Russian Military Capability is Far Stronger than its GDP Would Suggest
One of the points I made in three recent posts (link 1, link 2, link 3) was that measuring GDP of a country in USD today, or at pretty much any point after the mid-1990s, is highly misleading since it makes the assumption that the cost of services and products of equivalent quality are identically priced, in USD, all over the world. As many of you know, that is simply not true in 2017- if it was ever so. The price of products and services of equivalent quality vary widely across countries and are often far lower in many supposedly “less affluent” countries than they are in USA. Examples of this phenomena include medications costing 3-10 times less in many European countries than in USA and medical services of equivalent quality in India and Thailand costing only 5-10% (or less) of their cost in USA- as measured in USD.
Consequently, access to many goods and services in many supposedly “less affluent” countries is often equal to, or better, than in USA. But what does any of this has to do with whether the GDP of Russia in 2017 (as measured in USD) has any correlation to its real-life military capabilities? As it turns out.. a whole fucking lot!
I am sure that almost all readers of this post have some across at least one “news” article from some supposedly “reputable” western news outlet which suggests that the GDP of Russia is rather insignificant and comparable to an average west-European countries- when measured in USD. These same presstitutes, I mean “journalists” also tell us that at this rate the Russian economy will collapse and the country will become insignificant and fragment into many pieces. The problem is that they have been writing and saying the same thing since at least 1991- if not earlier.
Sadly for them, their predictions of gloom and doom for Russia have just not come true. In fact, since 2001 living standards and conditions in Russia have gradually improved from their low point of 1997-1998. Today, the economic conditions of average Russians are pretty OK and in many respects are better than those of many Americans living in middle america, especially below the Mason–Dixon line. Could they be better? Sure.. But you can say the exact same things about people living in non-coastal USA. I should note that there is a certain irony that large parts of middle america now look like all those abandoned and ruined soviet-era towns that western “journalists” loved to photograph in the 1990s. I should also remind readers that the near collapse of the Russian economy in the mid-1990s was the laws and policies formulated by eCONomists from Harvard and other ivy-league universities. However, that is an issue best left for a future post.
Coming back to the main subject of this post- we can certainly disagree about the precise causes of this continuous improvement, there is no doubt it did occur and has been sustained since that time. And this brings us to the next, and related, question- How does this correlate with their current military capability? To answer that question- let us look at a bit of history. As many of you know, between 1917 and 1991, Russia was that main constituent of the Soviet Union aka USSR. As you might also remember, soviet-era Russia was also a military superpower- with way more than enough nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to destroy the world a few times over, not to mention a very large conventional army and airforce. In other words, it is clear that even soviet-era Russia was more that capable of developing and manufacturing humoungous numbers of contemporary weapons and fielding a large and organized army (and other armed forces) which could use them.
And this leads us the question of whether the amount of USD spent on weapons by a country has any correlation with their real-life military capability. I am sure that many of you have seen some version of the chart from 2013 posted below this paragraph. The gist of it is that USA spends way more money (as measured in USD) on its armed forces than many other countries in the world. Now, we can look at this data in two ways. American jingoists might see this as proof of their overwhelming military superiority over the rest of the world, largely because they think that weapons of equivalent quality and effectiveness cost the same all over the world. Cynics like me might see this an example of delusional people spending obscene amounts of money on something that has a history of poor performance. I mean.. what does it say about a country which spends about 700 billion a year on defense and yet cannot win against poorly organized insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan?
The military capability of USA, like its healthcare system , is largely about presenting the appearance of competence and ability- while delivering something that is mediocre and very expensive. It is well known that USA has been unable to win a decisive military victory over any semi-competent nation since the end on WW2. Furthermore, a lot of the budget and military resources of USA is spent on maintaining the pretense of a global empire. To put it another way, it is the defense budget of USA (and not other countries) which presents a false picture of its real-life capabilities. In contrast to that, the military budgets of countries which make most of their own weapon systems (like Russia and China) underestimates their real-life capabilities. This is especially so with Russia, which has a large pre-established human and industrial base, to make them on a very large scale.
Then there is the issue of nuclear weapons and ICBMs + launch platforms, of which Russia has a rather large number. I should point out that the infrastructure for making nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles + their launch platforms while expensive to build from scratch, already exist in Russia. So they just keep on cranking out a few more and maintain the ones the thousands they already possess. It is also no secret that any open-ended war with Russia would sooner or later turn into a nuclear one, and well.. regardless of other subsequent events would definitely result in the obliteration of USA as an entity for all times to come. In other words, comparing the defense spending of USA and Russia as measured in USD to draw actionable conclusions about their relative real-life capabilities is highly misleading and incredibly dangerous.
What do you think? Comments?