©Josh Sager – October 2012
The United States is currently on a policy trajectory that is leading us towards becoming what I refer to as a “hollow fortress”. The term “hollow fortress” is one that I have coined to refer to a society which focuses so many resources on becoming impervious to an external threat that it causes its own decay from the inside out. By neglecting domestic needs in order to defend against external threats, a society can easily destroy itself and make the threats from external sources redundant—there is little point in defending against external threats when what you are supposed to be protecting has already disappeared.
Paranoia of an external enemy—whether it is fear of another country or terrorism—has been shown to be able to induce a massive military investment. We have seen such paranoia during the Cold War, in both the USSR and the USA, as well as in the USA during the “war on terror” in the post-9/11 United States. Citizens let their fear guide them and elect politicians who are willing to spend gigantic amounts of money on defense programs, regardless of whether these programs are actually useful. The massive increases in military spending in such a situation eat into funding for domestic programs and can be extremely harmful to the welfare of society as a whole. If an unrealistically over-funded military takes up all of a society’s resources, it results in the gradual, but inevitable, decay of the military’s society—the defense against the inflated threat takes up so many resources that it destroys the functionality of the society which it hopes to protect.
Every country must protect itself from external threats, but it is also vital to the health of a society for the government to focus upon domestic welfare. Every successful modern government understands that it must enact domestic programs in order to ensure that it has a functional national infrastructure and that its population receives a minimum level of care. Programs to sustain functional roads, reduce poverty and hunger, educate the population, and protect the rule of law (to give a few examples) are all vital to a functioning society; when a society disregards these programs, there is an inevitable decay of its economic situation, a decrease in the living standards of its population, and often, civil unrest.
- If a government stops investing in domestic programs, it quickly starts to enter a stagnated state and eventually begins to stop functioning (like a machine that is running without repairs or oil).
- When the national infrastructure (ex. roads, bridges, ports, etc.) begins to wear out due to economic neglect, it becomes harder and more expensive to travel or transport goods—this increased difficulty of transport increases the prices of goods and is detrimental to both the economy and the welfare of the population.
- Neglecting education programs leads to an unskilled population, which is a serious problem because it decreases the ability of people to get higher-paying jobs and makes it difficult for companies to find skilled workers for specialized position.
- Neglecting programs which are aimed at fighting poverty and hunger leads to suffering among the poorer members of society and to increased crime. People become caught in a vicious cycle of poverty and neglect, which leads them to turn to criminal enterprises, simply in an attempt to survive.
Once a society has neglected its domestic policy to the point where it begins to stop functioning, both its citizens and its commerce suffers. Due to the high cost of modern defense technologies (ex. missiles and jets), an over-investment in defense is a very real way that a society can become unable to fund its domestic programs. As there is no enemy to fight in order to solve many domestic problems, no amount of military might is able to combat this type of societal damage.
As a hollow fortress society begins to unravel—with ever increasing levels of poverty and civil unrest—it begins to become more authoritarian in its governance. The domestic decay leads to intense poverty among the average population and a crippling of the economy; both of these problems contribute to creating civil unrest. With no well-funded infrastructure other than military and intelligence agencies, it necessarily falls to these organizations to maintain the semblance of law and order for the leaders of society, once this civil unrest is created. As both military and intelligence agencies often operate far outside of the civil liberties of civil society (ex. dealing with minor offenses with force), the rights of a population which has had its civil protections taken over by such groups has its rights restricted. If a hollow fortress society doesn’t correct itself, it has the potential to devolve into a poor police state, with a repressive and authoritarian government.
The greatest real-life example of a modern hollow fortress society today is the country North Korea. The North Korean government has focused huge amounts of its resources and national effort into sustaining a powerful military but has given up virtually every program that benefits its populace domestically.
North Korea suffers from numerous, severe, social problems that are un-addressed due to its lack of domestic programs. Immense hunger and malnutrition problems have afflicted the population of North Korea and have led to thousands of deaths a year (exact statistics are difficult to obtain). The general population of North Korea has no access to education or any manner of social services. The national infrastructure (ex. roads/civil safety) of North Korea has decayed to the point where industry is essentially unsustainable. When taken as a whole, North Korea is a perfect example of a country where the leadership has disregarded the good of its population and has stopped virtually all domestic non-security programs.
In stark contrast with its lack of domestic programs, the North Korean military is disproportionately powerful. While the repressive North Korean regime makes it virtually impossible to determine the country’s real military power, it is estimated that they spend billions of dollars a year on defense investment; in addition to the standing military and the investment in military technology, North Korea has a nuclear program that has produced several weapons. For a country where millions are starving, industry is essentially dead, and poverty is the norm, the North Korean military demonstrates a massive redirection of resources to defense programs and gives a stark example of a hollow fortress society.