No military force = happiness?

That’s Nicholas Kristof’s argument today over at the New York Times. He thinks it is no coincidence that Costa Rica has the top ranking in the World Database of Happiness and is also one of very few countries to get by without a military force. Instead of spending money on bombs, the country wisely invests in education.

What Kristof fails to mention is that Costa Rica is at least partially able to do without a military force because it depends on someone else to provide one.

I know a little bit about this because my husband and I spent our 25th wedding anniversary in the fabulous Central

One of the beaches we visted in Costa Rica
One of the beaches we visted in Costa Rica

American country a few years ago. During one of our many rides with our guide, we listened as he complained about the “rot” of illegal immigration from Nicaragua and Honduras, mentioning that those countries (particularly the former) at times seemed ready to invade Costa Rica militarily. My beloved, who does number crunching for a U.S. defense contractor, asked him who would provide protection for Costa Rica if that happened.

“The U.S., of course,” was the guide’s answer, with a chuckle.

I agree that the U.S. would do far better as a country if we spent more on education than on military might, but I’m not sure it is a fair comparison to say, “Hey, this gorgeous country with high literacy rates and no military is happier because they don’t fund their own military.”

One of the many species of flora in the jungle below Costa Rica's Arenal Volcano.
One of the many species of flora in the jungle below Costa Rica's famed Arenal Volcano. So lucky to have seen it.

Perhaps it is more likely that this gorgeous country of beautiful sunsets, beaches, jungles and people (which is racing to top economically in large part b/c of U.S. tourism and luring U.S. companies down there to develop land) has the luxury of not funding their own defense force because another country has its back that way. Just sayin’

31 thoughts on “No military force = happiness?

  1. Nonsense.
    The broken down “military” of Nicaragua is 14 thousand ” strong”..many unarmed……. that basically patrol the borders and look for illegal loggers, poachers, etc in the jungle.
    CR has 26 thousand police, armed to the teeth, plus OIJ who handle intelligence, plus an anti narco team.
    Nicaragua would never attempt suicide.
    Besides ? For what ? To bring us FreeDumb and DemoNcrasy ?They’re afraid we’re going to invade and steal their natural resources ?
    That brainwashed terrori……..I mean “contractor” need not flatter himself and his Empire/Corporatocracy..
    Pura Vida.

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    1. Dooglaz, unless I misread the article, the”brainwashed terrori….I mean contractor” was Mr. God Blogging. 

      My beloved, who does number crunching for a U.S. defense contractor,
      Perhaps you’d like to revise and extend your remarks?

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      1. Dooglaz:
        26,000 police armed to the teeth? I never saw them. When i was in Israel I saw “armed to the teeth” police. I didn’t see anything like that in CR. Just lots of GREAT people. And lots and lots of construction – ugh. When I asked about that (thinking the locals would want to save the natural resources), the guide (and others I spoke with) said the exansion of U.S. folks buying land is the “lifeblood” of the country to move forward. We were only there seven days, so I don’t claim Divine knowledge at all – I just thought Kristof’s should have pointed out that CR has ties to U.S. militarily. And, like fortbuckley, I’m a little lost on your terrorist-contractor reference. But thanks to both of you for reading and writing in.

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      2. you were a tourist in a very tourist-oriented country. costa rica has plenty of security forces and light-infantry weaponry. what they do not have is heavy equipment like tanks, helicopters, artillery, fighter jets. not that Nicaragua has much of this either. Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the Americas and would never invade Costa Rica.

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      3. Alas, you assume that being a tourist means certain things…. it is true we did tourist sites, but my half of the vacation was in villiages visiting the people and in San Juan walking the streets. Never saw a police officer, much less “security forces.” But I’m assuming, from your email, that you reside much closer to CR than I do and/or you have lived there, so I defer to your knowledge.

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  2. It remains to be seen whether the US protects Costa Rica.  As far as I know, the US has never intervened militarily in CR and the country is constitutionally neutral, like Switzerland.  As always, I suppose whether the US would ever act militarily in CR depends on the circumstances.  The impetus for the constitutional prohibition against a military was not based on any promises from the US. 

    Rest assured, Renee, that the US never acts out of selfless sacrifice, but always out of self interest. 

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    1. Leftfield, CR has not seen foreign/US intervention (like its neighbors Nicaragua and Panama have) because it never had extractable natural resources like gold or petroleum nor a vital trade-route (Panama Canal).
      Furthermore, the tiny nations of central america are in no position to engage in conflict of any scale.
      As for your last sentence, I believe that applies to nearly all nations, not just the US.

