Tag: paul starobin

America’s Alliances: Frayed, but not Disappearing

National Journal’s Paul Starobin asks at the National Security Experts blog “Are America’s Alliances Fraying?” Starobin notes that two normally reliable allies, Brazil and NATO member Turkey opposed an additional round of sanctions against Iran. Meanwhile, President Obama has failed to persuade Europeans to provide large numbers of troops to Afghanistan. “Is the ability of Washington to assemble coalitions on behalf of its global objectives starting to ebb?” Starobin asks. “Are our alliances fraying – and if so, why? Does this trend have to do with our flailing economy, with inept diplomacy, or with some other set of factors?”

Excerpts from my response:

It is hardly newsworthy when one of America’s allies bucks Uncle Sam. It has become an almost daily occurrence.

[…]

But just because the United States has had difficulty keeping its allies in line doesn’t mean that it can’t assemble a coalition to deal with common challenges. It all depends on whether the parties agree on the nature and severity of the threat, and on the best means for mitigating it. In this context, the multinational naval task force operating off the Horn of Africa has had great success beating back piracy in the region. The countries that choose to participate agree that piracy poses a threat to their commercial interests, and are willing to band together in a loose coalition – and not as part of a formal, permanent alliance – in order to deal with the challenge. Their contributions are generally consistent with their interests; the benefits seen as in line with the costs.

Alliances are no different, or, at least, they shouldn’t be. Alliances are supposed to be sustained by interests. (British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston’s observation that “nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests” has been repeated so many times that it has become cliched). And yet, the United States has maintained its commitment to NATO, South Korea and Japan in recent months, even as it is obvious that the parties do not share common interests. The alliances have become an end in and of themselves, instead of the means to an end.

[…]

When she presented the Obama administration’s national security strategy late last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that NATO was one of several global commitments that was “embedded in the DNA of American foreign policy.”

Hardly. While a bipartisan consensus in Washington is enamored of Europe’s dependence upon the United States, most Americans tire of defending our wealthy European allies who are eminently capable of defending themselves. The resentment has only grown as these same allies have shown precious little enthusiasm for supporting the United States in its hour of need in Afghanistan.

[…]

We have created a class of wealthy and secure allies who lack the capability, but most importantly the will, to act on their own behalf, let alone in the service of the world’s policeman.

Read the full response here.

Is Europe Irrelevant?

Paul Starobin at the National Journal’s Security Experts Blog has kicked off a spirited debate surrounding Europe’s military capabilities (or lack thereof). The jumping off point in the discussion is Robert Gates’s speech to NATO officers last month, in which Gates lamented that:

“The demilitarization of Europe – where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it – has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.” [Justin Logan blogged about this here.]

Starobin asks: “Can America Count On Europe Anymore?”

Is Gates right? What exactly does “the demilitarization of Europe” mean for U.S. national security interests? Should Americans care if Europe has to live in the shadow of a militarily superior post-Soviet Russia? Is NATO, alas, a lost cause?

[…]

In short, should the U.S. be planning for a post-Europe world? Does Europe still matter? Can we count on Europe any more?

My response:

It would be unwise for Americans to write off Europeans as a lost cause, congenitally dependent upon U.S. military power, and unable to contribute either to their own defense or to policing the global commons. We can’t count on Europe – right now – but that doesn’t mean we can never count on Europe in the future.

Americans who complain about Europe’s unwillingness to play a larger role in policing the globe, and who would like them to do more, should start by exploring the many reasons why Europe is so weak militarily.

Consider, for example, Europe’s half-hearted and inconsistent steps to establish a security capacity independent of NATO – and therefore independent of the United States – since the end of the Cold War. Such proposals have failed for many reasons, but we shouldn’t ignore the extent to which Uncle Sam has actively discouraged Europe from playing a more active role. Most recently, Hillary Clinton expressed the U.S. government’s position that political and economic integration would proceed under the EU, but security would continue to be provided by NATO. This echoes similar comments made by the first Bush and Clinton administrations with respect to European defense. (See, for example, Madeleine Albright’s comments regarding European Defence and Security Policy (EDSP) in 1998).

We can dismiss such comments as useful cover for Europeans who were looking for an excuse to cut military spending in the first place. The demographic pressures of an aging population consuming a larger share of public resources are being felt in many advanced economies, but are particularly acute in Europe.

But the problem goes well beyond the fiscal pressures associated with maintaining an adequate defense. Washington has been openly hostile to any resurgence of military power in European, no matter how unlikely that might be, on the basis of what political scientists call hegemonic stability theory. That theory holds that it is better for security to be provided by a single global power than by regional players dealing chiefly with security challenges in their respective neighborhoods. The argument is that such self-sufficiency is dangerous, that it can lead to arms races, regional instability, and even wars. One can think this a smart philosophy or a dumb one, but we can’t ignore that it has guided U.S. foreign policy at least since the end of the Cold War.

