While researching data on who would win
a war between
Canada and Australia, I came across some head turning
In 2009, the United States spent $661bn on military
expenditures, the highest in the world and 43% of the world
figure surpasses what the next fourteen nations (China,
France, United Kingdom, Russia, Japan, Germany, Saudi
Arabia, India, Italy, Brazil, South Korea, Canada,
Australia, and Spain
in that order) spend combined.
Three of those fourteen are best
friends with the United States, six are good friends, and
three more are friends the U.S would have over to dinner
once a month.
The two nuclear acquaintances on that list, Russia and
China, can't even be called a serious military threat.
In a non-nuclear conflict, China and Russia would be
no match for the United States.
We won't bother discussing a nuclear war.
No nation with some sort of real economy would have
anything to gain using nuclear weapons.
There is no victory with mutual destruction assured
on both sides.
The United States spends more, as a
percentage of GDP (4.3%), than most other nations.
China outlays just 2%, Russia 3.5%.
Spending a large percentage of one's gross domestic
product does not turn one into a military superpower.
Saudi Arabia spends 8.2%, Israel 7%, and Eritrea a
None of those countries are superpowers.
To have a chance at becoming a superpower, a country
needs to have a sizeable GDP to begin with.
That rules out countries with tiny populations like
Singapore, Israel, and Norway.
On top of a hefty GDP, a notable real
world prerequisite is a GDP per capita, adjusted for
purchasing power parity, in the world's top 20.
GDP per capita is a misleading figure to determine
average citizen wealth in countries which have little wealth
redistribution, as I discuss
standard of livings in the United States and Australia.
But it is a reliable enough gauge to classify nations
as developed, developing, or third world.
Logically, a developing or third world nation cannot
be a superpower.
Whether you use figures from the International
Monetary Fund, the World Bank, or the CIA World Factbook,
the United States scores in the top 10 for GDP per capita.
By these measures, we know the former Soviet Union
was never a real superpower.
In 1990, the last full year the Soviet Union existed,
it had a GDP per capita (adjusted for purchasing power) of
United States' figure that year was $23,060.
The Soviet's superpower status was illusory.
The country never had the second largest economy in
the world the textbooks told us it did.
When the USSR collapsed, this fact was evident to
Besides economic and military might, a
superpower must be able to project its influence abroad
The Soviet Union was never able to do this.
They had military alliances with other Iron Curtain
nations, but these alliances were forced into place by the
Forcing influence down other nations' throats only
works in the short run.
The peoples of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland,
Estonia, etc. were never behind these alliances.
When the Soviet Union dissolved, all of these former
Warsaw Pact countries ran in the opposite direction.
The United States is in another league.
It doesn't force other nations to learn its language,
as the Soviet Union forced its "allies" to learn Russian.
The U.S. doesn't pressure the world to listen to its
pop songs, watch its movies, and eat its high
cholesterol/high fat fast foods.
The world's citizenry want to.
The U.S. doesn't point a gun to country's heads and
command them to join longstanding U.S.-dominated military
Those who were victims of aggression in the past are happy
to join hands with the U.S.
This is why China, Japan, Russia, India, or Brazil
can never become true superpowers like the U.S. is now.
Even if all of them accumulated phenomenal wealth and
military might, none of them have easily mass exportable
already seen that wealth (Norway) and military power alone
(Soviet Union, Nazi Germany) don't make a superpower.
Other nations must both fear and genuinely admire a
their own accord, nations must want to be buddies and
partners with the superpower.
Being a superpower has great benefits
for the American government.
As the largest economy in the world, with
individual American states producing as much as entire
nations and American regions equivalent to the Chinese,
Japanese, German, and British economies, the United States' dollar has become the world's
only reserve currency.
This makes it (too) easy for the U.S. government to
borrow money at lower interest rates
-- even at negative
interest rates if the U.S. government winds up devaluing the
dollar further -- than would otherwise be possible.
A smaller economy would find itself more at the mercy
of international banking institutions.
|Entire country's economies fit into individual
Superpower status confers the U.S. the
clout to setup military bases around the world, from
Bulgaria and Germany in Europe to Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, South
Korea, and Japan in Asia.
In some of these countries, like Korea, the local
government bears the lion's share of expenses.
These are not military partnerships, but more like
uneven trades, with the understanding that if a smaller U.S.
friendly nation wants U.S. military support, it had better
accommodate the U.S. as the American government sees fit.
The more a country desires a U.S. military presence,
the less the U.S. government has to give up to obtain or
setup a base.
But as far as the American people are
concerned, funding superpower status is like an additional
tax for which they derive no exclusive benefit.
The huge U.S. expenditures on defense allow any
nation firmly underneath the U.S. security umbrella to
Survival Of The
Unfittest, I chronicled how little Australia and Canada
spend on the military.
Well, they're not alone.
Within NATO, excepting the UK, France, Greece, and
Poland, all of whom spend between 2.0
and 2.5% of GDP on defense, every other member spends
less than 2%.
