Free Riding on American Power
Europe and Japan sit safely under America’s defense umbrella.
Over at Defense Tech, Greg points out that a debate is underway about the question whether Western Europe and parts of East Asia are “free riding” on American military power.
Michael Auslin, director of Japan Studies with the American Enterprise Institute, started the discussion earlier this month with a contribution entitled “Three Strikes against US Global Presence” in which he warned of the “coming end of America’s overseas basing and ability to project power.” He seems rather to overestimate Japan’s unwillingness to allow a continued American military presence on its soil, but his fear that ever burgeoning financial commitments at home will inevitably diminish American prowess, at least in part, is credible.
Add to that two ongoing wars in the Middle East, and even the world’s only superpower is hard stressed to maintain global predominance.
China, Iran and Russia will take advantage of the situation, notes Auslin. As these powers seek to increase their influence, “the free flow of capital will be constrained,” while other countries are forced to strengthen regulation in order to pay for their own defense. Decades of “instability, increased conflict, and depressed economic growth and innovation” will ensue.
At The Economist the argument was made that China and Russia have actually very little interest in upsetting the status quo. They fare all too well under a regime of free trade. As I have previously opined, Western commentators are quick to dread foreign power blocks while they, in fact, are more likely to promote the institutionalization of Western values than undermine them. The end of American ascendancy may be inevitable, but only when globalization — or “Americanization” — is accomplished. As Thomas Barnett wrote in December, there is little need for American hegemony when culturally and economically, American influence is paramount.
If a less American world isn’t necessarily a more dangerous one, what of NATO’s and Japan’s “free riding” on America’s might? Most of Western Europe does rely on American protection, allowing it to spend excessively on economic subsidies and welfare programs. There is more reason to their apparent pacifism however. As Greg notes at Defense Tech, Western European countries simply haven’t faced any serious security threat in recent decades, so why should they have bigger armies?
The potential of European might is therefore slim, at least for now. If America slowly starts to withdraw, Europe will have to respond and accept a new Atlantic order in which it stands on a more equal footing with the United States. But that is something for the distant future. America is unlikely to undercut its foreign commitments any time soon, so both Europe and Japan will continue to enjoy sitting safely under its massive defense umbrella for probably decades to come.