Tomorrow, the NATO summit in Warsaw starts. What do we expect, other than jet-lagged Steve being more incoherent than usual?
Tomorrow, the NATO summit in Warsaw starts. What do we expect, other than jet-lagged Steve being more incoherent than usual?
These interpretations dangerously misread contemporary geopolitics, however. Putin’s appearance of strength is, in reality, a function of Russia’s relatively weak international position. Russia lacks a global network of allies and partners and denounces the United States’ leadership. But Moscow cannot decisively influence the rules, institutions, and norms of the international order. By contrast, what many diagnose as U.S. weakness is a symptom of its exorbitant geostrategic privilege. Prudent foreign policy requires Washington to manage its extensive and heterogeneous security commitments and global relationships carefully. This makes Putin’s style of boldness not only less difficult to pursue but also often reckless—sacrificing longer-term position for short-term gain.
Go check it out (paywalled).
So this post is a bleg to those of you who know more about alliances than me. I am considering writing this up for an article, so I thought I would ‘crowd-source’ early comments on the basic argument. I also wonder if someone elsewhere has already suggested this idea in the vast alliance literature. So please let me know. The motivation is inductive – the deepening tension between Japan and Korea has suggested the addendum to alliance theory I am proposing here. But I wonder if others have said this before.
Put briefly, I don’t think entrapment or abandonment captures the US position between allies in dispute, like Japan and Korea, or Greece and Turkey (perhaps – I know that latter case less well). Instead, each seems to use the US alliance patron to: a) compete with each other, because b) the US alliance relieves external pressures (China and North Korea, and the USSR and chaos in the Balkans and Middle East, respectively) that would otherwise incentivize a rapprochement. These four states are not trying to ‘entrap’ the US so much as leverage it for an intra-alliance squabble, with the shared patron as referee. I’ve not read this theorized elsewhere, so here is an effort to do so.
I am so burned out on this issue, I’m ready to say we should just nuke the Liancourt Rocks (left) to end this whole thing. But it’s everywhere now in the regional media. Park pointedly won’t meet Abe, which the Japanese media is reading as a huge snub. She even said she’d talk to Pyongyang before Tokyo (yikes!). The Japanese are getting more open in expressing loathing for Korea. The Americans are livid. And the Chinese and Norks are loving it all, I have no doubt. So here’s yet another essay on this topic. This is the English version of a long-form essay I wrote for Newsweek Korea last week.
The short, IR-ish version is that: a) S Korea is a middle power that risks ‘overplaying its hand’ against Japan, as a think-tanker friend put it, because of the ‘moral hazard’ facilitated by the American alliance (as Katzenstein noted long ago, Japan is the US anchor state in Asia, and Koreans can’t change that no matter how much they resent that special relationship); b) the Americans believe in the democratic peace and simply don’t accept that Japan is some kind of proto-fascist state (this is a real breakpoint with the Americans); and c) Korean geography basically traps it in a ‘balance of threat’ quandary: even though it is small, its proximity means it will get pulled into the Sino-US/Japan stand-off whether it likes it or not. The only possible way out I can think of for Korea is unilateral nuclearization (more yikes). Also, my continuing skepticism of the pivot pops up. I still don’t think Americans actually care enough about Asia to really get pulled into a major competition with China. Here’s that essay…
The conventional wisdom on the US presence in Asia is that we re-assure all players. Specifically, US allies don’t need to arms race local opponents, because the US has extended deterrence to cover them. Hence Japan and South Korea don’t need to go nuclear, for example. Among academics, this logic pops in the work of Christensen, Ikenberrry, and Nye; among policy analysts, here is the US military saying this, and here is the DC think-tank set.
But there’s flip-side to this logic that really needs to be investigated – whether the US presence also freezes conflicts in place, by reassuring Asian elites against their own reckless nationalist rhetoric, racially toxic historiographies, and Fox News-style inflammatory media (just read the Global Times op-ed page occasionally). I think the Liancourt Rocks fight is a particularly good example of this ‘moral hazard’ mechanic, as is the recent comment by no less than the South Korean foreign minister (!) that Abenomics’ threat to Korean export competitiveness is a greater danger to SK than North Korea’s nuclear program. That kind of preposterous, reckless myopia can only be explained by taking the US security umbrella for granted.
1. I accept the arguments from many commenters that Turkey should be on the list. So here is a final list, a ‘top 12’ of US allies in order: Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Israel, South Korea, Japan, EU/NATO, Egypt, and Turkey.
2. Walt’s expansion of my argument toward “zero-based alliance formation” formalizes my initial intuitions for US alignment-picks. He asks if the US had no allies right now, which ones would it choose, because many US allies are left-over from previous commitments that may no longer be valuable. It’s an interesting, semi-counterfactual exercise. Its logic may be a clearer way to think about US allies than my use of retrenchment to force a ranking on US allies. I think this is a pretty good paper topic actually…
Instead of my 3 proposed alliance criteria (direct security benefits to the US; how desperately a potential ally needs the US; and the values symbolism of an alignment), Walt lists 6 benchmarks: power, position, political stability, popularity, pliability, and potential impact. These are richer than mine but also make it much harder to build a ranked order. I wonder what Walt’s top 10 would be then? I think he would be harder than I am on small states. That follows insofar as realism would suggest that larger states are usually more consequential. By including values/symbolism as a criterion, I allow places like Taiwan and SK to hang on.
From my top 12, I think Walt would probably kick out Israel, Taiwan, maybe Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and SK. Japan and NATO would probably be higher, and I think Brazil would be in there, and perhaps Australia. (I didn’t include those last because I think the US has few interests in Latin America and Australia benefits from the massive Indonesian glacis.)
What’s interesting though is that neither my nor Walt’s criteria would dramatically change the US alliance structure as far as I can tell. Walt would probably wind the US down in the ME more rapidly, while retaining NATO more, and I would do the opposite. We both probably agree that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan should not make the cut. Finally, I think my benchmarks would ‘pivot’ the US toward Asia faster than Walt’s, although I am not sure. Anyone want to comment on what top 10 Walt’s benchmarks would create?
3. I was please to see that Sullivan flagged – not necessarily approved, but just noted – my argument for Indonesia as America’s most important bridge to the Muslim world. I realize this is kinda off-beat, given that the ME is what dominates our perceptions of Islam and where Islamist pathologies are worst. (Here is a critic, a neocon perhaps, calling me ‘delusional’ for ranking Indonesia this way.) So here is a quick defense, more or less along the lines of what Secretary Clinton said a few years ago.
