Thursday, February 18, 2010

Against All Odds

America's futile campaign for military hegemony

Americans use almost five times as much energy per capita as does the average human inhabitant of the globe. Yes, the United States does produce much more per capita than the rest of the world, but not five times as much (US GDP per capita, about 32K; World GDP per capita, about 7K); and the country does not distribute its surpluses equitably, anyhow. The US also produces greenhouse gasses at a substantially higher rate per capita than the rest of the world, making it a principal culprit in climate change. (Readers can find the source for this data here.)

All of this means that a good portion of the world has no reason to be okay with the United State's disproportionate share of energy consumption, or its disproportionate contribution to environmental damage, or its lack of commitment to global equity. Of course, because the United States is also the globe's only military superpower most other countries only politely object to American greed or, even, curry favor by pretending not to notice. Only a very few countries and a few non-governmental organizations like, say al Qaeda or the Taliban, are openly hostile.

But for several reasons, the status quo is not sustainable. The U.S. is currently spending more than $1 trillion every year to maintain its mighty military machine. The country's annual budgeted spending (excluding wars and several other significant expenditures) is currently over $600 billion per year, almost 40% of budgeted global military spending, but because many national economies are industrializing and growing rapidly, the United States will find it increasingly expensive to maintain its current military advantage. And because military deficit spending is a huge contributor to the US national debt, the country will spend between $1.5 to $2 trillion over the next decade on interest payments attributable to that spending.

In decades to come more countries will become hostile to American appropriation of energy resources that need to be shared, and to American consumption habits and greenhouse gas production that have damaging environmental consequences, but the country will not be able to afford the escalations in military power and spending necessary to maintain the status quo.

Wouldn't it make more sense to recognize the inevitable, to concede that 400 million people will not be able to force 7 billion people to accept an unfair distribution of wealth and resources? Wouldn't it make more sense to reorganize our own economy to address inequity and inequality here at home and to prepare ourselves to be an equal partner in a world that will have no choice but to begin sharing both benefits and burdens equally?

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