Should standing armies be illegal?

Another thread asks if the US is too pro-military. I agree that it is, and a primary reason is that we have a standing army. That is also a major problem I have with Iraq and our foreign policy in general. But I also think that humanity in general is too pro-military. I do not see it as anything unique among Americans.

For myself, a military solution should always be a last resort, and even then only in matters that involve national integrity, not an ephimeral security. The military should be called up only if our territory is actually threatened, like Pearl Harbor, or a major strike against civilians which actually threatens us. I am thinking of the sinking of the Lusitania and other merchant vessels which created a major threat to shipping and commerce which would have had tremendous consequences if we did not respond. As horrible as 9/11 was, it did not threaten our integrity.

Also, we could not have stirred up the hornet’s nest that Iraq and other countries have become if we did not have hornets of our own. Our military has also become too capable. It makes it too easy for us to have a military solution to foreign policy.

But realpolitik demands that it has to be all or nothing. It would have to be illegal for all nations to have a standing military or force projection capabilities. I think the Swiss model would be more than sufficient. Maintain an officers corp, and require all able-bodied persons to go through reserve training (or equivalent national service for us peaceniks). Keep the skunkworks going, but scale back the whole military-industrial complex and devote our resources to better uses.

And both World Wars provide evidence that we do not need a standing army of the scope we have today. We were able to ramp up and get into the fight in less than a year in both cases. If we faced a similar threat, we could do so again. But there are no similar threats. Japan was the last attack by another nation against US territory, and even then there was never a question of a mainland invasion (Alaska excepted). Even China could not mount an invasion, and Russia will never be the threat again that they were. India? Please.

With regard to terrorism, I believe that it should be regarded as a criminal matter. They are no more a threat to our national integrity, or even security, than the Mafia, gangs, and other organized crime. Any ‘war’ should be under the purview of the DOJ, not the DOD.

In general (hell, in most specifics), I follow the lead of Dr. Oscar Arias Sanchez, the President of Costa Rica. Here is a good overview of his thoughts.

Has the world progressed enough for us to reach this stage? What valid reasons are there for having a standing army in todays world?

Your OP shows a disturbing combination of ignorance and naivity. How do the World Wars show that there is not need for standing armies? The only reason we were able to “ramp up and get into the fight” was because we had a huge ocean separating us from where the fighting happened.

Germany’s military was supposedly limited by the Treaty of Versailles. That didn’t stop it from building a huge, high tech military and racing across most of Europe.

What stops China from invading an invasion? They certainly have the capability to build amphibious assualt ships.

And how do you enforce such a treaty? As soon as one country starts to arm, they all will.

Standing armies will become if not illegal, obsolete when there is no longer a need for them.

What msmith537 said- how the hell do you enforce such a decree of universal disarmament without huge armies marching in and occupying all dissenting (ie. all) countries (which would rather defeat the purpose of the thing, wouldn’t it?). Who said “if you would seek peace, prepare for war?”.

I’d also like to point out that, despite being a wild-and-wooly lefty myself, your suggestion that a nation is only entitled to use military force if its “national integrity” (by which I suppose you mean its territory or its populace in the long run) seems somewhat bizarre. Why shouldn’t military be deployed in situations where the civillian police is incapable of pursuing their role ,eg., piracy, international terrorism, humanitarian intervention. This last is somewhat tricky- I personally don’t believe that military force ever provides a lasting solution to the problems that cause war crimes, for example, but no-one can deny that in the midst of ethnic cleansing, there is nothing like a few thousand armed (and neutral) men on the ground to temporarilly stop the conflict [hmm, sounds kinda paradoxical].

Also, the Swiss model is not a great example- they are a small, scrupulously neutral country surrounded by allies who have been peaceful for the last 60 years, who also occupy one of the most easily-defended terrains on earth that, incidentally, has little to no significant natural resources worth invading for. They also lack international commitments, either in the form of treaties or extranational possessions (the usual reasons for the necessity of force-projection), meaning that, almost uniquely in the world, they don’t need a standing army. Most other countries do- either to protect their territory (try disarming Pakistan and see how its neighbours would react) or to protect their citizens abroad/honour their commitments to treaty members or the UN (or whatever). For example, if all the standing armies of the European powers laid down their arms tomorrow, there would be remarkably few UN peacekeepers left in the world. If you believe this is conducive to good world security- well, I doubt you do.

I do, on the other hand, agree with the OP about the “war on terrorism”- it is a struggle against a form of criminal activity, not a tangible enemy that can be defeated- and to address it as such without tackling the root causes that create pro-terrorist sentiment is foolish and counterproductive. It would certainly be nice if everyone stopped fighting tomorrow- but a ban on standing armies (an unenforcable, ridiculous ban) is not the way to bring it about.

