What's (not) the point of having a military?

What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?

Violent military action is destructive, not productive. Its "use" is usually worse than non-use. Many people maintain naive illusions about the benefits of using military power and come to the naive idea that a military's "use"fulness is in its employment.

The World Wars and the Cold War made the nature of military action obvious to most Europeans, but this lesson was lost in the post-Cold War era due to a salami tactic. Step for step, cruise missile for cruise missile, people in the West became conditioned to believe in a net benefit of military action. A necessary part in this was a great disrespect for foreigners, as these felt the damage done by military action much more than 'we' felt it through our taxes and casualties.

The military was widely considered to be a force for defence as long as there was a capable threat. The idea of military forces as being primarily forces for aggressive coercion, punishment and influence was a minority idea by 1990. It had held out during the Cold War mostly in pockets of the societies in the US, UK and France, but to most other people in NATO the military was really about protecting the society.

It's perpetually astonshing to me how seemingly self-evidently others assume that interventions and preparations therefore are worth it. 
Foreigner's interests get routinely dismissed, but an intervention's advantage to these foreigners is the only thing that could possibly tip the balance towards a favourable cost-benefit ratio.

Once in-theatre, troops value their own kin much higher than the foreigners they're supposedly meant to help.

The dissonance between disregard for foreigners and the necessity to account for foreigner's benefits to come at least close to a jsutification of intervention can be explained with
a) irrational decision-making and a public which tolerated confused or false arguments
b) the racket character of interventions

Warmongers (a.k.a. "defense hawks") at times face accusations of being or working for war profiteers / military contractors. 
I suppose warmongers are gamers. Their game is the incitement of organised violence and destruction.
Sadly, this game is quite appealing entertainment to much of the audience. It doesn't take much to find the spots of the internet or even the mass media outlets that basically wank off on fantasies of power and organised violence.

Regrettably, while some are wanking to fantasies or power, destruction maiming and killing, bridges are closed for want of repair or are collapsing.



  1. So military action isn't useful? I wonder how many people in Bosnia would think that military action isn't useful. There are times when military power is the only thing that can work. Some in the world seem to think that peace is normal but that has been but a very short part of history. People look at modern wars and complain about the 10 years and forget that we still have troops in Japan and Germany after how many years. some forget that for decades we had troops there to make sure that they stayed free.

    1. ...and both Europe and Japan stayed free because military force was NOT applied.

      Far and wide, South Korea is about the only country which stayed free (though not entirely for most of the time) because of violent military action. The military action in this exception responded to an aggression, and was no aggression itself. It is thus more an argument for collective defence (defensive alliances) than for intervention. No regime was changed, either - the attempt to do so made the conflict only much worse.

  2. So the Balkans required what to sop the fighting? Iraq required what to leave Kuwait? Libya needed what force? History is full of times when military action was needed to solve a problem. Look at Syria how many dead and how many more will die before someone steps in? We have had Iran now under UN resolution one after another and does anyone think that will stop them? I do not think that military force is always needed but there are times when it is. As for Europe and Japan do you think they would have remained free had it not been for the threat of military force after WW2.

    1. Problems solved?
      Bosnia kept fighting till the war ran out of fuel. Western intervention had little effect.
      Libya and Syria were/are civil wars. What could Westerners gain by intervening in either place? De facto nothing. Still, building and maintaining the capacity to intervene costs more than a hundred billion bucks annually.
      Stop Iran? From what? From not invading another country for several more centuries than so far? Their historical record of non-aggressiveness is epic in comparison to the American or British one.
      Nobody "stopped" North Korea - and that's a state known for blackmailing. Look; sky still didn't fall down.

      The last part of your comment totally missed the mark. I'm fine with military deterrence and collective defence. I'm not all against the military - I'm rather against the idea that violent military action is somehow profitable or even the purpose of a military.
      The purpose is to provide security against foreign attack for the own country and -in exchange for their efforts- for the country's allies.

    2. I think you underestimate the roll this seemingly senseless violence plays in maintaining the global economic structure. Would Gaddafi have begun cooperating with foreign oil companies and buying weapons from the Europeans without the Iraq War to show him it's better to take the carrot than the stick? Would third-world countries refuse to protect their agricultural industries if they weren't worried about US Marines or French Foreign Legion dropping into their capitals?

      Our current global system is based largely on the benefits trade with advanced capitalist nations has conferred upon the world, but the very real threat of violence compels the entire world to engage with them, and on their terms. The only exceptions are countries that have some combination of economic irrelevancy and military deterrence. The wealth of the West is a direct result of their military power. They conquered the world by offering it the option to trade or die (often it was trade and die). This is what made the world what it is today, and this is what keeps it that way.

      What tends to be lacking in the public discourse is voices that differentiate between the interests of elites and the interests of a subset of those elites which profit from war regardless of its value. Focusing on the public interest seems to be a waste of time, as it's barely relevant to matters of war and peace.

    3. It's unimportant to whom Libya delivered oil; the global oil market is a system of communicating tubes in the long term. Besides; Libya delivered much of its oil to Germany, which certainly did not threaten Libya.

      I don't get your reference to Third World countries.

      The wealth of the West wasn't built on military power; in fact, its application even diminished much production overseas(the spice production in SE Asia almost collapsed when the Dutch took over, for example). The example of Germany which had only negligible colonial trade but surpassed the leading industrial power England in the late 19th century shows this. Most essential resources consumed by Europe's industrialisation came from Europe or the Americas. Natural rubber from Malaya was a rare exception.
      Europe's wealth is founded on its own technological progress, institutions, intra-European trade, education and typically high employment.
      Nowadays the West consumes more resources than it produces, but these resources get paid for. You won't find two different world market prices for commodities; one for independent and one for coerced countries. There is but one (save for infrastructure-bound commodities such as pipeline-bound natural gas).

