The Rising Cost of War will Implode the American Empire

Most empires fail due to a small set of basic but systemic flaws. Some of my previous posts, such as this one, mention the most universal of these basic reasons. However technological developments in the last 60 odd years have opened up another possibility, which could synergize with the older reasons.

The rising cost of waging wars along with their increasingly dismal returns.

To understand this concept it is necessary to see war as a business which intends to “profit” through the extraction of more resources than are put into it- and even a brief look at history shows that large-scale wars are always waged for looting and profiteering rather than settling any differences based on ideologies or culture.

War is Business.

Therefore the success or failure of any war, and by extension the country engaged in it, is linked to the investment-to-profit (direct and indirect) ratio. That is why UK lost WW2 though it was nominally on the victorious side. The USSR lost the cold war for an almost identical reason.

So what does this mean for the USA?

Well.. for a long time- a series of geographical, historical and technological reasons kept the USA from getting a prolonged negative return on its investment in war. Indeed the same was once true for European colonial powers during the 1700-1800s when they had a series of advantages over many native people. Colonialism was only possible because European countries were able to field guns and modern armies against poorly organized people with vastly inferior technology.

But then things changed.. As technology and weapons diffused throughout the colonized world, European powers often found themselves on the receiving end of their own innovations. This is especially important as colonialism requires a non-existent or subjugated native population to go about raping the resources of a newly conquered land. Even small amounts of medium quality armed resistance changes colonialism from a source of profit to an expensive mistake.

Let me explain this with a few contemporary examples-

1. What is the cost and availability of an RPG-7 or one of its improved variants? and what is the cost of the stuff a good hit can take out? Most sources put the cost of an RPG-7 type setup with a few rounds at barely 2,000 USD. In contrast a single APC or transport vehicle of any type costs hundreds of thousands, if not a couple of million dollars. Note that an upgraded RPG-7 is still infinitely cheaper than the armor that can resist an older RPG-7 warhead.

2. What about the cost of two stolen 50-pound high explosive shells converted into a makeshift IED? Such devices can cause economic damage that is thousands of times higher than their cost. Heck, the cost of rehabbing 4-5 survivors of closed head injuries easily exceeds a million dollars. Let me take this one step further- the cost of resources used to disarm a shitty IED far exceeds its construction costs.

3. Even the cost of hiring people who will operate such weapons against the USA in Iraq or Afghanistan is much less than recruiting, training and supporting an US soldier or private contractor- and they are far more willing to take casualties than the US armed forces. If anything ,that region has more than enough people who will consider dying to kill an “infidel” an honor.While they may never win against the US armed forces in any open confrontation, they can wear out their opponents- both psychologically and financially.

The real kicker is that the money spent on fighting such wars does not create returns which exceed the sum of investments.

The USA was able to fund such unprofitable wars for a long time because it had certain advantages such a productive economy that made stuff, citizens who believed in the system and no real counterweight since the cold war ended. Being able to control and issue the worlds reserve currency also helped. But things change and what today many of the advantages that allowed the USA to fight unprofitable wars are either gone or rapidly eroding. However the attitude of those who decide and those who support them has not yet caught up with the new reality. But it will- one way or the other.

Comments?

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14 Responses to The Rising Cost of War will Implode the American Empire

  1. Columnist says:

    The real reason for these wars is to direct Christian anger and resources against Muslims, instead of against Secularists at home.

    • polloi says:

      “If anything ,that region has more than enough people who will consider dying to kill an “infidel” an honor.While they may never win against the US armed forces in any open confrontation”

      Consider the situation other way around. Just like AD said above, a considerable number of Muslims have sufficient hatred of Christians that they are willing to fight and die knowing they will never win.

      • Columnist says:

        polloi :
        Consider the situation other way around. Just like AD said above, a considerable number of Muslims have sufficient hatred of Christians that they are willing to fight and die knowing they will never win.

        Sure, because Islam is nowadays suffused with anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism, Muslims are far more Anti-Christian and Anti-West than thousand years ago.

  2. Nestorius says:

    While they may never win against the US armed forces in any open confrontation, they can wear out their opponents- both psychologically and financially.

    So they still have the upper hand despite these loopholes. It’s just a matter of internal affairs.

    • polloi says:

      Columnist: “Muslims are far more anti-Christian and anti-west than thousand years ago”

      My response, but why? Is it their inability to come out of their doctrinaire past? Christianity today is much milder and much better reformed than a thousand years ago. I mean much less hateworthy.

      You mentioned anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism.

      My response: What colonialism? This is 21 century. Colonialism is a part of history. In India at least three generations have been born and grown up with freedom from colonialism. No body is colonized in the last 100 years. We have a black man in the Whitehouse. Let me add, we have a genuine American black woman as First Lady. Thank goodness.

      About imperialism: Imperialism is a fact of history. Some nation is going to dominate the world scene. Without value judgement, let me say live with it, deal with it. You don’t see any Arab imperialism or Muslim imperialism today?

