Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Standing Armies and National Debt

The 3rd and 4th preliminary articles of Perpetual Peace are two of the most apparently outdated. In the 3rd Kant advocates the abolition ("in time") of standing armies altogether whilst in the 4th he argues against the contraction of national debt in regard to the external affairs of a state. Given the almost universal adoption of standing armies (with the exception of Costa Rica) and the general prevalence of state budgeting through deficits (particularly in the US) these provisions appear somewhat unworldly.

However, on looking more closely at these articles, we can see more connection with contemporary affairs than we might expect. In discussing the 3rd article on the abolition of standing armies Kant mentions problems that have recurred in subsequent conduct of international affairs referring to the tendency towards arms races as well as launching an objection to the use of human beings as mere tools in the hands of a state. The reference to the use of human beings as tools is also capable of being grasped as a general problem with conscription rather than armies as such. Kant makes clear that a civilian force made up of volunteers is quite different in principle. So if this 3rd article is grasped as stating that no state shall have conscription given its tendency to instill arms races and to treat human beings in a despotic manner that runs counter to the formula of humanity then it is easier to see its contemporary relevance.

The 4th article on national debt distinguishes between the use of such debt for internal infrastructural purposes and as a "treasury for war" and does not rule against the former. Not only is this so but there is a warning contained in the discussion of this 4th article against a very contemporary problem, namely, the potential bankruptcy of a state that, in preparing its debt for war, entangles other states in its loss "without their having deserved it". Given the generalized notion of the "military-industrial complex" as identified initially by President Eisenhower and the tendency of states with large budget deficits to create circumstances of financial ruin for others this 4th article is similarly susceptible to contemporary interpretation as the 3rd was. Now it can be understood as a warning against large deficit budgeting and a particular indication of problems with states with large military industrial complexes. Not, then, so outdated as all that.

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