A friend of mine wrote his college senior thesis about how the existence of McDonald's fast food restaurants in other countries meant the United States would never find itself in an all out war with those particular countries. The belief being that capitalistic countries don't war on each other. The fact that McDonald's has locations in about 121 countries including Russia and China should make everyone sleep better at night knowing that the Big Mac is staving off any potential war. Yet, my friend's thesis didn't mention the space between peace and all out war includes things such as a Cold War.
We are certainly in a very uncertain world with many scenarios existing in that space. What's the number one threat to U.S. security? The vacuum in the Middle East being filled by ISIS? The rebuilding of “Mother Russia” through annexation? Our southern border security, and the drug cartels? Chinese expanding influence and military buildup?
I'd start with $17 trillion dollars – the current amount of our ever-expanding national debt. The government is also on the hook for about $55 trillion in unfunded programs such as Social Security and Medicaid. The U.S. debt is projected to be over 90% of our GDP in the next eight years (not including unfunded liabilities).
Our financial situation factors into any scenario we might face. The situation in Ukraine has been in the news almost daily, as has commentary on Putin's true intentions on former Eastern Block countries. Specific events from the Malaysian Flight 17 to Ukrainian attack of a Russian convoy are all an interconnected chain of events having many possible outcomes that don't necessarily involve all out war, but would likely require United States involvement. We're already re-engaging with Iraq, performing humanitarian airdrops and striking ISIS. Many argue that our role has been far too little and too late. Can we financially sustain protracted involvement a la Northern Watch or full re-engagement like in 2003?
Looking west to the Pacific, we face a China that has spent several years becoming more capitalist and expanding its influence and military strength. Japan, a traditional adversary to China, remains reliant on U.S. intervention. This is especially true since they failed to reach a consensus on updating Article Nine of their Constitution, which maintains the pacifist defense positions adopted after WWII. Japan also faces an anemic economy where its wealth is being exceeded by its debt. A pacifist defense stance plus a weak economy means that the U.S. will be on the hook for a long time as Japan's defender.
Our obscene national debt coupled with a weak U.S. dollar, continued budget deficits despite sequestration, further defense budget cuts, and a lackluster economic recovery add up to the fact that the United States is not sitting in a position of financial strength. At the end of the day we have to be able to pay for our national defense.
The financial likelihood that we could sustain a prolonged conflict like the one we've been engaged for the past decade but against a first-world adversary is unlikely. Especially, to those of us still serving as we watch our readiness erode under defense cuts that target specifically our daily operations & training, manpower, and procurement budgets. So, I hope my friend's thesis is correct about McDonald's, but even another Cold War would be taxing financially at a time where we appear out of breath.
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