Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A pax on all your houses!

[Note: This post was originally intended to be a comment at Marmot's Hole about Korean being a welfare queen, especially when Marmot called into question the need for the Pax Americana to continue. I did post it at Marmot's, but decided to put it up on my own blog here, with some modifications.]

The Marmot wrote:
As for Pax Americana, yes, it did keep everyone reasonably well behaved in the region during the Cold War, but I don't see why the US need play the same role now.

This is one of the problems of the Pax America: it's very success leads people to believe it's not needed. It still does keep everyone reasonably well-behaved. And too little has changed to realistically expect that that good behavior would continue of the U.S. were not playing sheriff.

I know it may sound unpopular to tout the United States' role as the world's policeman, but the fact is that there is no one else to play that utterly necessary role. To paraphrase actor Troy McClure (a character in
The Simpsons voiced by the late Phil Hartman) when he was told he'd gotten the part of The Human in a theatrical version of "Planet of the Apes": It's the part we were born to play, baby!

No other country has the combination of the power, the willingness to use that power where appropriate, PLUS the commitment to democracy, economic growth, and human rights that the United States has. No one.

A very distant second would be the United Nations, which is too mired in its own bureaucracy to play anything beyond being a peacekeeper where peace has already been established. It serves no deterrent threat in the way that the United States does. The US-led war in Iraq may be unpopular around the world, but the fact remains that there is no government that fears the United States that is not doing serious wrong to their own people.

Were the US to give up that role, there would be no one to take it up, and we would see with the absence of effective alliances why a good alliance keeps the peace. China would be a threat to Taiwan and to all of Korea, and perhaps Japan. Japan would see China as a threat, especially if it swallowed up Taiwan (which is a stone's throw from Okinawa) or Korea, and they would engage in a massive military build-up which would in turn give China further reason to build up its military. With its eastern neighbors engaging in an arms race, who knows how Russia will react around its territories.

The result would be a very expensive and very big powder keg. Japan alone has two major territorial disputes not counting the least likely to blow up,
Tokto/Takeshima: The "Northern Territories" of Etorofu, Kunashiri, and Shikotan, known as the "Southern Kuril Islands" by the Russians who occupy them; and Diaoyutai/Senkaku-shoto, uninhabited islands with great hydrocarbon potential that are also claimed by China and Taiwan, and where Japan has unilaerally declared an economic zone.

For its part, China has numerous territorial disputes besides
Diaoyutai/Senkaku-shoto. There are still issues to be squared away with India and Pakistan, where China is involved with the Kashmir question, said to be the world's largest and most militarized territorial dispute. An area where China may be more likely to get involved in actual shooting might be the Spratly Islands, over which China claims sovereignty, as do Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. China also occupies some of the Paracel Islands that are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. There are even issues with North Korea (islands in the Amnok/Yalu River and in the Tuman/Tumen River, plus an indefinite border around Mt. Paektusan) which could become pretextual flashpoints in some future land grab.

In the early 1990s, the Philippine Senate booted out the US military in a fit of nationalism; shortly thereafter, the People's Republic began putting up military structures in the Spratly Islands to bolster their claim. I don't think the timing is a coincidence but a portent.

It's not like the Big Red Dog is barking at the door.

The biggest red dog has been put to sleep. The other one has been barking, but not so much because we've been feeding it milk-bonz and we're carrying around a big stick.

China is not threatening two of America's two largest trading partners, unless you're referring to Taiwan as one of them.

China is not overtly threatening South Korea or Japan because the United States is there. And China is threatening Taiwan on a regular basis. China waits patiently for opportunities; if none are there, it does nothing.

China is a mid-ranked regional power at best, and Japan and South Korea are more than capable of defending themselves against potential Chinese aggression.

If China were to quickly and decisively take over the Diaoyu-tai/Senkaku-shoto, or to rapidly move in to a collapsing North Korea in order to "restore order," what would a lone Japan, Taiwan, or South Korea be able to do to stop this?

Heck, with China surrounded by Korea, Japan, India, Russia and Vietnam, I fail to see why the U.S. need pay the costs of "keeping things safe."

Taiwan and South Korea spend about 2.5% of their GDP for their military. South Korean males are required to spend on average over two years of their young lives in military service; Taiwanese spend 18 months. In other words, they are paying part, not all of the costs. These countries are paying what they can, and they're giving up a lot in terms of manpower to do it. There is no free ride; these are not welfare queens.

Japan's case is special, because of the pacifist constitution that the United States put in place (and the result has been very good for peace in the region). There is a 1% cap, but in Japan's case, that's a lot of money. Again, Japan is not getting a free ride, especially considering the usage of valuable land that Japan provides the U.S. military bases. Tokyo is paying its own way in ways that it can.

Seems to me a waste of resources and wrongly placed subsidies.

