A rational case for keeping the expenses for military power very low (I)

There's practically no way how a country could have a net benefit from major military action nowadays.* Even successful aggressions such as the Crimea invasion or the invasion of Iraq tend to be costly affairs for years to come, with negligible benefits.
The only wars that appear to promise to be better than all peaceful alternatives appear to be (short) wars of independence, for people mostly value sovereignty very highly.

A possible exception could be a long-term preventative war in which a rising power gets stalled by a medium-sized war before it could unleash a more damaging large-sized war (or even "win" it).
Even such war scenarios still have to out-compete peaceful alternative policies to be the best course of action. Nazi Germany could have been stalled by a total trade embargo and an alliance of British Empire, France, Czechoslovakia and Poland before 1938, for example. The result would likely have been a triangle Cold War (Republics-Fascists-USSR). Much of the PR China's rise and its near-indispensability in global supply chains could have been avoided by refusing trade as well.

There's thus a conclusion that aggressive wars are hardly ever the best choice. We should avoid them altogether, for many people can be manipulating into supporting a bad aggressive war idea by warmongering propaganda (see Iraq invasion 2003).

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Thus only defensive wars make sense. This does naturally extend to collective defence of an alliance, so a country could and should come to aid of a non-aggressive ally under attack even if the specific conflict is no direct threat to its interests.

One should be careful about which country should get the promise of aid in case of aggression against it; aggressive countries should be excluded.

This means that in the end, all 'sensible' wars are defensive wars either on the national or on the alliance level (not necessarily on the tactical, operational or warfare strategy levels).

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How should a (politically) defensive war be waged? 

A complete "victory" that includes the elimination of the aggressor as a threat requires greater effort and incurs greater harm than a war that achieves a white peace (a peace or armistice that includes a return to the pre-war control of territory). One could even make a case that the optimum is to seek a minor defeat, but this is very difficult to realize politically (due to domestic politics). It would require politicians not only to recognize the optimum, but also to put the country before their career.

The difference between a white peace and unconditional surrender (or total elimination) of the aggressor does suffer from the very same problems as an aggressive war: It's to be avoided because it harms the own party more than it benefits it.

The way to go for an alliance under attack is to wage war with the objective of a white peace.

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This means that many capabilities that would be necessary for the achievement of extremist objectives are unnecessary. You don't need troops for occupation duty and you don't need to be able to project air and land power deep beyond the alliance's pre-war borders in spite of resistance.

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You need to be able to first frustrate an aggressor (the capability to do so should help to avoid the aggression through deterrence in the first place) and you need to be able to offer a face-saving exit (which means that maybe the aggressor should have some bargaining chips left to make the peace look more like a deal than a dictat). Furthermore, you need to either gain bargaining chips or to liberate all relevant invaded and occupied territories. Bargaining chips are much better, for they allow a return to peace through a negotiated exchange of bargaining chips. It's difficult to offer a face-saving exit if you liberated all invaded territory.

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Now that we have all this in mind let's state the obvious: Military spending is public consumption, not prosperity-driving public investment. We spend for a service, and this service is mostly the protection against foreign armed threats. Side benefits of military spending such as disaster response services, bad music, aerobatics teams, feelings of pride or dual utility R&D efforts justify but a negligible fraction of the military spending in major Western countries.
More military spending than necessary for deterrence does not yield substantial benefits and is thus wrong.

We can REDUCE (NOT increase) the needed military spending by being allied with other powers that provide a net benefit (most importantly, they should not be aggressive unless the alliance serves the purpose to eliminate them from the list of potential antagonist powers). To have allies means to have less potential enemies and the allied wartime strength becomes at least partially available for your cause. Repeat: Being allied does reduce the need for national military spending. Any exception tot his rule requires that either military spending is completely pointless (and thus to be avoided altogether without alliance due to futility or entering the alliance added so many potential enemies that it's a mistake to join.

It is wise to spend on military capability about as little as necessary for its primary purpose.
Smart alliance policy and military spending oriented towards deterrence and (in the event of war) achieving minor defeat or white peace are the way to go.


 (Part II will delve into a less abstract plane of the topic.)

