How Does This Economic Slide Turn Into A Major War?

I’ve been researching for some time the ways that this worsening economic situation can become a major war.

I don’t mean a non-congressionally-declared police action war, the type we’ve grown used to after decades of political sideshows like Afghanistan and Iraq, but a real geopolitical game changer like World War II. A depression preceded WWII, after all. Might not a great war follow the coming depression?

About the only asset that runaway spending has bought the United States in the past 40 years is the largest, most capable military ever seen on Earth. To default on debt and slide into obscurity without ever cashing in that investment would be folly, would it not? Finding an excuse for, or inciting, a global war that would vanquish sovereign lenders, lock up for the US and its allies what’s left of the planet’s oil, get Americans working again, and restart the global economy with imbalances fixed would be appealing to a country still spending close to $1 trillion per year on “defense,” including budget items that don’t show up as official Pentagon programs.

However, I’m having trouble finding a reasonable catalyst, should one be needed. Per the articles of the past two days at this site, a catatonic populace doesn’t require much in the way of reasonable explanations anymore. Witness the thin gruel that passed as rationale for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The images of 9/11 were shocking, true, but did not justify full-scale invasions of countries not responsible for the attack. Few thoughtful people find strategic value in either war, particularly the farcical idea that it’s a US duty to bring democracy to people in Afghanistan who don’t want it.

Assuming for a moment that a reasonable catalyst will even be needed to spark a great war, what would it be? Obvious choices include another Middle East blow-up, nudging North Korea over the edge, and tricking China into trying to forcibly take Taiwan. The most desirable foe for the US to vanquish would be China, so I lean toward a situation being manufactured in Asia that would enable the US and its allies to face China head-on.

Is a major war like WWII even possible anymore, given that major powers possess nuclear capability? Probably, because the capabilities are not equal. Now we enter a speculative area of this thought process because hardly anybody knows exactly what each nation’s military capabilities are. For example, what type of missile shield exists over the United States and its allies? Here in Japan it’s commonly believed that a nearly impenetrable shield, developed jointly by the United States and Japanese militaries, cloaks the archipelago. Yet, I can find no evidence of that. The response? “Of course you can’t — it’s top secret.” So it goes in this part of the research.

I’d like to throw this topic open to my enviable cadre of smart, informed readers. If you have ideas about how a major war waits at the end of this gathering depression, or reasons you think it doesn’t, please leave a comment below.

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23 Comments

  1. Monty
    Posted July 3, 2010 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    What ever happened to insightful articles on investing that used to be on this site? This blog has turned into a diatribe about politics and cynicism. This is one of the most interesting periods for equities in a long time and all you talk about is doom and gloom in the world.

    • Posted July 3, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      It’s the doom and gloom of the world that’s making equities so interesting. If you want pure investment discussions, consider the letter.

      That said, I’ll get investment articles up again in the future. On this free site, I just prefer a wider consideration of the world to constant stock talk.

  2. Brad
    Posted July 4, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    I can tell you exactly when the war will start.
    It will start the day that China forcibly intercepts a supertanker bound
    for a Japanese port

    • Posted July 4, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      China doesn’t have much of a record on the high seas. A couple of years ago, it tried interfering with the operations of a US mapping vessel by dropping debris in front of it. The mapping vessel called its port for assistance, and a stronger US vessel motored on to the scene, at which point the Chinese ship left immediately. The Japanese media characterized the incident about as well as anybody could: bizarre.

      Thus, I doubt much of a war would ensue if China tried stopping anything on the sea. The US would make short work of that gesture.

  3. Posted July 5, 2010 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that the next wave of global unrest has already revealed itself to us. Have you noticed the small civil uprisings recently in China last year, Greece this year and the riots in Bangkok? These three incidents all have a common thread. Class warfare. The have-nots protest to convince the government to treat them with more respect (or to commence with the hand-outs) Eventually it gets violent. In the near term, I think we will see more incidents like this that become much more violent and scary. Some may happen in ever more respectable countries like Italy or Spain.

    I don’t forsee any major conflict in the near term, but I wouldn’t rule out an Israeli strike on Iran shortly following the U.S. Election this year. The U.S. navy will be drawn into it in order to secure the Strait or Hormuz. The Isrealis will probably give no warning to us and they hope to make Obama look weak in the process. Paybacks are hell.

    My guess is that WWIII is a conflict over control of the oceans. Major exporters like Japan, China, Germany, and even the U.S. will need to ensure free passage for their economies to survive. You may ask, is not free passage already in place and ensured by international law? The answer is, “so far”. If you have been following the developments in the Artic Ocean between Russia and Canada you may see the first crack in this longstanding norm. With the lopsided naval and satellite capabilities of major world powers, it is truely amazing that the oceans have remained free “so far”.

  4. EJ
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    America would not be involved in it’s current land “wars” in Asia if all consumers, I mean – citizens, had to participate in these “national security interests”.

    I know several bright kids who just graduated from both college and high school, these graduates, as well as their parents, seem oblivious that America is at “war.” However, these unattentive parents would be out in the streets rioting if there were a chance that their children might have to “defend” the country.

  5. EJ
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    Check out Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer. He was on Democracy Now (Thurs, July 8, 2010).

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