If a country was to disband any and all of its military, and sell off its military assets, wouldn't it be an effective way to prevent an invasion? Because after this, it's clear to anyone that this country is not a threat to anyone. No military action against it can be justified. Sure, a neighboring country that still has a military could walk over and occupy it with hardly any effort - but they would have no way to justify this as a "good" or "necessary" deed, not even to their own people or soldiers.

Of course this only works in a modern democratic setting. Historically, monarchs probably wouldn't worry about what the common rabble thinks of them. But today - why isn't this being done?

  • 1
    Comments deleted. Please use comments to suggest how the question can be improved. Do not use comments to answer the question.
    – Philipp
    Sep 8, 2018 at 11:07
  • 2
    Its hard for some to ignore an easy target, I think Hitler was in to invasions, especially easy targets. Sep 8, 2018 at 23:26
  • 5
    Make a few google searches about Crimea. The fact that most countries does not recognize annexaction does not mean that they are willing to do anything about it. Sep 9, 2018 at 8:00
  • 3
    Your tactic also relies on everyone else accepting that demilitarization has occurred, which isn't a given - the 2003 Iraq war over WMD springs to mind.
    – berry120
    Sep 10, 2018 at 14:23
  • 1
    I'll take "naivety" for a dollar.
    – Ian Kemp
    Sep 10, 2018 at 19:18

12 Answers 12


Dogbert has something to say about this.


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Imagine a situation where a country was concerned their neighbor would invade them. The kindly watching type (KWT) country looks at their irate and quarrelesome (IRQ) neighbor and rationally evaluates the situation as having a significant potential for the IRQ to attack the KWT.

Suppose IRQ believes they have some kind of grievance that can only be answered by war. Or pretends they do.

Now imagine that KWT make the change to having zero military, and nothing else is changed. Does this change their evaluation of IRQ? Does it change the evaluation that IRQ holds of KWT?

If they anticipate that they can simply drive their jeeps over there and sit down in the president's chair, probably not killing anybody, probably not firing a single weapon, will IRQ be dissuaded or encouraged? Will the rest of the world be outraged by such a non-violent annexation?

If all the KWT people can muster in response to the annexation is to put grumpy looks on their faces, does it make big media coverage in the countries that might do something about it? How does it compare to the news play if the KWT military fought fiercely but got brushed aside?

In other considerations, the military does lots of other things besides defending the border. They are symbolic indicators of power for the leadership. They can respond to natural disasters such as fire, flood, earthquake, with relief and crowd control and anti-looting efforts and such. They can be places to provide training to people for a wide array of useful skills. The military is a traditional place to stick unmanageable youth until they grow up a little. These are all things that governments traditionally find attractive.

  • 104
    Sort of playing devil's advocate to the OP's point though, if IRQ did invade KWT, some Unilateral Stabilization Army (USA) would probably march in to defend them. Of course, if KWT had some Overtly Irresistible Lucre (OIL) to trade for that defense, it would certainly help their cause.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Sep 9, 2018 at 6:52
  • 9
    Technically KWT maybe defended by a Unified Nations Combined force rather than just the United Stabiliztion Army.
    – Sarriesfan
    Sep 9, 2018 at 15:26
  • 51
    This may be the best use of acronyms I've seen in years. Well done all.
    – Rowan
    Sep 10, 2018 at 11:51
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    @PoloHoleset that was the second IRQ United Stabilazation Army conflict, even then they did not attack alone.
    – Sarriesfan
    Sep 10, 2018 at 15:37
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    I think the Russian annexation of Crimea is an example of this. Russia 'knew' they wouldn't get resistance from the Ukrainian army in Crimea. Had it been a bloodbath, the international community would not be as passive about this whole affair as we have been.
    – Lan
    Sep 10, 2018 at 17:21

Your basic assumption seems to be wrong, that countries are attacked because they're perceived to be threats. While this is sometimes the reason (e.g. the Iraq War was supposedly to prevent Saddam Hussein from making use of weapons of mass destruction -- although this is a gross simplification), it's not the only reason countries invade other countries.

