Terror and Military Spending

As the world reeled in shocked horror in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris it unleashed the predictable torrent of emotional outburst so familiar after any large world event. Many people changed their Facebook profile to include an overlay of the French flag on their avatar. Monuments around the world were lit up in the French flag colours and another wave of moral outrage against Islam was unleashed on the internet.

Once again, though, there will be an effort to fight against the symptoms instead of getting to the root of the problem. Each time a world power gets goaded by a small terrorist group they end up stomping around the world, usually the Middle East, snorting and raging against anyone they think is connected to the attacks. This behavior is very predictable and exactly what the terrorists want as it legitimizes their cause and gives them yet more reason to attack the west. In addition, it continues the financial bleeding that a great many of the western countries cannot afford as they are already swimming in debt that they cannot afford.

A small scale guerrilla attack costs comparatively little, perhaps a few lives and whatever it costs to set them up with guns, bomb making materials and the means to get them to the site of the attacks. The Return on Investment is quite substantial, though, as a country that is the site of these attacks usually spends hundreds of billions (trillions?) in the following years in a massive military campaign that may take out a small number of the terrorist organization and cause huge collateral damage in the process, many times wiping out the infrastructure of entire cities leaving the population living in horrific conditions and disillusioning many people making them more likely to join fanatical groups bent on the destruction of the west.

This can continue ad nauseum if we let it and in 100 years we will be no farther ahead than we are today, in fact, the multiple tiny bites of terrorism could cause the west to bleed dry and collapse, resulting in the fall of society as we know it today. However, there is a solution but it wouldn’t be very popular with those who profit from war but would likely save millions of lives.

Imagine, if you will, that the money that is poured into the military campaigns was instead spent on education and infrastructure, not just in the Middle East but everywhere. Improve our school systems here at home and build schools, libraries, playgrounds and recreation facilities around the world. Build infrastructure in population centers in third world countries such as fresh water systems, sewers, electrical grids and improve food production and distribution systems. If something gets blown up or destroyed, rebuild it as many times as necessary. This money was going to be spent on destructive military campaigns anyway so it’s not being wasted even if something that it was used for is destroyed and needs to be rebuilt again. Even if only half of the money spent on military uses were to be used it would still be hundreds of billions of dollars and that would make a huge difference.

If you provide people with a clean healthy environment in which to live and educate them to a level that they can feel empowered and think for themselves they are many times less likely to be disillusioned about their situation and go fight in inhospitable conditions. As more and more people become educated and the standard of living increases it should result in a drop in religious fanaticism which is born out of ignorance and disillusionment.

This does not negate the necessity of military action. Walk softly and carry a big stick, as they say. Military action is a necessary tool in the political handbag but must be wielded with care and responsibility and also with the knowledge that it comes with a heavy cost in money, resources and, most importantly, lives. However, if we can start to divert a small part of the military spending toward social and infrastructure improvement I think we will find that, as conditions improve around the world, there will be less likelihood of radicalization happening in the first place which will result in less need of the military machine, thereby reducing the need for military spending and allowing a greater portion of each country’s spending to be directed toward more constructive projects. Saving money by reducing the problem in the first place saves a lot more money than by trying to treat the symptoms afterward.