In his memoirs, Mikhail Gorbachev recounts the following conversation:
I met with Mr Nixon, and he said to me then: I have grounds to say, on the basis of my vast political and life experience, that the search for the ghost of superiority has taken us too far. Now we do not know how to break away from the mounded stockpiles of nuclear weapons. All this is complicating and poisoning the situation in the world.
The Ghost of Superiority is the wraith that keeps 5,000 nuclear weapons in the US arsenal and 4,000 more that could easily be rebuilt from available materials at an annual maintenance cost of $50 billion. Yet, no nuclear weapon has been used in 65 years, nor has their possession been of any benefit in war, as the US discovered in Vietnam and the USSR in Afghanistan. Today, any nation that used even a single one would, in the unlikely event it survived retaliation, be branded the greatest enemy of humanity in history.
The Ghost keeps a firm grip on conventional military spending too. The US accounts for 46.5% of total annual global military expenditure. We have more active servicemen and women, at 1.58 million, than any nation except China, with its much larger population. (The percentage of active service personal to 1000 population is 5.1 here, compared to 1.7 in China.) We possess the most large fighting ships—aircraft carriers, cruisers, and destroyers. We are number one in fighter aircraft such as bombers, fighters, and attack aircraft. Overall, we spend more than $700 billion a year to maintain our military superiority.
And we don't have any enemies. A nation-state can only have other nation-states as enemies. Of our old enemies, the Soviet Union is 20 years gone, and if China is still Red, it's only as a fashion statement. North Korea? Here is Kim Il Sung's response to a question by New York Congressman Stephen Solarz in 1991:
What's the use of a few nuclear weapons? In 10,000 years' time we couldn't have as many nuclear weapons as you. Assume that we are producing nuclear weapons and have one or two nuclear weapons? What's the point? They'd be useless. If we fire them, they will kill the Korean people.
North Korea would like nothing more than to be our friend so they could benefit from the aid the country so desperately needs. They just want us to leave their political system alone. The same was true of Iraq before we invaded and Iran today. The plain fact is that no country wants foreign soldiers on its soil except in the direst emergency, and even then they don't want them for long.
Sure, there are individuals and small groups that hate the United States, (or more accurately, their own perverted and distorted view of us). But the blunt weapon of military force is a poor and extraordinarily expensive way to protect ourselves. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated that our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will end up costing $3 trillion including long-term medical treatment for US military casualties. Hans Blix, a veteran Swedish diplomat, recounted the following story to American author Richard Rhodes:
After the (2003 Iraq) war, Kofi Annan (then UN Secretary General) and I sat down and estimated the cost of disarming Iraq by inspection versus disarming by war. We estimated that inspection would have cost $80 million—and would have worked as well.
Here's the punchline. This election season the Republicans are clamoring to cut the federal budget deficit by eliminating discretionary social programs and economic stimulus. The Democrats, who favor these programs, are running scared. Their best chance of success lies not in their accomplishments, but in the extreme positions and antics of some of their opponents. Yet the way to reduce the deficit while maintaining and even enhancing such much- needed programs as infrastructure improvements, broadband expansion, and job creation is staring us right in the face: cut military spending. Even if we just brought costs back to the levels of the Clinton years—which, by the way, was the last time the federal budget was balanced—the annual saving would be more than $300 billion. The Bush Administration failed to win any of its wars, but it succeeded brilliantly in creating an atmosphere of terror and fear. As a result, we are so haunted by the Ghost of Superiority that our politicians can't even discuss the defense budget, let alone bring it within reasonable bounds.