Indonesia is a syncretic model of pluralist Islam and politics; I think this is pretty widely accepted. No, it’s not as modern and liberal as we might like, but by the standards of the region, other developing countries, and especially the OIC, it is a paragon. Let’s be honest about that. It could easily be far, far worse (think Pakistan), which is why I find it unfortunate that we don’t pay attention much. We should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and a friendship with Indonesia doesn’t mean avoiding tough issues, just like engaging China doesn’t mean we should ignore human rights and other similar issues.
So in its own imperfect, struggling way, Indonesia represents the future of political Islam (speaking very broadly to be sure), not the past, which is a lot of what the ME represents and what Arab Spring is trying to break. If the flat-earth religious elites of places like Iran, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia are allowed to dominate the global conversation on Islam, more conflict is likely. By contrast, Indonesia offers a possible model for Islam to live with both democratic politics and religious pluralism. That we should vigorously support such an effort, through some kind of alignment, strikes me as so self-evident, that I am amazed that we never talk about this.
Indonesia is a multiparty democracy. Its military is “conditionally subordinate” to civilian control. Its human rights record has improved since the dictatorship. Its troubles with salafism and religious tolerance are there, yes, but again, by the standards of reasonably comparable states like Egypt or Pakistan, its record is good. There has no been no major jihadist terrorism since the 2003 Marriot bombing. Jemaah Islamiah is out there and nasty, but this stuff is far less threatening, with far less hold over popular imagination, than similar movements in so many other OIC states, especially given Indonesia’s huge size. Indeed, it’s Saudi oil money funding wahhabist preaching in Indonesia that is the big salafist threat, not homegrown Indonesian clerics.
So instead of lining up with badly governed Arab autocracies as we did in the ME – alignments that create islamist blowback – doesn’t it seem far more beneficial for US to align with a (reasonably) moderate, very large country (4th biggest in the world) that also worries about China, with improving democratic credentials? Like Turkey (also on the list now), Indonesia suggests that Islam can coexist reasonably well with modernity and liberalism. Similarly, Muslims have demonstrated that they can leave in reasonable peace with non-adherents in religiously diverse states like the US, India, and Indonesia. This is great news – somebody should tell the Tea Party and remind the Christian Right that it too should be a little more tolerant. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Islam in more monocultural places like the ME would be harsher and less tolerant. So we should be grooming South and SE Asian states where tolerance is more entrenched, if only out of the sheer necessity of preventing endless internal conflict. And Indonesia is easily the leader here. Hence I ranked it at number 7.
Even ‘long war’ neocons should see the value at this point in defusing the tiresome, now fairly stalemated debate of whether Islam can find a modus vivendi in the modern world or not. Regarding this debate, places like Indonesia and Turkey are not-perfect-but-good-enough-given-current-circumstances models for Islamic democratization and the cutting edge of Islamic politics. This is why we should be attached. We want US alliances to actually get us some real value-added, not just encourage free-riding from countries that already like us. This is why Indonesia is more important than Germany or Japan. We should have learned from the Arab Spring uprisings and Muslim Brotherhood victory in Egypt that supporting nasty dictators in the ME breeds a politicized Islamic backlash. Huntington notoriously argued that Islam had ‘bloody borders,’ but places Indonesia blunt that disturbing logic. That is very, very good – and far more valuable to the US than aging, tired alliances like NATO.
4. Canadians got pretty passionate over this. I didn’t know that was possible. Like most Americans, I tend to assume that Canadians are Americans who simply refuse to admit that fact (sorry – couldn’t resist that one), but commenters came out swinging against the idea that Mexico might be more important to the US or that Canada might ever be a ‘threat’ to the US (which I never meant to imply btw). One even argued that Canada is more politically stable than the US. Hah! … oh, wait, that’s probably true… . Generally, I think Canada kinda gets screwed by being our neighbor – they get stuck with every bad idea we come up with and chain-ganged into it whether they like it or not. So, thanks, Canada, sticking with us even after we elected W. Yes, we’re kind of embarrassed about that now. Enjoy that vid above.
Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.
Here is part one of my response to two recent, heavily-trafficked posts (one, two) on hypothetical retrenchment under Ron Paul. (So yes, that makes 4 total posts, including this one.) I got some flak on how I ranked US allies in order of importance, with the implication that those further down were more likely candidates for a diminished American commitment. Vikash and I are also having a really protracted and wonky comments debate about just how long US borrowing can forestall US retrenchment (IPE thoughts wanted). So rather than responding point-by-point, here are some broad responses on specific countries.
My ranking of US allies, in order, is: Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Israel, South Korea, Japan, EU/NATO, and Egypt. (That’s actually 11, not a ‘top 10,’ because I originally put Canada and Mexico in together at # 1, but whatever.)
1. Canada (#1): I was surprised how much controversy my choice for Canada at the top provoked. I thought that was pretty self-evident actually. (Stephen Walt, in a riff on my OP, says pretty much the same thing.) Just because Canada is quiet and boring (in a good way) doesn’t mean it is not existentially important for the US. (This same logic, boring ≠ unimportant, applies to my choice for Indonesia [#6]. The very fact that Indonesia is a moderate Muslim state is why no one cares about it, but that is a good thing! I guarantee you that if Indonesia had nasty salafists running around like in the ME, we’d all be talking about it. The ME≠Islam, which seems to be a new insight for far too many people.) The US trades the most in the world with Canada. We expect Canada to come with us on just about all our foreign ventures. Its cooperation provides crucial symbolic value: if the country most like us in the world can’t agree with us, then we must be doing something wrong (hint: Iraq). And most obviously, its security is a direct US concern, because of the border. In fact, given that the border is something like 3x the length of the US-Mexico border, Canada easily beats every other state in the world for the most basic US national security concerns.
2. Japan (#9): A good commenter noted that after WWII, the US wanted to make Japan into the ‘Switzerland of Asia,’ and that we are reaping what we sow. Absolutely. I do think Americans send mixed signals to allies. We don’t want them taking an independent line, we want them to do what we say, but then we complain that they free-ride. As I argued in the OP, all this US commitment ‘infantilizes’ US allies by not forcing them to deal with their own regional issues. But Americans, or rather the neocon-liberal internationalist elite synthesis that dominates US foreign policy discourse, ultimately accept weak, dependent allies, because we are in love with our own hegemony. It fires our imagination to compare ourselves to Athens, Rome, or Britain. Neocons read Pericles’ Funeral Oration or Gibbon, and they tear up that America too is the noble, tragic ‘weary titan,’ carrying the great orb of its world-historical task of spreading democracy. Americans thrill to that kind of ‘national greatness’ pseudo-metaphysics while Europeans roll their eyes in disillusionment and Asians wonder wth we are even talking about. So yes, free-riding is pretty obvious to see, because we abet it.