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  3. Hey Lefty: Show me a country that does act out of selfless sacrifice, not self-interest.
    They’re scarcer than one of your chicken’s molars.
    Oh, and BTW, Switzerland may be constitutionally neutral, but they have one of the best armed and equipped citizen-soldier forces in the world. Every household has small arms and the populace is trained how to use them.
    Yer pal, Ferrari Bubba

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  4. I think you are missing a key element since you are looking it form a US perspective and your interests are of a military and economic nature. If you look it from the Costa Rican side, you can be sure that we don’t relay on the US to do our defense labor.
    The fact that we have spend our defense budget on education has made us understand, among many other things, the importance of our freedom and democracy. You can bet anything in the world, that if someone  or something, be it a group of people, a country, a company, a disaster, a law, etc, threats our way of life, all 4.5 millions Costa Ricans will stand up and fight against it, we have done it in the past and we will do it in the future. We are not relying on foreign countries to defend our country and way of life, we do it our selfs, but not with guns and bombs. And if guns are needed as our National Anthem says “When someone pretends to stain your glory, you will see your people brave and manly, change the rough tool for weapons”.
    In occasionswhere in the US you expect the army to do something for the people (Huracan Katrina for example) here in Costa Rica we the people do it. For example a year ago we had a terrible earthquake, lots of people lost everything they had. One hour after the earthquake almost every private helicopters of the country where in site rescuing whoever need it, literally the entire country made donations of food, water, clothes, money for houses and other needed goods. By private initiative more than 400 houses have been built for those who lost their houses on the disaster. Schools have been built with donations. There was a jelly factory in the zone that gave work to a lot of the affected people, the reaction of  the costa ricans was to buy and keep buying over time products from that brand so the people won’t lose their jobs (instead of asking the government for a bail out), the factory is still running and didn’t fired or stop paying any of their employees.
    As a Costa Rican I can’t deny the aid that some friend countries have provide to us with their army on some humanitarian occasions, and we are thankful of it. But we are not expecting them to cover us on our duties.
    The decision that President Figueres did on 1948, to eliminate the army, has been one of the most wise, visionary and brave decisions that have been made in history and we the Costa Ricans will defend it with our lifes to keep it like that.
    In the mean time I just relax and enjoy knowing that none of my brothers and sisters have to wear a military uniform go to fight a war on the other side of the world instead they have to wear a school uniform cause that’s our real army:  school childrens, university students and well prepared professionals.
     

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    1. Junquillal: Thanks for commenting so extensively. Please do not misunderstand – I love Costa Rica. I mourn the loss of land to U.S. developers and, in spite of everyone I interviewed there telling me they LOVE the tourists and they LOVE U.S. folks buying land and developing, I think they may be headed down the wrong road with that love. Yes, it brings jobs, but it also is destroying some of the environment. Alas… progress.
      I was just relating what our guide told us – that the U.S. had CR’s back should that be necessary and that CR buys some small arms from US. I wish US could be like CR – although I don’t think we can paint it as completely rosy as I met very poor Costa Ricans who said they did not have access to school. I don’t know if they just didn’t KNOW it was available to them or what, but they said not everyone gets higher education. However, for the populace size, I think it is the most literate nation in the world, is that correct?
      What struck me most about CR – and this is kind of off the subject – but what struck me most was the classism and racism. People who have certain jobs are talked to with derision and treated poorly and CRs really really do not like immigrants from other Latin American countries. I was naiive, b/c I thought all Latin Americans would be one big happy family. Alas, it was not so. More division than I expected.
      Love the idea that you would all just bond together and fight as one as opposed to having a paid military force. And I really really commend the idea of a school uniform being the “real army.” If only we could get that idea to take hold here in the U.S. – and especially Arizona!

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      1. I’ve never been to CR, but I have spent some time in Panama.  You talked about issues of class and race in CR, Renee.  What I noticed in my time in Panama was that, on a street level, differences in skin color seemed to be a non-issue.  On the other hand, it was obvious that those of lighter skin and a type more Spanish than Afro-Caribbean or Mestizo hold most of the political and economic cards.

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  5. One other important thing.  The northern border is with Nicaragua as has already been discussed.  The southern border is with Panama.  And they did away with their military too a few years ago.  It’s spreading!

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  6. Hey Bill: If you check back, I believe that WE did away with Manuel Noriega and his band of thugs. He was running a brutal rogue dictatorship in the country.
    The Panama Canal is too vital to the world to be run by a bunch of gangsters.
    That’s why we gave it to the Chinese to run.
    Yer pal, Ferrari Bubba in East Nome, Arkansas. 12*F

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    1. Manuel Noriega was a great friend of the US and a champion of freedom and democracy in Central America, until he wasn’t anymore.

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  7. Yes, it’s true that other nations also manage their foreign policy based on self interest.  Whether they like to foster the mythology that they are acting selflessly, as the US likes to do, is another matter. 

    Let’s just not pretend that the US is the great shining city on the hill. 

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    1. Leftfield: All countries have problems. But what continues to amaze me is people want to come to the u.s. most of all. They view it as great shining city on the hill.

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      1. I grant you that a lot of people would like to migrate here.  I don’t, however, consider this to be the the final or only criteria in how we judge ourselves.  We have relative political stability, economic opportunity and personal security that are great attractions to people living in places that don’t have those qualities.  There is also some mythology involved driving migrants here.  If your life is materially miserable, you have to find hope where you can.  Religion is a piece of that puzzle, but so is the hope for a better life elsewhere.  Even if the reality is soemthing less than the dream, we have to have our dreams.
        The more we are suffering, the greater our dreams of escaping our suffering.

