Carl Sagan described MAD as “two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.” While we’ve managed to keep from annihilating ourselves, we did spend about 14 trillion (2010) dollars on cold war materiel—bombs never dropped, missiles never ignited, and planes never scrambled. All the while, Costa Rica basked under our nuclear umbrella, and now they’re happy, healthy (36th on the WHO’s rankings, one notch above the US at 37th). And peaceful. They renounced their military and spent the money on goods, as opposed to their neighbors who have had revolutions, and are still poor, unhappy, and not particularly progressive.
It’s unrealistic to think that the US could just renounce the military and save a few hundred billion dollars a year, but we probably could shave some more money off the military budgets especially if policymakers could get out of their holes and actually work to make things better, rather than worrying about defending their power, what they have, and competing for prestige. As a slight aside, one of the most awe-inspiring sights in France was a palace filled with swords bolted to the walls, a grand display of “if I have this many swords bolted to the walls of my palace, think of how many men swinging swords I must have ready to roll over your fiefdom!” Back to the issue at hand, what do we really need 5th generation fighters for? The nature of armed conflict has changed, conventional war in the Western sense really is no more. And even the recent full-on wars like the 1991 Gulf War were pretty asymmetric.
The upcoming conflicts are likely to be over resources, such as the 1991 Gulf War. So, wouldn’t it be a more rational approach to follow Jimmy carter’s advice to put on a sweater (and get off carbon, like Thomas Friedman constantly argues) rather than following the Carter Doctrine to defend ‘American interests’ i.e. the extraction and transport of carbon based energy when we know there is a better plan?
Even with all of this military power at our disposal, we can’t address the real threats (other than by using egregious force) to our security. Can we even consider building instead of tearing down, or building things to tear down as a matter of policy priorities?