28 January 2013

Musing about American foreign policy

Extended excerpts from a thoughtful essay:
The debate about taxes is over, which is one of the few good things that can be said for it. The debate about spending, which has already proved narrow and grubby, is pending...

Around the world, “power projection” is, in fact, a central mission of American forces. Smith expressed alarm at the prospect of its diminishment. He asked a question, which was purely rhetorical: “What if, all of a sudden, we don’t have troops in Europe, we don’t have troops in Asia, we are just, frankly, like pretty much every other country in the world?”..

Early Americans considered a standing army—a permanent army kept even in times of peace—to be a form of tyranny. “What a deformed monster is a standing army in a free nation,” Josiah Quincy, of Boston, wrote in 1774. Instead, they favored militias...

Not until the Second World War did the United States establish what would become a standing army. And even that didn’t happen without dissent. In May of 1941, Robert Taft, a Republican senator from Ohio, warned that America’s entry into the Second World War would mean, ultimately, that the United States “will have to maintain a police force perpetually in Germany and throughout Europe."..

On September 8, 2011, when Buck McKeon convened the first of his House Armed Services Committee hearings on the future of the military, no one much disputed the idea that the manifest destiny of the United States is to patrol the world...

In the speech, Eisenhower reckoned the price of arms:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This is a world in arms. This world in arms is not spending money alone; it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. . . . This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
The United States, separated from much of the world by two oceans and bordered by allies, is, by dint of geography, among the best-protected countries on earth. Nevertheless, six decades after V-J Day nearly three hundred thousand American troops are stationed overseas, including fifty-five thousand in Germany, thirty-five thousand in Japan, and ten thousand in Italy. Much of the money that the federal government spends on “defense” involves neither securing the nation’s borders nor protecting its citizens. Instead, the U.S. military enforces American foreign policy...

Lately, Bacevich argues, Americans “have fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and outsized expectations regarding the efficacy of force. To a degree without precedent in U.S. history, Americans have come to define the nation’s strength and well-being in terms of military preparedness, military action, and the fostering of (or nostalgia for) military ideals.”..

Only a tiny minority of members of Congress have known combat, or have family members who have. “God help this country when someone sits in this chair who doesn’t know the military as well as I do,” Eisenhower once said. From Reagan to Obama, but especially during the Administrations of the past three Presidents, none of whom ever saw active duty, civilian thinking about foreign policy has been subordinated to military thinking...

The decision at hand concerns limits, not some kind of national, existential apocalypse. Force requires bounds. Between militarism and pacifism lie diplomacy, accountability, and restraint. 
There's more in the five-page-long essay in The New Yorker.  Those who are regular readers of this blog have probably figured out that when I raise objections to war, it is typically not on a moral basis.  I have no ethical dilemna with the necessity of war, given appropriate provocation and necessity.  What I object to is the economics of war.  I don't believe that we can afford our current military posture.  I simply do not understand why we have 55,000 troops stationed in Germany. 


  1. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ausl%C3%A4ndische_Milit%C3%A4rbasen_in_Deutschland

    I will translate a few passages (albeit quick'n'dirty):

    Foreign troops in Germany (2009)
    USA 56.680
    GB 18.602
    France 3.582
    Netherlands 610
    Belgium 221

    Comparison: German armed forces 192.000 soldiers (2011)

    In 2005 Germany paid 123,3 Million EUR for and had an income of 24,9 Million EUR of the foreign troops.
    Also there's no rent paid for real estate used by foreign troops.

    Important bases:
    Mostly headquarters (EUCOM, AFRICOM, USAREUR, etc.) and Airbases (most prominently Ramstein, biggest American Army Airbase outside of America http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramstein_Air_Base )

    Ramstein alone has around 35000 American military personel and is as far as I know a central hub for all major US military operations in Europe, Africa, the middle east, even Afghanistan.


    From time to time the presence of American forces becomes a topic of debate. Generally
    - the left are against the troops for various reasons, the so called conservatives in favor
    - the people who live where the troops actually are are in favor, the people further away against.

    A few highlights on the debate in Germany (keep in mind that the political landscape is diverse and some of these positions are mainstream while others are fringe arguments):

    Against American troops on German soil:
    - We are helping the US fight wars, probably even wars considered illegal.
    - We want to be a country free of nuclear weapons.
    - The military is damaging to the environment (Planes are loud, Ammunition is poisonous, Tanks are destroying the woods and wildlife, etc.)
    - It's a leftover from WWII, they are just occupying forces by another name
    - We don't want military at all, and definitely not American imperialists.
    - We will look like enablers to America's enemies thus becoming targets (of arabien terrorists for example)

    In favor of American troops on German soil:
    - The constant presence of Americans strengthens our bond of friendship
    - The soldiers and their families spend money within the country
    - The regions where the troops are stationed have adapted to the situation. The troops leaving would be an economical shock.
    - The relevance of Germany for the US military gives influence to Germany within the NATO.
    - The troops offer protection


    My personal opinion: A few years back I travelled on the eastern coast of the USA and there was hardly a day where I didn't talk to someone who was like "You are from Germany? I was stationed there in 19xx" and they knew places, people, talked about what the liked and learned and so on and it was a great experience. So I guess for me the "strengthens the bond of friendship" argument rules supreme.

