Just when you thought it was okay for the United States to slash its defense budget and withdraw from its international security commitments, reality rears its ugly head. North Korea, that paragon of stability and reasonableness, launches a surprise artillery strike on South Korea. This comes at the end of a year when that same country conducted a totally unprovoked sneak attack on a South Korean warship, sinking it and killing 46 sailors. Oh yes, there is the new report that Pyongyang has unveiled a new uranium enrichment plant intended to provide the North with the material for additional nuclear weapons. This report caused the Seoul government to request the return of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to the peninsula. A secondary consequence of the crisis has been major declines on international stock markets.
Elsewhere, the news is equally jarring. China chose to strong arm Japan over an incident with a Chinese fishing boat illegally in Japanese waters. Beijing is engaged in a significant military buildup designed to threaten its near-neighbors with ballistic and cruise missiles. Recently, Chinese telecom diverted fifteen percent of all internet traffic to its servers. Perhaps this is a foreshadowing of the future of Chinese cyber warfare. Saudi Arabia and its friends in the Persian Gulf are rapidly building up their arms stores in anticipation of a confrontation with Iran. Iran, in turn, recently completed a series of military exercises intended to test its air defense and sea-control capabilities in the Gulf. According to international reports, Iran and Syria have provided Hezbollah in Lebanon with tens of thousands of rockets and missiles capable of striking Israel. Russia continues to occupy portions of Georgia and to support separatist groups in the Caucusus. Yemen has become the new hotbed for Al Qaeda terrorism. Just offshore, Somali pirates are attacking international shipping at a growing rate. NATO just completed a Summit at which it agreed to focus attention on the growing threats posed by cyber warfare and ballistic missile attacks. Last, but not least, there are the ongoing insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, instability in Pakistan, narco-terrorism from Colombia to the U.S.-Mexican border and crazy states such as Venezuela buying advanced weapons systems.
What would be the impact on regional stability if the U.S. were to withdraw from key regions such as NATO Europe, the Persian Gulf or Northeast Asia? Without U.S. security guarantees how much greater would the prospect be for one of the myriad confrontations on the Korean peninsula to have resulted in a new war? Who but the United States military can guarantee the free flow of oil through the Persian Gulf? It is the U.S. program for a phased adaptive missile defense system that will serve as the backbone of the new NATO-wide missile shield. It is the U.S. nuclear umbrella alone that is preventing the wholesale proliferation of such systems by America’s allies in their scramble to protect themselves against North Korea, Iran, China and Russia. Advanced U.S. weapon systems including F-15s, 16s, 18s and soon F-35s are the backbone of the air defenses of over thirty countries. Add to these Apache and Blackhawk helicopters, M-1 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and even Stryker wheeled fighting vehicles and it would be hard to imagine the Free World defending itself absent the United States.
Those who argue that our allies should take responsibility for their own defense often fail to recognize that most of these nations do a lot for themselves. Regardless, the United States has an interest in ensuring those friends and allies remain free from coercion or aggression. It is America’s interest to come to the defense of our allies regardless of their own military capabilities. In addition, only the U.S. can act as a counterweight to the hegemonic tendencies of states such as Iran, China and Russia. A strong U.S. military presence in regions of interest may be the best guarantee against the kind of aggression that would inevitably require U.S. intervention.
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