Thursday, December 27, 2007

Some thoughts on the persistence of war

Arnold Kling (today):

Premise 1: There will always be individuals and groups whose comparative advantage is plunder and extortion. Call them pirates.

Premise 2: Private property ultimately depends on the willingness and ability to use force to defend it. Capitalism that is not backed by the force of arms cannot survive. Peace only prevails where and when the absolute military advantage of the armed capitalists is sufficient to suppress the pirates.

Premise 3: Pirates will always find places, circumstances, and methods with which to challenge armed capitalists.

Conclusion: War is not going to disappear.

WSJ (today):

Before the F-15's problems became so glaring, it was plausible to argue that the plane was adequate to meet current defense needs until the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter -- still in its testing phase -- comes into service sometime in the next decade. But while the Air Force will surely engineer whatever patch the grounded Eagles need to make them airworthy again, it cannot patch the fact that it may be six months or longer before the fleet is back to full operational readiness. This is hardly trivial for a force already strained by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and threats that stretch from the Korean Peninsula to the Horn of Africa.

Nor is there any getting over the fact that the F-15 first flew in 1972 -- long before many of the current crop of pilots were born -- and that the plane is now outclassed by its competitors in the export market. In 2005, a British Eurofighter reportedly defeated two F-15Es in a mock dogfight. Simulated dogfights have also shown that the F-15s are somewhat inferior to Russia's more modern Su-35s.

The issue, then, is whether the U.S needs the best plane in the sky. For all the talk of the F-22 being a legacy of the Cold War, we are far from convinced that the U.S. will forevermore be faced with only Taliban-like adversaries incapable of fielding air forces of their own, or that the era of great power military rivalries is over. Judging by the expensive weapons systems currently being developed in China and Russia (which on Tuesday successfully tested a new ICBM, apparently Vladimir Putin's idea of the Christmas spirit), it seems that neither country has reached that conclusion either.

We cannot predict what kind of adversaries the U.S. will face in the coming decades, but we do know that part of the responsibility of being the world's "sole remaining superpower" is to be prepared for as many contingencies as possible. One prudent way of reducing the threat is to discourage potential adversaries from trying to match America's advantages in numbers and technology. Replacing our faltering Eagles with additional Raptors may be expensive, but allowing our neglect to be exploited by those who wish us harm would be ruinous.

A historical teacher (a couple millenia ago):

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

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