The US military deterrent costs pennies compared to what could easily happen if the United States were not playing sheriff in this neck of the woods. Besides the blow to democracy and human rights that would likely occur if a war were to break out between China and Japan over the Diaoyu-tai/Senkaku/shoto, for example, or if China were to establish control over North Korea (or all of Korea) or Mongolia. Let's not forget, the Chinese sent in troops to bolster its satellite state just fifty-five years ago; they do consider such things within their purview.

The success of the Pax Americana can be summed up very easily. In the sixty-year period ending with the Korean War, there were FOUR major wars involving the Korean Peninsula: the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, in which Japan wrested control of Korea from China, taking over Taiwan outright in the process; the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, in which Japan re-asserted its claim over Korea against Russia and moved to take over part of China; the Second Sino-Japanese War, beginning in 1937, in which Korea was used as a base from which to launch and sustain a strong war against China and its other neighbors; and the Korean War, in which the Russians and the Chinese both sought to help a vicious communist Korean government wipe a capitalist Korea off the map.

This is not just about Korea: Japan was the instigator in three of those wars; including the bloodiest; China was involved in three of them; and Russia was involved in two.

Since the end of the Korean War, when the US-ROK alliance, the US-Japan alliance, and the US-Taiwan alliance were all firmly established and in place, there have been ZERO major conflicts. The only variable has been the strong U.S. presence.

The sheriff's in town, so behave.

So is this a big waste of money? Not considering what the recent historical record shows us that the future holds without the U.S. playing sheriff.

By way of analogy, think of the dikes and levees that were supposed to prevent New Orleans and southern Louisiana from being submerged in the event of a serious hurricane. The Feds and the State (apparently under both Republican and Democratic leadership) decided that it would be too costly to do anything beyond a Category-3 hurricane. And after all, what is the likelihood of something more powerful than that hitting New Orleans? Not enough to justify the extra billions of dollars it would have taken.

Well, New Orleans gets hit by category-4 hurricane that had just been downgraded from a cateogry-5. What happens the ensuing death and destruction was far, far, far greater than what was saved by not preparing for it.

A war involving the countries that now benefit from the Pax Americana would be a major blow to the US economy. China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan make up 40% of the U.S.'s top trading partners. There would be untold death and destruction, probably hurting those who share the democratic values of the United States. And these wars have a way of eventually pulling the United States in anyway, so our effort to "save our boys" by getting out of the way would probably be for naught anyway.

With Hurricane Katrina, defense against foreign terrorists at home during 9/11, defense against domestic terrorists in Oklahoma City, etc., we can see that there are so many cases where the we (American citizens) were inadequately prepared for a threat we either underestimated or did not see. But here in East Asia, we are actually vigilant and ready. Why dismantle what has been and continues to be a genuine success story?

Of course, the lack of multilateral security systems in the region is somewhat distressing, but then again, when Uncle Sam is handing out bilateral defense guarantees, there's really no reason to build rational security regimes with your neighbors.

Somewhat distressing? It's very distressing. The United States can and should use its role to bolster good triangular relations with its allies. That might involve getting Roh to be more like Kim Daejung (who said that Korea and Japan's future relations should not be determined by historical grievances) and getting Koizumi to stop flouting the sensitivities of countries against which Japan onced aggressed.

And to be fair, the "sheriff mentality" can be applied both ways. South Korean personnel have been "deputized" for duty in other parts of the world, especially in Vietnam but also recently in East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Japanese personnel as well. This is something that should continue (in Japan's case, carefully so, within the framework of the pacifist constitution), maybe even increased.

That would be a better solution than bemoaning having to play sheriff because no one else can. Embrace being the peacemaker and peacekeeper; it is the legacy for which future history books will praise the nation. Plus it's a lot cheaper than the alternative.


  1. commitment to democracy, economic growth, and human rights

    You should have stopped before the PLUS Kush. There is no commitment to democracy unless it is convenient. ALL the Gulf States are proof of that, as is Egypt. Friendly dictators are ok as history has shown (South Vietnam, Phillipines, South America, Persia, you name it). Guantanamo Bay and the current administration's defence of torture (admitedly by others)also puts paid to the human rights idea. Basically the US has the most powerful army and is the most willing to use it, nothing more.

    Other than that, the arguement is sound, although I don't agree with it.

  2. I also think Pax Americana is desirable. You could argue Pax Mongolica -- the peace part -- was a great time to live. For a number of reasons, but one of which is trade/technology transfers between East and West. Pax Britannica would be another time.

    But, I think your position should as time goes by be questioned. I think as the question of whether China will be a dangerously disruptive power to the status quo remains open, many countries will come to see the necessity of a U.S. role.

    As China gets richer and richer, the country will naturally want to assert itself in a military dimension, which will naturally cause other countries to feel threatened. These countries would naturally look towards the U.S. to protect them.

    Discomfort with "US hegemony" will ease as the fear of "Chinese hegemony" increases. I think Peter Lee also touches upon this in an Asia Times article. It's linked on One Free Korea.


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