“War hasn’t been profitable for decades”

I recently read Halting State by Charles Stross. It’s science fiction (for lack of a better description) set in 2012 (in Scotland and/or cyberspace). You can read the description on Amazon. A couple of paragraphs have been haunting me for a few days. Not sure they’ll make much sense out of context, but I include them here for future reference:

“This is the twenty-first century, and we’re in the developed world. You’re probably thinking wars are something that happen in third-world shit-holes a long way away. And to a degree, you’d be right. Modern warfare is capital-intensive, and it hasn’t really been profitable for decades; it was already a marginal proposition back in 1939 when Hitler embarked on his pan-European asset-stripping spree — his government would have been bankrupt by March 1940 if he hadn’t invaded Poland and france — and it’s even worse today. When the Americans tried it in Iraq, they spent nine times the value of the country’s entire oil reserves conquering a patch of desert full of  — sorry, I’m rambling. Pet hobby-horse. But anyway: Back in the eighteenth century, von Clauswitz was right about war being the continuation of diplomacy by other means. But today, in the twenty-first, the picture’s changed. It’s all about enforcing economic hegemony, which is maintained by broadcasting your vision of how the global trade system should be structured. And what we’re facing is a real headache — a three-way struggle to be the next economic hegemon.”

Who is we? That’s the question you’re asking yourself…

” ‘We,’ for these purposes, is the intellectual property regime we live in — call it the European System. The other hegemonic candidates are the People’s Republic of China, and India. American isn’t in play — they’ve only got about three hundred and fifty million people, and once we finish setting up the convergence criteria for Russian accession to the Group of Thirty, the EU will be over seven hundred. China and India are even bigger. More to the point, the USA went post-industrial first. Their infrastructure is out-of-date and replacing it, now oil is no longer cheap, is costing them tens of trillions of euros to modernize. Plus, they’ve got all those rusty aircraft carriers to keep afloat. It’s exactly the same problem Britain faced in the 1930s, the one that ultimately bankrupted the empire. But today, our infrastructure –Europe’s– is in better shape, and the eastern states are even newer. They went post-industrial relatively recently, so their network infrastructure is almost as new as the shiny new stuff in Shanghai and New Delhi. So there’s this constant jockeying for position between three hyperpowers while the USA takes time out.”