The Obsolescence of Military Power

At some point in the future, we will no longer need a military.

Too often our thoughts about the future are formed in the context of the past, and this can serve to limit our thinking. For examples we need only look back at how skeptical our forefathers and mothers were about the horse and buggy being replaced by the automobile, radio by television, the calculator and typewriter by the computer, or printed newspapers by the Internet.

As a people, we are so accustomed to having – and needing – a military that our discussions surrounding our offensive capabilities, a strong defense and waging war always take our need for a military as a given.

And so the question is: how will we know when it’s no longer necessary to have a force?

Therein lies the rub. In almost every way, the military is self-perpetuating, as Joseph Heller brilliantly portrayed in Catch-22, and President Eisenhower warned us in the 1950s. After all, if China has a large military, then so must we. And by having a large military, we make sure that China keeps their army big, remaining a threat to us, and thus justifying our own build up.

What if the only reason that we all have a military is because our neighbors have one? If the only true justification for each of us to have a military is defensive, then the original rationale for having one in the first place – to defend ourselves from aggression – is gone. How will we know when that point has been reached?

In contemplating the answer, we can see how we will likely have a military long after the actual need has passed. After all, aggression, conflict and war have been part of humanity since the beginning.

But the balance of power is shifting. At the dawn of humanity, power and survival were dependent on drinking, eating, and sleeping in safety. As we evolved, power and survival were based on which individual was stronger, then which group was stronger. But in the 18th and 19th centuries a subtle change began to occur with the Industrial Revolution, and its impact on the engine of commerce.

What dictates power and survival today? We are close to the end of a shift from military strength to economic strength. People and groups with money are thriving. Companies have gone multinational. The old triumvirate of government – the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches – is becoming less powerful. The emerging triumvirate that will run the world are Government, Business, and, thanks in part to media and the Internet, the Citizenry. We can already see the checks and balances in this new system beginning to work themselves out in society, where it appears that the Citizenry may be at least equal in power. Witness events like the Orange Revolution, the rise of the peasant classes in Latin America, the Arab Spring, and our own Tea Party movement.

Our power in the world, then, stems not from our B-2 bombers and Humvees, but from our ability to produce and consume. Under this world view, since production and consumption are typically coming from different source countries, we are becoming intertwined in ways that no military action could have produced. China will not attack us since it would mean economic ruin. We will not attack China because Americans won’t be able to buy Coach bags and Target clothing.

How can we know when that time has arrived? What if that time has already passed?

The force that is making war and the military obsolete – economics – is also the force that will replace it. As countries, especially neighboring ones, become interdependent economically, their differences will become less territorial and more market based. Countries and their markets will form coalitions and partnerships, resulting in a spider web of interconnectedness that will make war unthinkable.

Already, we have found that the military is expensive, and I would argue that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are unaffordable, in both financial and human terms. We are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit international partners to help us fund military activities, and to recruit soldiers into our armed forces. In fact, our military “partners” are cutting their military funding, putting more of the burden on our shoulders.

The Swiss have known this for years. If the powerful have their treasure in Swiss banks, this will protect the neutrality of Switzerland. World War II proved the validity of their premise.

From nuclear deterrent to market deterrent. From Shock and Awe to Cash and Carry.

We can’t have a situation where everyone else disarms first – the hardcore states will never go for it if they are not last. And those that are secure enough to do so on their own will do so and spend those dollars on other programs, as much of Europe is doing.

The only possible solution is that we must all do it at the same time. Which leaves us with designing a process that will effect a mutually agreed upon result: total disarmament. A process that begins with a non aggression pact and a period during which military assets are essentially frozen, followed by a gradual and proportionate reduction to zero.

In concert with this must be a corresponding increase in commerce between neighboring and regional states, and with economic superpowers: North America, Europe, and northern and eastern Asia including India. We must build a strong, world-wide middle class; it is the key to political stability in this new world order.

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