Does The United States Have The Economic Capability To Fight, Let Alone Win, Another World War?
The world held its collective breath this week as Poland – a NATO member – had two missiles land in its territory and kill two of its civilians. Propaganda quickly conquered the media narrative after Poland identified the missiles as Russian-made. Ukrainian officials quickly called for NATO to militarily enter the Ukrainian war against Russia, and Western media amplified those cries. I, however, questioned whether the missile strikes were a false flag operation staged by either the Ukrainian military or the military-industrial complex to expand the war. The missiles, however, appear to have been fired by Ukrainian air defense forces in a failed attempt to intercept Russian cruise missile attacks on its power grid. What had the makings of a crisis similar to the Cuban missile crisis has now largely dissipated.
The cries for NATO and the United States to intervene militarily in the Ukrainian conflict raised the possibility of World War III. Facts have proven those cries misguided and no longer appropriate, but the once-imminent specter of a world war should counsel against going back to business as usual, especially since the conflict still continues and ample opportunity exists for an actual provocation to occur. In other words, the United States needs to think long and hard about whether it can survive another world war, let alone win it.
The temptation and the route of blissful ignorance is to take the attitude that the United States is the most powerful nation on the face of the earth right now and can easily outclass the rest of the world in a world war. That attitude, however, ignores the history of the previous two world wars that have gripped the world and how those wars were won.
In both World War I and World War II, the United States proved to be the deciding factor. While it did achieve significant and consistent battlefield victories, the key to the West’s survival in both wars was the United States’ industrial production capabilities. World War II serves as the most poignant example. Prior to Pearl Harbor, the United States provided significant aid to European nations through the exportation of arms, munitions, and other industrial goods. After the United States ramped up to full war-time industrial production after Pearl Harbor, it maintained an industrial production capacity almost double or triple that of Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan.
The United States’ production advantage was critical because the Allies often faced technological disadvantages on the battlefield. For instance, historical accounts indicate that the Sherman tank was substantially inferior to German tanks. While the Allies ultimately developed comparable technology toward the end of the war, they survived and largely prevailed during the war because of their ability to produce 3 tanks to every 1 tank the Germans could produce.
The United States leverage the same industrial production advantage to essentially drive Soviet Russia out of the arms race that occurred during the Cold War that we keep telling ourselves ended.
It is no secret though that the United States’ economy is a far different one from the one that won World Wars I and II and the Cold War. The United States’ economy has shifted to being primarily a service economy rather than an industrial economy. We have outsourced a lot of our manufacturing production to foreign countries, including China. Militarily, we have also placed an emphasis on developing highly sophisticated weapons that, while given us significant technological advantages, do not seem to be suitable for mass production.
These factors raise the all-important question. Does the United States have the economic capability in terms of industrial production capacity to fight, let alone win, another World War, which would be a much more intense and prolonged conflict than the global war on terror?
It is tempting to point to the United States’ COVID-19 pandemic response where it mass-produced masks and vaccines, but that does not tell the full story. The United States has largely preserved its medical manufacturing industry. Thus, it was a far simpler task to adapt those industries to to mass emergency production than it would be to adapt the industries that would support the armaments industry to mass production.
Another World War would require the revival of mass industrial production infrastructure that the United States has allowed to decline as its economy has changed. Reviving that infrastructure would likely take years before it is ready for the extraordinary sustained production on the mass scale necessary to survive and prevail in another World War.
This is a question to discuss, debate, and decide now, not when we have the next propaganda driven crisis. My view is that we quite simply do not have the economic capacity to prevail in another World War. Thus, we should tread extra cautiously before impulsively rushing into another one.