alliances, allies, China, East China Sea, Eastern Europe, France, Germany, globalism, internationalism, Japan, NATO, North Atlantic TYreaty Organization, North Korea, nuclear deterrence, nuclear weapons, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Pew Research Center, Russia, South Korea, Soviet Union, United Kingdom
Establishment analysts and commentators have looked at the results of the Pew Research Center’s recent survey on overseas attitudes towards U.S. foreign policy under President Trump and decided that their most important findings are that his America First approach is costing America valuable influence on the global stage.
Even if you don’t find those conclusions transparently self-serving – since the vast majority of these analysts and commentators are staunch supporters of a more traditional globalist or internationalist approach – consider this alternative interpretation: The Pew survey strongly suggests that the globalist strategy, which has been in place for decades, has failed miserably in a crucial respect. Even though its core principles have required that the United States accept enormous cost and risks (including nuclear) on behalf of allies all over the world, the Pew researchers have found that even under President Obama – a pretty run-of-the-mill globalist – the populations of these same allies had little appreciation for these American burdens.
For me, the most glaring example is South Korea. As RealityChek readers know, for years I’ve been noting that the rapid recent progress of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program means that the United States’ longstanding commitment to use nuclear weapons if necessary to defend the South from a northern invasion or simply to deter such an attack is now qualitatively more dangerous than in the past. For if North Korea has not already developed the means to launch a nuclear strike that could take out an American city – or two or three – it’s not far from achieving that goal.
The North’s progress was glaringly obvious in 2013, when Pew last asked South Koreans if they believed that “In making international policy decisions, the U.S. takes into account the interest of countries like ours a great deal/fair amount.” Yet that year, only 36 percent of South Koreans answered “Yes.” This year, only 24 percent of South Koreans gave that answer.
Japan is also protected by an American nuclear umbrella – at least in principle. As with the case of South Korea, it hosts large American military forces whose presence aims to bolster the credibility of that promise. And North Korea has actually fired missiles over Japanese territory – meaning that the threat it poses to Japan and to those U.S. forces is anything but merely theoretical. (If only because the American forces in Japan that defend the islands are supposed to help their comrades-in-arms if war breaks out on the Korean peninsula.) Japan is also alarmed by Chinese encroachments in the East China Sea.
But in 2013, only 38 percent of Japanese agreed that American foreign policy takes their interests into account even a fair amount. This year, that number is down to 28 percent.
The security situation in Europe is not nearly as fraught. But Russia has certainly taken actions that arguably threaten the security of new members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that used to be part of either the old Soviet Union or the Soviet bloc. And as NATO allies, these countries are also entitled to nuclear protection from the United States even though their fates had never before been considered vital American interests and even though Russia retains nuclear forces more than large enough to devastate the United States many times over.
Yet although the new NATO members either border Germany (like Poland) or are located pretty close by, and even though Germans presumably would not want to see Russia reestablish dominance, even in 2013, only 50 percent of Germans believed that Washington takes their interests significantly into account in its foreign policy. The 2018 figure? With Russia at least as menacing? Nineteen percent. And the Germans are anything but outliers, as Pew found roughly the same trend in France and in the United Kingdom (although the share of their populations detecting any meaningful American regard for their interests in 2013 was a good deal lower than in Germany – just 35 percent and 40 percent, respectively).
A common retort by globalists and by allies is that allied populations have no reason to be especially grateful to the United States because these alliances serve crucial American interests, too. But what they forget is that populations (especially from countries whose governments have been champion security free-riders) that don’t believe the United States cares much about them aren’t likely to be populations likely to support the American military when push comes to shove in their regions – as opposed to calling for some version of accommodating the aggressors.
Not that I’m criticizing allied populations. At least in their initial stages, any conflicts will take place almost exclusively on their territories. And P.S. – these kinds of strains were troubling alliance relations for decades before Trump. But the by the same token, the Pew results underscore two truths about U.S. alliances that should be disturbing globalists more than ever.
First, the nuclear risks they still appear to be entirely satisfied with are being run for stakes (the security of relatively small, unimportant countries, as opposed to Japan and the entirety of Western Europe) that are less rationally justifiable than ever. And second, when the United States needs to lead the resistance to aggression, it may have fewer followers than ever.