Does a country actually need an armed forces? What would happen if a nation chose to not have a military and not spend money on defence? Surely every country must have some kind of army? Let’s discuss this on today’s episode of Thinking in English!
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Remarkable (adj) – unusual or special and therefore surprising and worth mentioning
Nelson Mandela was a remarkable man
Expenditure (n) – the total amount of money that a government or person spends
The government’s annual expenditure on health increases every year
Procurement (n) – the process of getting supplies or products
He specialises in the procurement of rare objects
Reliant (adj) – needing a particular thing or person in order to continue, to work correctly, or to succeed
He’s completely reliant on his wheelchair to get around
To demilitarise (v) – to remove military forces from an area
There is a demilitarised zone between North and South Korea
To dissolve (v) – to end an official organisation or legal arrangement
Their marriage was dissolved last year
To disband (v) – to stop existing as a group or organisation, or to end a group or organisation
The international department was disbanded due to the pandemic
Leverage (n) – power to influence people and get the results you want
The British government has little leverage in that part of the world
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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought the issue of militaries and armies back into everyday discussion. Countries have increased their military spending, strengthened alliances, and ordered brand new weapons since the war began at the end of February.
In fact, one of the most remarkable consequences of Russia’s war is the turnaround in German military spending. NATO, of which Germany is a member, sets a target for all members to spend at least 2% of their national expenditure on defence. Germany, however, has traditionally been wary of military power and reluctant to spend so much on their army.
They were reluctant. Not any more. In response to Russia’s invasion, Germany introduced a historic policy shift – they will spend €100 billion (US$112 billion) on military procurement and will now allocate more than 2% of the nation’s GDP to defence. Russia’s aggression towards its neighbour has caused countries to re-evaluate their military strength and consider improving their armies.
But not every country has an army. While the likes of Germany, NATO allies, East Asian states, and Russia are spending more and more money on defence each year, there are a few places around the world that have done the opposite. There are a few countries that do not have a military, do not have an army, and seem to be relatively happy and peaceful!
The next part of this episode is going to look at one of these countries, the central American nation of Costa Rica, in more detail. Then I will discuss why countries have militaries today, and whether we could see a future without armies! Oh, and I have to say a big thank you to my Costa Rican listener Pablo who suggested the topic of Costa Rica’s military! If any of you ever have a suggestion or request, send me a message on Instagram or through the blog and I’ll add it to my list of ideas!
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Costa Rica: A Country Without An Army?
You might think it is normal for a country to have some kind of armed forces or military, but not every country does so. According to the CIA World Factbook, there are over 30 countries and territories with no military. Some of these places are completely without a military, while others rely on larger and more powerful nations for security.
For example, the small European country of Andorra, which is surrounded by Spain and France, relies on its neighbour for military defence. And the Pacific Island country called the Marshall Islands is reliant on the United States.
Costa Rica is one of the most famous examples of a country without an army. This is amazing as, compared to other military-less countries, Costa Rica is not located in the most peaceful area of the world. Costa Rica is not a tiny island far away from potential threats – it is located in the heart of Central America. Yet, they have existed without an army as their neighbours in the region have experienced civil wars and conflicts.
Costa Rica last had an army in the 1940s. A bloody civil war resulted in President Otilio Ulate being removed from office after accusations of fraud and corruption. Jose Figueres Ferrer, the leader of the rebel party, was elected President of Costa Rica after winning the civil war – and one of his first decisions was to make Costa Rica a demilitarised country. The basic idea was to invest the money Costa Rica saved by abolishing the military into education and healthcare. And, on Dec 1st 1948 Costa Rica dissolved their armed forces.
If Costa Rica has no military, who protects the country? The Costa Rican police force takes a lot of the responsibility for national defence, and a special police unit was established in the 1990s to patrol Costa Rica’s borders with Nicaragua and Panama. This police force also helps to counter drug trafficking within and throughout the country.
However, Costa Rica does benefit from the assistance and protection of the USA. The US has long had an interest in Central American politics, and maintains a very active presence in Costa Rican waters. Also, while the military is abolished as a permanent institution in Costa Rica, it can be brought back if needed!
