A few basic arguments against (military) interventionism

As I sometimes get challenged by my conservative friends about my non-interventionist views, I believe there is a lack of some very basic understandings about the war. Not only has this been an issue in the past; it is now more important than ever with all the technology and weapons of mass destruction at our hand. In this article I will try to present some very basic arguments not against the war itself (that might be covered in my later writings) but against countries entering wars overseas. The reader must note that that is not a comprehensive list of arguments, nor is it the intent of this article to go into any detail.

1. It is not a role of a civil government to intervene overseas.

Firstly, let’s start with some simple political philosophy and discuss the role of the state. Although there have been quite some theories about what the state is and what it should do, modern liberal democracies are in large part established on the basis of John Locke’s social contract theory which will now be described very briefly. The state of nature, the natural condition of human kind, is complete equality of persons. All people have some natural rights that belong to them because they are human beings; those are life, liberty, and private property. Not one person is allowed to violate someone else’s rights — that is the law of nature. The problem is that some tend to do so anyway and that is the reason people decided to form a civil government which possesses something that the state of nature lacks — civil authority. Out of Locke’s theory it follows that the role of the civil government is to do what the state of nature cannot do and that is to protect natural right of humans (life, liberty, and private property). Even though the modern state has very much exceeded those authorizations that have been granted to it by the people, we ought to discourage that. From the philosophical point of view government was formed to protect the rights of the citizens. It follows that it is perfectly fine for a government to fight back when foreign troops invade its soil (in order to protect the natural rights of citizens), but it is in no way legitimate for a government to fight an overseas war which has nothing to do with protecting those rights.

2. Foreign wars cost tremendous amount of taxpayer dollars.

Wars of any kind have never been cheap and overseas US intervention has been proved to be extremely costly. Watson Institute for International Studies’ research Costs of War deals with US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in the time period FY2001 — FY2014. Only the spending for combat, reconstruction, and defense of US airspace has exceeded $1.59 trillion dollars. However, that represents less than half of all the costs. One must also include another $996 million of war-related spending (additions to the Pentagon base budget and veterans’ health and medical disability expenses), $472 billion in Homeland Security spending, and $316 billion in interest on borrowing for wars (FY2001 — FY2014). If we now add future obligations for care of veterans through 2054, that is $1.0 trillion more. All in all, the economic cost of foreign wars in the period FY2001 — FY2014 was $4.4 trillion. We can also add another $7.9 trillion of estimated interest costs (by year 2054). (Crawford 2014)

US national debt is currently about $18.34 trillion and the debt per taxpayers is roughly $155,000. The first thing to notice is that US taxpayers do not seem to be able to afford any additional wars. To put the debt into perspective: if one had been spending $1 million per day since the day Jesus was born, she would only have spent $700 billion — that is 26 times less than the US national debt right now.

Increasing debt due to foreign wars raises another important point. One of the founding fathers and a second president of the United States, John Adams, stated:” There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.” That is exactly what is happening right now. The young generation which has very little say on whether US will enter a war or not will once have to repay the debt (and interests on the debt) of their parents. It is quite easy for politicians of present day to spend the money they do not have and place the burden on the generations to come.

3. Human costs of those wars are also enormous.

Since 2001, almost 57,000 Pakistanis have been killed (with 21,500 of these being innocent civilians). Additionally, 40,000 civilians have been wounded and about 1.4 million people have fled their homes. In the same period time about 92,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan (with 26,000 of these being civilians) and about 100,000 people have been injured. Furthermore, it is estimated that the death toll in Iraq is between 194,000 and 222,000 people. Altogether, from 343,000 to 371,000 people have died in all those three wars combined. (Crawford 2015) To put that number in a perspective, that’s about the size of New Orleans, LA or Bristol, United Kingdom. One must note that those are not the only three wars US is/has been fighting in the Middle East so the total number is even bigger.

Now, even though the majority of people will agree that deaths of those people is a bad thing, let’s take a look at a few reasons why human life has intrinsic value (is valuable in itself).

There are a few intuitive reasons to believe that. To start with, try imagining a universe without consciousness — a universe full of robots. Surely we can agree that such a universe would be empty and meaningless. Moreover, another evidence for an intrinsic value of human life is the fact that when people (especially people we personally know) die, we experience grief and mourn — not to feel that way is a sign of a psychopathic behavior. Thirdly, even if one’s life is extremely miserable, we do not believe it is a right thing to do to kill that person. (Gray 2010) Those are just some reasons that most people will find intuitive but the list is not final.

4. (Military) interventionism predominantly creates unintended consequences

Even one of the most undeserving peace prize winners Barack Obama admitted that: “ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion, which is an example of unintended consequences.” There are countless examples of how military intervention, especially US interventions, have created militant groups and caused even more violence. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was formed in 2007 as a result of NATO presence in Pakistan. Al Shabaab, a group which claimed responsibility for the Westgate shopping mall attack in 2013 which resulted in at least 67 deaths and over 175 injured, also did not exist before the African Union (backed by the West) invaded Somalia. Moreover, guerilla groups in South America are also an unintended consequence of US interference in that area. It certainly looks like a reoccurring pattern. (Hussain 2015)

The same thing happened with ISIS. There was no Al Qaeda or ISIS before the 2003 US invasion of Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom). The predecessor of ISIS, a group called Jam’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (TJ) was born out of Iraqi war as a coalition of Sunni resistance groups fighting the occupying forces. In 2004, the leader of TJ, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, pledged the allegiance to Osama bin Laden and so TJ became known as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). In 2006, the group changed its name to Islamic State of Iraq and after that to Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). (ibid.)

United States have also supplied the ISIS with an approximately $656.4 million in military equipment. As the Americans left and Iraqi government forces were forced to leave the city of Mosul, they left behind a trove of costly military hardware, including U.S.-made armored Humvees, trucks, rockets, machine guns and even a helicopter. Many people argue that that is one of the most important reasons for upraise of ISIS. (Pianin 2015)

Throughout the history of military intervention we have seen an innumerable cases of unintended consequences, including upraise of hostile militant groups and even more violence. It is hard to believe that fighting the fire with even more gas is going to work.

There are many more arguments against the (military) interventionism, I have only covered the ones I find the most important. All in all, military interventions are illegitimate, extremely costly, kill hundreds of thousands of people, and result in quite the opposite of what was intended to achieve.

Crawford, N.C., 2014. U.S. Costs of Wars Through 2014: $4.4 Trillion and Counting, Available at: http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/figures/2014/Costs of War Summary Crawford June 2014.pdf [Accessed August 14, 2015].

Crawford, N.C., 2015. War-related Death, Injury, and Displacement in Afghanistan and Pakistan 2001–2014, Available at: http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2015/War Related Casualties Afghanistan and Pakistan 2001–2014 FIN %288%29.pdf [Accessed August 14, 2015].

Gray, G.W., 2010. Does Human Life Have Value? Available at: https://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/does-human-life-have-value/ [Accessed August 14, 2015].

Hussain, D., 2015. ISIS: The “unintended consequences” of the US-led war on Iraq | Foreign Policy Journal. Foreign Policy Journal. Available at: http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2015/03/23/isis-the-unintended-consequences-of-the-us-led-war-on-iraq/ [Accessed August 14, 2015].

Pianin, E., 2015. U.S. Shoots Itself In the Foot By Accidentally Arming ISIS. The Fiscal Times. Available at: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/2015/06/04/Fog-War-US-Has-Armed-ISIS [Accessed August 14, 2015].