It could be argued that the costs to the United States of providing such services for the rest of the world are modest, but that is ultimately a judgment call. To be sure, the dollar costs will not bankrupt us as a nation, but Americans spend $2,700 per person on our military, while the average European spends less than $700. The bottom line is that Europeans have little incentive to spend more because they don’t feel particularly threatened, and they aren’t anxious to take on responsibilities that are ably handled by the United States. The advocates of hegemonic stability theory would declare that a feature, not a bug. Mission accomplished.

And that might be true, if the greatest threat to global security were a resurgence of conflict in Europe, and if it is truly in the U.S. interest to forever have allies with few capabilities and many liabilities. But that seems extremely shortsighted. The sweeping political and economic integration in Europe has dramatically reduced the likelihood of another European war. In the meantime, the fact that we have many allies with little to offer by way of military assets, and even less political will to actually use them, is forcing the U.S. military to bear the disproportionate share of the burdens of policing the planet. And in the medium- to long-term, while I doubt that we will be facing “a militarily superior, post-Soviet Russia,” allies with usable military power might ultimately serve a purpose if Moscow proves as aggressive (and capable) as the hawks claim.

In short, Secretary Gates’s comments last month suggest that he has stumbled upon the realization that being the world’s sole superpower has its disadvantages. This by itself would be a significant shift of U.S. policy, and therefore drew favorable comments by others who welcome such a change. (See, for example, Logan, Steve Walt, and Sean Kay.)

Getting Europeans to take a more active role – even in their own backyard – will be difficult, but not impossible. It starts with blunt talk about the need to take responsibility and to assume a fair share of the burdens of policing the global commons. But we’ve heard such comments before. What is also needed is greater restraint by Washington, behavior that over time will force the Europeans to play a more active role.

“United States”: Singular Noun, or Plural?

Paul Starobin, the author of an informative primer on foreign policy realism, had an interesting piece in the weekend’s Wall Street Journal on the topic of breaking up the United States.

Devolved America is a vision faithful both to certain postindustrial realities as well as to the pluralistic heart of the American political tradition—a tradition that has been betrayed by the creeping centralization of power in Washington over the decades but may yet reassert itself as an animating spirit for the future. Consider this proposition: America of the 21st century, propelled by currents of modernity that tend to favor the little over the big, may trace a long circle back to the original small-government ideas of the American experiment. The present-day American Goliath may turn out to be a freak of a waning age of politics and economics as conducted on a super-sized scale—too large to make any rational sense in an emerging age of personal empowerment that harks back to the era of the yeoman farmer of America’s early days. The society may find blessed new life, as paradoxical as this may sound, in a return to a smaller form.

[…]

Today’s devolutionists, of all stripes, can trace their pedigree to the “anti-federalists” who opposed the compact that came out of Philadelphia as a bad bargain that gave too much power to the center at the expense of the limbs. Some of America’s most vigorous and learned minds were in the anti-federalist camp; their ranks included Virginia’s Patrick Henry, of “give me liberty or give me death” renown. The sainted Jefferson, who was serving as a diplomat in Paris during the convention, is these days claimed by secessionists as a kindred anti-federal spirit, even if he did go on to serve two terms as president.

The anti-federalists lost their battle, but history, in certain respects, has redeemed their vision, for they anticipated how many Americans have come to feel about their nation’s seat of federal power. “This city, and the government of it, must indubitably take their tone from the character of the men, who from the nature of its situation and institution, must collect there,” the anti-federalist pamphleteer known only as the Federal Farmer wrote. “If we expect it will have any sincere attachments to simple and frugal republicanism, to that liberty and mild government, which is dear to the laborious part of a free people, we most assuredly deceive ourselves.”

Bonus points to Starobin for pointing to the same passage from George Kennan that I’ve taken to quoting.  Kennan worried whether “ ‘bigness’ in a body politic is not an evil in itself.”  As a result, he wondered “how it would be if our country, while retaining certain of the rudiments of a federal government, were to be decentralized into something like a dozen constituent republics, absorbing not only the powers of the existing states but a considerable part of those of the present federal establishment.”

The most obvious objection with which Starobin doesn’t deal is that you’d have a hell of a time selling this scheme on Washington, which happens to have–how to put this politely?–the means to ensure it gets what it wants.

A related objection would be the eternal political question “who gets the guns?”  What sort of armed forces would a decentralized United States possess?  Under whose control would they be?  Would we distribute nuclear weapons to each of the States in order to ensure none of them would get too skittish?

People smarter than me have argued that size isn’t an obstacle to republican government in the case of the United States.  Note, though, the first of the four premises on which the pro-size argument rests:

In the first place it is to be remembered that the general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws.  Its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any…

If the case for centralism rests on premises like these that are artifacts of a long-since-squandered legacy, we probably ought to reconsider the arguments against centralism.  At the very least, those of us who want a very small government ought to think hard about the viability of a situation in which a small, weak federal government administers a giant, powerful nation.