*: This is an opinion. Anyone who disagrees shall be reminded that his or her disagreement is but an opinion as well, for we have no total costs:total benefits analysis of any violent conflict. The arts and science of mankind don't suffice to do such a complete appraisal. I formed my opinion based on the often very expensive, yet usually marginally beneficial conflicts of the past decades. The best case for the profitability of aggressions is in my opinion the (never provable) assertion that a war may have prevented another, worse war. The 1991 Gulf War and 1999 Bombing of Yugoslavia are candidates for such an assertion. Yet even such an assertion does not exclude that the same benefit could have been had cheaper through peaceful means.


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    1. "The military of Germany at least does currently play a role in the protection of research data."

      Not in this world. The "cyber" B.S. is non-functional for civilian defence. The BSI would be the suitable authority for that anyway, but all governmental IT security efforts have been undermined by the mass surveillance interests of BND, 17 so-called Verfassungsschutz organisations and the BKA.

      You're also writing nonsense about India. Its weaving businesses were wiped out by British factories, but that's not "deindustrialisation".

      There's zero reason why an organisation specialised in the threat and application of violence should be part of any non-violent information struggle/contest.
      Nor is there any reason why such a non-violent effort should be considered war.

    2. "You're also writing nonsense about India. Its weaving businesses were wiped out by British factories, but that's not "deindustrialisation"."

      I'm feeling lazy today to look for a very good article I read somewhere, but you can read here about it: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_Deindustrialisation_of_India

      Feel free to read it. Or not.


    3. Wikipedia writes some nonsense. I noticed the inflationary use of the word "industrialisation", "deindustrialisation", "industrialised" et cetera before.
      The Wikipedia authors are flat-out lying and violating Wikipedia rules with that nonsense. Some idiots there have begun corrupting Wikipedia by describing all high density commercial activity in the 18th century as "industrialised".

      There was no "industry" pre-1757, period. Spinning Jenny and Spinning mule had not yet been invented and steam power was limited to pumps (mostly in mining) at that time.

      India can thus not have become deindustrialised beginning in 1757. Its spinning and weaving activity was crashed by superior and cheaper imports from England in the late 18th and 19th century. That was more of a income distribution issue than a net damage to India.

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    5. So you make a claim that India had steam engines pre-1757?
      I raise you a source saying no:

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  2. According to modern money theory, the state is easily able to pay the cost of a larger, stronger military. A strong military is just another way for the state to bring the money it produces to the people, and then to collect some of it back and forth. Spending money on the army employs people, factories, produces, pays wages, and turns money around economically. People in turn shop, generate demand, and so on

    Therefore, high spending of money for the military is economically unproblematic. It is neither better for people to put the same money in other areas, and it does not gain anything for the state.

    Allies are now for the most part always questionable, unreliable, in principle there is pure anarchy between all states. Therefore it is wrong to rely too much on allies and therefore you need enough strength of your own. In addition, even as an ally, you are less valuable when you are weaker. The likelihood of the Alliance's failure increases with its own weakness.

    In addition, your consideration of the question of costs and the assessment of wars from this purely materialistic perspective is too limited. Wars have not been and are not primarily waged out of material gain and especially in the future the question of ideology, religion etc. will become more and more essential. A purely materialistic view of conflict fails with any enemy who has no materialistic goals.

    The war against IS could be used as an example of a preventive war in which both would have combined. Here, the West has produced very high follow-up costs due to its own military weakness because it could not and did not want to intervene as much as was necessary. A strong military of its own could have drastically reduced the war and the consequential costs. The same applies today, for example, to Libya. However, since we have been following your misguided concept for years, we are increasingly lacking foreign policy options and even with a purely materialistic calculation this creates ever higher costs (loss of access to raw materials, loss of markets, loss of influence / power over other countries, refugees , illegal mass immigration to our countries, Failed States etc)

    Otherwise, the question would have to be asked of what wars and what kind of military we are talking about. Your whole approach is so conventional and limited from Cold War thinking. Regional militias (National Guard) do not cost much, but could be very valuable in future internal wars, for example.

    The classic normal conventional war between nation states is not the only form of war. And other forms of war require different security structures and therefore different forms of armed forces. These could also be set up much more cheaply.

    1. Well, MMT (modern MONETARY theory) is bollocks, and that's fairly obvious by now. The MMT folks can make their stuff work only by making unrealistic assumptions and without those they're mere Keynesians and all differing conclusions evaporate.
      Moreover, there's the concept of opportunity cost, which is not controversial at all. The opportunity costs of wasting money on government consumption when it could be invested are substantial and disqualify military expenses from being sensible economic policy.