        On the other hand, so many of the things we enjoy here are based on the exploitation of people around the world, and that exploitation is part of what creates the drive for migrants to escape their circumstances for the hope of a better life elsewhere.  Take a look at the labels on most of the clothes in your closet and you will see they are made in third world countries.  The same people making our clothes under sweatshop conditions and growing our food under de facto slavery are the very ones wanting to come here to escape those conditions.  We have perfected the art of exporting a lot of the suffering behind our great shining city, so that it remains invisible to most of us.  
            

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      2. True on many points …. but are you willing to pay higher prices for American made goods? It is like eating/buying locally. I pay higher prices to buy meat from a rancher up the road because i want to 1. support local agriculture and 2. know where my food comes from. But most people can’t or won’t. It is a very complicated problem — but I know that you and I can have this convo w/out fear of the government taking away our computers (at least so far) and for me, that’s worth so much.

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      3. No one is free until we’re all free, Renee.  The whole answer is not in where you or I shop or what we buy.  The problem is not you or I, but a system dependent on exploitation; a system that prizes profit over human welfare and even human lives.

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  8. Hey Lefty: Nobody ever said that we are the great shining city on the hill, and we like the rest of the nations of the world are Black Holes of self-interests. That’s just how the world works.
    Just like socialism. Sure it works, Right up until you run out of the other guy’s money.
    Yer pal, Ferrari Bubba

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    1. Good, becaused I have it on good authority from the people of Vietnam, Nicaragua, Chile, Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba, etc, etc, that the US is not a great shining city on a hill. 

      Are you sure you’re not confusing Socialism with Capitalism?  It seems to me that they have run through all of my money.

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      1. Hey Lefty: All this back and forth ‘My old man can beat your old man up’ stuff is just like pissing into the wind.
        So why don’t we just drop it and agree to disagree and call a gentleman’s truce.
        OK, my friend?
        Why get carel-tunnel and use up valuable band-width when neither of us will convince the other?

        Still yer pal, Ferrari Bubba

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      2. Well, it’s not really about you and me, Bubba.  It’s about the ideologies and the world views. 

        I do agree to disagree, don’t expect to change your opinion and I have nothing against you; I don’t even know you.  But, I believe that conservative/capitalist ideology is a real threat to peace, justice and equality in the world.   

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  9. Ever since the Veterans Administration allowed disabled veterans to get their compensation checks on direct deposit in Costa Rican banks, the population of combat veterans living in Costa Rica might well be considered a defense tactic! tsk!
     
    I know about 20 who have moved there.  The health care is free and good. I hear that many of the Doctors trained here and went back home to their country.

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    1. Wow! How cool is that. Hey Mike, we still need to meet to talk public records. (Do you recall asking about that a few months back?) still interested?

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      1. Yes, I am interested in your help. I am doing some research on the mechanisms of sale/leasebacks of municipal buildings, here, and across the nation.  I am concerned about the lack of public knowledge about who really owns these buildings. And, I would think that Homeland Security would be too.  A big DOT in a small pot.

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  10. Bubba,
    Panama did away with their military just a few years ago.  That was well after Noriega.  I’m certain the US would defend the canal.  My only point was that Costa Rica doesn’t have any threat on their Southern border, because Panama no longer has a military.

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  11. The first thing to note is that the claim is true. The Rio Treaty of 1947 was signed by the United States and a bunch of other American nations (including Costa Rica) to provide mutual defense assistance in case of attack. (Costa Rica eliminated its army shortly after signing the treaty, and another signatory, Haiti, did so in the 1990s.)
    The second thing to note is that this charge, while rarely applied to Costa Rica, comes up all the time in regards to other countries, who have militaries which are much smaller than they would be if it were not for the US. (It’s a charge levied against rich nations, such as Japan and some Western European countries, who some view as not holding up their share of responsibility in world security. You could even include Canada, which saves the money it would spend otherwise on health and welfare. (To the shock of many, the tax rates in Canada and the US are more or less equal now.))
    It should also be noted that the decision to not have an army and rely on the US makes a lot of sense in the context of the Monroe Doctrine. Quite early on the US made it clear that the Americas was its jurisdiction and, in effect, responsibility. Putting it crudely, if the US is always going to be pushing you around, then why don’t you let them protect you while they’re at it?
    And in that regard, the elimination of the army happened in 1948, right at the beginning of the America’s post WW2 superpower status. It was widely acknowledged that, with the power that came with being a superpower, also came a responsibility to the nations under its jurisdiction, particularly those in the Americas.
    I think when you look at it that context, the decision to eliminate the army and “rely on the Americans” seems quite sensible and not at all like the country was outsourcing its security needs without paying for them.
    I think beyond all of that there was a leap of faith as well. WW2 had just ended and no one was interested in more bloodshed. The United Nations seemed like a potentially useful tool in controlling world security. Much like a small kid on the playground, Costa Rica thought if it kept its head down and minded its own business (easy to do without a military) it would be left alone.

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  12. costa rica is a charming and beautiful country, as well as the people. in my opinion, the most successful democracy in latin america.

    that said, the elimination of the military and long lasting tranquility are greatly due to the umbrella of the united states. there are military ops run in costa rica with the U.S. military on a regular basis and have been for decades.

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