Big, fat, juicy steaks straight out of Texas. Cases of beer at below cost.
If an army marches on its stomach, then those working on US bases across the globe are more than well nourished.
Sure, the beer might be Budweiser, and not Sierra Nevada. But it’s amazing how good beer tastes when it’s that cheap.
Apart from pay and food, the US’ big brass know there are plenty of other ways to keep morale high. Subsidised accommodation, medical and dental for serving members and their family, to name just a few.
Plus, a radio station bashing out plenty of tunes. Hearing an old number from Pearl Jam or Tom Petty in a strange land can be a quick way to turn a dreary day around.
According to the US-based Politico Magazine, the US has something like 800 bases around the globe, located in 70 different countries. From huge military bases, to small radar facilities.
And that’s before you get to their intelligence agencies, which operate in nearly every country in the world.
The collected effort employs hundreds of thousands of military abroad, and costs hundreds of billions to maintain.
As a key member of NATO, its little wonder the US wants its European counterparts to help chip in more with the bill. But I guess they’re busy with other things.
Collectively, these operations and bases help to keep a much bigger strategy in action.
Part of that strategy is about promoting freedom and democracy. Who else has anywhere near the US’ resources and skin in the game?
But it also has to do with something else. That is, protecting and enhancing the US’ interests.
Free Guide: Australia’s ‘Unstoppable’ Economy. Download now.
In the past, that has included things like the supply of oil. But it can also be something much more mundane.
Like making sure there are enough coffee beans to supply the 400 million cups of coffee Americans drink every day.
Some of this diplomacy comes in via the front door. However, it’s impossible for anyone to know how much happens by other means.
The US has 16 different agencies that combine to form the United States Intelligence Community (IC). The 17th member is the bureaucracy that keeps it all together.
We’ve all heard of the CIA and FBI. But would you know about some of the others?
Take the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office), which is responsible for all the US’ spy satellites. It employs tens of thousands of contractors, and has reportedly the biggest budget out of all the agencies.
And if you’re looking for something that sounds out of the ordinary, how about the NGA?
No…never heard of it? I bet you’re not alone.
It’s the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Its mission statement is completely impossible to decipher…unless you’re a management consultant, that is.
From what I can tell, its primary job is locating the exact point someone or something is located. Like, tracing a suspect by GPS on their mobile phone. Or locating which floor and room a terror suspect is located in.
However, it could mean anything. The NGA states that:
‘Anyone who sails a U.S. ship, flies a U.S. aircraft, makes national policy decisions, fights wars, locates targets, responds to natural disasters, or even navigates with a cellphone relies on NGA.’
The LA Times reported in 2015 that collectively these agencies chew up around US$67 billion a year. But, that’s the thing. Very few know for sure. It could be many multiples of that.
China leaping to superiority
What the US is now grappling with is that China is also doing all of these things. And that means that another arms race is going on, one different to the one we remember with the old USSR.
Sure enough, a lot of it is about the military. But it is also technological. Superior technology can enable one country to inflict damage on another, without ever leaving home.
The difference between the US and China, though, is time. The US have been at this caper forever. By comparison, China has only been at it for a decade or two. That is why the difference between the two countries is still so great.
China might not ever have the geographic spread of the US. That aside, this rivalry between east and west is only beginning.
China will certainly claim what it believes to be theirs…irrespective of what international bodies might say. It also explains why it continues to spread its tentacles into the Pacific. It wants to beef up security in its part of the world.
So much is hanging on the G20 meeting starting tomorrow in Buenos Aires. Whatever transpires, though, is only the start.
Both China and the US need each other to prosper. That is something that both countries know. Neither country will win anything economically with the demise of the other.
What is still unknown, though, is what path they will take…and how long it will take to get there. That means that for the markets, there will be plenty of volatile times ahead.
Editor, Options Trader