  3. With regards to Libya I was referring to the development of the oilfields by European oil companies, Total in particular if I remember correctly. This happened as part of a general realignment in Libyan foreign policy that sought to improve economic and military ties with the West. This was very much a result of Bush's sabre-rattling in the wake of the invasion of Iraq. Syria made similar changes during the same time period.

    The subsidization of agriculture in the United States, Europe, and Canada is part of a trade policy designed to prevent third-world countries from utilizing their comparative advantage in agriculture. They're pressured into trade agreements that prevent them from protecting their proportionally large agricultural sectors from cheap imports of foodstuffs. The resulting impoverishment of the countryside leads to an influx of poor into urban centers where they're lucky to be employed in light industry for slave wages. The land in the countryside gets bought up by local elites or foreign agribusiness on the cheap and converted to producing cash crops not easily grown in the northern hemisphere. The economies of these countries are thus drawn into dependence on international trade and finance, whose institutions are dominated by the already-developed nations. Usually soft-power and complicit elites are sufficient for these policies to be enacted, but military coups, assassinations, and direct military intervention isn't unknown against those who attempt to pursue different strategies of development. The attempted coup against Hugo Chavez is a good recent example, or the recent coup in Honduras. The ouster of Aristide in Haiti involved US Marines, the overthrow of Gbagbo in Cote d'Ivoire involved French troops. Other pretexts are usually found, but these military actions are essential in maintaining a global order which determines the form of economies in lands poor and rich.

    And you certainly do find different prices for commodities in different countries. They may be sold in dollars at the same price to all on global markets, but most countries can't print dollars. International currency markets, heavily manipulated by large western firms, along with a large number of other factors determine the value of the currencies used to purchase those commodities in domestic markets. The effects of this are seen more in value-added goods than raw commodities, but the relative value of different commodities and goods in local currencies varies substantially.

  4. Is there anything that you think is worth fighting for? If the cost of freedom was 90% dead in your country would that be a worthwhile? As for the Balkans you really think that had there not been a military intervention that the war would have ended when it did? At what point does it become to much to watch people die by their own government? Does one country have a right to impose on another a set of morals that it doesn't subscribe to? You trust Iran to not use a nuclear device? If a country says over and over they will destroy your country at what point do you owe it to the people of your country to address that threat? Military force is a blunt instrument and I would say most of the time if it needs to be used we have failed. But I would also say that there are times when there IS NO OTHER OPTION. Some seem to think that the world is a rosy and safe place and a great deal of it might be. But there are also very dark places where people plan to hurt us. I would rather them die than my family.

    1. I lived through the Cold War expecting to experience no more than a few minutes of WW3 even if it happened. You think I should be scared of Iran?
      The Israelis have little to fear from Iran either. Iran has nothing to gain from attacking it, and the incorrectly translated remarks of a really soon mere former president don't change this.

      The criterion for the application of violence is whether it's the lesser evil. Sometimes fighting is just not worth it, as it would only make matters worse. How could anyone argue to fight nevertheless?
      It makes sense to pretend one would fight in order to add to deterrence, but that's about it.

      There's an additional problem with wars of choice. There may be examples of wars of choice that were 'worht it'. This doens't help much, for there is no method to determine this in advance. We thus need to take into account the many wars of choice not 'worth it'. There's a snowball's chance in hell that the whole bunch was 'worth it'.

      By the way; there is always another option. There may be none that pleases us, but there are always options. The only non-option is or final death.

      I suppose you look at the issue with too much simplicity. It's rarely a simple us vs. them, few conflicts are actually forced on us, there are always options and the evil powers out there may have entirely different motivations than we presume and their forces may be composed of innocent troops.

  5. I've always agreed with Albright.

    If we had a cheap defensive force, I'd be OK sitting back and let the world burn. But if we're going to spend trillions on a Dept. of Offenses, and have 70K in SF, don't whine to be about being a pawn on the table.

    1. Sooo ... having the choice between killing people you don't know and paying less taxes, you decisively choose the killing?

  6. So would the world had been better off with the Hitler still in power? Your right as of now Iran isn't much of a threat. Do we wait till they are a threat is the question or try to prevent that? We are also trying to prevent over nations in the region going nuclear also. I do not fear British or French nuclear weapons. I wouldn't fear German ones right now. But a Germany of 1938 I would.

    1. Always these stupid Hitler arguments. Nobody seems to take into account that Hitler attacked anyway and it was the purely defensive quasi-alliance between Poland and UK/France which led to the war that stopped him. There was no attack on Hitler required - he attacked himself.

      One of the best preventive policies would have been to build an alliance between UK, France, Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1937.
      The Nazi regime was economically unsustainable and would have run out of steam during the 50's as did the Soviet Union during the 80's.
      Even if not; with the respectable Czechoslovakian arsenal in allied instead of in German service, the whole balance of power would have been almost 2:1 against Germany and Germany would not have received oil supplies from the Soviet Union in 39/40, possibly not even from Romania.

      There was no aggression required to handle the problem. And the modern intra-European approach of cooperation would have prevented Hitler's rise in the first place, as the German-French reconciliation attempts of the late 20's would have succeeded and the Versailles treaty would have been nullified. There is no reason to go the militaristic, aggressive way at all. It's the path that leads to horrible outcomes very often, while smart peaceful foreign policy has much more successes.