Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Economics of War (Georgia Edition) - Christopher Westley - Mises Institute

Christopher Westley writes:

In recent years, the United States has been providing military aid and advice to an increasingly militaristic Georgia, whose military budget has increased 30 fold since 2003 (much to the chagrin, I am sure, of the Georgian taxpayer). US intelligence services played a fundamental role in the 2004 election of its pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who, in turn, has been aggressively courting Georgian membership in NATO.

None of these developments have been exactly welcomed by the Russians, who share a huge border with Georgia and run important natural-gas pipelines through the region. To understand why, Americans should consider how the US government would react if (say) Texas declared its independence and received massive amounts of military aid and advice from the Russians, all while the Texas president feted his Russian counterpart at state dinners in Austin and promoted Texan membership in a post–Cold War Warsaw Pact that had already expanded greatly in the previous 15 year...

First, what of the incredible human and physical cost of such activities? Those tanks and men we see slogging between towns and villages carry huge opportunity costs. War materiel and the troops who operate it have alternative uses in the market, and it represents a tremendous social failure when they are employed for destructive purposes. This applies to all military activities and is uniquely engineered by governments...

But more than this, the loss of human life is the greatest cost. What activities and contributions are foregone when a small child dies after a Russian or Georgian bomb slams into the side of an apartment building?
Given the recent and not-so-recent history of US military interventions on foreign soil, there is little objection that our government can make when other governments invade countries, kill scores of innocent people, upend families, destroy homes and businesses, and contemplate regime change.

What game theorist in the Pentagon thought that the United States could intervene so heavily in the political and military affairs of Georgia without some eventual response from the Russians?
In all of this analysis, it is important to separate the governments involved from the people who suffer from their actions. The people do not have a dog in this fight — and they suffer the most from its being waged. As the US government has "freed the hell out of Iraq" — to quote a popular bumper sticker — Russia is freeing the hell out of South Ossetians and Georgians. In both cases, state violence hinders mutual cooperation and the development of peaceful institutions in society that characterize civilization itself.

The Economics of War (Georgia Edition) - Christopher Westley - Mises Institute

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