by Richard A Snow, April 2 2018
An American friend recently suggested to me that the US could never be invaded, “because of our armed population.” That is, the person believed that it was the widespread ownership of guns that made a land war with the US unworkable. This got me thinking: I’ve always believed that the US can’t be invaded, but why exactly? The truth is, I’d always just assumed this without thinking it through.
At the time I was reading John Mearsheimer’s book, “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.” Mearsheimer is one of the leading lights in International Relations. He’s a WestPoint graduate and ex US air force office who later became an academic.
Mearsheimer claims that navies and air forces have never been responsible on their own for wining a war. Wars, he claims, are won by large land armies. To win a war, two things are especially helpful: a large population, and the money to fund and transport that large army.
What would be needed to invade the US? If we think back to D-Day in World War 2, the allies transported about 250,000 troops across the English Channel over a period of five days. If you adjust up to account for the differences in land size and population between Western Europe in the 1940s, and the land area, you would need perhaps half a million to a million troops, and the ability to transport them across the Pacific Ocean to the US. Who has this ability?
When we look at population size, the US is the third largest country in the world, with a population of about 320 million. The only two larger countries are India and China, with about 1.4 billion each. After the US come four countries: Brazil, Nigeria, Pakistan and Indonesia, each with a population in the 200 million mark. None of those have the capacity (or even the inclination) to invade the US.
Let’s turn back, then, to India and China. India certainly doesn’t have the army size, or the ability to transport it them across to the US. It also has its own problems to focus on: its relations with China and Pakistan, and border disputes over Kashmir.
What then of China? China has a total military of 2.3 million, currently being wound down to 2 million. It has the troops, but could it transport them? China has been building up its navy over the last twenty years, but most of its expenditure seems to have gone on destroyers, frigates, submarines, and anti-submarine vessels. In term of landing craft, it has five vessels that can carry ten tanks and about 800 troops, and about fifty vessels that can hold ten tanks and 250 troops. They are simply not geared up to transport large numbers of vehicles and people over the ocean and land them on a foreign shore. If they transported troops across the Pacific Ocean, they would be subject to air attacks from US aircraft in Japan, Guam or Hawaii.
It seems, based on any sensible reading of the evidence, that no one has the ability to land the necessary number of troops on the west coast of the US. In that case, the population being armed never comes into play.
The US can’t be invaded, but for reasons most of us would never think about.
Comments are welcome.
Richard Snow is a former economist now studying international relations at La Trobe University in Australia.