Historically, the primary reason for invasions has been to acquire resources. For example, another country may have valuable oil reserves -- if you successfully attack them and take them over, now you have valuable oil reserves. Instead of having to purchase oil from them, you can sell it to others. And not just natural resources -- citizens and industries may be useful to acquire.

To be fair, this type of warfare has declined significantly in the modern era. It's generally more cost-effective to negotiate trade treaties rather than invading, and that's what most countries do. This is one of the points that Steven Pinker makes in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined; most warfare these days is not international, it's civil wars, and based on ideological conflicts. However, there are some beligerant nations that are under sanctions that prevent them from trading as much as they might need; they may feel the need to acquire resources through violence since they can't do it peacefully (although the intent of the sanctions is for them to change their violent policies, then they'll be allowed to trade more freely).

As long as there are nations or state-like terrorist groups (e.g. ISIS) that use warfare as a means to achieve their goals, other nations will need military forces to defend against them. It's not reasonable for all peaceful countries to demilitarize -- they'll all become sitting ducks for the actors that are still willing to attack.

  • 1
    But don't the countries that attack still need to maintain an internal "we are the good guys, they are the bad guys" narrative? So that their own armies and leaders don't defect in disgust?
    – Vilx-
    Sep 7, 2018 at 21:45
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    That depends on the culture and politics of the attacking nation. Propaganda is very useful -- the North Korean government teaches schoolchildren that the US is an evil empire.
    – Barmar
    Sep 7, 2018 at 21:49
  • 6
    Hmm, belief - I hadn't thought of that. True, if your nation (and allies) believe that nation X is fundamentally corrupt and evil, then attacking and "civilizing" it becomes the morally right thing to do - even if they are nonviolent.
    – Vilx-
    Sep 7, 2018 at 22:34
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    I don't think that's what's actually going on in NK. I think he's trying to justify his nuclear buildup as a defensive measure to his citizens, to protect against our inevitable attack.
    – Barmar
    Sep 7, 2018 at 22:40
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    Terrorist (not guerrilla) groups are mostly better handled by police, not military forces so you wouldn't need a full military to deal with them. Sep 10, 2018 at 6:23

Let me tell you a story as an example of why demilitarization is not an effective strategy.

It's 1991. Ukraine had the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world following the fall of the USSR. However, they have very little else going for them, and immediately begin to fall into economic decline. This concerned world leaders, because a failing country having nukes means someone might be desperate enough to actually use nukes.

Foreign leaders tried many times to get Ukraine to give up its nukes, but one failure after another occurred because Ukraine wanted to at least keep a few nukes for their own security, as they feared being re-absorbed by Russia. It took until 1994 and the Budapest Memorandum to finally get Ukraine to give up all their nukes in exchange for the USA, Russia, and the UK all providing joint security assurances against force or threat of force against Ukraine's territory or political independence. Ukraine became a non-nuclear state on December 5th, 1994.

In February of 2014, however, months of internal political unrest turned into the Ukrainian Revolution, and Ukrainian President Yanukovych fled the country to Russia to escape prosecution. Coincidentally, in March 2014, Russia invaded the southern tip of Ukraine, called Crimea, and annexed it as part of Russia soon afterwards. The US and UK decried this as violating their 1994 treaty, but Russia's response was that the treaty was with the lawful government of Ukraine, not with the forces that came to power after the coup d'etat.

While many legal bodies of the UN, EU, etc etc felt that this was a violation of the spirit of the treaty, no country was willing to go to war with the still-nuclear Russia to defend said treaty. So now 20% of Ukraine is Russian, with no assurances that the rest is safe.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Sep 11, 2018 at 15:12
  • 1
    Changed my downvote (for insufficient explanation) to an upvote (for a good writeup of a very relevant example). Thanks for updating it!
    – Bobson
    Sep 12, 2018 at 21:14
  • 'cause Ukraine nuking (or threatening to nuke) a Russian city after the "little green men" showed up would have been such a realistic method of making them withdraw... Straight from Kim's family thinking, I guess... Feb 22, 2020 at 4:37

The following countries have no military:

  • Andorra
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Kiribati
  • Liechtenstein
  • Marshall Islands
  • Federated States of Micronesia
  • Nauru
  • Palau
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Samoa
  • Solomon Islands
  • Tuvalu
  • Vatican City (Inclusion in this list is debatable. The Swiss Guard is under the authority of the Holy See, an entity which is much older than the Vatican City. But the Pope rules both, so they're not exactly independent.)