Thank you for the compliments, did you have an argument? How do the World Wars show that we do need an army? The ocean is still there, and there is no one on this hemisphere that can threaten us. And most nations could build amphibious assault vehicles. It requires a fair deal more to launch an invasion across an ocean. (cf. WWI, WWII).

The fact remains is that our military was minimal at best before both wars, and we did ramp up. What change do you see in global politics or geography that says we could not do so again? What rational is there for having a standing army the size we have now?

[quote=Happy Clam]
What msmith537 said- how the hell do you enforce such a decree of universal disarmament without huge armies marching in and occupying all dissenting (ie. all) countries (which would rather defeat the purpose of the thing, wouldn’t it?). Who said “if you would seek peace, prepare for war?”. quote]

That is a fair question and one reason I opened the debate. What mechanisms would be necessary for enforcement? We would most likely need a global security force with teeth to monitor compliance. They would need to have the authority to inspect, and shut down, any operation not in compliance. A combination of the IEAA, Interpol, and perhaps the Foreign Legion. A international volunteer force to suppress any region that gets out of hand, which is what should have happened to Germany in the '30s. But we dropped the ball. I doubt the world will allow it to happen again. Look at the uproar when Japan sent non-combatants to Iraq.

There are certainly other mechanisms. But I see any of them being better than the status quo.

And who says that if one tries to rearm, the rest will also? By that logic, there should be no nations that have disarmed or demobilized. There were 28 at the last count.

Piracy is the only issue where I can see a need for a standing military force. But that also requires an international force. The global commerce definitely depends on the US Navy. An equivalent organization should be created. I don’t believe that any one nations navy should have the free reign that we currently have (and the British before us, and the Spanish before them…)

Terrorism and human intervention can be handled by non-military means, and should be in my book.

Yours are views that would have been high-minded a hundred years ago, but are just silly, now.

We live in an age of advanced military technology. The hardware of 1941 was essentially easy to understand, use & fix.

Not so today.

Furthermore, a relatively small force of ultra-high-tech could massacre the much of the population of most countries in a few hours, if those nations were not armed as a deterrant. (Most nations are much smaller in numbers & territory than the US.)

You cannot train soldiers quickly anymore. And a strong back & dumb mind don’t make for a soldier anymore.

Today, soldiers must be High School graduates.
Today, soldiers are highly-trained technical specialists, in a demanding field.
You cannot “ramp up”. You must have a standing, fighting force, if only for combat aviation & naval purposes.

IF something like this were possible, it’d take a powerful UN to do it. This would have to be a UN with a standing army (or peacekeepers).

That’s all I’ve got for now.

No, this would take peace-makers, ie. and international force who would enforce the decrees of the UN across national boundaries. Now, I have no great respect for or trust of the current national governments, but what makes the OP think that a supremely powerful (by definition, since it would have a true monopoly on force) world state would be preferable to them- or that it would be less beset by corruption, malice and abuse of power?

Also (and this may a bit idealistic for a lot of people…I realize this) if theultimate end is to be rid of war and killing people, shouldn’t we at LEAST explore the avenues towards the end?

The standing army would hypothetically not be in use. A country would have to petition for its use and be forced to face the offender on the UN floor. Hopwfully, through debate, the problem either gets resolved, or the UN sends the international troops.

This is the first time I’ve thought about such a scenario, so please forgive me if it’s clunky.

I think a peacemaker organization would be necessary. Whether under the auspices of the current UN, or another association I do not know. And while that force may be supremely powerful, that does not mean it will be all powerful. I think that is true for any world government, and any major government now. The US is definitely that last superpower, but we could not take on the rest of the world alone. And if we tried, we would be alone.

Even China can at best try to hold onto the reigns of its society. I don’t think they have the power any more to determine which direction it goes, but at most how fast it might get there.

And our military is extremely corruption free for its size (as opposed to the industrial complex that supports it.) I cannot think of another organization that size that is. And I think the reigns that we use, i.e. pursestrings, would be equally effective at a global level. Even the greatest army can’t move if it does not have food or fuel. Any modern army requires a good deal of civilian logistics and support, and those can be under separate controls also.

And Bosda, for myself, I understand your points. I will try to address them more specifically, but the fact a “relatively small force of ultra-high-tech could massacre the much of the population of most countries in a few hours” is an argument for deterrence and demobilization.

Soooo… the UN Secretary-General declares that, from now on, things will be a little…different on Earth. He makes a speech to the General Assembly. The words “God-Emperor” and “…kneel before the might of Annan!” are used. The US starts mobilising to defend their citizen’s rights. Whoops! No armies allowed! Send in the “peace”-keepers. And if the US police force objects? Hey, you have no defences, guys, because we have the only military on earth. Bwahaha…etc.

