Thursday, November 17, 2011

China and the United States

In a discussion about the respective merits of Obama and Romney's foreign policy, Andrew Sullivan writes:
[Secretary of Defense Leon]Panetta keeps talking about a much reduced military presence in the world as if that were a bad thing. But why should the US with no serious state enemy in the world like the USSR be spending almost as much on "defense" as we did in the Cold War? What on earth are we doing adding a military base in Australia to piss off China? Why shouldn't China have a sphere of influence in the Pacific? Nowhere has Obama challenged these neo-imperial assumptions, buttressed by what Eisenhower warned us about. We'd still have a permanent presence in Iraq if the Pentagon had its way. And why on earth do we have so many troops in Europe? It's absurd. Absurd.

Chinese Aircraft Carrier
Normally, I would agree with Sullivan on this, because I do think we spend too much on our global military machine and that we need to go on a diet in terms of our military-industrial complex.

Yet....short of complete retrenchment and repudiation of our post-WWII global commitments, we remain a major global power, with allies who depend upon us.

This is particularly true in Asia, I think. Australia is of course a long-time, English-speaking friend within the Anglo-American alliance, so I don't see a problem at all with having a few hundred or thousand Marines based there for use in the South Pacific.  Americans and Aussies have fought and died together for over a century now in a variety of wars, so why stop working together now?

But then you have relationships with friendly countries going back decades if not centuries, who are relying on the United States to 'have their back' with regard to the growing economic and military power of China.  These include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia (where Obama lived as a child), Malaysia, Thailand, even Vietnam, with whom we have quite friendly relations now. If we were to completely abandon this area militarily, then these countries could easily get in a situation with regard to China where they would capitulate much more quickly to overwhelming Chinese power, than if they knew the U.S. Navy was just over the horizon.

Furthermore, this kind of subtle military commitment helps us to be an economic player as well with all these countries. And it is East Asia that will be the economic powerhouse of the coming century.

Having said all this, this doesn't mean we have to have a great power confrontation with China. Being nuclear powers mean that neither the U.S. and China will rush to military engagement that could lead to a nuclear exchange.

Frankly, I think we are more likely to keep China as a basically friendly economic power, if we show them that we will do our best to keep them honest in the area of international relations.  And as Obama well knows, that's a very Niebuhrian way to look at it.

1 comment:

  1. I am hoping for a world where the only conflict we engage in is economic. I'm afraid it won't be for many centuries to come.