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Tax Money Usage on Military Spending Issue Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 25th, 2021

Ever since man began living in organized societies that later coalesced into kingdoms and then nation states, the question that has always emerged; is why most of the wealth of a nation collected through taxes finds greater use for military spending rather than for the welfare of the citizens? This essay examines the dynamics of state priorities to provide answers as to why there is a preference towards military spending rather than welfare.

While there are competing concepts of nation states, it is the Realist model of statecraft that dominates the world today. The Hobbessian construct that humans by nature are “apt to invade and destroy each other”(Hobbes 86) and can only be controlled by coercive power serves as a guiding principle for most nations. Hobbes believed that it was necessary to build “strong institutions to save mankind from its own worst instincts”(Peters 4). It is because of the fear of death, that man had agreed to live in societies and be ruled by a king or a state. Thus was born a social contract where the citizens would have some rights and some duties, which the state ordained in return for ensuring safety and security of its citizens. Complementary to this rationale was the rationale that since man is by nature a violent creature, who would engage in struggle if not held back, the nation states that form out of humanity are similarly disposed to violence and that in natural state, all states strive for survival in an anarchic world. Doyle has very aptly put it that “International anarchy precludes the effective escape from the dreary history of war and conflict that are the consequence of competition under anarchy”(Doyle 51). In such a state of anarchy states are always struggling to gain primacy at the cost of the other. In this struggle, a ‘balance of power’ becomes evident when some states gain power which is greater than others but almost equitable in relation to its peers. Such a balance ensures peace and stability. Under such circumstances, there exists a hierarchy of states with the dominant state at the apex, followed by major powers, regional powers, minor powers and then the subjugated. In such a paradigm, the main concern for a state is its survival. To ensure its survival, the state needs overwhelming military power. Concepts of morality, ethics as understood by humanists, therefore take a back seat and are viewed in relative terms when compared to the fundamental national interests of the state(Baylis, Smith and Owens 127). Thus leaders of nation states have to take a differing yardstick on what constitutes ethical behavior irrespective of their personal beliefs to remain in consonance with stated national interests in which national survival is the supreme factor. The priorities therefore revolve around maintenance of external security, external interests first and then internal domestic policies. It is precisely this Realist formulation that has dictated human affairs since ancient times.

Take for example the United States of America. The U.S. was born as a country of immigrant Protestant settlers fleeing the persecution of the Catholic Church in Europe who landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. Almost immediately, the settlers had to struggle for their existence, battling harsh terrain, trying conditions and unfriendly Native Americans. By sheer dint of perseverance, ingenuity and adherence of ‘altered states of morality’, the settlers prevailed upon the native American population massacring them by their thousands and banishing them to ‘reserves’ where they continue to languish till to date on the fringes of the American society. African Americans too suffered intense cruelty and exploitation during the slavery period that led to the Civil War, where taxes collected by both Unionists and Confederates went into building huge armies to fight for survival. Both the parties claimed that they were fighting for the welfare of their constituencies. After the Civil War, America embarked upon a phase of isolation articulated in the Monroe Doctrine wherein America declared its intention to stay away from fractious European politics and likewise expected the Europeans to keep clear of the Americas. During this period, America spent monies for improving the welfare of its people. The Great Depression of 1929 spurred the government to further spend national wealth on generating employment. However, ironically, all the New Deal policies of President Roosevelt did not lift America out of doldrums as did the Second World War. The requirement of wartime production of military supplies and logistics to keep afloat its allies was the main reason why America pulled out of the economic slump so rapidly. Post WWII, the threat of Soviet expansionism, the Domino effect of countries toppling under Communist influence finally reaching America, was identified as a prime reason to boost military spending and put into place the costly Containment policy where billions of dollars were spent on military research, equipment, nuclear weapons and fighting proxy wars in far off lands. The American state considered the Soviet phenomenon as an existential threat and hence the preponderance of military spending. The fact that America won the Cold War and defeated the Soviets is taken as a vindication by the American leaders of the need to continue military spending.

