Monthly Archives: April 2011

Small Nation Neutrality: An Alternative to Obsessive Compulsive Military Might

In stark contrast to the foreign policy of the United States, which is thoroughly grounded in the principles of full spectrum dominance and imperial overstretch, stands the foreign policy of four small European nations which are committed to political neutrality – Austria, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland.  In addition to their opposition to war, these democratic, nonviolent, affluent, socially responsible, cooperative, egalitarian, ecofriendly countries share a high degree of environmental integrity and a strong sense of community.

The United States, on the other hand, has over 1.6 million troops on active military duty stationed at over 1,000 bases in 153 countries.  The combined active military force of the four neutral nations amounts to only 85,000 troops.  The U.S. has nearly 80,000 troops stationed in Europe alone, not to mention 36,000 in Japan and nearly 30,000 in South Korea.  Currently the U.S. is engaged in illegal wars in four Muslim countries — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan.  It also provides unconditional military support for the Likud government of Israel in its war against the Palestinians.  Last, but by no means least, it promotes a highly racist war on terrorism aimed squarely at Muslims.

Switzerland has not been involved in a foreign war since 1515, and although it is heavily armed, it has remained neutral since 1815.  It has never been part of a larger empire.  Sweden became neutral in 1814.

Swiss foreign policy is based on four premises:  (1)  Switzerland will never initiate a war.  (2)  It will never enter a war on the side of a warring party.  (3)  It will never side in any way with one warring party against another.  (4)  It will vigorously defend itself against outside attack.

According to the Swiss constitution, every Swiss male is obligated to do military service; women are also accepted into the military service on a voluntary basis but are not drafted.  In case of an attack on the country several hundred thousand men and women can be mobilized within a few days.

Although Austria, Finland, and Sweden are not members of NATO, they are members of the United Nations and the European Union.  Even though Geneva is the home to many agencies of the U.N., Switzerland did not join the U.N. until 2002.  Although the Swiss do trade extensively with member nations of the E.U., the Swiss citizenry has consistently rejected membership in the E.U., even though the Berne government favors membership.

However, neutrality does not mean non-involvement.  Although the U.S. has the largest economy in the world, each of the aforementioned nations is ranked in the top twenty countries in terms of per capita income and each contributes a higher percentage of its Gross National Income to foreign aid than does the U.S.

In addition to the dozen or so neutral countries of the world, there are over twenty countries without armed forces.  They include Liechtenstein and Costa Rica, the latter of which abolished its army and became neutral in 1949.  Most of the other such countries are small island nations scattered throughout the world.

Under the doctrine of full spectrum dominance, the Pentagon claims the right to engage in pre-emptive military strikes against any country in the world which it considers to be a threat to our national security.  This policy is based on two aphorisms – “might makes right”  and “just be like us.”

The Pentagon can send its high-tech instruments of death – B-2 bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and unmanned drone aircraft – anywhere in the world it wants to spread death and destruction, all in the name of freedom, democracy, and humanitarian concern.

The objective of the Pentagon, says F. William Engdahl, is not only to take control of the entire planet but the universe as well including land, sea, air, space, outer space and cyberspace.  At the root of all military encounters is the control of global supplies of oil, natural gas, minerals, other natural resources, and related pipelines and the prevention of these supplies from falling into the hands of the Chinese and the Russians.  Anyone who pretends that “peak oil” is not a problem should take a long, hard look at American foreign policy.  It’s all about oil!

To facilitate regime change in country after country the Pentagon gameplan calls for the use of propaganda and media control, the Internet and social networks, complicit NGOs, and so-called Color Revolutions such as Georgia’s Rose Revolution, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Tibet’s Crimson Revolution, and Myanmar’s Saffron Revolution.  What has been happening during the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East appears to be more of the same.  Basically the idea is to make carefully controlled, sophisticated regime change plots appear as spontaneous democratic revolutions.  The Iranian demonstrations in 2009 were a case in point.

As further evidence of America’s policy of full spectrum dominance, the White House supports surrounding Russia with an anti-missile defense system, expanding membership in NATO, and demonizing and isolating North Korea and Iran.  Not a pretty picture.

As Congressional gridlock continues to play out over the issue of the 2012 budget, few Democratic or Republican lawmakers seem to have the stomach to challenge the military-industrial complex lobby over the trillion-dollar military defense/national security budget.  For how much longer can we afford to play the role of the world’s policeman?  Is there no limit as to how much we are prepared to spend on the highly contrived war on terror?

Even though World War II ended in 1945 and the Cold War ended in 1991 with the implosion of the Soviet Union, we continue to have tens of thousands of troops stationed in Europe, Japan, and South Korea.  Why?  Why too do we continue to stockpile nuclear weapons and every other conceivable form of weapon of mass destruction?  Towards what end?

America needs a new paradigm – an alternative to its obsessive compulsive attraction to unlimited military might.  Maybe it’s high time we examine the nonviolent neutrality of small countries like Sweden and Switzerland?  Why do we always feel compelled to exercise the military option?

We need a big military defense budget, so the story goes, because we are a big country with vast strategic resources, many big cities, dozens of military bases, hundreds of defense contractors, and thousand high-tech weapons, all of which must be protected.  The more we spend on military defense the more we need to spend in the future protecting what we already have.  This type of perverse, self-fulfilling logic enabled the U.S. to justify spending $13 trillion dollars on the Cold War.  Today the war on terror is used to drive up the defense budget in much the same way which the Cold War did for nearly a half century.

