The marathon is over


I saw the final minutes of a marathon race recently. The winner was happy to win because some of the competitors ran out of endurance. The winner ran slowly for a short distance after the arrival to avoid medical problems.

The winner didn't keep running for 20 more kilometers - that would have been utterly stupid. It would have hurt health, exhausted even more and it might have caused collapse.
Most important; it was unnecessary and useless.

Thousands participate in a marathon race and nobody is stupid enough to keep running at high speed for a long distance after arrival. Hundreds of marathon races happen annually, and I have yet to hear about such a stupid runner.
It would apparently be exceptionally stupid to keep running.

I wonder why the U.S. DoD keeps running at high speed after having won its race two decades ago already?

The official figure is like 4.x% of GNP, but the tentacles of military spending reach beyond the DoD budget - the real figure can be as high as 7%, and is certainly higher than 5%.

U.S. Defense Spending, 1906–2006
Sources: Statistical Abstract of the United States and Office of Management and Budget.

It's noteworthy that the difference between German and U.S. military spending in terms of % GNP is about as large as the lack of domestic U.S. financing for U.S. economy reinvestment.
It's also noteworthy that U.S. military spending was close in size to the U.S. trade balance deficit a year ago.*
It's certainly not a healthy example.

Germany and other European NATO members have been accused of not spending enough on their military. The source of this accusation is usually west of the Atlantic.

My reply: Why should we turn stupid?


*: It dropped to half from Oct 08 to Feb 09, but has since stopped its shrinking process, still being huge at about 2001 levels.


  1. Focusing on better spending rather than larger spending should be a good starting point... and in your blog you provide some very sound points about this topic.

    However, I don't know if in a debating game I would allow this comparison as a valid one, given that a marathon is a race where the end is clearly defined, known and accepted by all the participants, while in a metaphorical "arms race" military spending is figured out in what-if scenarios where the "end" is not clearly predictable. Lots like the Caucus-Race in Alice in Wonderland...

  2. The end isn't predictable, but it was obvious that the arms race ended when the other power ceased to participate. That happened in about 1988-1994.

    It was also obvious that the reason for the arms race was gone - that became obvious in around 1986-1992.

    It's been a one-man marathon for years - exhausting for no purpose. He kept running because he was somehow used to it. It felt and feels somehow natural to run even though all others around him were at a walking pace.

  3. You are neglecting the fact Sven that the US military has many more servicemen/women in their forces than other NATO countries and also a correspondingly higher budget, much of which goes to healthcare costs.

    One can also argue that it is healthcare costs in the US that is eating GDP much more than defense. Still I would agree that technology and science budgets should be expanded.

  4. Why should I neglect that?

    The U.S. had 15+ years for downsizing its armed services to reasonable post Cold-War levels.
    It was a conscious decision to cling to an oversized military instead.
    The personnel costs are merely a consequence.

    I admit that the social services for veterans in their civilian life couldn't easily be deleted, but that's just a small share of the overall budget.

    Look at the USN which clings to its "313 ship" ideal and can't even stand its present size.

    Look at the USAF which argues feverishly for more than 187 F-22 as if it was the only combat aircraft in its service (or even national service). Powers like Germany, UK, France, Spain, Japan, South Korea (all geographically closer to potential near-peers) feel comfortable with numbers like that for their total air power.

    Look at the USArmy which thinks it needs to expand to be better able to kick ragtag militias for little gain at the other end of the world.

    It was and is a conscious decision to keep the military at near-Cold War level and to increase military spending again. Unavoidable costs like nuclear reactor disposal, veterans care, chemical weapons destruction and base cleanup are just a small art that doesn't change the overall picture.

  5. and just to add to your last comment there Sven you forgot to add they're building 12 new massive CVN-21 class aircraft carriers which are twice the size as the Nimitz ones and carry around 500 fixed winged aircraft each!

  6. Not really.

    I believe that the permanent global presence / forward deployment strategy is excessively wasteful and risky, though.

  7. "CVN-21 class aircraft carriers which are twice the size as the Nimitz ones and carry around 500 fixed winged aircraft each!"

    There goes your credibility.

  8. ...something that anonymous comments cannot have by design.

    I took the CVN-21 specs as ironic.

  9. Look at the USAF which argues feverishly for more than 187 F-22 as if it was the only combat aircraft in its service (or even national service). Powers like Germany, UK, France, Spain, Japan, South Korea (all geographically closer to potential near-peers) feel comfortable with numbers like that for their total air power.

    Probably because "powers" like Germany, UK, France, Spain, Japan and South Korea know they can depend on those excessive US Air Force planes to make up for their country's shortcomings, in planes and planning.

    And leaning on the Americans is the source of their "comfort"?
    The very least you could do is say "Thank You".

  10. Arms racing isn't useful among allies - it's useful if another bloc or power wants to overpower yours.

    European military power is in excess of what's necessary to defeat all powers near European NATO at once.
    European NATO could - without U.S. assistance - successfully defend itself against Russia, Belarus, Iran and all Arab countries at once.
    More military expenditures would have absolutely no utility - even when we take the U.S. out of the equation.

    Other powers than our neighbours are a job for nonmilitary security or deterred by British and French nuclear weapons.

    Well, the latter isn't even necessary because we're at fairly good to very good terms with all major powers today.

    THAT is real security policy.

    I admit that the "Europeans are protected by Americans and couldn't defend themselves" B.S. is a common myth. Well, actually - I think it's common only in the U.S..

  11. I think that rumour started off at the height of the Cold War in Europe in the late 70's and early to mid 80's when the Americans had a military pressence in West Germany and the US had the GIUK gap open in the Atlantic in case the Soviets were successful in a fast large scale invasion of Western Europe
    however Sven you're right, we're well capable of defending ourselves today!

  12. The US is perhaps concerned that an asymetric enemy may gain strength in rogue states.

    Oh hang on ...

  13. Sven I think your comment at 16:02 answers your own question. DoD keeps running because it uses a bad planning process to build its budget. It first identifies every mission in the world it wants to do, and then sets out to buy stuff. Instead it should get guidance on what the US govt can afford to spend on defense and then make decisions on strategy objectives. But our leadership was raised stupid and resists change.

  14. I know I'm late on the subject matter but I thought the topic was interesting. I study International Governments at university so I'm not ignorant about the topic at hand. The bottom line Sven is that the US still believes it can intimidate other nations by the use of force. So it carelessly spends enormous sums of money on useless and unnecessary military projects. Europe on the other hand realized in the post-war years that a large powerful military isn't a necessity to achieving great economic success. Germany and Japan are two good examples of this. Neither nation had a much of a military in the post-war years and within two decades became global economic powers. Some will argue that the U.S "protected them" from a Soviet or Chinese threat. That is utter nonsense. The Germans didn't need large fleets around the world or an army of two million to secure trade deals and build a strong economic infrastructure. Just to let you know, I am an American and I think the US needs to cut its military down to an appropriate size and join the rest of the developed world in the 21st century. Instead of behaving like the Cold War never ended.

  15. I know this other side of the U.S., but it is very, very difficult to hear among all the other noise whenever the topic is related to national security / military budgets.

    The U.S. is the only country I know where politicians go on campaign and fish for votes by emphasizing how much they are "strong on defense" and that they want a large(r) "defense" budget.

  16. Its sad Sven, but instead of fishing for good ideas for the future, US politicians rely upon fear tactics to manipulate voters. It was once the communist, now its Muslims...things never seem to change