Friday, August 15, 2008

Cold War Fears

On an interview with CNN the other night, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev complained that the U.S. military budget at more than $600 billion a year accounts for about half of the entire world's military spending.

While Russia greatly pared down its armed forces after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the U.S. still seems to be spending at Cold War levels. It is true that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq account for a healthy amount of this spending but the great bulk of it has little relation to what is going on in those countries.

During the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviets went neck-to-neck in matching each other's weapons systems. In those days, the Soviets seemed bent on increasing what is known as "force projection."

They build large "Frontal Aviation" forces consisting of fighters capable of taking off and landing on highways if necessary. These airplanes were to accompany the vast Soviet tank armies on what many thought was a planned invasion of Western Europe.

They also were investing large sums of money on building a "blue water navy" apparently set on building a large number of aircraft carriers.

However, when the Soviet Union collapsed, everything changes. Russia now has only one lone aircraft carrier. It's air force is well outnumbered by that of the United States, with the air defense emphasis now shifted toward cheaper but still sophisticated surface to air missile systems.

Russia also stopped projecting its forces in Vietnam, Cuba and other areas as did the Soviets. That is until the last few years.

In 2008, Russia well sharply increase its defense budget by 25 percent. It has an ambitious program in place to renew half of its weapons systems in the next seven years. Moscow is also more aggressively selling its weapons abroad probably in part to help pay for its own buildup. Russia is again projecting its forces overseas.

A great opportunity for the "peace dividend" appears to have been lost. There are many theories as to why this has happened from the unquenchable desire for world dominance to the insatiable appetite of the military-industrial complex. And of course don't forget the need to control the world's oil supplies. Whatever the cause, don't expect this "great game" to end anytime soon.

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