    1. Thank you so much, ArnoM, for providing a link with some actual data. I'll punch it into Google Translate and browse it this afternoon.

    2. Although I will be a bit sad to see the US army further pulling troops from Germany, the big generals share your thinking about why there are so many troops yet in Germany.

      The USA have been massively reducing their troops since the end of the cold war. In my city there used to be two bases both of which have been long closed.

      And this thinning of troups will go on. In the link I posted you will find many bases listed with parentheses that say (wird 2014 geschlossen) or something similar. It means those bases will be closed.

      As you can see almost all (if not all) British will leave by 2020 and a lot of Americans as well.

      Here is another link on that topic with a lot more infi (in english!):
      The related phase 3 base closures are, as announced by DoD today:
      • Coleman Barracks, by 2015
      • Spinelli Barracks, by 2015
      • Lampertheim Training Area, by 2015
      • Edigheim Beacon Site, by 2015
      • Campbell Barracks, by 2015
      • Patton Barracks, by 2015
      • Tompkins Barracks, by 2015
      • Kilbourne Kaserne, by 2015
      • Heidelberg Hospital (also known as Nachrichten Kaserne), by 2015
      • Heidelberg Community Support Center, by 2015
      • Heidelberg Golf Course, by 2015
      • Heidelberg Army Heliport, by 2015
      • Mark Twain Village Family housing area, by 2015
      • Oftersheim Small Arms Range (including Heidelberg Rod and Gun Club), by 2015
      • Patrick Henry Village Family housing area, by 2015
      • Giessen General Depot, by 2015

      Also see this huge list of already closed military bases in Germany. It's in German but pretty simple: Sorted by federal state, name of the base and in parentheses the country it belonged to and the year it was closed.

    3. I browsed through the link this afternoon, and as you note there seems to be some compensation from Germany to the U.S. to help support the troops, but even 120 million for 55 thousand troops is only a couple thousand per person, which is only symbolic support.

      I still don't understand why there are there. I know some help staff missile bases and medical facilities for injuries incurred in our middle east wars, but that doesn't require tens of thousands of people.

    4. True. I'm definitely not an expert on this. But I guess it's mostly logistics. From southwest Germany to the middle east is a lot faster than from somewhere in the US. I guess them being relatively near 'projects power'?

      Also the guys in the headquarters I don't think it matters much where they live to do their jobs, at least not in financial terms.

      But as I said: I know little about military, Germany's approach to military is vastly different and I haven't even served. Will just be sad if I were to see them go.

    5. Why would you be sad to see them go? Does their presence and spending help support the economy of local communities, or have you met some personally and find them to be nice people? Or perhaps a fear that your country will be less secure in military terms?

    6. It will hit the communities hard, but that has happened before and there were always ways to deal with the impact. At least for now, Germany is still a rich country.
      Also security is not an issue. The dangers we will face are not of the kind that a regular military body will be able to help with. Definitely not a foreign one.
      It's just an emotional thing for me.

  2. Lately, Bacevich argues, Americans “have fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and outsized expectations regarding the efficacy of force.

    Sad but true, you only have to look at the jingoistic displays of nationalism (different than patriotism) displayed at the beginning of any major sporting event. Massive flags, flyovers, fetish treatment of soldiers, everybody's a "hero", instead of just those that have actually done heroic things...

    It's funny, because Americans mock other countries when they do these kinds of over the top militaristic displays, but we're just as bad, and worse than most.

    Distractions from a nation on its slow descent.

  3. There was a nice quantitative breakdown of defense expenditures by way of response to this in another blog I read, here.

    I don't this this dilutes the overall point too much -- imperialism and adventurism are expensive and probably unnecessary -- but I found it a helpful antidote to the New Yorker piece's imprecision with regard to expenditure metrics.

  4. “What a deformed monster is a standing army in a free nation,” Josiah Quincy

    I agree wholeheartedly. A standing army is not the tool of a peaceful, self governing people. The trouble began a long time ago; from at least Monroe and Hamilton the urge to meddle has plagued us.

  5. I sometimes wonder what we could learn if we took half of the annual military budget and gave it to, say, NASA.



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