Note that most of them do have agreements with nearby countries for protection. So maybe the answer is, that it can be a defensive strategy in this day and age if you have a strong and friendly neighbor.

Historically of course, this was a terrible idea. The Moriori people practiced strict non-violence. In the 1830's, they were invaded by the Taranaki Māori who nearly wiped them out, committing some pretty terrible atrocities above and beyond simple murder on the way.

  • 13
    The Marshall Islands? The US spends ~$180M a year to maintain a missile base there. I'm pretty sure if you attack those islands you'll have to contend with the first and second largest air forces in the world, UN sanctioned or not. Only in the literal sense do they "have no military".
    – Mazura
    Sep 8, 2018 at 0:23
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    @jpmc26 The Federated States of Micronesia is the name of a sovereign country. It is not part of the U.S. That said, most of the countries on this list are former possessions of the United States and have defensive agreements in place with the United States. To attack them would be tantamount to attacking the United States itself, even though they are no longer part of the U.S. The U.S. also maintains military bases in many of those places, making their defense in the strategic interest of the U.S. Suffice it to say, most of the nations on this list are very far from defenseless.
    – reirab
    Sep 8, 2018 at 5:49
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    You seem to miss Costa Rica
    – user58697
    Sep 9, 2018 at 1:03
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    @Mazura As I said in my answer, these countries depend on neighbors for protection.
    – Harabeck
    Sep 9, 2018 at 3:41
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    To add to my previous comment, I think adding Costa Rica to this list is important because Costa Rica isn't a tiny country like the others listed. It doesn't make sense for a tiny country to have an army since it would be outnumbered by any other country, and thus their best defense might be just that, not having an army. But Costa Rica has a similar size compared to its neighbors, so it's army would potentially be comparable if it had one.
    – zundi
    Sep 10, 2018 at 0:08

This is an interesting question, but I think it's constructed on a few false premises.

If a country was to disband any and all of its military, and sell off it's military assets, wouldn't it be an effective way to prevent an invasion? Because after this, it's clear to anyone that this country is not a threat to anyone.

In the modern world, most democratic countries are not considered a threat to any others. No one worries about the US (3rd in the world, with 1,348,400 service members) invading Iceland (with no active duty military, just a Coast Guard).

No military action against it can be justified. Sure, a neighboring country that still has a military could walk over and occupy it with hardly any effort - but they would have no way to justify this as a "good" or "necessary" deed, not even to their own people or soldiers.

I don't see why the lack of resistance would matter at all to what Casus belli is used to justify a war or invasion. For example, if "rebels" in a country ask a neighboring country to come in and restore order, it doesn't matter whether that country has a military to protest it or not. Other countries and people will either believe the cause was justified or not, regardless of whether there was any fighting involved.