In fact, after the Soviet collapse, many American strategists argued that since America was now the sole Superpower, it needed to maintain that position and stop any other power from ever challenging it again. They argued that such a situation would then provide for eternal peace and security for the American people. The 9/11 attacks prompted the invasion of Iraq and billions of dollars spent in bolstering Homeland Security. In this case, the threat of collapse of physical security was deemed to be so great that welfare programs were deliberately put on the back burner in America. Similarly, when Saddam Hussein threatened to (Herod 196) convert Iraq’s oil trade from trading in Dollars to Euros, American strategists were alarmed about the possible domino effect of other gulf countries following suit and ending America’s domination of the global petroleum markets. Such a development threatened American national interests, and in the minds of its leaders, its survival as the sole superpower and hence the doctored ‘dossier’ on Iraq possessing or acquiring nuclear weapons was circulated by the American administration to legitimize the invasion of Iraq (Shulman 105). The costs in Iraq have been humungous. According to Baker III & Hamilton, “estimates run as high as $ 2 trillion for the final cost of the US involvement in Iraq”(10). Despite a Democratic administration now in power, and a ‘drawdown’ in Iraq, American involvement in Afghanistan is increasing. So whether it is two trillion dollars or three trillion as per Joseph Stiglitz (Stiglitz and Bilmes), the logic that America needs to fight these wars to safeguard its physical security ensures that monies collected from taxes will continue to be used for military spending rather than welfare. Even during the current economic downturn in America, the defense budget did not see any rationalization though many domestic policies were changed. Compare the three trillion on just one war being spent to the present closely contested 1.2 Trillion dollar health care reforms (TIME 7) fought through the House of Representatives by the Obama administration. It clearly depicts where the priority lie. Also, it is always much easier to sell a defense budget to the people than a welfare bill. No opposition party would like to be labeled as ‘anti-national’ for opposing military expenditure and be accused of not spending enough money to support the men and women fighting and giving up their lives for America’s honor. Thus, a President can almost always get away with an extraordinary amount of money for defense expenditure with minimal debate in the Congress but the same cannot be said about welfare measures. The extant case of the health care bill, where it was passed by a narrow margin, of 220-215 in the US House of Representatives shows how differing domestic perceptions and partisan politics can stymie welfare measures.

But what of the welfare oriented European states that follow inspired Liberalism as a state policy? The Realists scoff at the Liberalist model stating that the Liberalists do not count in the global ‘pecking order’ and in any case, their physical security is being guaranteed by the overwhelming presence of U.S armed forces that allows them the luxury of being able to spend their tax money on welfare. According to the Realists, the Liberalists are hypocrites, who while proclaiming their liberal values yet hold on to the NATO, a Cold War construct and yet send troops to Afghanistan to protect their national interests. Thus, whether nation states adopt a Realist or a Liberalist policy, the concept of ‘national survival’ will continue to reign supreme and will always take a lion’s share of tax monies collected.

In conclusion, it can be emphasized that the belief in the anarchic state of the world system drives nation states to take measures to ensure their survival. The fear of physical elimination by another state, entity or a non state actor galvanizes nations to spend a substantial amount of money collected through taxes on the military rather than welfare. While spending on welfare measures can always be held hostage to partisan domestic policies, spending on military issues attracts near unanimity as no party would like to be projected as ‘anti-national’. Considering the uncertain state of international security situation, the tendency for nations to spend more on the military is not likely to change for the foreseeable future except in some areas of the world where the physical security of those nations is being guaranteed by a powerful ally.

Works Cited

Baker III, James and Lee Hamilton. “The Iraq Study Group Report.” 2009. Web.

Baylis, John, Steve Smith and Patricia Owens. The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Doyle, Michael W. Ways of War and Peace: Realism, Liberalism and Socialism. NY: WW Norton and Coy, 1997.

Herod, Andrew. Geographies of Globalization. NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. NY: Forgotten Books, 1651.

Peters, B. Guy. Institutional Theory in Politcal Science: The ‘New’ Institutionalism. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005.

Shulman, Seth. Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

Stiglitz, Joseph and Linda J Bilmes. The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2008.

TIME. “House Passes Sweeping Health Care Bill.” 8 November 2009. TIME.com. Web.

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