Ditto for ANZUS. New Zealand coughs up 1.1% and
Ireland's and Japan's military budget is less than 1% of
GDP. This is
classic free rider economics.
There's no incentive for any one nation in the
alliance to put up its 'fair' share for defense when they
know Uncle Sam has their backs.
It's as if global defense has been outsourced to the
United States for practically no cost, an unbelievable deal
for those not paying.
If the United States were viciously
attacked by a foreign power, American allies, bound by
treaties stating an attack on one is an attack on all, would
be obligated to send troops.
Would the United States need them?
It's hard to fathom a situation where Holland,
Australia, Spain, or Ireland sending a few hundred or few
thousand troops each would alter any outcome.
On the other hand, if Holland, Australia, Spain, or
Ireland were attacked, U.S. involvement could well mean the
difference between victory and defeat.
Remember the wars in Iraq?
Yeah, we all know by now it wasn't about promoting
democracy, but about securing supplies of oil in one of the
most oil-rich regions in the world.
In the 1991 Gulf War outing, the U.S. contributed
between 575,000 and 697,000 troops.
Of America's mainstream buddies, the UK sent 45,000
and France 18,000 to the Coalition of the "Willing."
After them, the freeloading becomes shockingly
Canada sent 4,500, Italy 1,200, Australia 700, Holland 700,
Sweden 525, Denmark 100, New Zealand 100, and Norway 50.
The best deal going would have been to not
participate at all since the rewards of lower world oil
prices would still be available to all.
But free riding allies know they have to appear
to be making some effort to back U.S. initiatives if
they, at some future date, are in need of U.S. assistance.
Sweden and, even more so, Switzerland are free
rider nations par excellence.
They're both officially neutral and not part of NATO
(Switzerland is not even in the European Union) which means
they don't have to contribute troops and cash to any
yet if some rogue Eastern European power went marching
across Europe set on continental domination, NATO, with the
US, would spring to Switzerland's and Sweden's assistance.
Americans shoulder a disproportionate share of the
costs of policing the world (or more accurately, shaping
circumstances to fit the current world order) with the
benefits getting shared among many.
U.S. workers are
the world's most productive, yet the average American
doesn't enjoy a standard of living commensurate with other
industrialized nations. Mr.
American gets stuck with a huge public debt-- 59% of GDP--
with little to show for it, while the average European has
his college education paid for or heavily subsidized and
receives medical insurance and sometimes generous
A Swedish citizen can opt to live and work abroad for
his entire working life.
At retirement age, despite having paid no tax to
Sweden, he is eligible to return home and have the
government take care of him.
It doesn't work that way with Uncle Sam.
An American not living in America, making his living
in enterprises not associated with or in America, is still
liable to pay American income tax on anything above
US$91,500 in exchange for getting to enjoy none of the
meager services the American government provides.
I've long maintained that the best
person to be in a kingdom isn't the king.
It's the king's brother. The king gets to enjoy the
perks of a palace, servants, extravagant meals and travel,
but so does his brother.
The king always remains in the public eye.
He gives up the life of a free man to serve the
brother can lead a private life.
He doesn't get criticized for his decisions or
threatened with assassinations.
And so it is in the kingdom of the superpower that
the nations which derive the greatest benefit are the
superpower's brothers and relatives.
The relatives in this case would be Japan, Sweden,
Switzerland, and most NATO allies, all of whom benefit off
America's political and economic power.
The brothers are the nations that also coast off
America's cultural power.
The British spread the English language
all over the world, such that by 1922, a quarter of the
world's population was part of the British Empire.
It was the Americans, however, who made it cool to
learn and speak English.
The United States, as the pre-eminent power after
World War II, pumped its affluent culture all around the
world and got others, of their own volition, to embrace
English as the lingua franca doesn't just benefit the
United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Ireland
(and to a much lesser extent, South Africa, Singapore, and
India who use English as one among several official
languages) benefit, too.
Fellow Anglophones, who don't just
share a language with the superpower but a culture, find it
easier to do business with and in the superpower.
The US is the single biggest investor in the UK and
Australia, and the UK is the single biggest investor in the
US. Ireland, as
a tax haven and English-speaking nation, is America's nation
of choice for setting up European branches and call centers.
The syrup concentrate for 70% of Coca Cola's 1.5bn
drinks served a day originates in Ireland.
The US shares intelligence and signals intelligence
with the four English-speaking countries of Canada, the UK,
Australia, and New Zealand.
These are the only four nations the US has officially
declared it does not spy upon.
Why spy on a nation
when its interests are virtually aligned with your own?
The moral here for the aspiring
rich nations of the world: be
on good terms with a superpower and preferably speak the
same language and have a similar culture to a superpower,
but for heaven's sakes, DON'T BE ONE!
The position is vastly overrated and costly and
hardly worth it.
Ask the indebted American people.
The huddled masses yearning to breathe free would be
less tired and less poor if they'd immigrated somewhere