The Nature of Provocation
Last week I discussed the world’s oldest equation. In that same spirit of mathematics I wish to discuss some very dangerous math, as in the math between two armed camps. Almost everyone in the west, certainly in the United States, takes it for granted that the U.S. is a “force for good”. Of course Uncle Sam is promoting good and decent values and in the conflict with the Soviets/Russians and now with the Chinese we are only defending those good, decent values.
Additionally, you will hear an almost uniform drumbeat of how we are “behind” both Russia and China and need to “catch up” to them militarily. I heard the same thing from the late 1970s iteration of a group of warmongers called the Committee on the Present Danger. I believed them then, but in my defense, I was 16. Even with my feeble math skills, I know better now.
One main realization that I now understand, is the distinction between provocation and justification. To be justified morally, means you have the right to undertake an action. To be provoked into taking that action is separate and distinct from its justification. As I wrote recently, there are no just wars. That it, there is no justification for military action in today’s world. That does not mean that nations are not provoked into such action.
It is important to grasp this distinction and even more important to know how and why one nation or coalition is provoking another, or how they are mutually provoking each other. This is critical because this knowledge can help us understand what actions we need to take to reduce the destruction of war and the inevitable slaughter of the innocents. Remember it is harm reduction we are going for not some moral utopia; the entire business of “statecraft” is immoral to its core.
To this end it is essential to understand who is pressing forward and who is backfooted. This will tell us much indeed.
Fun Math Facts for Provocateurs
To ascertain who is being more provocative, let’s first look at military spending. As this chart from National Priorities shows, the U.S. accounts for 37% of total global military spending. In fact, the U.S. spends more than the next 7 nations combined, 4 of whom are U.S. allies, and one (India), is nonaligned.
This also likely undercounts total U.S. military related spending, as several important items are in other budgets. There is State Department spending to support the U.S. imperial state. There is the spending on nuclear weapons that is in the budget of the Energy Department. We cannot forget the cost of past military adventures that is wrapped up in the Department of Veteran Affairs. All told the U.S. spends well over $1Trillion on military spending and its related activities.
Now, some will claim that this does not reflect currency differences and the lower cost of goods in nations like Russia and China. O.K. lets look at actual military assets, forces in the field. The most useful one to measure is aircraft carrier battlegroups. This is so because carriers represent the surest way to project force across distance, which is the sine qua non of an aggressive military posture. Keep in mind a carrier battlegroup is comprised of more than just one aircraft carrier. There are several escorts, destroyers, submarines, cruisers and other defense ships and logistic and supply vessels. All told there are up to 10 additional ships. Keep in mind the carrier itself carries 70-80 aircraft, representing a serious level of destructive force.
So, is the U.S. behind in this ability to project force across distance? Not even close. China has 2 carrier battlegroups, Russia has one (relatively old). That’s it for “adversaries” of the U.S. As for U.S. client states, Britain has 2, Italy and France have 1. Nonaligned India has 1, This info comes from here. All in nations other than the U.S. have 8 carrier battlegroups, 4 of those belong to U.S. client states. How does the perpetually “behind” United States stack up? They have 11. More than all the rest combined. Based on the ability to project offensive force, who is provoking who?
Now let’s look at where the forces of various nations are situated. Russia has 15 bases outside of its sovereign territory of Russia, in 10 different nations. Most of these are in former parts of the Soviet Union. Four bases in Syria are the farthest away from Russia that such bases are located. China for its part has even fewer; just 3 bases in three different countries. A detail of this is here.
The United Sates by contrast has approximately 800 military base facilities in over 85 different nations and territories around the globe. It is approximate because some of this information is classified and there have been some restructurings and closures in the past few years that may have consolidated the number downward from closer to 1000.
Also, keep in mind that after the USSR dissolved and the Warsaw Pact disbanded the U.S. agreed not to expand NATO eastward. There is some dispute, but it seems clear that Gorbachev and others were “led to believe” that this was the case. Even if there was no explicit guarantee, the fact that the United States now has troops on Russia’s border can only be considered provocative. Look at this map of the positioning of U.S. forces to see the world from Russia’s and China’s perspective:
Who is encircling who here? No reasonable person can conclude that the forward moving, aggressive provocateur is not the U.S. and its military coalition of modern client states. It is the U.S. led coalition that is pressing forward and pushing on toward an encirclement of Russia and China and doing so with overwhelming military force. Whatever modern name you give it, the reality is that this is the international version of continental U.S. Manifest Destiny. This does not justify any action taken by Russia, or potentially by China. It does, however, bring into sharp relief how dangerous and destabilizing U.S. policy has become.
Working Toward Less Dangerous Math
There is an alternative. We can outright reject this dangerous and provocative math and move toward a saner, less dangerous equation. This does not mean unilateral disarmament or surrender. This simply means moving the United States to a posture whereby the nation defends the nation, and only the nation.
This means a retreat from empire. That means the U.S. focuses on the three things that a nation might possibly justify using force to defend: territorial integrity, sovereignty, and transit on the high seas. This means turning over the defense of places like Europe to the Europeans themselves. This should not be risky as Europe collectively has a greater population than the U.S. and a greater combined GDP.
This means pulling back from the borders of “adversaries” and dismantling the phalanx of bases which so clearly encircle Russia and China. In short, this means becoming a nation among nations. This is a better posture to take morally, it will help salvage U.S. fiscal solvency, and it will lower the risk of a nuclear confrontation.
A policy such as this is also consistent with a strain of U.S. traditions which rejected both entangling alliances as well as the search for monsters abroad to destroy. This strain is best exemplified by George Washington and John Quincy Adams. While neither of these two was a perfectly consistent non interventionists, they were far more circumspect in their desire to see the U.S. actively engaged with other great powers. Compared to today’s advocates for a global U.S. empire, they seem positively isolationist. The point is, there is a strain of American thought that has insights into a more restrained U.S. foreign policy. To embrace this tradition would go a long way to make the U.S. and the world a safer place.
All this requires a sea change in attitude, which does not come easily or quickly. However, this most necessary sea change will not come at all if we do not first look at the math, see who the true provocateur in this equation is and seek a new, saner, safer equation to replace it. None of this current equation honors God, treats our fellows the way we should, or makes anyone safer. We can do better, in God’s name we must make the effort.
Praise Be to God