Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

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Monday, July 28, 2003
In a follow up to yesterday's post, how might we characterize America's key foreign policy challenges and key bilateral or multilateral relationships, with a particular eye to the intrinsic strength or weakness of our potential allies?

I should note up-front a few propositions, most if not all of which are subject to challenge, that undergird my analysis.

First: it is better to have strong allies and weak enemies than weak allies and strong enemies. The preference for weak enemies is probably unexceptionable, but many disagree that it is better to have strong allies than weak. Strong allies, after all, may demand a greater share of the spoil, and may make demands that cut against our own interests. Is it not better in some ways to have weak allies who cannot make independent demands? Perhaps it is useful to have some of these, but my sense is that frequently weak allies are more a net drain on resources than a net addition. And it is not true that the weak cannot make demands; precisely because they are weak, they can demand protection, they can demand "understanding" - they can demand, in various ways, that we not demand too much of them. In which case, how useful are they, really? Compare, in this regard, America's Cold War alliances with those of the Soviet Union. America's alliances were genuinely cooperative, and while America bore the largest share of the military burden, the economic and military benefits to genuine cooperation were enormous. By contrast, the Soviet Union had only satellites, and its efforts to expand its sphere of influence were enormously expensive. Its "allies" were more drains on the Soviet economy and military than they were additions to its power, and the overextension of Soviet power in the 1970s probably hastened the evil empire's ultimate collapse.

Second: America does need allies to defend and promote our interests and values. There are certainly those who take exception to this point. America is, after all, the overwhelmingly dominant military power of our era, and the gap between #1 and #2 is growing, not shrinking. Moreover, as the Iraqi and Afghan campaigns proved, due to technological developments America is less dependent on regional support for basing than ever before. Why, then, do we need allies? The simple answer is: even if we don't need allies to win wars, we need allies to govern in the peace. And, given that many of our current challenges arise from areas of chaos, the need to govern, and the manpower that requires, are not trivially related to protecting our own security. The more complicated answer is: allies that may not be enormously useful to us can be very useful to our enemies. Take Northeast Asia as an example. It is argued that America's alliance with South Korea constrains our action against North Korea, and therefore harms our national security. But disregard of the interests of South Korea with regard to North Korea would do far more harm to our interests, as it would push much of the region into the arms of China as the better guarantor of collective security, and China is a far more dangerous rival long-term than North Korea is. And further: because our manpower needs (for peacekeeping, particularly) will necessarily outstrip our ability to supply them long-term from domestic manpower reserves, if we lack an alliance system to provide this additional manpower from allied states we will end up relying on the United Nations for this manpower. And this will necessarily entail a surrender of sovereignty considerably greater than the negotiated compromises entailed by an alliance system.

Third: a preponderance of power is better than a balance of power. This would seem to cut against the last two points, but it doesn't, really. Preponderance of power does not mean monopoly of power or imperial dominion. It just means being vastly stronger than all rivals. A preponderance of power is preferable to a balance of power because balances of power are inherently unstable, difficult to police, and create serious collateral negative dynamics. "Balance of power" characterized British policy towards Continental Europe from the 18th century through the 20th, the period in which Britain was the dominant power. At various points, Britain fought with France, Russia and Germany to restrain whomever Britain considered most dangerous at a given point in time. But as these countries variously and severally grew in absolute power, and as each pursued its own national interest at the expense of others while Britain alone pursued a goal of balance, the cost of that balancing grew to the point where Britain could not possibly shoulder the burden alone. At which point, Britain inevitably got drawn into alliance with the weaker powers of Europe against a rising Germany in a devastating war that, for all practical purposes, ended the British Empire. To balance the world today would require a united and militarily rising Europe, a resurgent Russia, and a nuclear Japan, as well as the already evident rise of China and India. How such a multi-polar world would serve U.S. interests is unclear to me. Far better to face any potential rival as an overwhelming power united with a number of strong, but smaller powers, such that the rival sees the risk of challenging America as too great to be worth it.