Perhaps the military budget is so big because the country itself is too big?  Maybe we should consider the possibility of downsizing the USA as well as its military?  Both the American people and the rest of the world might benefit from the experience.  Towards that end we should:

  1. End the illegal wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Pakistan  immediately.
  2. Remove all American troops from Europe, Japan, and South Korea and close all but 100 of the American military bases scattered throughout the world.
  3. Shut down NATO.
  4. Not only encourage Iran and North Korea to shelve their nuclear weapons programs but insist that China, England, France, India, Israel, and Pakistan do the same, not to mention ourselves.
  5. Terminate the missile defense program.
  6. Discontinue all economic and military aid to Israel.
  7. Cease being the arms merchant of North Africa and the Middle East.
  8. Close the Guantanamo prison now.
  9. End the embargo against Cuba.
  10. Repeal the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act.
  11. Reduce military spending to $200 billion annually.
  12. Replace the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State with people who embrace peace, not war.  (Leon Panetta is not such a person.)

Above all, we should recall what economist Leopold Kohr said about military power in his book The Breakdown of Nations:

For whenever a nation becomes large enough to accumulate the critical mass of power, it will in the end accumulate it.  And when it has acquired it, it will become an aggressor, its previous record and intentions to the contrary notwithstanding.

Thomas H. Naylor                                                      April 25, 2011

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.

Henry David Thoreau: One of America's Most Thoughtful Nonviolent Secessionists

There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.

Henry David Thoreau

“Civil Disobedience”

Henry David Thoreau, the iconoclastic, nineteenth century New England writer, has long been associated with simple living, solitude, independent thinking, environmental integrity, civil disobedience, nonviolence, and passive resistance.  But few seem to have noticed that he was also a card-carrying secessionist.

Best known for its influence on Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., the South African anti-apartheid movement, and the Eastern European anti-communist movement in the 80s, Thoreau’s famous 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience” reads like a secessionist’s manifesto.

His two-year stay at Walden Pond near Cambridge, Massachusetts between 1845 and 1847, on which his 1854 book Walden was based, was little short of a personal secession from his village, his state, and his country.  About personal secession Thoreau once said, “Some are petitioning the State to dissolve the Union.  Why do they not dissolve it themselves—the union between themselves and the State?”

In 1854, when the population of the United States was around 20 million, Thoreau thought the country was already too large.  “The nation itself is an unwieldly and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense.”  He called for a ““rigid economy” and “Spartan simplicity of life.”  “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” he said.

Thoreau’s principal grievances with the federal government were over its de facto support of slavery and its participation in the Mexican-American War, both of which he considered to be immoral.

When a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country (Mexico) is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army (the U.S. Army), and subjected to military law, I think it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize.

During the first half of the nineteenth century before the Civil War, New England was a political hotbed for secessionists, most of whom were abolitionists.  Massachusetts Senator Timothy Pickering, a former high-ranking general in the Revolutionary War, was one of the most important leaders of the New England secession movement.

New England Federalists, who believed that the policies of the Jefferson and Madison administrations were proportionately more harmful to New England than to other parts of the country, thrice led independence movements aimed respectively at the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the national embargo of 1807, and the War of 1812.  In 1814 New England secessionists expressed their opposition to the War of 1812 and the military draft of the Hartford Convention.

Thoreau, who was vehemently opposed to slavery, called for abolitionists to “effectively withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts.”  He told them that, “if they had God on their side, even though they did not constitute a majority, that was enough.”

In response to the question, “How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today?”  Thoreau presciently responded, “He cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”  Clearly a man ahead of his time!

As for civil disobedience, of which secession is a special case, Thoreau said, “If an injustice requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.  Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the government machine.”  Thoreau actually spent a night in jail for not paying his poll-tax.

No doubt many anarchists have taken note of the following two statements by Thoreau in “Civil Disobedience”. “That government is best which governs not at all,” and “I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually.”

If Thoreau were alive today, it seems unlikely that he would have an e-mail address.  He was not convinced that we all had to be connected.

We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas, but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate…We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New, but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.

Perhaps the reason given by Thoreau as to why he escaped to Walden Pond says it all:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartanlike as to put to rout all that was not life.

Thoreau’s philosophy of secession was based on the premise that an individual’s moral principles have the first claim on his or her actions, and that any government which requires violation of these principles has no legitimate authority whatsoever.

One can only imagine what Thoreau would think of the United States today – a nation which has lost its moral authority and is unsustainable, ungovernable, and unfixable.  What would he think of a government owned, operated, and controlled by corporate America and Wall Street?  How would he feel about the illegal wars with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya?  What about our unconditional support for the bellicose state of Israel?  Would he condone the torture of military combatant prisoners?  And, alas, the war on terror?

Henry David Thoreau was arguably the most thoughtful, nonviolent secessionist of the nineteenth century.  Unlike well known southern secessionists such as John C. Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, and Robert E. Lee, Thoreau’s message was not tainted by the scourge of slavery.

Modern day New England liberals who summarily reject secession as a kind of racist conspiracy, should re-visit Thoreau.  They just might be surprised at what they find.

Thomas H. Naylor

April 11, 2011

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.