3. Europe (#10). I think Sean Kay’s essay on retrenching from the EU nails it. “If the United States cannot disengage from Europe now, then from where in the world can it?” You said it, brother. If we can’t reduce here, that means American alliance sprawl is basically locked-in forever and that we simply incapable of strategic choice. I take the obviousness of retrenching from the EU as all but self-evident 25 years after the Cold War. Similarly for Australia. Between Australia and Asia is gargantuan Indonesia, so aren’t we encouraging Aussie free-riding by putting troops in Darwin? More sprawl…
4. Israel (#7): I was surprised I didn’t get more pushback that Israel should be even higher. I guess no tea-partiers read my site. Oh well. Because if you listened to the GOP debates in the last 6 months, the Israel love-fest was just over-the-top, as if Israel is/should be America’s #1 ally. I support the alliance too, but it seems today in US politics that the central alliance litmus-test is Israel, not Mexico, NATO, SK, Taiwan, or India. This is why I expressed a lot of skepticism over the Asian pivot. I think the US should pay more attention to Asia, but I don’t think the US electorate really cares.
5. Indonesia (#6) and Turkey (not on the list). I took some heat for not including Turkey and putting Egypt at the bottom (#11). Ok. But again, I tried to use a ‘top 10’ as a heuristic to force limits. Maybe Israel or Taiwan or SK could be dropped for Turkey. But more generally, I do think we have really overhyped the ME in the last decade. Elsewhere I argued that we broadly misread 9/11 as the first step in a ‘long war’ of waves of salafist extremists coming after us. That just didn’t happen. Binladenists are scary, but there aren’t that many of them, and 9/11 was a one-time sucker punch when we weren’t paying attention, not the start of massive umma-wide uprising. So Turkey is not as valuable to America as we think perhaps. It is important for the EU and Israel, but not so much for US. Insofar as Egypt sits astride the canal and is the heartland of Arab thought, which is where the pathologies of 9/11 are worst, it too ranks above Turkey – only just though. I would probably put Turkey in at 12. But the real story of American commitment in the Muslim world should be Indonesia. Not only is it valuable as a bulwark against Islamic extremism where the majority of the world’s Muslims live (SE Asia), it’s also a valuable hedge against China, and it’s the fourth largest country on earth.
6. Mexico (#2) doesn’t strike me quite as high as Canada, in part because the US got along fine for a long time with hostility from Mexico. Mexico doesn’t have the potential to threaten the US as Canada ever might (the border is smaller; it’s further away from America’s east coast center; its economy has been only semi-functional for almost 2 centuries; it’s culturally more distant so there’s no symbolic quality). Mexican stability and growth are obviously strategically more important than every one else but Canada – way beyond Israel, the EU or the Koreans. And I will concede that Mexico is a greater concern at the moment and in the near future, and will absorb more US effort and money than Canada.
Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.
Here is part one where argued that America’s 8 most important allies are, in order: Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Israel, and South Korea.
I argued for 3 quick-and-dirty reasons for that ranking, but I got some criticism on these in the first post, so here is some elaboration :
1. National Security: Some places, like SA and Mexico, may not appeal much to Americans, but they are so obviously important, that abandonment would be hugely risky. So yes, SA is a nasty, reactionary ‘frenemy,’ not really an ally at all, but we’re stuck with it. A Saudi collapse would set off both huge economic and Islamic religious turmoil; all the more reason to slowly exit the Middle East and pursue green energy. But until then, I think we have to be honest and say that we can’t really leave the Gulf. But the bar of this criterion should be awfully high. With some frenemies, like Afghanistan and Pakistan, we don’t really need to pretend to be allies actually. We can just get out if have to.
2. Need: In some places, the US can get a lot more bang for its commitment buck, because without us, our ally would likely collapse/lose/fail. Taiwan is the most obvious example. Conversely, other places, like Germany, pretend to need us, because they don’t want to shell out the cash (and we’re so bewitched of our God-given, history-ending, last-best-hope-for-mankind, bound-to-lead neocon unipolar awesome-ness that we let ourselves get taken for a ride).Between Taiwan and Germany, I would place Israel and SK.
3. Values/Symbolism: I don’t like this criterion much, because it reminds me a lot of McNamara, ‘credibility,’ Vietnam, the Munich analogy and all that. But still, there are a few places where the American commitment has taken on an almost ‘metaphysical,’ good-guys-vs-bad-guys dimension. The whole world is watching, and a departure would be seen as a huge retreat from critical values that would bolster dictators everywhere, especially in China and Russia. SK is the most obvious example. NK is so bizarre, frightening, and horrific that while the US commitment isn’t really that necessary anymore, it’s taken on a symbolism wholly out of proportion to events on the peninsula. Taiwan also comes to mind, as does cold war West Germany. Avoiding another such perpetual commitment was one of the important reasons to get out of Iraq. If we’d stayed, we might have have gotten chain-ganged into never leaving our symbol of GWoT ‘success.’ We really don’t need more of that sort thing
So back to the list. Now come the ones that can more easily be retrenched, because either they are wealthy enough to defend themselves, or their value to the US has fallen:
8. Japan: Here is a case where the call for retrenchment becomes more and more obvious. USFJ is almost twice the size of USFK, but its role is more about local Asian reassurance than any obvious need. If SK is outgrowing the US ‘parent,’ then Japan’s almost willful reluctance to grow up is like purposeful free-riding infantilization. The need for the US alliance is not clear. Japan has more than the necessary resources to defend itself, but spends less than 1% of GDP on defense. The direct impact on US national security is slight, unless you believe, like John Milius, that NK or China will absorb Japan in order to launch a transpacific invasion of the US. Nor is there any big values argument. Japan is democratic now; if anything, our presence there leads to a lot of local anger. The real reason for USFJ is to keep Korea and China calm by keeping Japan ‘down,’ but honestly, the longer I live out here, the more I think the America’s presence freezes East Asia’s history and territory issues in place, rather than helps resolve them. The US presence encourage domestic maximalism on all sides (because it diminishes the costs of recalcitrance), just as it does in the Greek-Turkey dispute. (This is most obvious in the Liancourt Rocks dispute.) If we weren’t around, there might be more pressure to reach final status agreements on these issues.