So what has been the impact on Costa Rica? Have they been ok without an army? The answer is pretty much – yes! Costa Rica has had a level of political, economic, and social stability that is relatively unheard of in central America. Costa Rica saved a considerable amount of money by not having to invest in a permanent military – instead the country invested in education, social security, and healthcare. They are able to fund healthcare and public education, have a literacy rate of 98%, and a low infant mortality rate.
Costa Rica has also been relatively peaceful – especially in comparison with its neighbours. Costa Rica has not had a civil war since 1948. Since then, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Guatemala have all had civil wars and spent a significant amount of money on defence. Panama had a military coup in the 1980s, but since disbanding their army in 1996 have followed Costa Rica in becoming more stable. In fact, Costa Rica is ranked by Freedom House as one of the most “free” countries in the world – ranking above the USA, all of its neighbours, and many European countries!
So, without a military, Costa Rica has been relatively successful! However, we have to remember that while they don’t have a military, Costa Rica is protected through military alliances with the US and other countries who are committed to protect them if a conflict arises.
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Does a Country Actually Need an Army?
If Costa Rica, and about 30 other territories, don’t have armies, does any country actually need an army?
Going without an army has obvious risks. The military is the organisation that defends the country during any conflict or war. We have seen from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that having a well trained army has helped Ukraine resist and fight back against Russia’s forces. Without a prepared military, Ukraine would probably not have lasted more than a day or two against Russia’s large forces.
However, an army has more functions than simply defence. One of the major reasons to have an army is deterrence – I talked about deterrence in the nuclear weapons episode a few weeks ago! Basically, it’s the idea that having a strong army will stop enemies from attacking or bothering you. Even countries like Costa Rica, without an army, have alliances with larger powers – and this alliance acts as a kind of deterrence.
A strong military can help secure peace treaties, encourage countries to become your ally, increase negotiating power with other countries, give a country diplomatic and intelligence leverage, and can be useful during natural disasters and health crises. Having a military can be a useful tool in our modern world.
Can you imagine a situation where Russia, China, the US, Brazil, India, Pakistan, the EU, the UK, African countries, and Asian countries all trust each other enough to get rid of their militaries? Right now, I can’t imagine this. If Taiwan gets rid of its military, China will likely invade. The same is true about Israel and its neighbours. Countries today dislike and distrust each other too much for all countries to not have armies.
Could we see a future without armies?
To understand whether we could see a future without militaries, we should start by looking at how the current countries without armies got that way. Most of them, like Micronesia, Palau, Samoa, and Tuvalu, did not have armed forces when they gained independence and became countries. And, they never needed to make one. These are very small island nations, thousands of miles away from the nearest neighbour, and are not particularly concerned over being invaded.
Other countries decided to go through a process of demilitarisation. Costa Rica did this – and so did Panama, Haiti, Grenada. To these countries, having no military is a source of national pride and joy. If you search Costa Rica army online, you’ll find hundreds of results from Costa Ricans celebrating their country for being peaceful and fair. The country even hosts the United Nations University for Peace!
However, most of the countries that have no military are protected through alliances with other countries or organisations. Iceland is protected by NATO, Italy protects the Vatican, Monaco is protected by France, and the US protects many nations around the world.
Personally, I don’t think we will ever see a world without militaries. But with technological and scientific advances in military equipment and tactics, we might see a world with less soldiers and less conventional militaries. More advanced defence systems, cybersecurity, and precision weapons could eventually make physical war a less common occurrence in the future!
On this episode of Thinking in English, I have tried to introduce the story of Costa Rica – a country without a military. Some of you may think that it is necessary for a country to have an army, but Costa Rica proves that it is not always the case. However, for larger countries, countries in more unstable regions, or countries with a lot of enemies, perhaps the military will always be an essential aspect!
What do you think? Does a country always need an army? Can you imagine a future without armed forces? What about your country? Does your country have an army? How much money does your country spend on the military every year?
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