“An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.”Thomas Paine
Armed forces are the pride of any nation. Millions of armed men keep a constant vigil on our borders so that you and me can get along with our business of making a living and creating value added lives. From time immemorial, man has always been prone to constant bouts of war and peace. If the 19th century was dominated by the world wars and the cold wars, the 20th century just a decade into its existence has already seen armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Libya, Syria and now finally Egypt. In addition to huge losses of life and property, these wars have also altered our modern society due to a never before seen penetration of information, thanks to advances in technology.
Being a silent spectator to many of these wars from the safe confines of my home, I’ve always felt for those tales of incalculable losses and sufferings. I have keenly observed many of these wars and found that people talk till they fail, then fight till they tire and then talk till they compromise. This has been the scenario in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In many other cases, talks or diplomacy have prevented many an outbreak of war. This leads to an important existential question. If wars don’t result in a resolution of conflict and talks do, then shouldn’t we be trying for the latter, rather than the former?
In other cases, just as what is playing currently in Egypt and many other countries like Pakistan et. al, is the fact that the army becomes an existential threat to the whole idea of a nation, when it goes beyond its mandate to protect its citizens and grab the power. Most of the time this happens because of an over ambitious army chief with an insatiable lust for power. When this happens, the country finds itself in a descending spiral of gloom and disrepair.
A good percent of a country’s GDP goes in maintaining these huge armies. Look at the case of the developing countries and potential superpowers of tomorrow, India and China and the huge amounts of money that is being spend to maintain their huge armies. Their contribution here is about 2.5% (249 billion) and 2% (119 billion) respectively of their GDP. All these amounts can be used to bolster the social spending in these nations, rather than the upkeep of a few.
It is easy to sit in the confines of one’s home and write about millions who toil day and night to ensure that we live well, work hard and have a good night’s rest. The intention of this blog is not either. When a good amount of the financial and human resources of a country is invested in maintaining a huge governmental enterprise such as an army, it needs to be structured in a way that it benefits the citizens and not the other way round.
Having a reserve force is a great idea. Compulsory military training along between the ages of 18 and 25 is even better. This would instill in the youth of a country a sense of love and belonging in addition to the advent of a disciplined and responsible society. These trained individuals would form an integral part of a reserve force that would be assembled in case of an emergency. Diplomacy should be the first step in the face of an external aggression. If it fails, the reserve force should be used to enforce peace.
In today’s world, wars are destructive, brutal and leaves a trail of devastation, hopelessness and depression. The objectives of a modern society cannot be met by killing each other in name of an idea or ideology. It doesn’t need a large standing army that gobbles up much needed capital which would have benefitted the least fortunate.