9. The EU: Like Japan, I don’t think there is really much left to capture here, and there’s little obvious need or symbolism 20 years after the Cold War. Do Germany and Italy need 50k American soldiers? For what? If US forces are going to be in Europe, wouldn’t they be more valuable in Eastern or South Eastern Europe, where they would be closer to Russia and the Middle East? Do we really need to keep rehearsing the tired notion that US reassurance is necessary for aging, welfarist Germany, France, and Britain to get along? Surely that’s not true anymore; as with Korea-Japan-China in point 8 above, let’s not have the US pulled into permanent ‘parenting’ role among states who don’t want to iron out their differences, probably for domestic electoral reasons. A US presence can be infantilizing as well as protective. In brief, the (western) EU states pose no obvious threat to the US, nor are threatened in such a way that requires US extended deterrence. They’re neither vulnerable, nor too poor/instable to provide for their own defense. And they are consolidated democracies like us.
10. Egypt: I’ve never understood why the US gave Egypt so much cash. Indeed, the dual pay-off scheme to Israel and Egypt felt an awful lot like a collusive racket to shake the US tree for cash. What exactly is America’s big security need/benefit in Egypt? I understand Israel’s security interest of course, but that’s not ours (although it seems like the Tea Party insists on treating Israel as a US state). Nor does Egypt need US protection – from whom? Nor did 30 years of aid get Mubarak to liberalize. In fact, Obama almost got outflanked a year ago by the Tahrir Square demonstrators into backing more Arab autocracy. Honestly, if we retrenched from Egypt in the coming years under the new government and let them find their way on their own, I can’t imagine that would be a disaster for the US. (Yes, a Muslim Brothers dictatorship could be pretty scary, but that doesn’t seem too likely, and how is that a huge problem for the United States?)
11. The rest: As usual, there is no particularly good case for US extended deterrence in Africa, Oceania, or Central Asia. Latin America and Western Europe could go too if really pressed. All that is really necessary are commitments to North America (duh), India, some on the East Asian Pacific littoral, and a little in the Middle East. It should also be pretty clear by now that Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are not such strategic interest where the benefits outweigh the staggering costs of the GWoT.
Note that the foregoing listing is a worst-case scenario for serious US decline (or best case if you’re a Ron Paul voter). Nor does it mean that the US should walk away from these places entirely, give up on R2P, cut foreign aid, or otherwise be ‘isolationist.’ Indeed calling retrenchment ‘isolationist’ is a favorite neocon red herring. I concur, for example, that America’s attitude toward foreign aid, channeled most recently by Rick Perry in the GOP debates, is scrooge-like and callous. Or regarding Egypt, it is clearly an important country in the Middle East, and we should provide all sorts of ‘soft power’ assistance – democracy advice, training, development aid, IFI access, etc. We should actively encourage the evolution of Egyptian pluralism and democracy, and speak loudly against the MBs if they veer toward sharia.
But all this sort of engagement is qualitatively different from the extremely expensive and semi-imperial manner of US hegemony today as routed through the defense establishment. We need to restore the State Department’s role as the leader and shaper of US foreign policy, not only because it will be less prone to the use of force, but also because of the costs savings. The US national security state (defense, intel, DHS, veterans, parts of DoE) eats up around $1 trillion a year at the same time we are borrowing even more than that for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. America’s publicly-held debt is around $11T, 75% of GDP. At some point, this divergence will need to close, and prioritizing commitments and allies will happen at some point, if only clandestinely in the budget process. Better to think about it now than to overextend ourselves into a real crunch like Britain after WWII.
Final Caveat: This ranking assumes real US decline and coerced choice – forecasting that retrenchment will in fact be foisted on the US, as per Walt, Layne, Ron Paul, Joseph Parent, Paul MacDonald, and so many other. It is however possible that Chines growth will stall, thereby relieving Asian power shift pressures on American hegemony that suggest this image of retrenchment. If China stops growing so fast, American dominance, no matter how widely stretched, will be easier to maintain. My own sense is that China will actually reach a plateau in the next decade (try this and this). It’s true that the power shift to Asia accelerated in the last decade because of the Iraq War and wild Bush deficit spending (per the graph above). But I strongly suspect China’s ecological, demographic, geopolitical, and corruption problems will hit it hard soon and buy time for the US. As Ned Lebow argued about the end of the Cold War, the USSR declined faster than the US, so the US won by default. I suspect the same outcome here – China has a lot of trouble under the hood which we aren’t seeing through the ‘when China rules the world’ hysteria – meaning retrenchment from NATO or Japan are still unlikely to my mind.
Cross-posted Asian Security Blog.
Here is an answer to Jon Western’s good question. Here is Steve Walt saying nice things about Ron Paul, and Layne has a nice recent piece in the National Interest, and another at ISQ, about looming US retrenchment. Earlier I argued that I think lots of people in IR now both expect and want some measure of US pullback. The argument is pretty well-known by now – empirically, the US is doing more than it can afford, like the Iraq war (trillion dollar deficits and ‘overstretch’); normatively, we are violating far too many of our liberal values against a comparatively minor terrorist threat (torture, indefinite detention, unoverseen drone strikes). But I don’t see too much on what specifically could be cut if absolutely necessary. The British retrenchment east of Suez in the 70s is probably our best model, but of course, the Brits had different sets of commitments, so it’s not a great blueprint.
So I try below to compile a list of who would/could/should get the axe and who not. Just like the intense competition over the periodic BRACs, one could imagine US allies making their case for a retention of US bases, troops, aid, etc. In one of his speeches, I heard Ron Paul argue that we have 900 overseas bases, so the field of choice is very wide.
I can think of 3 basic criteria for judgment of whom should be cut loose and who not:
a. Direct US national security interest: This is fairly obvious. For example, no matter what the Israelis or Japanese may say, Mexico and Canada’s fate will always be more important to the US than theirs, because they so directly impinge on US security.
b. Need/Vulnerability: Some states may want the US to stay but don’t really need us. They just want to free-ride. Germany comes to mind. Modern Germany is irrevocably democratic, liberal, aging, with a small, barely deployable military, and surrounded by other democracies. There is no need to keep it ‘down’ anymore, nor is Russia a big conventional threat to Europe.
c. Values: Some places aren’t that relevant to US security, or they may have the means to defend themselves. But they represent crucial values in high-profile contests. SK is a good example. SK’s GDP is 26x NK’s; it can take care of it itself (even thought no one wants to say that publicly here). But the Korean stand-off has become a such global symbol of liberal democracy vs. tyranny, especially next to rising China, that US retrenchment would be see globally as a real setback.