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    "In the modern world, most democratic countries are not considered a threat to any others." - Yes, but the nearby not-so-democratic regimes still paint them as huge threats. That gets a lot more difficult if there is no military there... "I don't see why the lack of resistance would matter at all to what Casus belli is used to justify a war or invasion." - It makes it very difficult to come up with a plausible justification that doesn't leave your allies and/or population appalled.
    – Vilx-
    Sep 7, 2018 at 21:29
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    @Vilx- I don't see why you'd think it would be any harder for an autocratic leader to paint a country with no army as a huge threat. Aside from military power, there's still economic power, cultural power, power from being an international leader, etc. Sure, it can't be "The Evil Superpower is going to bomb/invade us" without outright lying to the citizens (see: North Korea), but it can be "The Evil Superpower is oppressing us! Your woes are all their fault!"
    – Bobson
    Sep 7, 2018 at 23:02
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    @Vilx- Likewise, it's trivially easy to come up with a justification that your populace will support. "The existence of this country threatens our way of life/traditional values/economic prosperity!" Or "We happen to know that that population really wants to join us!" Or find someone who can plausibly claim to have rightful authority over there and back them "retaking the country stolen from them". It doesn't have to be true, but it's pretty straightforward to be plausible internally. Sure, the international community will condemn you, but who cares? They're just out to get you anyway!
    – Bobson
    Sep 7, 2018 at 23:06
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    True. Also see comments on Barmar's answer. It might not be necessary to actually be threatened with violence from your opponent, to be able to paint him as "evil" and thus justify an invasion. OK, I can accept that.
    – Vilx-
    Sep 7, 2018 at 23:08
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    @Vilx- "Yes, but the nearby not-so-democratic regimes still paint them as huge threats. That gets a lot more difficult if there is no military there" History suggests otherwise. You seem to greatly underestimate the power of propaganda, especially in "not-so-democratic regimes." It can be quite a powerful tool even in democratic nations. Take Nazi Germany, for example. They had a (more-or-less) democratic republic in the 20s and early 30s, yet the Nazis rose to power and consolidated power through propaganda demonizing and scapegoating various harmless third parties.
    – reirab
    Sep 8, 2018 at 5:40

My observation is that invasions happen more often in relatively defenseless countries (compared to their aggressor) than well-guarded countries. In the entire course of the cold war and beyond, the United States never invaded Russia or vice versa. Despite the United States's adversarial relationship with China in recent decades, the U.S. government has been reluctant to enter into any military conflict with them. Invasion of nuclear powers is scarce. The U.S. invaded Iraq under the false pretense that they were developing nuclear weapons, but the U.S. government has never invaded a country that they knew had nuclear weapons. North Korea has had a nuclear weapons program since the 1980's and has been out of compliance with the UN Security Council since 1993, but the U.S. never bothered to invade and disarm them. Saudi Arabia is the most militarily strong country in the Middle East, and it is also an Arab country that the United States has shown little eagerness to invade, despite being the home country of most of the 9/11 hijackers; but the U.S. has conducted various campaigns in militarily weaker Arab countries like Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. In recent decades, Russia has invaded Ukraine, Georgia, and Chechnya; having little to do with whether they pose a military threat. Iraq invaded Kuwait despite Kuwait not being a match militarily.

It is rather rare in recent decades that invaded countries have been militarily mighty. There have been dozens of often not-well-known invasions perpetrated against militarily weak nations. Some notable exceptions have been the various invasions of India, the conflicts involving Israel, and the invasions involving Iraq. It can be conjectured that all of these classify as too much personal grudge to care about the defending nation's strength, or overwhelming military superiority of the invading country.


I believe a better defensive system would be to maintain a small to medium-sized military, operate a strong economy that is not weakened by excessive military spending, and maintain good diplomatic and military alliances. Switzerland's model of military neutrality and good diplomatic relations has helped it become the most economically and socially well-off country in the world (note: Switzerland DOES have a small military with a budget of about $4.8 billion). But the virtue in maintaining a small military, rather than no military, is it gives you more military capital with which to trade military alliances with other countries.

It can also be observed that in recent decades, there have rarely been invasions perpetrated against wealthy, industrialized, liberal democracies in the West. Specifically, in the 84 most recent invasions, the only a few have been directed against western democracies, only their distantly-held territories, not mainland invasions (Spanish and French territories in Morocco, British-controlled Falkland Islands, Dutch-controlled Papau New Guinea, Portuguese territories in India). This likely has to do with having neighbors who are also modernized liberal democracies. It can be reasoned that if a country provides humanitarian aid to help its neighbors to stabilize, establish a constitutional democracy, improve their education, and improve their economic health; then they can help stabilize their local geopolitical situation. Stable neighbors create an ally and eliminate a potential enemy at the same time.

