What is the fastest way to burn through a country’s cash reserves?

Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code explicitly asserts that it is against the law to set any bank notes or drafts ablaze, yet very much like many other laws, it leaves the door open to a few exceptions of course. The first exception applies to The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which is in charge of printing the new bills while incinerating the worn out and mutilated ones. The second less known exception applies to the Department of Defense, in charge of turning trillions of US tax dollars into a fistful of ashes with an unimaginable level of efficiency and sophistication, as some of their exceptional military armaments cost millions of dollars per unit, let alone the multibillion-dollar development expenses involved.The following chart depicts some of the most expensive weapons used by the mightiest military force ever known in the history of mankind.

 

 

The US military budget of $824.6 billion – the largest of its kind in 2017 – funds 4 military branches: the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force. Ranked second in 2017, is none other than China with a military budget of $215.4 billion followed by Russia holding the 3rd place in military expenditure, totaling to well over $70 billion in order to safe keep its Pluto-size country mainly from the supposed US invasion feared from since the end of WWII.

Military budget of the United States (2005 ~ 15)

Unsurprisingly, the volume of weapons traded globally in the past 5 years has reached its pick since 1991. In fact, the following countries have experienced the fastest growth in arms and weapons imports since 2012: Ghana (+%1700), Croatia (+%1200), Indonesia (+%452), Slovakia (+%368), Iraq (+%316), Saudi Arabia (+%268) South Korea (+%220) & Poland (+%208). Meanwhile, the current top ten HS-93 importing countries in descending order are the USA ($3.5 b), Saudi Arabia ($1.7 b), the United Arab Emirates ($1.2 b), the United Kingdom ($0.85 b), South Korea ($0.66 b), Indonesia ($0.55 b), Australia ($0.44 b), Canada ($0.38 b), Germany ($0.26 b), & Italy ($0.25 b). The export market, however, is dominated by 3 countries mainly: the USA, China & Russia which together account for over %60 of the total arms and weapons exports worldwide.

Being in the midst of the biggest arms race since the Cold War (1947 to 1991), the total global military expenditure in 2016 alone was $1.68 trillion dollars ($600 per capita) or %2.2 of Global GDP. In other words, some $1,680,000,000,000 worth of financial resources and nations’ wealth – more than the total GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa – was annihilated in a period of only 12 months. Interestingly, some $1.5 trillion or %90 of the total amount has been contributed by a group of 30 nations as illustrated in the following interactive world map.

 

2016 Military Expenditure Worldwide

 

Contributing Factors

A UN-brokered arms treaty came into effect in 2014 but was never ratified by the US. The absence of arms trade regulations and treaties, ever-increasing political instability in many parts of the world combined with America’s unwillingness to be the world’s superpower after its unsuccessful interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan are the three main contributing factors to the global boom in the arms trade. Many countries are now forced to invest in their own security thereby growing their military arsenal. It seems that for the first time after the WWII “only the well-armed can live free” for the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine no longer applies to a group of +30 well-off leaderless nations. Furthermore, unlike the NATO and Marshall Plan agreements put in place to protect the UK, Germany, and France from the Soviet’s military and financial intimidation, there are no concrete military or financial pacts in effect to create and maintain some form of power balance among these pivot states.

What also contributed to maintaining peace after the WWII was the introduction of the Bretton Woods system in 1944 to act as the first universal single currency financial conformity, along with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the establishment of the International Monetary Fund allowing financially troubled countries to take out temporary loans to cover their insolvency. Such international financial treaties strengthened the global trade and participating nations economy thereby reducing the risk of armed conflicts. Global trade, financial aid, and the United Nations diplomatic dispute resolution mechanisms were the three cornerstones of peace and relative prosperity in the years following the WWII.

That being said, the world we live in today is no longer a bipolar NATO vs WARSAW conformity. For instance, China being the largest creditor to the US, often complies with the US financial regime and sanctions against rogue nations despite its longstanding alliance with Russia and other communist allies. In the EMEA region where religious hegemony could be a decisive factor amongst Muslim nations, they too fall short of forming a unanimous financial and military alliance. While the K.S.A. has tried to form a coalition of Sunni nations fronting the I.R.I. backed Shia Crescent, Turkey being the strongest economy in the region continually flip-flops between these two opposing regional forces, daydreaming of the old ways of Ottoman empire instead, when Egypt and Iraq along with some regions of Europe were all part of a unified Turkish empire. The K.S.A. arms’ import has grown by %212 in the past 5 years; it is now the world’s 2nd largest importer mostly because of the Yemen conflict. Turkey too, being a major exporter of arms and ammunition has also experienced %42 growth in arms import due to regional volatility issues namely the Syrian conflict.

The United States’ self-contradictory approach since the establishment of the UN has also contributed vastly to the disappointment of some of its allies as well as the human rights activists. For example, President George H.W. Bush did not take punitive measures in response to the Tiananmen Square (1989) incident due to America’s vast political and economic incentives in China. He perhaps prevented China from isolating itself from global economy by making a compromise, nevertheless the US risked getting heavily criticised by human rights activists both locally and internationally ever since.

Moreover, the UN failed to prevent the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. As a result, the UN adopted a principle in 2005 known as The Responsibility to Protect – (R2P)according to which sovereign nations are obliged to ensure the safety of their citizens from war crimes and genocide so in the event of failure the international community must defend the victims through UN military intervention. Nevertheless, only 6 years later the UN again failed to intervene during the 2011 Syrian uprising so the country descended into a bloody civil war mainly because the diplomatic differences between Russia and the US over Syrian crises have proven to be impossible to resolve to this date. Compare the US non-interventionist approach in Syria with its illegitimate invasion of Iraq in 2003 which was based on the notion that Iraq was amassing some vast arsenal of WMD. That incident too along with the invasion of Afghanistan descended both countries into a 2 decade-long civil war with no end in sight. Saddam Hussein was not committing genocide nor was he on the verge of attacking the US; therefore, the invasion of Iraq was utterly illegitimate and contrary to the UN’s R2P commitment. The 2017 Rohingya Muslims’ massacre and the UN’s failure to take action is yet another example of lack of resolve to protect civilians facing genocide and ethnic cleansing when there are no clear incentives involved for the US to intervene.

With the rising threat of Russia planning to expand into Ukraine after invading Crimea, while eyeing other regions of the Eastern Europe, or worse China claiming territory in the South Seas just as North Korea’s nuclear threats and ISIS/ Boko Haram terrorist attacks have become a daily routine, the global security outlooks are not as promising to many world leaders as they should have been. Moreover, given the UN/ US historically unpredictable response to such international predicaments especially when the final verdict rests in the hands of the current inexperienced and erratic administration, it seems like a reasonable decision for many nations to take the matters into their own hands providing the best possible means of defense for their citizens while burning through their limited cash reserves to the point of eliminating subsidies, healthcare, affordable housing, free education and many other social benefits. The world we live in now is increasingly defined by international disarray, ranging from often ignored atrocities to terrorist threats that are used to justify illegitimate wars while the real terrorists run around freely. The global arms race is on again simply because most allies can no longer rely on the western powers to defend them in the event of an attack which is only a single midnight tweet away from turning the nuclear winter’s saga into an unrelenting certainty.

 

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