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Not a political discussion! Which one is the root cause?

  1. Mar 28, 2012 #1
    America made a lot of enemies so they need a powerful military -or-
    America has a powerful military so they made a lot of enemies?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 28, 2012 #2
    I intend this topic to be factual and historical rather than political.
     
  4. Mar 28, 2012 #3
    Isn't using the word "made" implying a lot?

    I'm not an expert on American History, but I think the US military grew a lot during world war 2, where the US did not "make" any enemies. They were provoked into the war and supported their allies, right?

    I think their largest enemy that caused the military to grow was the USSR, and I don't know if they really "made" them an enemy in the sense of provoking them by bullying them or violating their rights as a nation.
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2012
  5. Mar 28, 2012 #4

    Gokul43201

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    How about this possibility: America made a lot of friends, so they need a powerful military?
     
  6. Mar 28, 2012 #5

    Ryan_m_b

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    A better way to structure the question IMO would be "what are the historical reasons as to why the US has such a large military expenditure?"

    It's an interesting question. A quick google shows that US expenditure has always been high (though I can find sources that argue it has both gone up or down so there's clearly a lot of bias). An important angle to focus on could also be to turn the question on its head and say "why are other countries so low?" For example the British Empire was probably the biggest spender on military matters for centuries, it could be that the US followed suit with European Empires who subsequently downgraded the amounts the spend over the last century or so since their dissolution.

    EDIT: I've managed to find this essay on the subject (not sure about its credibility at the moment though). The figures are interesting because they show prior to world war one the US had a relatively low military expenditure; <10% whereas European countries had far higher albiet fluctuating percentages. At around the time of world war two the US expenditure increased dramatically whilst European committment declined.
    http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/eloranta.military [Broken]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  7. Mar 28, 2012 #6

    russ_watters

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    +1

    But I also think the question is much more complicated than an easy answer can satisfy.

    Ryan - that's good info, if a little thin on post wwii....but my thought on the issue is that after wwii, the US "fought" the cold war against the USSR while the major European powers looked around and saw few significant threats, so they reduced their military expenditures dramatically while we didn't.

    After the Cold War, the US operated on a doctrine of being capable of fighting two simultaneous regional wars (recently cancelled by Obama) while the European powers assumed a support role.

    As a matter of pure opinion, I find it surprising that the major European powers would support a force structure that left none of them capable of fighting a war of any significance on their own.
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2012
  8. Mar 28, 2012 #7

    BobG

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    I would agree with the last paragraph. Given Soviet expansion into Eastern Europe during the early days of the Cold War, I find it hard to see how European powers could see few significant threats.

    Perhaps there were economic constraints (European countries, both allied and axis suffered the brunt of the war) and perhaps there were constraints created by public opinion (having experienced two major wars on their own soil, Europeans weren't very enthusiastic about supporting military endeavors).

    Definitely a different reaction than that of the USSR. They were traumatized enough by World War II that they decided to make sure the next war wouldn't be fought in their home country. If there were another war, the USSR planned for it to be fought in Eastern Europe instead of the USSR.
     
  9. Mar 28, 2012 #8

    Ryan_m_b

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    There's really little need to have a bigger military than we already have. After world war two there was a massive rebuilding of Europe, the only potential threat was the USSR and that was mainly a US/USSR competition. There really aren't any threats of an invasion of Europe, who has the military power and the political inclination to try and take the continent? No one, globalisation and a lack of development in most countries has seen to that.

    Unless a country wants to ensure that it can intervene in multiple countries across the globe I really don't see why such a big army is needed. It's just a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere.
     
  10. Mar 28, 2012 #9

    russ_watters

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    Yes, there is more to that statement of mine, particularly when it comes to the early days of the Cold War. Germany and France were particularly decimated, so there was just about nothing they could do to protect themselves. They had little choice but to accept the US as The Protector.

    But after a few years when they recovered and had a chance to re-assess, what changes? If the US is adequately dealing with the threat, then for practical purposes, there is no threat for them to deal with - so why not maintain the status quo of American protection?
    Agreed.

    So fast forward to today:
    There hasn't been a threat of invasion in the US in somewhere on the order of 150 years, yet to this day we've assumed the role of Protector from invasion for other countries. Just saying there is no invasion threat doesn't tell the whole story. I get that Europeans have a completely different way of thinking, but I do think that it sometimes proves problematic for the countries of Europe. Two easy examples are Iraq and Libya.

    Pretty much the entire Western World agreed in 1991 that for him to invade Kuwait was unacceptable and he needed to be forcibly removed. The US led the invasion and other countries provided significant assistance that ended up amounting to about a quarter of the force strength. Had the US decided to sit that one out, it would have been a very different war.

    For Libya, we heard wishy-washy and contradictory accountings of the US's commitment and my perception is that it is because either Obama wanted France to lead it or France wanted to lead it. But either way, they really couldn't so we had to at least get it started.

    So while it is correct to say that there really isn't a serious threat to Europe, there is still a desire to exert military force -- just not their own. The US, on the other hand, appears to have inherited that role after WWII and we accept and even are proud of it. We sometimes take flak over making unilateral decisions, but IMO it is unfair to choose to let us do the majority of the work and yet think that we shouldn't get the majority of the decision making authority.

    So yes, Europe doesn't need a military, but they still want one under their command. For their sake, I hope The Protector is always capable of fulfilling that role for them.
     