The present challenges to American interests and security spring primarily from the Islamic world and from East Asia. In the world of Islam, the great threat is the radical Islamism that we are fighting in our war on al-Qaeda, which seeks to unite the Muslim world into a powerful hostile bloc and which uses terrorism against the U.S. as one means of recruitment and to create the chaos and disorder that they feed upon (as well as because, well, terrorism is what they do, being terrorists). Since this enemy force feeds on chaos, disorder and repression, these are our enemies as well in this region of the world.

In East Asia, the great threat is a rising China transitioning not from Communism to democracy but from Communism to Fascism. Since the massacres of 1989, the hand of the PLA within China has been greatly strengthened, and the regime has become more repressive and more nationalistic. Its ultimate objective is the ejection of the United States from the western Pacific and the Finlandization of its near neighbors, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, etc. China also likely harbors territorial ambitions to seize the Soviet Far East, along with its well-advertized ambitions to conquer Taiwan and Mongolia. China is a much more traditional enemy than the one we are currently fighting, and so much more amenable to traditional strategies of deterrence.

In confronting these enemies, what kinds of allies do we need, and what are the best places to look for these allies?

As noted, our preference is to have allies, to have strong allies rather than weak, and to have a preponderance of power over our enemies (and our allies) rather than forming changing coalitions to keep a balance of power among potential rivals.

In that regard, it's worth noting that two of our key allies in the war on Islamist terrorism - Saudi Arabia and Pakistan - are decidedly thin reeds to lean upon. Each is chronically unstable and has a high likelihood of ceasing to exist as a country within the next 20 years; the likelihood of their ceasing to be allies has to be reckoned higher. We have eliminated a weak but dangerous enemy - Iraq - but as a consequence we have bitten of a large job of occupation and reconstruction that will not be completed in a year or two. And we still face one strong state-based enemy in the region: Iran. The focus of our efforts in the Middle East, then, should be: to change the character of the regime in Iran, eliminating our most dangerous enemy; to develop "back up plans" in the event of significant instability in Saudi Arabia and/or Pakistan; and to determine how best to leverage our relationships with our strongest friends in the region (Egypt and Turkey).

There are a number of small countries for whom it is more or less difficult to say whether our relationship is more of a cost or a benefit. These are: Taiwan, South Korea, Israel, Jordan and the Gulf states. America has been sufficiently clear about our intention to oppose any attempt by China to seize Taiwan that, were we to reneg on that commitment, the consequences for American power would be devastating. But America's position is considerably strengthened if it appears reasonably likely that the Taiwanese themselves would be able to repel a Chinese invasion. Right now, that capacity is in question. South Korea, similarly, needs to be induced to understand the risks to the continuance of the North Korean regime, and not just the risks of its demise, and to understand that the U.S. cannot be played off against China in this or any other matter. In the Middle East, Israel has proven both a substantial asset and a liability. The U.S.
needs to get more value and less risk out of this relationship: more value by encouraging the growth of collective security arrangements that include Israel (such as has begun between Israel and Turkey); less liability by effectively mandating an end to the ongoing crisis in the territories. This does not primarily mean putting pressure on either Israel or the Palestinians; it means primarily putting pressure on Jordan, because the policing of the Palestinian territories - whether they are ultimately called a state or not - must be done by someone, and if it isn't going to be Israel it will have to be Jordan. The Gulf states need to be induced to lend their considerable wealth to the ideological campaign America is waging against our terrorist enemies; if Saudi Arabia is going to bankroll Islamic militancy, the time has come for Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait to bankroll Islamic liberalism (and it does exist, in pockets throughout the Muslim world, crushed between government censorship and Saudi-financed extremism).