  • But none of those invasions have been against a country that is completely without military power. The argument has always been - "They are massing their forces and are increasingly threatening us; we must strike first!" - or some variation thereof. If there is no military, this argument is useless. In fact, what other justification can there possibly be for attacking someone?
    – Vilx-
    Sep 7, 2018 at 21:36
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    @Vilx The actual impetus for military invasion is often to make a land grab, seize control of natural resources, or political / religious animus. The invading countries have often been banana republics and Arab states that have little regard for good, justifiable reasons for invasion. If India had no military, you can be certain that Pakistan WOULD invade it (again). If Palestine had no military, you could be certain that Israel would invade it (again). Distinction between small army and no army don't honestly meet your standard of "we have to invade because they're a major threat".
    – John
    Sep 7, 2018 at 21:51
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    "The U.S. invaded Iraq under the false pretense that they had nuclear weapons" - No. "WMDs" and "nuclear weapons" are not the same thing.
    – D M
    Sep 8, 2018 at 0:18
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    "The U.S. invaded Iraq under the false pretense that they had nuclear weapons". This is incorrect. The claim was that Iraq was DEVELOPING nuclear weapons, and other types of WMDS such as chemical weapons - which it indisputably had, and had used. The claim was truthful, even though the nuclear weapons programs was nowhere near as far advanced as western intelligence (and probably Saddam himself) thought it was.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 8, 2018 at 17:24
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    Switzerland is a bad example as it is free-riding NATO by being enclosed by NATO members. Sep 10, 2018 at 12:20

During the Cold War, some German leftists suggested that the risk of accidental war on the Iron Curtain outweighs the risk of deliberate war, and that measures should be taken to prevent accidental war even at the expense of military efficiency.

The idea was to deploy non-mechanized infantry with plenty of anti-tank missiles forward near the border, and tank forces way back in the own territory. As long as the Soviets did not see those tanks moving forward, they could be assured that no major attack was imminent. Of course the best defense includes active counterattacks, so the infantry forces forward would sacrifice some of their efficiency. If it had come to a war, they would have paid dearly, but the judgement of those leftists was that the reduced risk of misunderstandings was worth it.

This is comparable to agreements on demilitarized zones as part of armstices or confidence-building measures, except that it would have been an unilateral decision.

  • You speak of the past, but this argument is still made today, in particular by people critical of NATO exercises near the Russian border.
    – gerrit
    Sep 10, 2018 at 9:46
  • @gerrit, I don't believe that Russia is reasonable to fear a NATO ground attack in 2018, even with the rotational deployments in the Baltics and on the southern flank. NATO just doesn't have the ground forces to go on an offensive. 1983 was different. (What might cause worries today is an anti-A2AD air campaign getting out of hand.)
    – o.m.
    Sep 10, 2018 at 15:52
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    I agree that a NATO ground offensive against Russia proper is an unreasonable fear (as I think fear for the opposite is also unreasonable). That doesn't stop people from making the argument that NATO troops near the Russian border may increase the risk of accidental war today.
    – gerrit
    Sep 10, 2018 at 16:29
  • @gerrit, fear of hybrid warfare seems not unreasonable to me. Little green men and all that. I believe it would be stupid to try that against a NATO member, but Putin might hope that Trump would not respond forcefully.
    – o.m.
    Sep 10, 2018 at 17:04
  • The only place within NATO where that may be remotely likely is Narva, for the one thing that Crimea, South-Ossetia, and Abkhazia have in common is that the local population is unhappy with the internationally recognised government of the internationally recognised country, and rather happy to align with Moscow. Russias actions in neighbouring countries have been quite rational thus far, although as they say, hindsight is 20/20.
    – gerrit
    Sep 10, 2018 at 18:14

This has been the strategy of the Netherlands in the first half of the 1900s. It worked to stay neutral in World War I.

However, in the Second World War, Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of the Netherlands despite the proclaimed neutrality. The only defenses the Netherlands had were a century old, with hardly any air defense at all.

As a result, the main port Rotterdam was bombed to the ground and the country was overtaken in a single day.

See Netherlands in World War II on Wikipedia.

