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With all the uproar generated, at least among globalist foreign policy professionals, by President Trump’s various verbal attacks on America’s alliance arrangements, it’s easy to forget their most important purpose. It’s not to protect allies for their own sakes, much less to “uphold the liberal global order” or to “promote American values”  or to “preserve international stability.” 

Their most important purpose is to increase via the use of the allies’ military forces the odds that if a conflict breaks out in a particular neighborhood deemed crucial to America’s own interests, that the United States will prevail. The other aforementioned objectives can of course line up with this overriding military objective, and they can of course result from its attainment. But the alliances’ fundamental raison d’etre is to help the United States on the battlefield in a region whose freedom from foreign domination is considered crucial to America’s own security and/or prosperity.

Further, this military assistance once the shooting starts matters a lot because such support can go far toward preventing these regional conflicts from triggering the use of nuclear weapons, and thereby preventing possible nuclear attacks on American territory.

All of which is why recent trade tensions between Japan and South Korea – America’s two leading allies in East Asia – should be of such urgent concern. For the feud, which has just prompted South Korea to pull out of a military intelligence sharing agreement it had recently reached with Japan, could not be a clearer sign that none of Washington’s longstanding assumptions about such crucial military support from these two countries remains valid – if they ever were – and that these arrangements are now not only outdated, but dangerously outdated.

For the quarrel’s outbreak and intensification represent the most important evidence to date that both Japan and South Korea care little about providing such support in an effective way – which unavoidably requires them to work together. How can they cooperate, and thereby effectively reinforce U.S. military operations, if they literally won’t even talk to each other about current or emerging battlefield conditions and threats?

And if Japanese and South Korean assistance will remain marginal at best (a conclusion supported by the relatively modest size and capabilities of their own forces, which have long been unable to repulse regional aggression without American assistance, despite the huge size of their economies) then the odds of keeping any regional conflict non-nuclear – and keeping the U.S. homeland safe from North Korean or Chinese nuclear attack – become unacceptably low for the United States.

At one time, the United States could have eased this dilemma satisfactorily by spending still more money on conventional forces for the defense of countries that are alarmingly blasé about defending themselves – however dubious this option is on military grounds alone. (For how promising are efforts to protect countries that are so determined to avoid risks and costs?)

But because of the emergence and improvement of the nuclear forces of North Korea and China, respectively, even that option will no longer squares the circle adequately.  Which means that the alliances (including in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO – on the other side of the world) have reached the point of becoming net threats to U.S. national security, not net boosters.

Worst of all is American policy on the Korean peninsula.  It remains unchanged  from the days when North Korea arguably could be deterred by threatened U.S. nuclear weapons use from attacking with its own superior conventional forces because it lacked nuclear retaliatory capability.  As a result, it continues to station nearly 30,000 American troops right near the border of the aggressive and volatile North for the express purpose of creating a “trip wire.”  In other words, North Korea might now be able to destroy U.S. cities with its own nuclear bombs, or soon might be able to in response to American nuclear use. But Washington still recklessly seeks to prevent any such attack by the North in the first place by placing these troops in imminent danger and leaving nuclear use the only realistic option of saving them if hostilities ever did break out.  

If a standard globalist President was occupying the Oval Office, it would be understandable that he or she would be responding to the Japan-South Korea feud and its alliance implications by wishing it away. But Donald Trump is an avowed America First President – and has demonstrated many instincts along these lines. Why is he waiting to long to take this latest, massive hint, and leave these increasingly unreliable countries to their own (considerable) devices?