Anarchy and National Defense

January 28, 2009

One of the most pressing difficulties for stateless government would seem to be national defense. While police protection can be well internalized, being primarily a service to individuals, businesses, or neighborhoods, defense against foreign enemies yields non-rival and non-excludable benefits to all, and thus would seemingly encounter a severe public-goods problem. But, in associating national defense with a military, I believe that we may be equivocating. If the nation can be made secure without the need for a military, there is no defense problem with anarchy.

I can see two reasons why one nation might invade another: preemption of threat, and ambition for land or resources. The first reason, preemption,1 need concern us little. Preemption is, by nature, against a threat; a nation that does not threaten others need not fear preemptive action against itself. If a nation has too weak an organized military to defend itself, it cannot have enough to pose a threat to another, and need not fear preemption; if it has a strong military, then concerns about its military weakness are unfounded. Therefore, in no case is defense against preemption a unique concern for an anarchal nation.

Thus, we are left with defense against territorial expansion. In this case, the aggressing nation does so with expectation of benefit; an expected cost greater than the expected benefit would suffice to deter the threat, even if it could not avert suffering if the attack were made.1 Furthermore, even conventional national defense does not prevent harms; consider England during WWII. Thus, all increases in the cost of a successful invasion equally serve national defense.

In considering this, I believe that Machiavelli’s argument from Ch. IV of The Prince is relevant: “[H]e who considers both of these states will recognize great difficulties in seizing the state of the Turk, but, once it is conquered, great ease in holding it…. But it is impossible to hold with such tranquillity states constituted like that of France. Hence arose those frequent rebellions against the Romans in Spain, France, and Greece, owing to the many principalities there were in these states, of which, as long as the memory of them endured, the Romans always held an insecure possession;” Although a decentralized state may not erect such a hard outer defense, and thus may be easier to defeat in pitched battle, it leaves no centralized mechanism with which to seize control of the country. Look at the Vichy government of France during WWII: once the military fell, the country on the whole (neglecting isolated private resistance, which would be if anything greater were occupied nation originally anarchist) served the purposes of the conquerors in subduing the country. If a decentralized nation is difficult to govern, how much more one with no institutions of government, with its people accustomed to freedom?

Iraq, too, presents a good example. Hussein’s regime should be the model of those who look to government for national defense: a centralized state lacking democratic hindrances to its warmaking and with a high military budget.2 Yet each time the United States invaded, the demoralized military of Iraq crumbled. Notably, the last time, when we sought to gain control of the government (rather than mere military defeat), a private resistance arose which we have not yet quelled, despite the support of Iraq’s government and much of the population. How much more problematic would be an invasion of a nation with no legitimacy and no domestic support on the side of the conquerors? Thus, it seems to me that far more effective at deterring invasion than a conventional military would be the assurance that an invader would have to suppress the population man by man, without support from the local state. A privately funded military is, I admit, difficult to conceive; but we must remember that a military is but a scarcely sufficient and wholly unnecessary means of achieving national defense, which could be as well or better achieved by other means under anarchy.

Thus, I think that national defense under anarchy would not consist of multi-billion dollar jets and a vast military-industrial complex, but rather the free ownership of weapons and the reluctance of free men to submit to tyrants. Even a committed minority of the population could make invasion prohibitively costly. Such a defense would be far less costly, with respect to both resources and rights. Gone would be the annual 650 billion dollar drain on our nation’s resources. Gone would be the ever-present excuse for violations of our rights that “wartime necessity” demands them. And, of course, if a group of people thought that an aircraft carrier would be a good thing to have, they would be free to fund one–but with their own money, and not, as at present, their neighbors’.

1 Exactly the same justification as for imprisonment of criminals: imprisonment does not seek to alleviate the original wrong, but seeks to alter the costs considered by the prospective criminal in order that he might not commit the crime. That imprisonment does not prevent the crime from occurring if it does occur need not influence our practical analysis of its effectiveness (although from a consideration of justice, I think that imprisonment and such defense as I describe are wholly incommensurate).

2 National defense being considerably more difficult in a democracy or under Constitutional government, why do not those who raise the objection to anarchy also raise it against limited government as a whole?