  • Well then. Case closed.
    – Vilx-
    Sep 10, 2018 at 13:59
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    This example is particularly telling since Switzerland had similar neutrality policy, but also had a defensive effort and wasn't invaded.
    – Communisty
    Sep 10, 2018 at 14:12
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    @Communisty stretching the point there. Switzerland has a very different geography to say the least and was not relevant to bypassing the Maginot LIne defenses, unlike Belgium and the Netherlands. Sep 10, 2018 at 15:18
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    Neutrality ≠ demilitarisation. The Netherlands was never demilitarised. Rotterdam was bombed to the ground, then The Netherlands was told to surrender or other cities would face the same fate. Countries like Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, were simply too small to face much of a chance against Nazi aggression with any reasonably or unreasonably sized army.
    – gerrit
    Sep 10, 2018 at 16:31
  • @ItalianPhilosopher Switzerland is a special case. Dictators keep their money there, so would never dream of attacking. Also their neutrality means selling weapons to both sides.
    – RedSonja
    Sep 12, 2018 at 11:02

It depends on your neighborhood, your friends and your own internal politics.

Demilitarization as a strategy might very well work in say, Western Europe. Basically when no one nearby is likely to invade you. It will also work if you have powerful friends willing to step in and protect you. This will depend on who your friends are and how powerful your potential enemies are (face it, NATO's never going to fight Russia on Ukraine's behalf).

But a third element is also that your armed forces are internally a major potential political force (and one capable of resorting to violence should it wish to). Militaries are almost by nature conservative and could resist getting disbanded unless there is already a strong tradition of civilian oversight of the military.

Taking an extreme example. Pakistan might be well served to get rid of a military that sucks up 20-30% of their GDP, is incapable of winning a war with India (the main justification for its existence) and has a history of meddling in civilian affairs. India could probably be coerced into relatively benign behavior by international pressure, except in Kashmir. India aside, the Himalayas protect Pakistan and it would only really have to contend with Afghanistan and Iran (both of which have serious mountain ranges on the borders).

Would this ever fly? Of course not, the Pakistan military would never agree to being disbanded.

The general population may also resist the idea of disbanding the military, out of national pride. Again taking Pakistan, it is hard to see the population supporting military disbanding.

Some of the countries in South America are in a position where they could disband, but Costa Rica is one of the few to have done so. As a counter example of tradition-based militaries, Bolivia still maintains a navy, despite being landlocked and having little hope to regain sea access.

  • Pakistan borders Iran too.
    – Bregalad
    Sep 10, 2018 at 6:48
  • fair enough. should have looked at a map on that. Sep 10, 2018 at 6:51
  • @Bregalad Seeing that Iran has never invaded a foreign country (at least not in modern times) I don't think anybody has anything to fear from Iran.
    – gerrit
    Sep 10, 2018 at 9:47

Because no one wants to fight someone else's war.

International diplomacy is inherently selfish. Parties uphold treaties only as long as those treaties benefit them, or real penalty for breaking treaty is worse than upholding it (penalty here, means potential retaliation from multiple parties who's interests might be threatened by breaking of treaty). Might does make right. Because of that, relying on undefined far off countries for protection is foolish. Unless they have vested interest in disarmed country's well-being or very existence, they have absolutely no reason to expend money, resources and lives fighting someone else's war.

This very excuse (someone else's war) has been used to cop out of assisting allies and members of mutual defensive pacts, using it to refuse entering alliance with demilitarised country in the first place is trivial.

Von Clausewitz said "War is the continuation of politics by other means", which indeed is correct. With mostly sane and reasonable leaders, war is little more than cost benefit analysis: deterring function of army relies on pushing cost of invasion high enough to make it unprofitable (in terms of financial capital, political capital or any other capital, profit in this case isn't purely monetary). Threat of invasion is used for political leverage. Disarmed country loses powerful deterrent without gaining anything, they gain no leverage over anyone. Indeed, anyone willing to actually defend them, instantly gains powerful leverage over them, mostly by threatening to withdraw protection offer.