  11. Mar 29, 2012 #10
    If the United States was to take on a more passive role, the US would have less of a muscle to flex in international dealings. The very real threat of the US using its military strength to enforce treaties has maintained much of the peace we have today.
     
  12. Mar 29, 2012 #11

    mheslep

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    For reference, US Defense spending by the federal government since inception.

    Percent GDP:
    _a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_b.png

    Constant dollars:
    _a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_b.png

    Per capita constant dollars:
    _a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_b.png

    Prior to WWI:
    _a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_i_i_i_i_i_i_i_i.png

    Same time period from Ryan's reference, Eloranta - Figure 2, and is ~good agreement for US. Hover's around 1% GDP except for the period around 1898 (Spanish-American war)
    legend=&source=a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_i_i_i_i_i_i_i_i.png

    http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/spending_chart_1792_1910USd_13s1li011mcn_30f
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
  13. Mar 29, 2012 #12

    mheslep

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    That assertion is supported by post WWII UK defense spending history.
    _a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a_a.png
     
  14. Mar 29, 2012 #13

    Pengwuino

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    My understanding is that before WWI, the United States was very much against participating in foreign wars (there's a common word for it that is slipping my mind) or starting them.

    I think that's exactly the point. The US has felt the need to be able to intervene in multiple places at the same time. People typically say that the US, as of this moment, is in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we're in WAY more countries then that. We constitute a substantial portion of the heavy firepower need when/if the UN or NATO needs it.

    Also, have you ever seen the number of bases we have in other countries? I just started realizing how weird of an idea that is! I mean, sure, a lot are joint ventures, but if someone said a base is going up near my city that was a joint American-Japanese air force base, I'd think hell froze over or something.

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

    It's like we want to be everywhere, all the time. I wonder how common this is. I know Britain has its fair share of overseas bases, but I wonder about countries like Germany or Italy or Japan.
     
  15. Mar 29, 2012 #14

    mheslep

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    I also don't see the reasoning for discounting a European invasion threat post WWII. I count at least 13 countries that fell under Stalinist socialism, most becoming Soviet proxies after WWII.
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
  16. Mar 30, 2012 #15

    russ_watters

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    Could you explain the 13 countries? It is my understanding that the European borders were drawn up at the end of WWII and the USSR's reach in Europe was never extended. Is that not true?
     
  17. Mar 30, 2012 #16

    mheslep

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    The states officially subsumed into the USSR (Balkans, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, etc) all disappeared with the creation of the USSR well prior to WWII, which the rest of the world largely acknowledged. Post WWII, the Warsaw Pack countries were naively supposed to remain independent of the USSR, if inside a kind security buffer Stalin claimed he wanted against Germany, as a kind of Soviet version of NATO. By naive, I refer to this kind of statement by FDR on the matter:
    Marxist-Leninist Countries, under Soviet control or influence at the time:
    1. Albania '44
    2. Greece '44
    3. Romania '47
    4. Poland '47
    5. Czechs '48
    6. N. Korea '48
    7. China '49
    8. Hungary '49
    9. GDR '49
    10. Cuba '61
    11. Yemen '67
    12. Laos '75
    13. Mozambique '75
    14. Vietnam '62-'76
    With the communist governments in Albania and Greece occurring before the German surrender, but after the the Axis collapse in the area.

    After the initial creation of the eastern block communist governments, the Soviets used military force in the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, and the Prague Spring of 1968.

    So again, it appears to me that a Soviet invasion of Western Europe appeared almost inevitable post WWII, if not for some late but firm digging in by the US by way of the Berlin Air Lift and other events.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2012
  18. Mar 30, 2012 #17

    D H

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    I think the word you are looking for is "isolationist," although I would mark the Spanish American war as the turning point rather than WWI.


    As far as why Western Europe has had such a smallish military budget compared to the US and the USSR post WWII, I would venture that
    1. Western Europeans, whether Allied and Axis, were sick and tired of war. Western Europe had been at war in a big way more often than not since the Renaissance, if not before.
    2. The Axis nations weren't allowed to have any sizable military.
    3. The Axis nations happened to form a rather nice buffer zone between the Soviet Union and the rest of Western European.
    4. The Allied nations couldn't afford to have a big military. They had lost a lot of their infrastructure in the war. Every spare bit of money (and then some) went into rebuilding.
    5. The Allied nations didn't have to have a big military. The US was flexing its new-found status as the new global power.
     
  19. Mar 30, 2012 #18

    mheslep

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    I don't see how that is the case in post WWII of aviation and ballistic missiles.
     
  20. Mar 30, 2012 #19

    D H

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    What aviation? The US air force was far superior to that of the Soviet Union throughout the existence of the Soviet Union. The Soviets at times might have had comparable machines. Even then, they never had better pilots. The UN had air superiority in Korea for all but the first few months of that conflict. A decade or so later in Vietnam, the Soviets were so overwhelmed in the air (and they knew it) that they didn't want to play the air warfare game at all.

    Ballistic missiles? The first legitimate Soviet ballistic missile wasn't until a decade after the war ended. By that time MAD was already in full swing. There never was a missile gap; the US had the Soviets outgunned with respect to nuclear weapons from day 1. (Not that it matters much when each side had the ability to wipe out the other dozens of times over.) The Soviets feared the US as much as, if not more than, the US feared the Soviets with regard to a nuclear WWIII. Mad Ivan? The Soviets weren't mad, at least not in their minds. We were. The only way the Soviets were going to launch their missiles was if we launched ours first.
     
  21. Mar 30, 2012 #20
    or, of course, if it looked like we were gonna
     
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