The recession and fiscal deficits have ensured that most governments are cutting down defense spends with a vengeance. Sample recent news that have come up
1) UK Government to cut 8% from its defense budget over the next 4 years. Job cuts ranging from 25,000 in MoD to 5,000 in the RAF & Navy. Cuts in aircraft models
2) French Government to cut military spending $6B
3) German Government to reduce military spendings by $10B, primarily by reducing orders on their aircrafts
So on and so forth, from a lot of other governments. So, is world peace really in our grasp?
Isn’t that as expectation as naive as it can get. For starters, the world biggest military spender, the US has gone on steadily increasing its military budget (even though SecDef Robert Gates wants to cut it down to size) as well as supplying more and more arms to other nations (As I write this, I come across an article that the US is supplying $60B arms to the Saudis)(To put the US military spending in perspective, US accounts for over 45% of total global military expenditure with China,a distant second at 6%). China & India keep on adding to their military capabilities and modernize their armed forces, not naming each other as the reason but alluding to each other enough, to justify (in their eyes) the buildup.
However, there are 2 factors, one major and one not-so-major, that causes any optimism which would be generated from the recent spate of defense cuts to vanish.
The major factor, being terrorism. The wars of the recent past (Desert Storm for example) with complex aerial bombings and massive infantry, belong pretty much, to the past. With nukes pretty much dime a dozen (Ok, I am exaggerating but I am going by what Travolta says in Swordfish “Did you know that I can buy nuclear warheads in Minsk for forty million each? Hell, I’d buy half a dozen and even get a discount!”), any nation that is going to face the prospect of losing a conventional war, is going to ensure a one way trip to Armageddon, by depressing a single red colored button (note to self: stop watching too many war movies). Terrorism on the other hand is a different beast, a hydra with multiple heads, and with no clear rules of engagement. The armies to counter terrorism would probably have to be self contained small groups with a clear command and communication structure, armed with small arms. The usual tactic of aerial bombardment is not the way forward as the US has learnt (hopefully) from its experiences in Afghanistan & Iraq. This being the case, no longer would defense budgets be bloated by armaments that would not be needed. It would have to serve the cause of hunting of terrorists though of course a minimum airforce, navy and army presence would be required to serve as a deterrent. So, all the cut in defense budget is not necessarily adding up to world peace, harmony and all that jazz
Which brings me back to the second not-so-major factor which can become a worrying trend in the future. The rise of private security companies (PSCs) (just a consult like term for mercenaries, with of course, more firepower and more pay). Lets face it, with military downsizing, where would these people, who have spent a good part of their life fighting go. Private security companies are a great place to get absorbed. The fact that they are better paymasters than the government is another motivator. These companies have been performing multiple roles all over the globe, ranging from personal protections services to securing facilities to aid distribution. In Iraq, private security companies were often playing the kind of roles that the military was supposed to perform, getting involved in quite a few firefights. This burgeoning power of PSCs has led to random enforcement of the law and Wikileaks actually highlights the atrocities and abuses perpetuated by PSCs. Blackwater Group, one of the companies named in the Iraq War Document leak has been paid over $300 Mn for their services from 2004. Most of these PSCs have their own training complex where they spend a large amount of time training their recruits to peak performance. Supposing the US government sees no role for these companies in Iraq & Afghanistan, where would these companies turn to manage their revenue streams. Easily, to the highest bidder. What is then going to prevent them from being used to overthrow shaky governments or as a covert strike force used for clandestine mission. Its not like all PSCs are at all times indulging in shady activities. PSCs do a lot of good too. But it does bear mentioning that they need to be held on a very tight leash.
Getting back to the title of post, it is a play on the Superman Returns Movie (2006) in which Lois Lane wins a Pulitzer for writing an article on “Why the world does not need a Superman”, until realizing at the end of the movie that the world needs a Superman and on the immortal Tony Stark dialog from Iron Man 2, “I have successfully privatized world peace”. The emergence of PSCs as a legitimate and lucrative money making operation coupled with the so-called localized spheres of war with terrorist, kind of puts Tony Stark’s statement in shade as it is in the benefit of PSCs to ensure conflict are never extinguished and terrorism can never really be extinguished. As they say, one country’s freedom fighter is another country’s terrorist. World peace cannot be successfully privatized and while the world does require not just one but many Iron Men, they are just not the solution to world peace.
Sources: BBC, Rueters, Global Issues.org, Wiki (of course)