So here is quick-and-dirty ranking of allies and commitments in order of importance:
1. Canada and Mexico: I imagine the Tea party would blanche at the idea of Mexico as one of America’s very highest national security priorities, but it is for the reasons mentioned above. Yes, Mexico is vastly more important to the US than Israel.
However, the rest of Latin America, including that now-pointless embargo of Cuba, really isn’t. How damaging has Chavez really been to the US? Honestly, if we were really strapped for cash and over-committed, we could cut the Monroe Doctrine loose. Latin America doesn’t really need us or the fairly condescending ‘Roosevelt Corollary’ anymore.
Strictly speaking, Canada does not need America commitment; Mexico does somewhat. But proximity alone means they are America’s most important allies. We can’t retrench from North America.
2. Saudi Arabia: Wait, what? But yes, it’s true. If you think about what the US needs (acute demand for cheap, reliable carbon, at least until the green economy gets on its feet), SA’s extreme vulnerability, and the pan-umma chaos that would result from its collapse, means that SA has to be very high on the list. I agree that places like Germany or Korea are more sympathetic, but they have also a lot more wherewithal to defend themselves. SA does not, so it needs the US more. The majority of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and all were stewed in Saudi anti-western pathologies, yet we invaded Iraq??… Well, here’s why.
3. Taiwan: This one mixes need and values. Taiwan is modern and capable, but its opponent is so big, it will never even come close in that race. Also, Taiwan has emerged as a major global values contest relevant to China’s rise and Asia’s future order. Everyone’s watching. Given that China is a real long-term peer competitor to the US now, Taiwan has a global bellwether status. But is really important for US national security? Not really; that’s true.
4. India: This one mixes all 3 criteria. In Geopolitics, I argued that India will be America’s big future ally, because it shares America’s values, and both its big threats – salafism and China. No other US ally does that. Bolstering India pushes back on Islamic terror in Asia and balances/distracts China, and reaffirms democracy in a region where democracy is often seen as a luxury that inhibits growth.
5. Indonesia: Here’s another unexpected one, but the argument is similar to India. If you think about places where a US presence could really make a difference (i.e., where we would get some dividend and not just encourage free-riding), then I think this is obvious too. For starters, it’s huge – the fourth biggest state in the world. It is a bulwark against salafism’s spread into the biggest community of the umma – southeast Asia. (No one ever seems to remember this, btw; Islam is a lot more than the Arabs and Persians.) As with India, there is a strong values case for supporting Indonesian democracy – its big, Muslim, and worried about China too.
6. Israel: I think the case for Israel is slipping. Yes, it is the only democracy in the Middle East, but not so much anymore actually. Arab Spring has changed a lot, and Israel’s own internal politics, especially its now effectively permanent occupation of the Palestinians, damages that ‘we’re the only state in the Middle East that shares US values’ line. This doesn’t mean we should abandon Israel, only that it’s rank is sliding. America’s national security interest in Israel is not particularly obvious now – the Cold War is over, S Hussein is gone, Assad is on the ropes. Nor is it clear that Israel really needs us. It needed us to survive the Yom Kippur War, but now? Its got the best military in the region, plus nukes. The real ‘values’ link between Israel and the US now is more tribal (a Judeo-Christian struggle against Islam) rather than liberal.
7. South Korea: Like Israel, the case for SK is slipping, primarily because SK so obviously outclasses NK. NK may be very scary, but a real SK military build-up (including vastly superior nukes) would be scarier still. SK’s GDP is at least 25x NK’s. Its military technology is two generations ahead. Its social capacity – health, education, institutional durability – vastly outstrip its opponent. Like Israel, SK needed us once, but not really anymore. Like the EU and Japan, wealthy SK has ‘graduated’ from the need for serious US extended deterrence. South Koreans I talk with about this worry about ‘abandonment,’ but then, SK only spend 2.5% of GDP on defense. The US spends more than twice. That’s not free-riding as bad as Germany or Japan, but its still free-riding. If you consider that Taiwan or India would represent a greater return for the US’ extended deterrence investment, you understand why Ron Paul always mentions Korea as a basing obligation to eliminate. However, the intra-Korean contest has acquired a ‘freedom vs tyranny’ global profile. Like Taiwan, it is something of a bellwether now that would send big signal, especially now that we’re ‘pivoting’ to Asia. So the current US small commitment – 28.5k warfighters under USFK away from the DMZ – is probably about right.
Part two will come in four days
Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.
I guess I should not be surprised at this news that the Pentagon did not cooperate with Marvel Studios to make The Avengers movie (h/t to Jacob Levy for pointing this piece out to me). After all, immediately after seeing the movie, I enumerated the many principal-agent problems illustrated in the movie, and the military abhors P-A problems. It turns out that the Pentagon found unrealistic not the part about the Norse Gods, the large green rage-machine (best depiction yet by Ruffalo and Whedon), nor the un-icing of a Super-soldier. Nope, the unrealistic part was:
“We couldn’t reconcile the unreality of this international organization and our place in it,” Phil Strub, the Defense Department’s Hollywood liaison, tells Danger Room. “To whom did S.H.I.E.L.D. answer? Did we work for S.H.I.E.L.D.? We hit that roadblock and decided we couldn’t do anything” with the film.
Luckily, I have been training for years to answer precisely this question. Well, I have been working on a book project on NATO and Afghanistan with David Auerswald that contains the seeds of an answer to this challenge. See below the break where there might be spoilers:
Let’s start with today’s reality and then extrapolate to a world with SHIELD [Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division]. The US and other countries are quite accustomed to working with international organizations. There are two basic processes that can potentially be in play here since the military operation ends up on US soil.
The first is a status of forces agreement [SOFA]. The US, when it wants to work in another country, negotiates an agreement that specify the conditions of its presence–can the US forces use force? Under what conditions? Are they immune from prosecution?* The US signed a SOFA with Iraq that ultimately led to the American withdrawal but also established the conditions for the American presence in Iraq before that happened. The recent US agreement with Afghanistan may not officially be a SOFA (I am not a legal expert) but seems to approximate one or is the basis to negotiate one–what will the US (and NATO) role be in Afghanistan post-ISAF.
*In the last month or two in my year in the Pentagon in 2002, one of the tasks we were assigned on the Joint Staff was to get exceptions from International Criminal Court prosecution written into the mandates of the various missions in which the US was participating, including SFOR in Bosnia (my desk).