This is obviously an extreme example, but it illustrates my point: putting supreme power (and possessing the only armed men in the world under your command is supreme power) in the hand of any individual, council or committee is a really, really bad idea. And we don’t need to try out an “avenue” towards creating world peace (fine and noble goal that that is) when we can see in advance a multitude of ways in which it would be utterly impracticable.

One more thing: Who would set this system up in the first place? Obviously those nations with powerful militaries have no interest in surrendering their power to the UN (a body with so many inherent flaws that I find it hard to believe we are using it even in this hypothetical case), while those without lack the force to impose their will on the larger countries. We would need a sudden outbreak of altruism on behalf of, say, the largest 10 military powers in the world, all of whom would agree to give up their differences and cede sovereign control of their armies to some trusted international body- which would then begin a “disarmament” campaign that would be, I would cheerfully predict, the single bloodiest conflict in the history of mankind. Just consider- invade nearly every nation on earth, with a mission guarenteed to create massive resistance in, at the very least, the local military, disarm them, occupy the country to ensure they don’t start remobilising.

The system we have at the moment is far from perfect, but it is at the very least superior to this. If you are suggesting a moral imperative to dissolve standing armies, I would agree with you to an extent (I still think relatively small, but mobilised, forces are necessary for military intervention in a variety of situations that do not involve the “integrity” of the nation), much in the same way I would agree with you if you said nuclear disarmament would be a good thing. But there is no possible practical way to implement such a strategy in the world we have at the moment, or any remotely like it (strategy or world).

Instead, I believe a military build-up on the part of some world powers, linked to a substantial increase in force commitments to international or supranational bodies, and a complete rejection of regime change, might bring the world a little closer to peace. If the main powers were willing to co-ordinate militarily in order to intervene on a purely humanitarian or law-enforcement based agenda…well, it’s still a dream, but I hope it is a little less than impossible.

One more thing- consider the effect on a country’s social order following the disbandament of its armies (which is often accompanied by the dissapearance of large amounts of arms). We have two excellent modern-day examples of this: Iraq, and East Timor- in the latter, a mere 600 troops disbanded were enought to spark sectarian riots which forced the intervention of Australian peacekeepers. Mulitply that by 185 (the number of countries in the UN, I beleive, or thereabouts)…and you see a part of the problem.

“Corruption-free for its size” is, of course, a subjective statement, but I believe recent events in Iraq (Abu Gharib, Falluja, Haditha) will serve as examples of the fact that even such a relatively reasonable military (compared to, say, the Russian military, where suicide is the leading cause of death for new conscripts, not least due to the barbaric hazing rituals they practice) is not free of those who would exploit their force-based supremacy for highly immoral ends. Add to this the world’s history of coups and attempted coups by militaries, many in countries which would necessarily be part of the international disarmament force, and you see the problem.

Oh, and obtaining supplies and support has not, traditionally, been a problem for large men with guns who are, furthermore, the only ones carrying said guns.

I don’t disagree with you at all Happy Clam. It’s a daunting, if not, impossible task that’d require a whole lot of sovereignty to be given up.
The entire proposition is frought with problems and pitfalls and pressure on all sides throughout the entire proposed process.

Corruption was not meant, I think, in the way you asserted. Corruption as in monetary loss is one thing, the misbehavior you cited is another. I don’t think I would call the prisoner abuse scandal “corruption”, rather it is inhumanity. This is the inevitable result of war, and onyl makes an ugly business uglier.

As for logistics and supplies, you grossly mis-underestimate the logistical problems faced throughout the history of war. Armies have fallen because of poor logistics. It is a lot harder to feed, arm and supply 200,000 (or even a million) troops in a foreign land. Having guns is sometimes not enough. From the times of Alexander, to Ceasar to Napolean to today, logisitcs have been one of the primary areas of concern for a general. I would imagine this is true today more so than ever, since most of the machinery we use has like a gadjillion working parts and needs fuel/power to operate.

In that way, the U.S. muilitary today is relatively “corruption free”. In years past, generals and commanders would likely steal certain parts of the supply. A caravan leaving Rome would have 100,000 pounds of grain and arrive with about 85,000 pounds after the commander of the expedition sold some of it on the way to fatten his purse. In fact, I remember reading about how one Roman General actually staged the robbery of an entire treasure train of gold coming out of Gaul (worth as much as what was in the Roman treasury at the time). He orchestrated the murder of an entire cohort of his best men, then wisked the treasure away. His family grew immensely wealthy from it and his heirs became huge players in Roman politics. THAT is corruption.

As for the OP, it is odd how you say we need a peace-keeping force, you know, a standing army, to avoid having standing armies. I am not saying that it is not impossible, some day, for the world to change, but the removal of standing armies would be entirely pointless.

The UN has proven to be incredibly inefficient at accomplishing it’s goals unless it receives substantial military support from member nations. I think, philosophically, I agree with your assertion that the world would be a better place if there were no armies. However, as other posters have pointed out, modern militaries require highly skilled and trained personnel.