      Thanks for the opportunity to rant.

  3. Religion is not a decisive element here.
    We see the same principles at work equally in the rice paddies of Vietnam as in the mountains of Afghanistan.

    Just as poor countries have a lower cost of labor, human life itself is also far cheaper. The greatest strength these people have is a surplus of desperate, uneducated, uninformed men with nothing to lose, who are more susceptible to local social pressure from family and elders.

    As is pointed out, it’s cost ineffective even to disarm roadside devices.
    In a previous era, commanders who understood this well would send their most expendable flunkies down the road anyway and let them get blown up. The logical thing to do is to take a few casualties and move on. For the survivors, expensive medical procedures would be out of the question. Medics would have to do their best to patch up blast victims with simple field equipment. And bodies are simply troops who will never again require food or equipment. Bodies generally respawn more quickly than any war kills them off. No problem.

    Now, the shock troops from wealthy countries are volunteers, too well informed, too well educated, not desperate enough for rational battlefield techniques to be possible.
    You need an informed citizenry to have a productive economy, but the same people make it impossible to wage a cost effective war. They are too able to look after their own best interests.

    What we believe to be ‘conventional’ warfare is no longer conventional. What we call ‘modern’ warfare has become archaic.

  4. Mr Stricter says:

    The real kicker is that the money spent on fighting such wars does not create returns which exceed the sum of investments.

    I think this is the most important point in the entire article as if effects all warfare everywhere. War is too costly for the returns. This suggests that most war mongering states will turn on their own people for alt least a little while but again the the cost factor rises incredibly fast and these days as brittle as the economy is a a sure loser of strategy.

    Time for a change.

  5. Mr Stricter says:

    GD, that was a good article. Thanks.

    You (I assume its your blog) make a really excellent point here as well …

    If a nation is unwilling or unable to move in overwhelming force and is unable to cost effectively fight a given population, victory through greater technology is not a likely outcome. Without a conventional military opponent, there can be no conventional victory.

    Now in theory a nation state could go full on genocide, something akin to the Operation Samson strategy the Israelis are alleged to have, only on offense Full on ERRB (enhanced radiation, reduced burst) , so called neutron bombs and mass use of chemicals and EMP weapons are perfectly suitable for mass kill strategies.

    They are politically impossible, no one in a any nation that is not a totalitarian dictatorship would stand for it .

    Also the risk of backlash and the breaking of the “far too scary to use” barriers is very high. Also as our host pointed out War is a Business or these days an arm of it, not much point in mass kill when it destroys international trade for well decades at least (ultra high distrust) and of course the dead buy nothing.

    As Smedley Butler once said “War is a Racket” and in this mans opinion, near worn out.

    • Columnist says:

      What if the shoe were on the other foot, the Muslims having bomber planes, submarines, aircraft carriers etc. and the Americans having RPGs and IEDs?

      Why doesn’t America shift to 5th gen warfare, and learn its soldiers Pashto, for starters?

    • Yes that, is my blog, one of several I write under a couple of different names.

      Before it became politically impractical(most of history) genocidal tactics were ordinary.

      The 20th century marked not the invention of genocide but its industrialization.

      Defeated tribes have been exterminated since before Homo sapiens.

      Genocidal policies are discussed in a matter of fact fashion in the Old Testament. Clearly no one thought it was anything unusual.

      In Ancient times, one might consider some of the actions taken by the Romans over the vanquished.
      Consider the Jewish diaspora. After three or four major revolts the Romans had enough of them and pretty much killed any Jews living in the Levant and Egypt who didn’t manage to flee.
      Or one might consider how Mithridates VI of Pontus pretty much exterminated all Roman citizens his armies could find in Asia Minor….
      This was pretty much business as usual for anyone who had power.

      “The problem with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots.”
      It takes pre-school level reasoning to figure this out.

      But today without the genocide(or at least killing off all males) option easily available, it’s that much harder to make war profitable.

  6. Mr Stricter says:

    Columnist :
    What if the shoe were on the other foot, the Muslims having bomber planes, submarines, aircraft carriers etc. and the Americans having RPGs and IEDs?
    Why doesn’t America shift to 5th gen warfare, and learn its soldiers Pashto, for starters?

    Aside from the inherent difficulties and risks of trying to convert a military its utterly pointless.

    These are wars of choice not necessity.

  7. MeMyselfI says:

    Reminds me of the old “No war for oil” (false) accusation…

    … if only it had been true. We could use the money (cheap oil).

  8. Pingback: Linkage is Good for You: Ice Cold Edition

  9. AndrewV says:

    AD says:

    The real kicker is that the money spent on fighting such wars does not create returns which exceed the sum of investments.

    From the Guardian UK:

    The costly errors of America’s wars
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/jul/25/us-foreign-policy-war

    After ten years, $4tn and thousands of lives, the US needs an exit from the depressing impasse of its militarised foreign policy

    Wonder when that will happen?

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