We get distracted by headlines of conflict and awful stories of grotesque war crimes in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. But it remains true that the globe is devoting a smaller percentage of its income and manpower to war:
The black line is the average across countries of military spending as a percentage of GDP, using the Correlates of War (COW) estimate of total spending divided by World Bank GDP figures (which only start in 1960). The red line is the average across countries of armed forces per 1,000 population, again using COW estimates.
You see really striking long-run declines in the West, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and Asia. In these areas it almost looks as if demobilization from World War II has taken place gradually and over 60+ years. In Latin America and North Africa/Middle East, you see pretty striking declines since the end of the Cold War, and perhaps some decline in subSaharan Africa since around 2000.
It is this context that makes a military drawdown not only essential for our future fiscal health – but also less dangerous than it might otherwise have been in terms of global security. And the primary threat – Jihadist terrorism – is not very effectively countered by new aircraft carriers or the impact of occupying troops. We may eventually have to adjust to, you know, reality. But as yet, only the Paulites have truly gotten the message.