alliances, Blob, China, Council on Foreign Relations, East Asia-Pacific, extended deterrence, globalism, Japan, North Korea, nuclear weapons, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Project-Syndicate.org, Richard N. Haass, South Korea, Taiwan, Trump
I’d like to offer a deal to anyone in America’s bipartisan globalist foreign policy establishment: You come up with defenses of the pre-Trump strategies and approaches you support that aren’t transparently ridiculous, and I’ll start portraying them as something other than sick jokes.
Judging by Richard N. Haass’ latest column for the Project Syndicate website, it’s clear that even if these members of the Blob (a wonderful nickname for this crew of former officials, genuine scholars, think tank creatures, Mainstream Media journalists, and business and finance leaders) cared about what I think, they’d flunk this test.
Haass is an especially important Blob-er because he not only served as a top policymaker under three Republican presidents (and in a more junior position during Jimmy Carter’s administration). He’s the President of the Council on Foreign Relations – the Blob’s oldest and most prominent think tank. (Truth in advertising: He also preceded me by two years at our Long Island, N.Y high school, but we had no personal dealings.)
But we should all hope that the advice he dispensed in government was much better than that he seems to have offered in “Asia’s Scary Movie.” Because his arguably underlying message – that the United States should reinforce its commitment to militarily defending the East Asia-Pacific region even though the region shows signs of fracturing on the economic and security fronts – is nothing less than a recipe for increasing America’s exposures to perils it can’t possibly control.
Especially and dangerously nutty is Haass’ clear belief that the United States should maintain its security relationships with Japan and South Korea even though the two countries are engaged in a literal trade war that’s disrupting interactions between their two gigantic clusters of information technology hardware manufacturing – which are so big that global trade and production in these critical sectors could take a major hit if the feud escalates further.
After all, as noted in that post linked just above, American ties with these two countries are “vital to its aims of balancing China and addressing the threat from North Korea” – both of which threats Haass correctly describes as growing and as worrisome as ever, respectively. In other words, in the event of trouble that may require a military response, the United States is relying on help from Tokyo and Seoul – which, in turn, are going to need to be working together.
But military relations between these two Asian countries have long been threadbare at best. Worse, their latest dispute – amid the backdrop of the rising China challenge and the ongoing peril from North Korea, which endanger both – has broken out because of grievances and grudges dating from Japan’s long and brutal occupation of the entire Korean peninsula in the decades preceding the end of World War II.
Given the history, it’s easy to understand why there’s no love lost between these two peoples. But alliances make sense only when the participants can count on each other for effective assistance if and when the shooting starts. Can anyone seriously believe that Japan and South Korea are going to get their act together suddenly if North Korean forces barrel across the Demilitarized Zone, or if Beijing moves against Taiwan? Or that responsible American defense planning should assume this rosy scenario?
Even worse, if trouble does break out on the Korean peninsula, nearly 30,000 American troops will be right in the middle. As I’ve written repeatedly, their vulnerability to superior North Korean conventional forces means that a U.S. President might need to use nuclear weapons to save them. For many years, North Korea’s inability to hit the American homeland with its own nukes made this threat (known as “extended deterrence”) credible and helped keep the peace. Given the North’s major progress toward precisely this capability, the current U.S. strategy could soon amount to risking the complete destruction of a big American city – or two. That may even be the case now.
In other words, given all these major, worsening Asia problems, the logical U.S. response is not stubbornly staying seated atop a powder keg. It’s to disengage ASAP. But any disengagement is such anathema to Haass and the rest of the Blob that he’s actually portrayed President Trump’s various statements criticizing the wisdom of America’s alliances as major contributors to East Asia’s stability.
Ironically, though, despite the Blob’s complaints, Mr. Trump’s biggest mistake along these lines clearly has been to continue his predecessors’ alliance policies, and even to double down in Eastern Europe – a region that could be as dangerous as East Asia.
That is, Haass and the rest of the Blob should be resting a lot easier. What a tragedy that there’s no reason to say that for the rest of us.