I wonder if economics is making war obsolete, at least for the larger countries. Waging war is just too damned expensive, even if your enemy lives in mud huts. If you're looking for the silver lining to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, here it is: They prove once and for all that the occupier doesn't come out ahead even by "winning."

It makes more sense to turn off the economic spigot to any country that starts to look threatening to its neighbor. Arguably, the United States is already in a war with Iran, but it takes the form of developing alternative fuels. When Iran can no longer find much of a market for its oil, it will have to start being a lot friendlier. The same goes for the United States. The next President of The United States (probably Obama) will be projecting a new humility thanks to a crippled economy.

North Korea has been defeated economically, for all practical purposes. So was the Soviet Union. Venezuela is getting less cocky as the price of oil plummets. China has become zero threat to the U.S. because of economic interests.

Terrorism is still the wild card. But the end of oil will put more of a dent in terrorism than any war could.

In the old days you could make a profit from a good war, thanks to pillaging and slavery. Those days have passed. Switzerland has one of the highest standards of living in the world.

I think the age of big war has passed.
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Oct 22, 2008
You left out the other 'wild-card' ........THE RACE WAR. This is soon to become reality, and it will be a big war. Kids are already fighting this war: http://wcbstv.com/local/hempstead.high.school.2.845791.html
We should all be hording food and bullets.
Oct 22, 2008
The problem with your premise is what has been causing wars and conflicts since the start of time: human nature. We could've easily brought Iraq into line, without firing a shot, by refusing to buy their oil. So, with the help of the U.N., we did just that. Then the exceptions began, and we bought some oil, so they could buy 'food and medicine' (and send $25,000 to each Palestinian family who sent a son to kill a Jew). Then the cheating began, and our friends the Chinese and others began to buy oil under the table. We tried to isolate Iran the same way, but our enemies, who are trying to gain favor in the region, resist any sanctions we propose.
You rightly observe that the 'occupying' country cannot come out ahead. What we can do, easily, without a lot of financial expense or lives lost, is militarily defeat anyone on earth, with the exception of China and Russia. Let's also avoid those who have nuclear weapons. So, if a dictator steps out of line, we go in, destroy his government, capture or kill him, and leave. Let the people slaughter each other. If we like the guy who comes out on top, we have succeeded. If we don't, go in & do it again.
I'm not talking about every jerkwater despot in the world. Just those who export their terror to any of our allies who cannot defend themselves. The rest of the world doesn't care about Darfur, and we can't police the entire planet.
In a perfect world, all the good guys would keep the bad guys in line. In our world, 2 of the 3 superpowers support the bad guys, and could be considered bad guys themselves, much of the time. They prevent your logical and sensible plan from ever becoming a reality.
Oct 22, 2008
"I think you are mistaken. Sure, the war in Iraq has been terribly expensive for us, but that's only because we have an absurdly high bar of morality that apparently doesn't allow us to take spoils from the countries we defeat. We're spending our money to rebuild the damage we caused Iraq while (as Obama has told us repeatedly) Iraq has an $80 billion surplus. It's as if we were the losers paying them reparations. Nasty countries don't have to fight this way. China can march in and plunder whomever they please with impunity and the loser will pay for it. Russia as well. What I think we've created is a situation where western nations, especially the US see war as too expensive and may hesitate to get involved where our help is needed, while truly evil countries have no such constraints."

This made me think of the World Wars. Didn't the Axis powers have a huge debt to pay? Weren't there reparations that had to be paid to the victors for the cost of the war? Maybe that only happens when you beat an aggressor, which in this case, sadly, is the USA.

I wonder if the US government is billing the new Iraqi government for their police work, holding their enemies at bay while peace is slowly restored.
Oct 22, 2008
"our enemies willl seize upon Obama's inexperience quickly and cause an immediate "international crisis" -- to which Obama will have to respond in an unpopular way, and we'll have to just trust him.

Sounds like Obama has the next big war planned up and ready to go, does it not?"

sounds to me like they're planning on eating popcorn & watching when Israel's "peaceful & tolerant" neighbors try invading again...
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Oct 22, 2008
The theory works fine for a government motivated by economics that functions far more rationally than ours ever could, but what about one motivated primarily by the violent conversion of others to their religion? Just because terroists haven't yet had the power to create what we would consider a "big war" doesn't mean they will never be able to do so, and economic costs would not stop them from doing so.
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Oct 22, 2008
Human lives is more valuable than ever - other people are customers.
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Oct 22, 2008
Couldn't agree more. Since there are no more spoils for the victor, there's not much reason to go to war. Unless, of course, you just have a good hankerin' to obliterate your neighbor because he rubs you the wrong way. But if that were the case (Iraq), we just didn't finish the job.
Oct 22, 2008
That's the power of the mind to rule the world for you.