You may note that another answer lists countries without militaries, note that those are basically microstates which could not offer any actual resistance in the first place. For example Lichtenstein neighbours Switzerland and Austria. Lichtenstein has population below 40 thousand, Austrian active military personnel counts 20 thousand, Swiss 160 thousand. Microstates can get away with no military on virtue of not being worth the fuss caused by invasion or offering important service for neighbouring political/financial elites (usually some form of tax haven), usually both. As such, anyone who might be in position to mandate invasion of microstate has vested interest in it's sovereignty. Large countries rarely can afford to offer service that vital to political/economic elites.


There are many useful answers already, but I think the analysis is not complete without addressing the military-industrial complex. Although not the only reason for its existence, pre-existing interest of the military and/or the arms industry may make it more difficult to reduce the size of either (with demilitarisation being the extreme case of reducing the size).

The theory of the power of the military-industrial complex is adhered to mostly by anti-war activists on the (far) left, even though the phrase was first coined by Eisenhower (emphasis mine):

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations.

Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Peace activists argue that this unwarranted influence has already happened, and that lobbying by the military-industrial complex fuels wars and would never permit mutual demilitarisation. Politicians in democratic countries depend on campaign donations from their friends in the military-industrial complex to get re-elected. Politicians in autocratic nations depend on friends in the military to not get deposed in a coup-d'état. The complex is not limited to countries with a capitalist economy, but certainly also in countries with a planned economy (not many of those exist anymore). According to this analysis, demilitarisation is not used because the military-industrial complex would not permit it.

It would be in the interest of the people of neighbouring belligerent nations to both demilitarise. The arms race benefits the military industry, the arms industry, and people employed by it (labour unions are typically part of the military-industrial complex), but it does arguably not benefit the overall population, which would be better served if this money was used for peaceful purposes, within both countries.

Whether or not the analysis of the military-industrial complex is correct and is the reason why demilitarisation is not considered, is very much subject to debate. There are certainly objections that can be made to this theory. I wanted to put it here because I think it should at least be mentioned.

  • 1
    While I don't think it's the only reason for military's existence, it does seem reasonable to me that it's a significant factor, yes.
    – Vilx-
    Sep 10, 2018 at 10:28

Consider the sizes of the Japanese and US military in 1940. The Japanese army had 376,000 active soldiers, while the US had 269,023. If you had looked just at the US military presence in Asia in 1940, there's no way Japan could have considered them a threat. Why did they attack? Because they expected a counter-attack when they engaged in a military take-over of Pacific resources. And why were they going to engage in a military take-over? Because the West was engaging in an embargo and refusing to voluntarily allow Japanese access. Now, if the West had not had any military presence in the Pacific at all, then perhaps Japan would not have engaged in any violence, but they still would have taken over any place they considered strategic for military or resource reasons. If the goal is to avoid bloodshed, immediate surrender is a reasonable strategy, but if the goal is to not be taken over by other countries, it's not such a good strategy.

Wars aren't won by the army countries have at the start of a war, they are won by the production capability during the war. The US had something like 10 times the GDP of Japan. If it weren't for making the European theater a priority, the US-Japan war would have been no contest. If the US had started with no military at all, they still would have been able to ramp up to massively outnumbering Japan within a few years. The only way the US could have not been a threat to Japan is if they had de-industrialized their economy.

Furthermore, your argument is based on what Nietzsche had "slave morality": not hurting others is the core of morality. But aggressors such as Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were based on what Nietzsche called the "master morality": might makes right. For a nation to not protect itself is, in this view, a sign of weakness rather than morality. In a "survival of the fittest" ideology, it simply shows that the nation doesn't deserve to survive, and letting it survive is simply promoting weakness. When a strong nation takes over a weak one, they are take resources that are "wasted" coddling the weak and instead apply them to the "greatness" of the conquering nation.

Thus, aggressors are often not concerned about an invasion being "clearly unjustified"; at best, it can cause other parties side with the invaded, which means relying on there being more powerful country or multi-nation coalition willing to step in.

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