      You are wrong about the "materialistic" thing. An economist speaking of costs goes way beyond materialistic or monetarised costs. That's why I mentioned that a complete cost:benefit analysis is impossible.

      The war against IS was unnecessary for the West becuase IS was terminally stupid and did nothing but piling up enemies in the region. They were self-defeating.

      There is no loss of access to raw materials or markets from want of military power. You're fantasizing. "Influence/power" is worthless in itself. There is no military counter to refugees, mass migration or failed states. Failed states on distant continents don't even need to bother us.
      The refugee/migration topic could be handled easily if Western politicians weren't utterly useless - but this requires zero military force.

  3. I can't construct an defensible idea of what the playing field is going to be in the near future. A couple of years ago I could have gone on for hours, now thats all been proven wrong.

    More uncertainty, more irrationality, more disconnection from 20th century history and norms.

    "no way a country could have a net benefit...", obvious counter. How about a regime? A faction, family, dynasty, class, sector, industry? I dont need to wave my finger around a map for too long to prove that those with power make decisions with no regard for 'their' countries (with whatever that means after nearly a century of the global free flow of capital).

    Defence isn't a game. It isn't an appendix. I think Europe is recognising this, and their reforms are more constructive than whats going on in yankland.

    USMC just noticed that there aint no yankee shipbuilding capacity, and get this. In any prolonged fight with the Chinese they wouldn't be able to replace loses at the same rate. Wow!!!! All that defence spending is kicking out some big brained reports. Some real yankee von Braun geniuses must be slaving away to think thoughts as clear as that.

    It feels like we're heading away from total war, back towards middle ages campaigning. After one sides military (in the systemic sense) is destroyed peace terms are agreed, then the buildup for the next war starts.

    I can think of eighty ways that is wrong, but its the best I can come up with. So, because we dont know what we're heading in to excess spending will likely be wrongly directed against the threat we will ultimately face. Restrict spending, but communicate to the nation (no need with this, I think most european populations are paying attention) and military the reality of the current moment.

    This only works for powers with (potentially) realisable objectives.

    Europe, territorial defence, continued global competitiveness, sustained development of internal and bordering lands.

    When it comes to yankland, maintenance of their hegemony of global financial, diplomatic, economic, intelligence, technological and resource systems against threat of dilution and regional challengers. I got nothing.

    How could you create a strategy or philosophy for yankish forces when they are already being asked to do too much. To defend everything, contest everywhere and begin "taking the fight to the enemy". trump term 2 will be more of the same, Biden term 1 will most likely be even more hilarious (in this narrow field) than trump.

    Likely when GDP is calced for 2020 more Euros will meet the 2% "requirement".

    Blah blah, woof woof.

  4. Without the intervention in mali for example the access to uranium from africa for france would be endangered. To control the sahel area reduces refugees which are an tremendous burden for europe, therefore influence there is not worthless, but to the opposite. The good results in chad for example in the last years speak for itself. And the day is near that a military counter to refugess and illegal criminal mass migration will be necessary - look at the situation at the greece / turkish border not so long ago for an example. Failed states produce and/or deliver refugees, are lost markets and hinder the access to their ressources, look to libya for an example (oil, refugees).

    I can agree with you that other (political, economical, diplomatic etc) solutions would be possible for sad problems, but the simple truth is, that they can also be solved by an serious military intervention. And even for other kind of solutions the deterence of an strong military in the backhand enhances the possibility for success of such solutions. Strong countries need a strong military and can afford it.

    For the question of the opportunity costs you imo overestimate the results from investing the money in other sectors and underestimate the positive results from investing in the military. Not all money is gone if it is invested in arms, but to the opposite such an investion has tremendously good effects for the macro economoy of an country.

    Money used for gouvernment consumption is not an complete waste as you wrote, but such money that flows through the government is the outmost importance for the economy of an country. The whole functioning of the economy depends on it.

    Military expanses can therefore be an very good economic policy, it depends only on how and in which way exactly the money is used. You assume (pretend) that all money given for the military is gone and that this money would be better invested for the people in other sectors and then this investment would be better economically. That is simply not true in this over-simplification.

    Imo you also underestimate the intangibles here, that are an advantage for an economy and for the people and a strong military delivers such intangibles. Its not only about profit and cost / benefit, its about culture, social-culture, society, cohesion and so on and so on. The cohesion of an nation-state and its culture can be very positivly formed by an strong military and are weakend by the absence of one. The decline in germany is therefore imo also an result of the military decline in this country.