So, in a hypothetical reality with SHIELD, one can imagine that the US has signed an agreement that allows SHIELD to operate in and over the US under various rules. Now, one of them may actually be that SHIELD can nuke an American city if the stakes are high enough (this is where the “realism” does fail but we had to have a moment where Tony Stark plays the Kobiyashi Maru test since Captain America raised that scenario earlier in the movie).
The second process is a transfer of authority. See the NATO jargon:
Transfer of authority of forces is the formal transfer of a specified degree of authority over designated forces both between nations and NATO Commanders, and between any two NATO Commanders.
This is really what the Pentagon means by “our place in it.” In NATO and in other multilateral endeavors, countries transfer operational control (but not complete authority) of a unit to the commanders of the multilateral endeavor. Countries will maintain influence over how that unit is operated, however, via a variety of means that are the subject of the aforementioned book project. Among these means are
surprise and fear the careful selection of senior leadership for the units being transferred, limits on what the units can and cannot do (caveats! more below), the requirement to call home for permission, the enabling of one’s personnel to invoke red cards which means they can say no to a command, oversight, and incentives (such as promotion or demotion) for the officers running the operation.
This transfer of authority process happens all the time and is not new at all and not new to the US. However, one of the traditional American caveats when it participates in a multilateral endeavor is to insist that the top of the chain of command is an American. So, Commander of ISAF is an American–General John Allen, who replaced General Petraeus, who replaced General McChrystal who replaced General McKiernan who replaced General McNeill who replaced General Richards. Ah, but Richards was/is a Brit and his predecessors were Italians, Canadians, Germans and Turks. The fudge that the US used prior to to McNeil was that COMISAF was a Brit but the commander of all NATO forces–SACEUR was/is always an American. Similarly, in Kosovo, COMKFOR has never been an American (unlike COMSFOR in Bosnia), so Americans in Kosovo operated under an American general in the American sector but under a non-American general running ISAF.
So, again in alt reality with SHIELD, one could easily imagine an international organization dedicated to unconventional threats (aliens, superpowered folks, whatever) would have worked out agreements where countries would put their troops under SHIELD command. Countries would still retain some control over these troops via caveats (Americans will not launch nukes on American territory), red cards (any American commander might refuse to obey an order to nuke an American city as an illegal or unwise command or at least call to his or her national command authority NORTHCOM-> SecDef-> President for permission), and so on.
Of course, another way to influence an international organization, as mentioned above, is to make sure that you have a countryman/woman in charge of the organization. Nick Fury in the comic books and in the movie is very clearly an American. His deputy, Maria Hill, is also clearly an American (and not Ted’s kids’s mother). Having two hats, as an American officer and as a SHIELD officer, Fury would then be less likely to follow policies that would be against American interests, such as nuking Manhattan. Indeed, this is precisely what happens: Fury defies his multinational chain as he prevents one plane from taking off and assists Iron Man and the Avengers in preventing the missile from hitting Manhattan.
The movie does not make clear what the governing council’s relationship is to the US. It does seem fairly clear that the US is not just a member but a vocal powerful member, as portrayed by Powers Boothe. The Council clearly included representatives from Russia, China, and Britain** at the very least, looking quite UN-ish (in the comic book source material, SHIELD was sometimes conceived as a UN organization). Now, this might make SHIELD appear to be the black helicopter folks that various conspiracy theorists fear today, but that is not the claim the military folks told Wired.
** The British woman was played by Jenny Agutter of Logan’s Run and American Werewolf in London, which I believe was a Whedon nod to some of the key movies of his childhood, but I might just be projecting.
My extended treatise here really leaves only one question:*** Why did the folks who have the authority in the Pentagon on movie clearances not call or walk over to the folks in the NATO division of the Joint Staff to ponder how operations with international organizations work. It is a big building but still coordination among different pieces of the Pentagon is what the folks in the building do every day.
*** We had to add a Libya chapter to our book on NATO and Afghanistan. I don’t think my co-author will let me add an Avengers paragraph to our conclusion.
For awhile I was collecting links and such to make an argument about Korea and Japan working together on big issues like China and NK, or finally clinching the much-discussed but little worked-on FTA. Both the realist and the liberal in me wanted to see two liberal democracies working together in a tough environment with similar structural threats. Initially I had written: “This may be the biggest news of the year if it actualizes: Japan is apparently considering real defense cooperation with SK. If you follow East Asian security, this is a revolution. Try here, here and here.” But this is sorta cheating on social science, right? Looking around for any scrap of data to support an outcome we like, even though it isn’t really happening?
Well, I give up. Instead of more normative, but ultimately speculative, essays on why East Asian states should align, found an Asian Union or Community, build a local alternate to the IMF, forge a common currency, take ASEM seriously, etc., I think we should start asking why Asian states cooperate so badly. (My short answer: they’re too nationalist.)
My students bring integration up all the time. Until the euro crisis got really bad, students used to tell me all the time that Asia needs an EU or coordination against the (much-loathed) IMF. And I’ve read lots of term-papers on this. But the more I look at the most important Asian IO, ASEAN, the more it just doesn’t impress me no matter how much hype it gets (which is a lot out here at the conferences and in business advertising in the media). ASEAN is around 60% of the age of the EU and has done maybe 20% of the integration/cooperation the EU has. I argued in ISR a few years ago that lots of IOs aren’t actually about integration at all, but rather the joint self-defense of weak and/or authoritarian elites (OAU, GCC, SCO). But that still doesn’t explain why Korea and Japan are so distant. And now for an r&r, I’m revisiting Walt’s Origins of Alliances. Balance of threat feels pretty persuasive too, but I think it would struggle with the Korea-Japan case, as would the democratic peace.
So if I had the time, I would write this up as a real journal submission. This case creates trouble for both standard realist and liberal arguments that have underlain my own personal (as well as USPACOM’s) enthusiasm for this alliance-that-refuses-to-be for awhile. I flagged this earlier as a good non-western puzzle for IR that doesn’t really get the attention it deserves, because we don’t know Asian cases very well (Kang is very important on this, IMO). Walt and Doyle tell me this alliance should happen, but Koreans stubbornly refuse to do what social science tells them to. (Cue your orwellian fantasy of intellectuals with their hands on the whip at last to force the world to fit theory.) When I mention idea this at conferences or to my students, I get lots of blasé disinterest.
