America, Rome, and Military Expenditures
Perhaps one of the most striking features of the Roman Empire, as noted by countless historians, is the amount of time in which it maintained nearly total supremacy over such a vast portion of the human race.
Edward Gibbon, in his historical masterpiece The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, notes not only that the greatest conquests of the Romans were made under its republican government (which may seem strange to Westerners, in light of recent unrealistically peaceful portrayals of representative democracy), but that the Romans were able to maintain consecutive annexations not for one, nor for two, nor even for three, but for seven centuries. No empire in modern history is anywhere near comparable: the English and French empires, after establishing great dominions for only a short while, have been pressured into emancipating those territories into self-government. And the American empire (if it can be called such), while making the greatest military expenditures and displays in all of history, and exerting immense influence across not just portions of the globe, but the entirety of it, has little beyond its own continental borders to claim as American territory, or even vassal states.
But while America and Rome both exerted the power of empire, the former in but a short while has already found herself tottering on the brink of bankruptcy. This difference is not a result of misfortune, nor are the sources of difference indeterminable. For if one examines the Roman and the American empires separately, certain differences become undeniably stark, and perhaps even obvious when brought to light.
The first difference concerns the fact that the provinces which Romans conquered did not retain their independence, but rather became tributaries, subject to taxation, from whom there could be expected a certain stream of revenue. The second concerns the costs of power projection -- the maintenance of armies abroad. For Rome, though maintaining a technological superiority during a great portion of its existence, in comparison with American military did not have to supply much other than simple necessities and simple weapon maintenance.
Contrasting the first quality sharply, the territories conquered by Americans are not tributaries in any historical sense. While it is certainly true that they must conform to American governmental demands and standards in some form, it can be proven that in reality, American influence is not total. Afghanistan's own ministry of finance reports that their own citizenry do not often comply with even their own taxation laws, and Iraq in recent years has reported a budget surplus, without paying Americans for the costs of security. The Chinese -- who may safely be considered political enemies of the U.S., and whose companies are backed by their state, giving them an unfair advantage -- are free to negotiate major contracts for natural resources in both countries, while U.S. and European companies lose bids.
But the lack of revenue is not enough to bankrupt Americans, at least not by itself. Although it may safely be said that American domestic entitlements will likely account for present and future deficits regardless of military expenditures, one must consider that the costs of maintaining a modern military abroad are so radically different from those of our Roman predecessors that the value of global intervention must itself be radically reconsidered. As mentioned above, a Roman army, though outfitted with what was for a very long time the most technologically superior weaponry, was still furnishing items of relative simplicity. Gibbon notes that every soldier had his armor, his sword, a light spear, a monstrous javelin, his shield, provisions for a good while, and the tools necessary for the establishment of fortification. Oftentimes, in addition, conquered nations were asked to contribute troops -- known as auxiliaries -- to Roman campaigns by serving on the front lines -- an incredibly frugal requirement. But as civilization in its development has yielded new weaponry (a weaponry which Adam Smith recognized as making warfare entirely different in terms of expenditure), America in particular cannot be expected to maintain the same long-term results.
Gone are the days of the empire's long-term troop deployment. If military supremacy is to be achieved not just by sheer number and tactic, but also by expensive technological means, then one must add atop small arms and tanks and planes and submarines the fuel and expensive ammunition for such. One must also add extensive technological outfits to properly direct each of these, and he must add scores of mechanics and engineers and additional (expensive) parts for maintenance as well. The weapons they fire are no longer even just bullets, but instead missiles which may individually cost hundreds of thousands of dollars -- if not millions. Men claim that they can save Americans money by employing predator drones, but the Air Force itself says these drones cost $20 million apiece, a cost which in Roman times could have very well have funded a sizable brigade possibly for a campaign. Thus, while the arsenal of democracy has grown more powerful than ever before, capable of toppling dictatorial governments in mere days, ending wars without much loss of its own lives, it is good for merely that: the short war. Its nature renders it unfit for occupation.
It can certainly be argued that such military expenditures, in self-defense or when wielded against evil, are perhaps not only great technological and military feats, but also, when employed against barbarians, great moral feats (though it is not the aim of this article to criticize or support any particular war efforts). But if Americans are unwilling to conquer and treat their conquered accordingly, requiring tributes or at least guaranteed contracts for natural resources, then perhaps it is time to question whether troops can safely remain overseas.
This is not to say that Americans should have no global presence whatsoever. Organizations such as NATO are great assets in self-defense, and a strong and widely present navy is essential to any nation which relies so much upon international sea trade, not to mention to a nation whose enemies are distanced primarily by oceans. It is rather to say that Americans must find another way to sustain military alliances and strategic peace without the unmanageable expenditures. Perhaps Americans could negotiate long-term contracts for lands in strategic locations, which, being carefully guarded by a simple, minimally armed task force, could serve as rapidly accessible deployment centers should the need arise. With a military as advanced as America's currently is, one can certainly find a way to deliver weaponry and such to these locations. And Americans should certainly have the tanks, the predator drones, the ships, and the aircraft manufactured and ready for warfare -- but let them sit safely in American warehouses, receiving due to their drastically reduced use a drastically reduced maintenance, not being deployed and causing massive expenses. Let our troops be stationed at home, where they can contribute to the local economy and engage in entrepreneurship, being somewhat productive instead of entirely consumptive.
War, so long as the human race exists in rebellion to its Creator, will always be with us. There will always be quarrels over land, over religion, over rights, over atrocities; according to envy, according to hubris, according to ancient rivalries; and if one refuses in nobility to be the aggressor, he is likely to at some point or another defend himself and his family from one. And there is no question that at this moment, men exist across the globe, willing to lay down their lives to bring destruction to the United States of America. The question, then, concerns whether or not Americans will recognize the boundaries within which they may safely and with longevity procure their peace, or whether they, out of self-defense against an ocean of potential threats (which will never be gone, even should they pursue it with all their military strength) are willing to bankrupt their nation by extending a military designed for short-term warfare beyond its capacity.
It must never be that Americans are willing to protect their pocketbooks at the expense of their own self-defense, since neither can exist without the other, but rather that they seek to secure both in total sobriety. The costs of modern occupation simply demand it.
Jeremy Egerer is a recent convert to Christian conservatism from radical liberalism and the editor of the Seattle website www.americanclarity.com.