Evidently, money means little when it comes to projecting military power. How else to explain the fact that the US is in a tizzy because of threats and actions by Russia, by Iran, and even by dirt-poor North Korea – all of which have economies that are minuscule in comparison to America’s? What counts more than money is the miscreants’ will to use firepower ruthlessly, with no consideration for concepts such as “international law” or morality. This“gangster” mentality, by which a person or government acts in any way which furthers self-interest, regardless of consequences, has been adopted by some relatively poor states. It is a tactic used by the weak to counteract much stronger adversaries. And it can work!
“With limited financial and military resources at its disposal, Tehran relies on its feud with Washington to raise its profile and secure allies abroad.” Hilal Khashan. The same applies to Russia and N. Korea. All three use jiu-jitsu against the most powerful country in the world, the US.
Gangster regimes such as Iran and N. Korea threaten the US by name with annihilation, with not so much as a whimper by America’s allies. Israel is even threatened with total destruction in the halls of the useless United Nations. There were no outcries against these threats by UN Ambassadors, threats which are specifically outlawed by the UN Charter, Article Two, Section 4: All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations. This prohibition is honored only by its violation.
Below is a chart of the 2017 military expenditures of selected countries, showing a disparity of 100:1 from the strongest to the weakest according to military budgets:
USA $600 billion
Saudi Arabia $57 billion
Russia $45 billion
South Korea $44 billion
Germany $39 billion
Israel $16 billion
North Korea $8 billion
Iran $6 billion
Reviewing these rounded-off figures, it’s quickly apparent that the size of a country’s military budget has little relation to its potency or clout. Saudi Arabia’s huge expenditures have not produced a powerful army, far from it, while Iran’s and N. Korea’s modest budgets finance the two biggest global threats. The US spends 100 times what Iran does, yet Iran threatens America with impunity and has even driven a wedge between it and its European “allies,” who are content to try to appease the “tiger,” hoping it will eat someone else (usually Israel.) This failed strategy was even adopted by the US when President Obama made a rapprochement with Iran his top foreign policy goal.
The JCPOA, aka the Iran nuclear deal, was ironically consummated just a century after European states stood by as a defeated Germany rebuilt its military machine after WW1, eventually starting WW2. The JCPOA looks to be a similar failed mistake. Trump’s efforts to strengthen the JCPOA are vigorously opposed by the Iranians, who view nuclear weapons, or the threat of using them, as a cudgel to hammer the Middle East (and even further afield). The Europeans, blinded by their pacifistic tendencies as well as their greed for commercial ventures, help Iran by stymying Trump’s agenda to amend the agreement. The result: the US is resisted and branded a warmonger.
During the last century and until now, weaker powers have gained relative strength. They have profited from the stronger powers’ refusal to use their economic weight and firepower early on when it was possible to prevent malevolent, weak countries from building their arsenals. Today’s giant problems, Iran and N. Korea, could easily have been prevented several decades ago by the judicious use of realpolitik by the US, helped by its allies – who have turned out to be allies only economically, not militarily.
Despite all the money the wealthier nations have spent on arming themselves, poorer nations have used the “guns not butter” policy (investing in weapons – not civilian goods), coupled with gangster mentality to gain power. Only a hardening of foreign policy coupled with realpolitik can turn this around, at least in the case of Iran. As for N. Korea, a more militaristic strategy may be necessary since negotiations have only been used by the North Koreans to confound the West and to give three successive Korean dictators time to build their arsenals.