In short, all three big paradigms of IR broadly seem to suggest that Korea and Japan should be much closer than they are. But Korea just won’t do it, and my sense is the Japanese don’t really want to either. Here’s the basic theoretical run down as I see it:
1. Realism: Korea and Japan face a very similar structural environment. They are geographically in basically the same place facing the same regional security complex. So if states balance power (Waltz), wouldn’t Japan and Korea be cooperating to hedge China, and mildly cooperating to more balance NK? If states balance threats, especially proximate ones with offensive power (Walt), shouldn’t Korea and Japan be pretty publicly aligning against freaky, unpredictable NK, and mildly cooperating to hedge China? But they really aren’t doing any of those things. Sure, they’re on the same side of the table in the NK talks, but there’s no real coordination. Diplomatically, Korea can barely talk to Japan, and Koreans can be downright japanophic if you get them going on Japan’s colonial history here. The Liancourt Rocks and the history issues constantly interrupt. As everyone knows, the US relationship with them is ‘hub-and-spoke’ bilateral rather than NATO-style multilateral. The US would love for them to cooperate, but they don’t. It’s more like Schweller’s ‘underbalancing’ than Walt’s balance of threat, even though Walt should fit here pretty well, no?
2. Liberalism: Shouldn’t two liberal democracies be friends, if not allies? The democratic peace, security community, and other liberal theory broadly tells me that Korea and Japan should be closer than they are. I guess one could say that the democratic peace explains why they don’t fight even though they don’t like each other much. That might actually be a pretty good finding: two otherwise hostile states are able to channel their disputes through conflict-dampening democratic transgovernmentalism. (But even that might be spurious, as one argue that it is the mutual US senior alliance partner that tamps down the conflict, as many would argue is the case between Greece and Turkey too.)
But the more norm-based, neocon, or ‘strong’ versions of the democratic peace anticipate a sense of ‘we-ness’ or community among democracies, like in NATO, or less so, the OAS. A few years ago, there was talk about formalizing a ‘community of democracies’ as sorta like a global NATO of liberal states. But I don’t see this here at all. When we think about the US-Canada relationship or EU relations, we see a reasonable amount of warmth that suggests that ‘we-ness,’ shared concern for the other’s well-being, and an unwillingness to exploit the other. I don’t see here. Korea and Japan are more like ‘frenemies’ than liberals in solidarity. Liberalism and democracy – and all the conflict-reducing things that are supposed to flow from that, like student exchanges, tourism, mutual language learning, lots of Track II interchange – don’t seem to be working. Germany and France managed to do this stuff and build a real alliance, as did the EU generally. But Korea and Japan are more like Greece and Turkey.
3. Constructivism/Culture: Shouldn’t culturally similar states find it easier to cooperate, like the US and Canada? In EJIR, I argued that Confucianism played a role in keeping an east Asian peace before the Opium War. The more time I spend in Asia, the more I think Korea, Japan, and China are more culturally similar than they want to admit. (My students bristle at that one a lot.) And if you look at Korea and Japan, they do in fact share a slew of cultural characteristics from the mundane – eating lots of fish with chopsticks – to the profound – long histories of Confucianism, Buddhism, shamanism, monarchy, social hierarchy, ancestor veneration, etc. (NB: This is one of the reasons why Huntington’s clash of civilizations didn’t go down too well in East Asia. Because he couldn’t very well lump China and Japan together for political reasons, Huntington was forced to parse out Japan as radically different based on Shintoism. This wasn’t really convincing.) Brian Myers argues that this cultural similarity is one the reasons why Japan was able to absorb Korea without too much difficulty.
But this doesn’t seem work either. (So maybe Huntington was right after all?) I find Korean students intensely dislike being compared to Japan and hammer away what Freud would almost certainly call the “narcissism of small differences.” If you didn’t know the differences between kiminos and hanboks, just about everyone here is excited to tell you in great detail.
In short, two states that share a lot of cultural characteristics, structural-geographic conditions, threat perceptions, and domestic institutions and values can’t ally and can barely talk to each other. To give a western example, imagine Canada saying the US was a greater threat to it than the USSR. As a rule, I find Koreans worry far more about Japan than China, or even NK (yes, that’s not an exaggeration outside of the foreign policy set), and there is a far amount of paranoia about Japan lurking beneath the surface. I know Japan less well, but Japanese colleagues I know from conferences tell me similar stories about how many Japanese look down on Koreans and secretly think Japanese empire was good for Korea, because it brought modernity.
So what would be a theoretically progressive way to explain this tough case? The actual empirical issues of territory and history that keep them divided are well-known, but it is important to not just tack them on as a transparent ad hocery, like ‘balance of threat only works when partners haven’t conquered each other in the last 50 years.’ I find this a tough one.
So if you’re a grad student, here’s a paper idea.
Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.
Happy NATO Day! Okay, this is not an anniversary of anything NATO-esque. But heaps of posts a-twitter about NATO, its members and so on. So, some semi-random shots at some semi-random NATO members and NATO in general.
First, France is the best-est ally ever! Lots of people linking to this article. Yes, the Libyan adventure certainly raises France’s profile as an active contributor, assertive military and the rest. But to be fair to the French (yes, completely out of character for me, given how easy it is to make jokes in my big lecture class), the Libyan crisis is not the first time that the French have been assertive.
During the Afghanistan war (which, by the way, is still an on-going NATO mission), France moved from being relatively restricted to being quite willing to take risks. When Sarkozy replaced Chirac, we all got a NATO-friendly (to say the least) President. Sarkozy moved some and then nearly all of French combat forces from the safety of Kabul to the more dangerous areas of Kapisa.
Postwar French have never been pacifists–they just have been known for pursuring their own interests. A lot of those interests were in Africa, with Qaddafi serving as a critical obstacle to French ambitions. So, the French are so very bold now, taking the lead in the effort, even willing go without NATO. Still a fun time and an interesting contrast to:
Second, the Germans look more feeble than ever, when the Foreign Minister (for at least a few more days) Westervelle* said that Qaddafi is falling due to economic sanctions. Now, we have German politicians across the spectrum from Helmut Kohl to Joshcka Fischer saying that Westerwelle is as bad a foreign minister as
Colin Powell Condi Rice they can imagine.
*Unless you are Italy, having a Foreign Minister named Guido is always going to raise questions about credibility.
Here is Fischer’s first question and answer:
SPIEGEL: What is it about Germany’s current foreign policy and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle that bothers you?
Fischer: Pretty much everything. As the former foreign minister myself, the lack of fundamental convictions pains me. This is fundamentally much worse than losing your compass. We are being governed by those who have lost touch with reality and are denying what’s obvious to everyone else.