Furthermore, there are two plain and simple facts in this world:

  1. People want power and it nearly always corrupts, and
  2. People will find a reason to not like each other.

In the quest for power, those who seek it will always play upon the natural disdain we have for each other in an effort to achieve their overall goals.
Think about it, how many wars have been fought throughout history?
War is a gruesome, hellish reality. It always has been. Why the heck do people actually follow others into war?
I mean, why would some young kid walk in a straight line on the battlefields of Gettysburg towards a mass of artillery and rifles? They have nothing to gain.

They do it because someone in power sold them on the idea that they should “hate” and “fight” someone else, when in reality the motivation behind the war is to serve the desires and needs of those in power.

Until this reality changes, your utopia will not come to pass.

I never said that they would be the only ones carrying guns. They would be the only ones allowed use them non-domestically. And again, no army would last long without popular support. There would be too many insurrections if they tried. Look at Iraq and Afghanistan. No superpower has been able to control those regions in the long haul - not the British, the Soviets, nor us. No one has been able to even conquer Europe. But the purpose would not be control. So I find the threat of a global military dictatorship somewhere between slim and none.

The European Rapid Reaction Force (wiki - ERRF) is the closest I can find to the model I have in mind, along with a separate unit similar to the Foreign Legion. As the article states, it is still a work in progress. Each nation could still train as many reservists as it felt necessary, and keep a force strong enough to act as a deterrent, but not strong enough to cross the border. Any standing armies that would be allowed would have to justify exactly why they need as many men as they do, not just because they can.

And one way that might ensure a smooth transition is to disperse current military units out of their home territories. Send the Chinese here, send us to India, send the Indians to Europe, etc. or mixtures there of.

With the global economic integration, the greatest military threats left are the existence of the militaries themselves.

Another model would be to convert the military to non-military purposes, the Army Corp of Engineers for example.

That has been a dilemma I’ve been trying to resolve. The military is often the most effective organization to get something done that needs to be done. The discipline, esprit de corps, and heirarchal nature of command do have some great value. But the entire reason for its existence, i.e. kill other people, I cannot stand. And for all else they do, that is the primary reason they exist. They are not the Peace Corps or the Diplomatic Corps. They are not law enforcement or security guards. They are a group of personnel trained to kill as many as necessary while getting the least amount of their side killed.

They has to be a way for us to grow past that stage.

The problem though is that alot of destruction can be done w/o standing armies. 9/11 was just 19 terrorists. North Korea for example supposedly has about 100,000 commandos willing to engage in suicide missions if war ever breaks out. And it wouldn’t be extremely hard to train 10,000 or 100,000 soldiers in France, Canada or the US to engage in commando or kamikaze missions. Imagine what 1000 well trained Al Qaeda operatives or North Korean soldiers could do if they had funds and equiptment.

Plus things like ICBMs can do alot of damage and require no army.

Plus as others have said, the modern military is not really based on manpower, it is based on technology. I think Iraq has a 1 million man army but the US beat their standing army in a few weeks with 1/8th that many soldiers due to our advanced technology. So people could still carry out military research in labs even w/o a standing army.

I am stricken by this comment. The only reason the United States invaded and occupied defenseless little Hawaii and built a giant naval base there was to achieve an “ephimeral security.” Absent Hawaii, the Japanese would not need have bothered going all the way out there while they swallowed up the rest of the southwest Pacific.

Not to hijack my own thread, but I am not sure if I understand the complaint. How Hawaii became apart of the United States is a separate issue, but in 1941 it was American territory, as were the Philippines which the US did not acquire by the most noble means either. But an attack on either goes beyond security issues to an act of aggression by a foreign power. I do not deny anyone the right to counterattack. That is why I had no particular problems at the time* with the war against the Taliban. They were a direct sponsor and host for Al-Qaeda. And that falls into the same realm as our attacks against the Barbary Coast. But that not an valid reason with regards to other ventures.

Unfortunately, my AC adapter has decided to quit on me, so I have to call it a night for now. So I will have to respond to other posters later.

Okay, then, I’ll buy that. So let’s use that example.

Had the United States not had a standing armed forces, Japan would have won the war. It would have been quite impossible to construct a navy of any significant size or capability in less than a couple of years - you do not learn to fly carrier aircraft that easily - at which point the Japanese would very certainly have completely conquered the South Pacific, Hawaii, and possibly Australia.

Surely it was of great benefit to the cause of freedom that the United States had a standing army (and navy) in December 1941?


It means that a radical political (Nazis, Lenin’s Communists), religious (Taliban, clerical facsists) or criminal (Mafia, Hell’s Angels) group could create a small, powerful force, & overthrown legitimate authority, imposing their agenda on an undefended society.

So, we need an army to stop them.

I will accept the idea of reduction mof forces, not their elimination.