Peace in Ukraine and Universal Healthcare in One Go
Testing the truth of a meme
Memes are idea compression, and there’s an idea buried so deep in this meme that it could easily end the Ukrainian war, if people would just think widely enough about it to engage it. Herein, we will tease out the idea, and then do the math on it.
Some red-tribers share this meme because they take pride in our nation’s military power and are okay not having universal healthcare if that’s the opportunity cost for having a military as effective as ours. Some blue-tribers share this meme because they think we could get free healthcare by diverting our military budget. As you’ll see below, both of these positions are wrong. But there’s a connection between these two positions that neither seems to think too much about – NATO spending. We’ll hit the NATO spending math in due time, but first let’s lay out a plan for European peace, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
In return for Russia pulling out of Ukraine and paying some negotiated amount of reparations, the USA pulls out of NATO and our spot is replaced by Ukraine and anyone else in Europe that wants to join. We pull out over a time span that is short, but long enough for the rest of Europe to staff up their armies to what they should be per the NATO charter.
With the USA out, Russia has nothing to fear, so they have no reason to stay. Putin gets to claim a moral victory domestically so he wins. Ukraine gets reparations for the war and claims victory in it, so they win, and also gain NATO entry. The USA wins because we no longer have to pay to defend Europe. The only losers are the NATO countries which haven't been holding up their end of the bargain in terms of military spending for half a century. They can pay for tanks and jets out of their universal healthcare budget, and we can divert the money we were spending on defending Europe over to domestic healthcare.
We can sell the idea to the military industrial complex here because they have brand new customers for tanks, jets, and man portable explodey widgets. We can sell the idea here to the left by promising to divert European defense money over to healthcare. The right-wing isolationists love it, liberals love it, corporate overlords love it, and the USA gets full political buy in for the idea. Putin loves it because he gets to escape his current quagmire with a paper victory his people will love that he can easily spin in his government-controlled media. Ukraine loves it because they get NATO entry and kick the Russians out and get some reparatory compensation to rebuild infrastructure. And the only thing the USA continues to contribute towards European stability is the “mutually assured destruction” element related to nuclear war that we've always provided, which is cheap to provide because it's already a sunk cost. Even the United States Neo-Imperial Oligarchy likes it because it means they can go back to manipulating Ukrainian elections for fun and profit. Russian oligarchs love it because they can return to their London mansions and buy more soccer teams. Everybody wins but the snobs in central and western Europe that didn’t want to pay to defend their own countries, and we honestly don’t care about them.
We save hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian lives, the lives of at least tens of thousands of Russian conscripts, and we reestablish the international trade connections necessary so that Egypt can buy wheat again and my audiophile friends can get vacuum tubes for their guitar amps. Germany gets its oil pipeline turned back on.
The reason nobody thought about this before, is because they didn’t realize how astoundingly awful the Russian army actually is. NATO could easily defend themselves from Russia with a little more hardware. Russia can’t even figure out how to put GPS in a tank.
The Foreign Hit
Let’s circle back to the meme and do some math. The defense expenditure of NATO countries for the period from 2014-2021 is published here.
Every country from France and to the left is upholding their NATO defense spending obligation. Every country to the right of France isn’t. Every country on the graph except for the United States has a military mostly focused on local European defense, whereas the USA’s expenditure includes our global military footprint. Let’s set the USA aside and calculate how much additional money NATO would be spending on defense if they finally started doing what they’re supposed to be doing. We’ll use adjusted GDP data from the same report.
If everyone below the 2% spending line ups their game to 2%, and the USA leaves, the numbers look like this:
In this scenario, the New US-less NATO outspends Russia by a factor of almost six. That’s enough to be safe against an attack by poorly trained and terribly coordinated Russian conscripts without air superiority. Further, it would not require any additional spending by France, the UK, or the other NATO member nations who are already holding up their end of the bargain. This is enough to keep them safe, and the fact that the US exits stage left will give the Russians the peace of mind they need to not worry too much about a European led NATO rolling them. NATO is fundamentally a defense pact incapable of forming an offense because there’s too many cooks in the kitchen if the Big Cook leaves.
The Domestic Take
Now let’s do the mathematics on the US side. We can’t go by the NATO expenditure document when evaluating US spending, because it does not disaggregate US spending in the European theater from overall US defense spending globally. According to this analysis, the USA spent a total of 35.8 billion dollars directly on the European theater in 2018. Look at that number for a moment. The above plan, including increased spending from NATO nations to match their obligation, contributes more total money to the defense of Europe than the US already contributes. We’d literally make NATO stronger by leaving.
If we presume US spending in the European theater tracked upward as our total defense outlay tracked from then to now, that would mean we’re currently spending around $37.5 billion. That’s about 2.3% of our total Medicare and Medicaid costs. More than a few drops in the bucket, but still on the level of spoon-fulls in the bucket. People like to claim that we can’t afford healthcare because we spend so much on the military, but the outlay for public health care costs alone in this country is 1.6 trillion dollars, over double our entire military budget, and that doesn’t even include private insurers. What we pay for healthcare is sick and twisted.
But if we were to throw the outlay at a specific problem it would make more of an overall effect, at least perceptually. The USA pays about 150 billion dollars per year on cancer treatment. This is terribly overpriced and something we could and should fix, but that’s outside the scope of this article so let’s pretend that number is justified. We could reduce the costs of cancer treatment for everyone in the USA by a flat 25% by redirecting our NATO outlay. That sounds nice. If we could eliminate the systemic garbage that makes all our healthcare cost triple what it should, we could almost pay for all cancer entirely.
The meme is wrong. We cannot get universal healthcare by ditching NATO. We couldn’t even get it by ditching our entire military. But we can absolutely get 25% cheaper cancer from ditching NATO, and we might save 100,000 Ukrainian lives in the process.
A curious thought for a Monday.