I am sorry, but Fischer is being oblique. I really wish he could open up and say what he is really thinking. Fischer then goes on:
No, the behavior of Germany’s government during the Libya conflict, its abstention in the UN Security Council (vote in March on whether to impose a no-fly zone in Libya), was a one-of-a-kind debacle and perhaps the biggest foreign policy debacle since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. Our country’s standing in the world has been significantly damaged.
Okay. Now, Fischer is being a bit less opaque. Actually, this entire interview makes me want to vote for the guy. Anyhow moving on:
Third, I found this on twitter: “Dutch Defence Minister calls for pooling and sharing military capabilities in Europe.” Sure, smaller means working harder and smarter. Sharing and pooling would be smart, but we can only pool and share with countries that will release the forces (troops, planes, ships, whatever) to the multinational effort with few conditions. That is: NO CAVEATS and few requirements for phone calls home for permission.
Maybe it is not wise to write here one of the conclusions for the forthcoming book on NATO and Afghanistan, but one of the implications of the Afghanistan experience (and of the Libyan one and so on) is that countries will rarely give up national control of their militaries even when they are delegated to the most institutionalized, robust, interoperable alliance on the planet. So, if you build a military so that it can only do certain things and needs to depend on others to fill critical gaps, you have to gamble that when you are deployed, you will be partnered with countries that have pretty loose rules. Otherwise, you might be asking for, say, helicopters to extract your troops from a battle but the helo pilot has rules about not being close to the battle or it being night-time or whatever. You cannot pool if the other guy cannot be counted on to pool right back.
No wonder Napoleon apparently said: I would rather fight a coalition than be in one. On the other hand, he lost to a series of coalitions, right? So, there is really no alternative for the Dutch or the Germans or the Canadians or, with their latest cuts, the French and the British, to working together. But don’t expect it to be easy, simple or efficient.
Defense budget cuts make sharing and specialization sensible. The politics of participating in alliance warfare make sharing and specialization very, very problematic.
As I’ve already noted, former President George W. Bush is apparently settling some scores in his new memoir. In Europe, his passages about former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are attracting a good deal of attention.
According to press reports, Bush says Schroder was for the Iraq war before it was against it. Because of his own electoral problems, Bush implies, Schroeder flip-flopped.
The former president writes that when he said he was considering the use of force in Iraq, Schroder said, “‘What is true of Afghanistan is true of Iraq. Nations that sponsor terror must face consequences. If you make it fast and make it decisive, I will be with you.'”
Mr. Bush writes that he “took that as a statement of support. But when the German election arrived later that year, Schroder had a different take. He denounced the possibility of force against Iraq.”
…Mr. Bush writes in “Decision Points” that though he continued to work with the German leader on some issues, “as someone who valued personal diplomacy, I put a high premium on trust. Once that trust was violated, it was hard to have a constructive relationship again.”
Unlike Bush’s former domestic ally Mitch McConnell, who has remained mum about Bush’s similar accusations, Schroeder says Bush is lying:
Schroder said Tuesday that former President George W. Bush “is not telling the truth” in his new memoir “Decision Points,” according to the German magazine Der Spiegel.
…Schroder says Mr. Bush’s description of the exchange is false. He said in that meeting and in others he told Mr. Bush that Germany would stand by the United States if Iraq is shown “to have provided protection and hospitality to al-Qaida fighters.” He added, however, that it became clear in 2002 that the alleged connection between Iraq and al-Qaida “was false and constructed.”
Obviously, one of these former leaders has the facts wrong.
Throughout Europe, if press reports are accurate, most people side with Schroeder.
Bush skeptics certainly have history on their side. The most hawkish supporters of the Iraq-war simply did not countenance conditional support — and have often accused political opponents of simple and hypocritical “flip flops” when something more complicated was at work. I’ve pointed this out before in regard to the “pro-war” votes in the Congress and UN Security Council in fall 2002. Lots of people labeled “war supporters” were simply trying to give the U.S. enough leverage to force Iraq to yield to weapons inspections and assure disarmament.
In this case, Schroeder’s support was contingent upon the evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda:
“Schroeder’s support (for the invasion of Iraq) was conditional on evidence being found of terrorists being harbored in Iraq, so when there was no evidence delivered, he withdrew his support,” LSE professor [Dr. Henning] Meyer told Deutsche Welle. “Bush is attempting to polish his own picture of this situation with the Germans by saying that the breakdown in relations was not his fault and that it was Schroeder who turned opinion against him.”
As RFE/RL reviewer Christian Caryl notes, Bush’s memoir “passes over in silence…how his administration’s repeated declarations of a link between Al-Qaeda and Hussein’s regime warped the work of the intelligence agencies, who had been told all too clearly what their masters wanted to hear.”
Tobias Harris over at Observing Japan, weighs in on the discussion regarding Japanese balancing (or lack thereof). Harris’ post is an excellent addition to the discussion and includes some excellent points that require me to clarify my original post. And away we go…
1) Tobias is correct that given the current and likely current state of the DPRK they are not exactly a Gilpin-esque revisionist power. However, I don’t think that a state must have asperations and likely capabilities to match to be considered a revisionist state in general. A state that clearly is unhappy with the current political order (whether it be regional or global) and shows intent to press for revisions to the status-quo can be considered revisionist. No one thinks that Iran is capable of challenging the US for global dominance or seriously affecting the current global order, but they certainly can rock the boat regionally which can make them revisionist in many states’ view. My larger point was that the DPRK is more likely in the short term to be the focus of any reactive balancing by Japan–given that they are a more immediate security threat.
2) I think we are in agreement that China is certainly the long-term focus of any balancing, whether that be internal or external. My larger point was that it isn’t likely to serve as a catalyst for change in Japan’s currently policy short term.
3) On Japan’s desire to strengthen it’s alliance with the US: I actually agree. Some of their behavior, even that which may require changes to the status-quo of their own security policy, can be explained by their need to signal to the US that they are a reliable partner in the alliance. To do so requires not only a shift in material capabilities, but also a shift in political capabilities–meaning, a greater willingness domestically to allow for these types of military operations. A dashing young scholar has explored this dynamic with regards to Germany after the Cold War. I am not as well versed in the domestic and foreign policies of Japan as Tobias seems to be, but from what I’ve seen I think a similar case can be made, particularly looking at the evolution of Japan’s willingness and ability to project power in coordination with UN or US-led campaigns.
4) Finally, I should have been more explicit in terms of hedging my post. I wrote that the idea had merit. I don’t have enough knowledge of Japan to say for sure that this is the case, only that it was plausible and that I thought there was a compelling logic to it. Needless to say I will certainly be keeping a closer eye on it to see if the effects and behavior I posit eventually come to pass.