Four countries are positioned to be friendly to the US in either a confrontation with China or in our ongoing war against Islamist terrorism: Russia, India, the Philippines and Indonesia. All four have significant Muslim terrorist threats of their own (from Chechnya, Kashmir, Mindanao and the Moluccas), and all four are threatened by China (by China's hunger for the Russian Far East, by China's support of Pakistan and of Maoist rebels in the Himalayan kingdoms, and by Chinese aims to make the South China Sea a Chinese lake). But each of these poses a problem as a potential ally. Russia's and America's interests dovetail extremely well at present. But Russia is on the one hand something of a weak horse (and therefore a risky bet) and on the other hand its ultimate ambitions (e.g. to reabsorb lost Soviet territories) may bring it into conflict with America. India is even riskier. Although likely to emerge as a real regional superpower in the next decade, India is still threatened by internal instability. Moreover, its interests do not dovetail perfectly with America's; India would likely benefit from the destruction of the Pakistani state, while for America this would raise at least as many problems as it would solve. India and Russia are each likely too large to join in any enterprise of collective security, and are therefore less than ideal partners in confronting our common enemies. America is vastly stronger than either, but their presence in any coalition would unbalance it, and America would lack the overwhelming preponderance of power that we consider desireable.

Both the Philippines and Indonesia suffer from acute internal threats, and neither has a stable system of government. These are significant challenges to their ability to serve as important pillars of an American-centered alliance system. But both are ultimately promising targets for joining any American enterprise of collective security, the Philippines especially because of our long historic relationship. Our objective in Asia should be to construct a collective security architecture similar to that which kept the peace in Europe for half a century in the face of the Soviet threat, where currently we have only bilateral relationships. Such an architecture would embrace Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia to begin with, would implicitly embrace Taiwan and would have important links with Indonesia (whose stability the alliance would effectively underwrite) and, further afield, with India. One additional country that it would be very valuable to add to any Pacific alliance system is Vietnam. While a lower priority than regime change in Iran, tipping Vietnam into the pro-American column would once again add a substantial mid-sized regional power with a strong national identity to the American list.

One advantage of a collective-security architecture for the Pacific is that it would enable America to get more out of its relationship with Japan. Currently, America is constrained by Japanese military weakness and by other Asian countries' fear of any emerging Japanese military strength. Within the context of a real arrangement for collective security, and under American command, it might be more possible for Japan to take a role more commensurate with its own natural strength. I understand the objections to trying to create a "Pacific NATO" and they are considerable: the countries in question do not have a common culture, language, religion or history, have fought each other more often than they have fought alongside one another, and have little in the way of common interests (unless China become so threatening that they feel their very existence as independent states depends on collective security). All true. But this still strikes me as an instance where there is little to be lost by trying and much to be gained by success: the creation of a bloc of states whose greatest interest is in the maintenance of a collective architecture of defense, whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts and whose security is ultimately tied to their relationship with the United States. And the lack of common ground (other than the American connection) may work to the advantage of architects of the system at least as much as to their detriment; after all, bilateral relationships with America are more likely to bring the charge of American imperial domination than a collective instrument of self-defense, and the lack of other common cultural glue and pervasive mutual mistrust makes it more plausible that they would welcome America (rather than China) as their common security guarantor.

The great virtue of NATO in the post-Cold-War world is that it binds America and Europe together. As insurance against Russian expansion, NATO is probably more expensive than it needs to be, but it is still a vehicle to hold together natural allies with many common interests who can act collectively both within and outside their theater to protect their collective interests. Should our NATO allies fail to rise to the challenges of collective security in the new world (and so far many of them are failing), the structure will still be useful so long as parts of the alliance - the British, the Poles, perhaps the Spanish - continue to support the concept of collective security. That nations like, say, Belgium thereby get a free ride should trouble us more than the comparable free ride that, say, residents of Berkeley get only if these nations actively try to disrupt the functioning of the alliance. But NATO will not be sufficient to provide for our global security needs; it won't provide the manpower, for one thing, and it doesn't have the global representation. We need to leverage our common interests with other mid-sized and small states into a real collective security architecture elsewhere in the world. The Pacific offers the greatest opportunities for this; the Middle East is far too unstable and divided for now. But looking longer term, we should be thinking about similar templates for that region, for Africa, etc. A success in Iraq would provide a major downpayment on such a vision.

Investing in successful states with which we have common interests, binding them together with other successful states who might otherwise be rivals in a common security architecture held together by interest, is the best way, I think, to leverage American power. And certainly better than the alternatives: submission to a UN-led architecture (which has demonstrably failed), return to 19th-century-style balance-of-power politics (with its dangerous instability), or an attempt to impose a unilateral American imperium (which will quickly overextend American commitments and sap American power).