The cost and unnecessary suffering of military spending

Mar 14, 2023
Patterned cartridges with fittings

The authoritative Peterson Foundation calculates that last year the US spent more on its military than the next nine countries together. This means more than China, India, Russia, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan and South Korea combined. In 2023, the US allocated $US 858 billion to military spending compared to China’s $US224 billion. China’s spending is 1.7% of GDP compared to 2% for Australia and 3.5% for the US.

Military spending accounts for nearly half the discretionary spending in the US budget. The President could redirect over two thirds to deprived areas of the budget and still have the most powerful military forces in the world. Until something like this happens, many Americans will suffer unnecessarily and the country experience continuing internal turmoil. The US has been in far more wars that China.

The Costs of War project at Brown University revealed in 2021 that the US was involved in eight wars in the previous 20 years, costing it an estimated $8 trillion and killing more than 900,000 people. Earlier, Australia joined the US in losing a war of aggression in Vietnam that cost lives of 3 million people.

China has not been in a serious conflict since 1979 when it made a brutal incursion into Vietnam before withdrawing. The US and Australia didn’t object strongly because they supported China’s intention to punish Vietnam for overthrowing Pol Pot’s appalling regime in Cambodia.

Unlike the US and Australia, China has not been involved in a war of aggression since the Communist party came to power in 1949, except for of its takeover of Tibet in 1950. Tibet had been under the control of Chinese emperors from 1720 until the early 1900s. The anti-Communist Republic of China then claimed Tibet was part of China, without trying to enforce this. Otherwise, China has not tried to take over any country.

If China were an expansionist power, it would have already taken over bordering Mongolia, a defenceless, democratic state with abundant mineral deposits. Nor would it have made several important concessions to settle land border disputes.

China announced recently that its defence spending will increase by 7.2% in 2023 compared to 7.1 % in the previous year. This minor increase hardly suggests China is building up to attack Taiwan, let alone go to war with Australia which is committed to spending billions more on its military, supposedly to deter China. Contrary to the situation in the US, numerous underwater choke points bottle up China’s naval forces close to its shores.

However, China’s spending is now widely asserted to show it is about to engage in a campaign of aggressive expansion. Instead, it is reacting to the fact that it is surrounded by US military bases and those of its allies, as well being beset by constant military patrols along its borders. US has more than 700 overseas military bases, including many on Pacific Islands countries and on others such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the Philippines. China doesn’t have the capability to patrol off the American coastline which is over 15,000 km away as the crow flies. Nor does it have any bases close enough to operate from. China’s sole overseas base is at Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

A recent three-part series in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age claimed China would attack Australia within the next three years, well before any nuclear submarines are delivered well over $200 billion. The series said the government would have to reintroduce compulsory conscription and invite the US to base nuclear armed missiles on Australian territory. Anthony Albanese has not rejected these proposals.

The series made the bizarre claim that “recent decades of tranquillity were not the norm in human affairs, but an aberration.” The reality is that tranquillity did not exist for Australian military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor for civilians caught up in these events.

As a result of US-led sanctions before the invasion of Iraq, UN agencies calculated that 500,000 Iraqi children had starved to death. When the then US ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright was asked on America’s 60 Minutes program if she thought that the death of half a million Iraqi children was a price worth paying, she said: “This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.” Most seem to have forgotten that governments killed these children.

In Australia, most also seem to have forgotten that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was based on shonky intelligence, easily exposed as such. Perversely, many Australia journalists, who now rely on anonymous intelligence reports, take it for granted the intelligence is accurate.

They also swallow propaganda claiming that China is “aggressive” and a “threat” to Australia and that Taiwan is independent country, which China now claims. Taiwan is not formally independent. Almost every country on earth, including Australia and the US recognise it as part of China. After the losing the Civil War, the leader of the Kuomintang (KMT) party Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan, where he not only claimed Taiwan was part of China, but insisted that it ruled the whole of China from its capital Taipei. To its great credit, Taiwan became a healthy democracy in 1996, but its Constitution still states it is part of China.

When he was China’s leader in Beijing in 1947, Chiang Kai-shek announced that country would control its territorial waters within a U-shaped “Eleven dash line”. The subsequent Communist government adopted a “Nine dash line”, while Taiwan has retained eleven. Given it already has de facto independence, the pragmatic position in Taiwan now seems to be that it’s not worth rocking the boat by declaring formal independence.

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