serve American interests for the coming decades. More than ever a country’s political and military power today rests on its economic strength, assuming of course that economic resources are prudently managed with ongoing investments in education, health, science, technology, and creative endeavors that enrich society as a whole instead of enriching a small class of the privileged few absorbing most capital. Power comes in many forms from intellectual and aesthetic to raw animal strength that is very direct and invariably appreciated by the masses as popular culture of most societies throughout history have shown. But perhaps the question should not be about the nature of power as Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes assumed without questioning the benefits/harm of power on their subjects and on people beyond the borders of the country exerting power. If we compare a country whose government has wielded inordinate power domestically or internationally, against a country where government is more focused on best serving the welfare of its subjects and less interested in power for the sake of glory, etc., the latter would be a more harmonious and constructive society than the former. Yet, human nature is such, perhaps conditioned by the aphrodisiac-power-based culture, that most people would probably rather live in the society where government exercises power in all forms at the expense of the majority.

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