In response to a petition, the White House has said there is no intent for the United States to pursue a Death Star. On twitter, I voiced my objections, first captured in this storify.
In response to Death Star petition, the White House exhibits a crucial failure to understand grand strategy. petitions.whitehouse.gov/re… While expensive for one planet, the Death Star is not a planetary defense but instead the crux of empire. As the Tarkin Doctrine argues, and Machiavelli himself theorized, fear is the key to control. With a Death Star, the cost of maintaining fear is cheap. Cheaper even than maintaining COIN operations and forward fleet basing against an elusive foe. With a Death Star, one can permanently deny hiding spaces, while also preventing other worlds from even considering harboring such rebellious terrorists. The Death Star makes empire cheap, and while it is expensive when the burden of the cost is on one planet, it builds and secures an entire galaxy of submissive worlds. What mere UAV, MRAP, or F-35 can offer a return like that? Yet you still pursue them. You fear not cost but glory. Useless world.
While the White House acknowledged the high cost, of the Death Star, as best put forth here, they neglected to look beyond this initial estimate to further scholarship. In a Mother Jones (!) article, Kevin Drum does a much better job understanding that while the Death Star is expensive for earth now, it’s cost would be imperceptible to a Galactic Empire of Planets with technology 500+ years more advanced than that on Earth. He writes
We can figure that the average world in the Star Wars universe is about 20,000 times richer than present-day Earth, which means the Death Star would cost about 65 times the average world’s GDP.
However, the original Death Star took a couple of decades to build. So its annual budget is something on the order of three times the average world’s GDP.
But how big is the Republic/Empire? There’s probably a canonical figure somewhere, but I don’t know where. So I’ll just pull a number out of my ass based on the apparent size of the Old Senate, and figure a bare minimum of 10,000 planets. That means the Death Star requires .03 percent of the GDP of each planet in the Republic/Empire annually. By comparison, this is the equivalent of about $5 billion per year in the current-day United States.
In an update to the post, Drum acknowledged that the Galactic Empire actually has 1.75 million full member worlds, so the annual cost-per-planet of Death Star construction is roughly equivalent to nothing.* A hegemonic power like the United States should certainly appreciate the values of tribute extraction as a way to offset security costs.
Beyond a surprisingly low construction cost, under the Tarkin Doctrine a Death Star provides a cheaper way to maintain hegemony than the full manpower costs of a galactic fleet and Storm Trooper invasions. Co-blogger Friedman has already covered this extensively, and my initial twitter reaction states it well. The easier it is to strike complete & total fear of annihilation into a planet, the fewer non-Death Star forces have to be maintained. This is a weapon that secures hegemony, guarantees tribute, and allows for a reduction in military size. Through planet-shattering fear, order and stability in the universe can be maintained, allowing resources that would otherwise have gone to extensive land campaigns against rebellious worlds to instead clear the galactic passageways (and especially the Kessel Run) of every hive of scum and villainy that threatens the lives and security of normal, law-abiding, and annihilation-fearing Imperial subjects.
In refusing to seriously consider the strategic merit of a planet-killing gun mounted on an almost-invulnerable space fortress, the Obama administration, normally so fond of tech solutions to military problems, has been short-sighted. They have also refused to adopt the mantle of Empire that a Death Star would bring them, and instead prefer to hunt their desert-based religious insurgents the slow & painful way.
I would express my disappointment more loudly, but this leaves your world vulnerable. We will be in range shortly. This is our moment of triumph.
*My staff officer did some back of the envelope calculations to arrive at approximately $8750/yr cost for each of the 1.75 million worlds. Let me know if you arrive at a better number, and I can send the errant accountant to Vader for punishment.