An important subtext running through the sequestration narrative is the issue of America’s security interests and roles in a post-Iraq/Afghanistan world. Even after sequestration, the United States will spend more than any other nation on defense. Most of the other “big spenders” are America’s friends or allies. Even if China continues with its current policy of double-digit annual increases in defense spending, it will be more than a decade before that country’s defense budget equals that projected for the United States. So, we will continue to spend a lot of money on national security.
But the question is, should we? The 65-year-old consensus on the role of this country’s military as the central pillar of security for Western civilization and a force for global stability is over. Elements on both ends of the political spectrum have been campaigning for years for a reduced vision of America’s role in the world and a correspondingly large retrenchment in our security commitments. A few years ago, former Congressmen Ron Paul and Barney Frank, two men who could not be more diametrically opposite politically, sponsored a study of American security that proposed in essence, that this country come home politically and in doing so, reduce its defense burden by nearly half. Now, the desire to cut government spending or extract resources from the defense budget has led less extreme elements in both parties to call for America to reduce its overseas burden, stop acting as a “global cop” and cut the size and cost of its military.
There are two fundamental problems with this argument. The first is the presumption that this country’s global security posture was created and maintained to serve others. In reality, the United States built a global security architecture and the world’s best military because it served our interests. Our network of security ties and treaties, most notably NATO, were instituted to serve a number of functions: prevent another war among the Western powers, deter the Soviet Union and its allies and ensure that the major economic regions remain free and that global trade flowed. In the 1970s, based on the experience of the oil embargo, the U.S. focused more on the security of the Persian Gulf because of the growing importance of Middle East oil to our economy and that of the entire industrialized world.
While the Soviet Union is no more, the essential self-interestedness of our military role in the world remains. Any oil expert will tell you that even though this country is less dependent than a decade ago on foreign oil, a cutoff of the flow from the Middle East will cause our oil price to go through the ceiling. A war across the Taiwan Straits or between the two Koreas will cost us hundreds of billions in lost trade and investment income not to mention cut off most of the world’s supply of computer chips and consumer electronics. The world’s economy and our well-being depend on the independence of a relative handful of nations, most of whom are our allies.
The second problem with the case for abandoning America’s role as the security linchpin of a democratic world order and an international free trade system is simply this: while this country can run, it cannot hide. We are still the largest economy — at worst we will be number two behind China some day. All our major companies are global and we have hundreds of billions of dollars invested overseas and millions of citizens working or traveling abroad. American culture permeates — foreign extremists would say pollutes — the world. To truly avoid international entanglements this nation would have to behave like a cloistered monk with vows of poverty and silence.
Even if America runs, as the far left and right propose, it is too late to hide. Those who choose to be our enemies can come after us. This is the lesson of 9-11. It is also the message that North Korea sent us with its latest tests of a nuclear weapon and long-range ballistic missile. China, one of our largest trading partners and the holder of a trillion dollars in U.S. debt is conducting a massive and continuous cyber assault on our private companies, infrastructure and military facilities. To what mountaintop can America withdraw, how small must we become and how meekly will we have to behave in order to be sure that we are safe?
Find Archived Articles: