Plows or Swords?
In the very first lecture in any introductory economics course, the student is quickly made aware that the world resources are limited, and therefore, not all desires (demand) can be satisfied. Hence, it is necessary to make choices to optimize the use of these resources to obtain maximum returns. To clarify this reality, the following classical question is usually posed: “Given our limited resources, should we make plows or swords”? Plows, protect us from famine, while swords protect us from our enemies, and possibly help us usurp others’ resources. Which would you choose?
WAR AND PEACE – PAST AND PRESENT
In the past, the world was a much simpler place. All it took was a sword and some courage to solve most disagreements or problems. But things have changed, and the world has split into categories of countries: Very Strong, Plain Strong, Medium Strong, Semi-Weak, Weak and Very Weak. And, because the Very Strong overpower everybody else, they have the final say on everything, and all the others must acquiesce and adjust.
Also, the world has become more “civilized” and regulated. It no longer permits a country to invade its neighbor or even grab an inch of its territory. The international community is always ready, theoretically and in unison, to deter such belligerence. Of course, as everything in life, there are exceptions, the Very Strong can willfully do whatever they please – for a while, at least.
As for Third World countries, specifically the Arab countries, they mostly fall in the categories between: Semi Weak and Very Weak. In other words, they have very little chance to partake in conquering the world or imposing their hegemony on it, or even a small part of it, outside their recognized borders. In fact, as of late, their own borders are becoming subject to change and redrawing!
WHY THE SWORD?
If a country is stable and confident in its internal and external state of affairs, it is not likely to need weapons other than the standard light arms needed for normal internal peace keeping functions.
However, if the country is at risk of invasion from an enemy of equal power, then it may need slightly more powerful weapons to deter him. But the best weapon is, the one you do not use. It is better to understand the reason for this enmity and address it through: diplomatic channels, reassessment of your policies, negotiations with the alleged enemy and, lastly, enter into alliances that can protect you. War between equals is usually too expensive and devastating to both parties. Also, such wars never end, and even after the battle smoke settles, the embers remain under the ashes, ready to flare up once fresh wood or opportunities are presented.
In the case that the alleged enemy is a Very Strong party, then no amount of weapons will be sufficient to preserve the weaker country. It is not out of cowardice, but out of wisdom; “Know thyself”, that we recommend following the peaceful route mentioned in the previous paragraph.
In the rare event that a country is belligerent by nature, and seeks to expand its territory and conquer others’ lands, then it would need plenty of very lethal offensive weapons. However, as mentioned, today’s world community discourages such actions, and will not sell the aggressor such offensive weapons. In fact, the Very Strong will deter it from embarking on any such killing adventure – without its permission – regardless of its power or weapons it possesses. There are many examples; Saddam Husain, North Korea, Hitler, Israel’s desire to bomb Iran in 2015, etc.
Lastly, a weak country may decide to strengthen itself by manufacturing its own weapons. This is a very expensive choice, and requires the pre-existence of a rich and diverse manufacturing environment and history, supported by research & development facilities, innovations and plenty of multi-disciplined scientists. Such a country is more likely to end up assembling bullets or low grade weapons, that will not impact its true balance of power. Of course, it can attempt to buy nuclear weapons, but that is very hard to keep secret. Such attempts are bound to be discovered, and will only bring a tirade of wrath and stiff penalties. Remember the cases of: Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, etc.
WHY THE PLOW?
Economically, military spending delivers no return. This includes the case of spending to manufacture weapons, unless the products produced are so technically advanced, that the world beats a path to your doorstep to buy them, and thus elevates the product to an important source of export sales, which strengthens your currency and economy.
On the other hand, utilizing a country’s limited resources in developing the civilian aspect of its economy (the Plow), does generate a return, and a continuous one at that. Spending on education, public health, infrastructure and thereafter on the many productive projects, is the only way that a country can realize the welfare of its citizens. And, let us not forget, the welfare of the citizens, is the paramount objective and raison d’être for the existence of governments (in addition, of course, to providing security, basic services, organize commercial and legal relations, and ensure fairness and equality in society).
It would be far wiser for third world countries to avoid diverting resources from civilian uses to military ones. Most advanced countries already do that! (see the summary tables of defense spending in the world).
The road to development and peace is more difficult than the road to war. It is longer and requires patience, a clear vision and wise planning. But it delivers better results, that are longer lasting – Review the past five thousand years of history, and try to find a state or empire, built on war and conquest, and has lasted.
DEFENSE EXPENDITURE AS A % OF GDP
DEFENSE EXPENDITURES IN US DOLLARS
|RANK||COUNTRY||DEFENSE EXPENDITURE ($ BILLION)|