The clinical term for non use of muscle and the accompanying decay of said muscle is atrophy. To be precise the definition is as follows (taken from the online dictionary): Gradual decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect.
The first effective use of international foreign aid by the United States can be traced back to the Marshall Plan in the post World War II era. While the United States was involved in other nation’s affairs previously (think World War I), the Marshall Plan heralded a new chapter in that the U.S. would help rebuild nations with its money, provide for peoples that were oppressed or devastated due to war or natural calamity. In essence, the U.S. was going to be a good neighbor (and use that generosity to their advantage). There were many reasons for providing aid to nations in the post war world, especially in light of the Cold War that was brewing even before the war reached its conclusion. Not so ironically, most of that reasoning was political. The idea was to provide money for nations that needed it, and in return, they would resist the perceived monstrosity that lurked in the shadows…international communism with the Soviet Union as its head. Even the creation of NATO was in response to the identified Soviet threat, along with the next war that the United States would inject itself into, the Korean War. Conflict aside, there were other such instances as well. Nations that were developing and needed foreign aid to get over their developmental hump, international crises such as an outbreak of disease in a far away place, continuing defense and policing areas or places once under tyranny (think Germany and Japan as an example), or simply helping a nation that is undergoing a civil war and the side that the U.S. supported, was losing. Please know that the United States is not alone in helping nations financially, but it is without question the United States that is the largest “funder” on the planet.
Currently, the United States funds foreign assistance programs in over 100 nations that are managed by twenty government agencies. The official line is that this funding is important to foster international relations, help foreign nations rebuild, keep our nation safe, and promote and defend democracy throughout the world.
Further, the United States keeps military bases and houses military troops in many foreign nations as well. Some, like Okinawa and Germany, are the result of World War II. Others, like Afghanistan, a result of recent conflicts. In fact, the United States currently has six hundred and sixty two bases throughout the world in thirty eight nations. This graphic, done by Time Magazine just under a year ago, shows our current troop deployment (Current International Troop Deployment). There are over a million military personnel deployed worldwide, with over one hundred fifty thousand military personnel stationed in foreign nations. In essence, there are very few places one can go without some form of the United States military being there. Certainly, there very few places that are completely free of some form of aid from the United States.
Since this is a history blog, a short…very short primer should be included, so here it is. One method of foreign aid came in the form of colonization rather than bloc grants or simply sending money to foreign nations. I say this tongue in cheek as the only aid that was obtained was for the colonizing nation. This colonization was fraught with all kinds of problems ranging from abuse of power, becoming an occupying force (see the British in India, French in Africa, or the Spanish in the New World to name a few), or a vehicle to enhance the wealth of the colonizing nation. The West is responsible in many ways for the problems of colonization, beginning with Columbus’ voyage in 1492 to the New World which opened up that region initially for the Portuguese and Spanish throughout the Sixteenth Century. It should also be pointed out that because of European exploration, greater globalization was also a result. That is not the politically correct version, but it is correct nonetheless. Later, the French, English and Dutch entered the fray as well, although the first colonies set up by those powers did not come to be until the Seventeenth Century. The point is that colonization was the primary way in which nations took control, drained an area of its resources enriched itself, and, eventually, provided protection for its foreign investments. Please note that there is no judgment on those last points for a variety of reasons. The main reason is that from a history perspective, it is absolutely wrong to project the morality of one time period on another, and we will not do that here. The fact is that colonization happened as a historical fact.
As World War I drew to a close and European nations lost or gave up their colonial holdings (for a variety of reasons…another blog entry sometime in the future), they took another approach, one of neo-colonialism. This approach meant that while independence was given to the former colonies (or in the case of some of them, fought for – see Haiti), they remained dependent on their former colony for financial support. The former “mother country” took advantage of this situation by providing aid (money) in return for goods, raw materials, or special consideration in trade affairs. This was simply another form of colonization, but disguised as “aid”. Here is the important part…the former colonies came to rely on this aid rather than bite the bullet and try to develop on their own. In some cases, the game was rigged as the large, former colonial Western powers controlled trade access and gateways to entering the trade game. They had a monopoly and were going to exploit that advantage as much as they could to keep the money flowing and their former colonies under their thumb. This was the case for many former African colonies after most of them achieved their independence after the Second World War. Could those emerging African nations have rejected European aid? Sure, but why would a dictator do that and ruin his opportunity to enrich himself? Corruption was, and is, rampant throughout many African states…as it is everywhere.
The point here is that nations have historically been unwilling to let their former colonial nations go and have found many ways in which to keep them dependent. For the United States, it is the promise of protection and the subsequent nation building exercises which are so often fraught with failure and massive expense. Japan, at the end of the Second World War was under the auspices of the United States, gaining its independence in 1952 save for some military bases which we still maintain today. Germany still has American troops as well. The United States also pays the lion’s share of the money for NATO. If one takes into account aid to Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and so many other nations, it is plain to see that US tentacles are world wide. This has created a situation in which nations have come to depend on American aid, whether that aid is forced upon nations, as was the case after the Iraq War, or offered and accepted, as in the case of the Marshall Plan. This prospect provides an opportunity for the United States to inject itself into a region, but also for the aid receiving nation to use the U.S. as a crutch…in some cases a permanent crutch. They do not have to develop for themselves the capability of defense as we are there to fund it and do the defending for them. Sure, there may be some “cooperation” from nations, like, say, South Korea, but in the end, it is the United States that provides the defense, and the money that makes it all go. The result? Foreign nations that do not have to develop their own defense, become inherently weaker, and cannot fend for themselves without U.S. involvement. For the U.S.? Continual payments, with less returns, perpetual debt which we can no longer afford, and a suggestion of a more unsafe planet as one nation defends many versus nations defending themselves. These nations atrophy in their ability and willingness to defend themselves, and the United States becomes the teat by which they suckle.
NATO, while still a viable force, depends on the United States to fund much of that body as well as contribute the lion’s share of the troops. One case in point is Afghanistan. Out of the 12,000 troops involved currently, the United States supplies 7,000, with the next largest contributor being Germany at 960 (numbers valid as of July, 2016 NATO numbers). This is one small piece of the argument, but an important one. Another instance is both direct and indirect funding of NATO. Currently, the United States, according the NATO.int, funds NATO at 22.0 percent with the next largest nation being Germany at 14.0, and France at 10.0. Simply stated, the allies of the United States, as currently constituted, rely on the United States disproportionately to fund and supply money and troops to defend them and the interests of the United States. The result? International atrophy. U.S. allies do not have to strengthen themselves as the U.S. will do the defending for them. The United States will police for them, enforce for them, and protect and fund their interests for them at the expense of the United States. The net result is an overall weaker world, and weaker allies for the United States. The problem is larger than money. It is one of mentality. If the allies of the United States know that the U.S. will always be there to bail them out, what is the rationale for any of them to build themselves up militarily for their own defense? The simple answer is that there is none, which is why the United States must continually fund its military. If the U.S. is going to be the “go-to” nation with regard to defense and funding, then eventually a disproportionate amount of money and resources are going to be allocated. This cannot, and must not, be allowed to continue. Our infrastructure is crumbling, the services our government provides need money (without raising taxes), and the simple truth is that we cannot afford to continue on this path of world protection.
The fix is to bite the bullet, and force nations off of the teat of the United States, gradually. Nations must become responsible for their own defense and their own aid. The nations of the world cannot continue to count on the United States for funding, defense, and overall protection. It is a simple equation. The more help that is given, the more atrophy is the result, and right now, world atrophy due to overdependence on the United States is too much for that nation to bear.