alliances, allies, China, core deterrence, coronavirus, COVID 19, Eastern Europe, extended deterrence, globalism, Japan, NATO, North Atlantic treaty Organization, North Korea, nuclear deterrence, nuclear war, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Russia, South Korea, Soviet Union, tripwire, Western Europe, Wuhan virus
Here’s a seemingly off-the-wall question: What does the Wuhan Virus have to do with U.S. policy toward its global security alliances?
And here’s why it’s not only not a perfectly sensible and even vital question, but why the best answer is “Plenty”: Because these decades-old globalist arrangements now pose to America risks that look like the coronavirus-in-not-so-miniature. Even worse: The benefits to the United States these days are much more modest than during the Cold War era when they were created.
The purely national security arguments should by now be familiar to RealityChek regulars. (See here and here for fuller descriptions of the points I’m about to summarize.) The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO – which has linked the United States, Europe, and Canada), and the bilateral security relationships between the United States and Japan and South Korea, originally aimed to prevent the Soviet Union from dominating global centers of economic and technological strength and potential, and therefore of military strength and potential.
In fact, these countries and regions were considered so important that American policy made clear that Washington was ready to wage nuclear war – with all the dangers such conflicts would create for the U.S. homeland. Moreover, because the allies (or protectorates, as many call them) understandably doubted that American leaders really would, when the chips were down, “sacrifice New York to save London,” Washington felt compelled to station the U.S. military directly in harm’s way.
The idea was never to stop Soviet or North Korean or Chinese aggression with conventional forces alone. Quite the contrary. These units were intended as trip-wires. The very likelihood that they’d be annihilated was supposed to put irresistable pressure on a U.S. President to respond to attacks with nuclear weapons. In turn, this prospect was supposed to deter U.S. adversaries from attacking in the first place.
Such an approach (called “extended deterrence” by the cognoscenti – as opposed to “core deterrence,” which sought to protect the United States itself) made obvious sense when the United States enjoyed a monopoly on nuclear weapons. It even made arguable (though less obvious) sense when the Soviets reached nuclear parity, and the Chinese developed their own rudimentary nukes.
Since the end of the Cold War, however, it’s made much less sense, and more recent developments have turned this nuclear umbrella border-line – and crazily – suicidal. For the Soviet Union is gone. It’s been partly replaced with a newly aggressive Russia, but the countries most threatened by Moscow are not the economic and technological giants of Western Europe, but the newer NATO members of Eastern Europe – whose security was never remotely vital to the United States, as evinced by the long decades they spent as Soviet satellites or actual parts of the former USSR.
In East Asia, nuclear forces both in China and in North Korea can now not only hit the United States (or in the case of Pyongyang, are rapidly approaching that capability). When it comes to China, these weapons’ launch platforms have become much more difficult for the United States even to find, much less take out before they can be used. In other words, for all the continuing and even growing economic and technological importance of Japan and South Korea – which is considerable – the nuclear threats to America from their leading potential adversaries have grown faster both quantitatively and qualitatively.
And in all these alliance cases, despite President Trump’s clear interest in a fundamentally new America First-type foreign policy, and even though the allies are amply capable of fielding the forces needed to defend themselves, they choose not to. Therefore, U.S. forces still serve as tripwires in both Europe and Asia.
It’s likely that the economic damage done to the United States from a North Korean nuclear nuclear bomb landing in a big American city or two wouldn’t compare to the coronavirus economic damage we’re seeing now and are likely to see. But who can doubt that this damage will be substantial in economic terms, and catastrophic from a humanitarian standpoint? And in the areas hit, the harm to businesses and their workers could well last much longer. Further, the impacts of the kind of much larger retaliatory strikes that could come from China (if it invades Taiwan) or Russia, would be that much greater.
And these prices paid for maintaining current alliance policies would be all the more unacceptable because they are now completely unnecessary – because of the allies’ capabilities, and because so many of the European countries now under this U.S. “nuclear umbrella” are so thoroughly marginal to America’s safety and prosperity.
The globalist supporters of these alliances insist that these risks are indeed acceptable largely because deterrence has made them so remote. That sounds ominously like the optimism expressed by so many Americans (myself included) the day(s) before the Wuhan Virus threat’s scale became all too real. Now it’s increasingly clear that the globalists’ favored policies of indiscriminate free trade and offshoring-happy globalization policies have gravely endangered the nation’s health security as well as its prosperity, at least in the near-term. Let’s not be needlessly blindsided by a calamity triggered by the globalists’ hidebound alliance policies.