Bryan Caplan  

The Great Pacification, U.S. Edition

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Recent horrors notwithstanding, there is a strong long-run global trend toward fewer war deaths.  A new paper by Tim Kane somewhat surprisingly shows that there is also a strong long-run trend toward lower U.S. troop deployments.  Basic graph:
kane.jpg 
US troops to US population uses the left scale; deployed US troops to world population uses the right scale.

The regional breakdown is also striking:

kane2.jpg
Extremely low deployments in Eastern Europe and the FSU make it even harder to take Russian nationalists' resentment of American interference in their "sphere of influence" seriously.

Don't drones change the whole story?  No.  High body counts for U.S. drones come to under 6000.  The includes some heinous manslaughter, but even that's a tiny share of global wrongful killing.  As least so far, the U.S. is not taking advantage of robot soldiers to wage wars the American public would have refused to fight with human soldiers.


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COMMENTS (13 to date)
John Hawkins writes:

Nassim Taleb has done some work on this, essentially showing that the conventional views paint a far rosier picture of the underlying process. I think the essential thought behind the maths is that if World War III broke out in the coming decade, which is not at all out of the realm of the possible, all of these insights would be invalidated. We may be experiencing a geopolitical "Great Moderation".

BC writes:

It would be interesting to compare the US troop deployment data to US military spending, US military spending relative to rivals' spending, or some other measure of deterrent capability. Does a demonstrated willingess to use force or a demonstrated military superiority over rivals (seemingly) paradoxically make it less likely that troops will actually be deployed?

The so-called "Chuck Norris effect" describes an individual's ability to deter violence by demonstrating a willingness and ability to fight and has been used by market monetarists as an analogy for why a central bank that is more willing to use asset purchases might actually end up doing fewer asset purchases. Perhaps, there is an even closer analogy to deterring nations' fighting. Again, we would have to look at the data, but the 1950-present period strikes me as a period over which US military dominance increased.

Handle writes:

Force multipliers. Technological improvements and more economic resources backing up each individual means the optimal capital to labor ratio for conventional warfare has climbed very high. It also means a small number of people can man equipment and run systems costing billions that could easily topple all but the top few competitor regimes, and without even having to plow through countless enemy soldiers trying to stand in the way.

In other words, you could make a similar chart for "number of farm workers" and "injuries doing agricultural labor" per quantity product yielded and see them go down for similar reasons.

John Hayes writes:

I think the Chuck Norris effect is legitimate and the US sphere of influence via NATO in Eastern Europe is significant. Russian interference in NATO countries is limited to flyovers of Scandinavian countries. It doesn't matter where your troops are today it's where they can be next week. Counting the troops actually stationed in Europe is the kind of thinking that should have expired with the Maginot line.

Counting capabilities gets more complex when you count interoperability. America funds the R&D for weapons systems that are then sold to friendly countries at the lower gross margin. Additionally they host war games and train the military leadership of dozens of countries. These informal links make it faster to design joint operations.

The purpose of international bases isn't about fast deployment, it's about embedding in foreign militaries.

Greg G writes:

I'd be more inclined to say there is a strong SHORT-RUN trend towards fewer war deaths.

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned and uncertain about long-run trends.

Capt. J Parker writes:
Extremely low deployments in Eastern Europe and the FSU make it even harder to take Russian nationalists' resentment of American interference in their "sphere of influence" seriously.

Don't drones change the whole story? No. High body counts for U.S. drones come to under 6000. The includes some heinous manslaughter, but even that's a tiny share of global wrongful killing.

I don't get this reasoning. ISIS has, presumably, very few of its troops deployed on US soil. ISIS caused body counts in the US, while they include some heinous manslaughter, are sill a tiny fraction of global wrongful killing. So, is resentment of ISIS terrorism in the US an "unserious" reaction?

Brad writes:

And yet the U.S. will spend about a $1T on national security in FY16.


Elias writes:

Since the military budget has grown still, I'd just assume that the falling level of deployments and troops/pop is a sign of military operations becoming less labor intensive just as it has been in most sectors of the economy.

E. Harding writes:

"Extremely low deployments in Eastern Europe and the FSU make it even harder to take Russian nationalists' resentment of American interference in their "sphere of influence" seriously."

-LOL!!! What??? Were I drinking coffee, I would have spit it out. U.S. troop deployments in Europe have, since WWII, and definitely since 1990, had zero correlation with American interference in the Russian sphere of influence deserving Russian nationalists' resentment. Support for color revolutions and the Montenegrin regime's move towards NATO membership, as well as its indirect war on Syria and stationing of sensitive military technology (not just humans; armies require fewer of them these days) on Eastern European soil make the U.S. government fully deserving of Russian nationalists' opprobrium.

Jay writes:

@Elias

Are budgets growing?

Defense budget trend

Dark Hippie writes:

I presume that doesn't include mercenaries, sorry private military contractors. Their numbers are probably going down too but there was said to be about 100,000 of them in Iraq in 2006.

Jeff writes:

@ Capt. J Parker:

I don't get this reasoning. ISIS has, presumably, very few of its troops deployed on US soil. ISIS caused body counts in the US, while they include some heinous manslaughter, are sill a tiny fraction of global wrongful killing. So, is resentment of ISIS terrorism in the US an "unserious" reaction?

Short answer: Yes.

Longer answer: I don't know what you mean by "resentment". ISIS has earned the contempt of every civilized person, but that doesn't make them a serious threat to the US. Still, they probably should be exterminated just to show there are some things the civilized world won't tolerate.

But it isn't going to happen unless the US does it. It would probably be a good idea to get a UN resolution calling for the forceful destruction of ISIS first, if that's possible.

Jim Glass writes:

I'd be more inclined to say there is a strong SHORT-RUN trend towards fewer war deaths.

Exactly the opposite is true. Violence of all kinds has been declining steadily throughout all recorded history. Remember how *extremely* violent 'natural' pre-state societies were, and remain today.

See Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, for an impressively comprehensive presentation of the data and forces at play driving the decline -- it is really the essential reading for anyone interested in the subject.

As for war deaths, look the data on the chart at the 3:25 point of this Ted Talk by Pinker, comparing the rates for non-state societies to that for 20th Century Europe of WWI, WWII etc. If the pre-state death rate had prevailed during the 20th Century, "there would have been 2 billion deaths by warfare, not 100 million".

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