The powers that be introduced the GATT (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GATT) after World War II for that exact purpose.
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Oct 22, 2008
I do agree that economics (but more to the point the globalized nature of the current economic system) does reduce the chances of large countries going to war against each other. It is interesting to take as example the large exodus of foreign capital from Russia after the Georgia conflict. Despite its large resource stocks Russia cannot fund itself without being able to sell those resources abroad. There does not exist a large economy in the world that can operate in isolation. Any large breach of trust with the world leads to segregation from the global economy and ultimately severely reduce the ability to wage any meaningful war. Which countries have the ability to sway the global majority on who is right or wrong in a conflict is thus critically important and ultimately acts as kingmaker. The loss of this ability (to some extent) is the greatest loss the Bush years have produced.
Oct 22, 2008

It is not economics, but rather the cost of modern warfare.

We spend so much on weapons, equipment, health care for wounded soldiers, contractors, services and the like that warfare is astronomically more expensive than it used to be.

The the value of "pillaging and slavery" has not kept up.

In other words, its not the effectiveness of economic sanctions that has made them more attractive, but rather the crazy costs of war.

Which makes me wonder, why buy all that stuff if its too expensive to use?
Oct 22, 2008
I would argue that your assertion is fundamentally flawed. It is probably true that the economic arguments in favor of war have been more likely to be about preventing loss than direct gain since roughly the era of Attila the Hun. That said, some, and perhaps all, of the wars in the last century (including Iraq) can arguably be economically justified for at least one side. WWII was undoubtedly a huge expense, but how different would U.S. wealth be today if we had never entered it? Impossible to say for sure, but there are certainly people who would argue in favor of a net gain.
Since I suspect your conclusion derives mainly from a statistical sample of 1 (Iraq), so I'll address that specifically; The economic calculation in our campaign in Iraq rests on the arguable assumption that it would lower the risk of further terrorist attacks. The total economic cost estimates of 9/11 have been around 1 trillion lost dollars, The total cost of that campaign have been around 1 trillion dollars, so to make a positive economic case for this campaign, you would have to argue that it has resulted in lowering our terrorist risk factor by the equivalent of one 9/11 (which might mean a fractional risk of something bigger, a plus one risk of several smaller attacks, one 9/11 scale attack, or something in between). Many people would dismiss this gain entirely, but that is the argument, and it's not so easy to simply dismiss it. Based on the knowledge we had before the invasion (no fair using hindsight) the risk factor represented by Saddam's regime was, by any reasonable analysis, pretty high.
This argument is based on many assumed parameters that people will naturally argue wildly about, but there is no empirical evidence to suggest that the argument is fundamentally unsound.
p.s. An alternate scenario would have us overthrow Saddam and then just leave the country. This would absolutely have been far less costly, and some people do argue it would have been more cost effective. Of course, not everyone agrees.
Oct 22, 2008
"History teaches that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap." -- Ronald Reagan (http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1984/11684a.htm)
Oct 22, 2008
I hope you're right on that, but I suspect it's going to be a long road.
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Oct 22, 2008
I'll grant you that it's besides the point here, but it answers another one of your earlier questions:
Switzerland has NOT the highest standard of living anymore, because the swiss bankers bought too many mortgage linked securities...

anyhoo: my two cents to your post are a caveat: humankind thought the age of big wars was gone exactly one hundred years ago... see "Belle Epoque" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belle_Époque )
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 22, 2008
Nations don't start wars, national leaders start wars.

Not only do "people often act against their best interests for reasons of ego," but the leaders of nations often act in their personal interests in opposition to the interests of their nations.

Likewise, wars will continue to be started by leaders who think they know better than their constituencies -- W doesn't mind his 22% approval rating or 75% "headed the wrong way" polls because he believes he will be vindicated by history, and by history he means long-term, well after he, his supporters, and his detractors are all long gone.
Oct 22, 2008
When you have a well developed infrastructure you have too much to loose. Has there ever been a land war between two countries that both had cable TV? I don't think so.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 22, 2008
Scott, you're assuming that people can't be driven to act against their economic best interests for some other reason entirely. I think the evidence should guide one away from that assumption.

To wit - in the USA, which states benefit the most from federal taxes? The "red states" of 2004. These same states vote for the candidates that are most anti-tax. They're guided against their own best interest by other motivations.

The same goes for war. Maybe Iraq is the tipping point, where people actually start to see how the economics of war work against them, but I'm not counting on it. There will always be an "enemy" we can invent and whip up a frenzy against, economics be damned.
Oct 22, 2008
Surely you could think of a better example than Switzerland, whose high standard of living is at least partially due to their laundering stolen money and artifacts for the Nazis during World War II (neutral, my ass).
Oct 22, 2008
"I think the age of big war has passed."

And if it hasn't - then maybe the age of mankind has passed.
Oct 22, 2008
Economic interest is always a strong motivator. I think it's the same reason some conservatives are being won over by the green movement, earth friendly practices often don't just help save the planet, they save money by shipping things shorter distances or using less packaging. Here's hoping you're right about war, unfortunately people often act against their best interests for reasons of ego.
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