Say Ron Paul Won…Which US Allies would get Retrenched? (2) Japan?

retrenchment graph

This post series is getting so much traffic, here is a part three on likelihood of retrenchment. 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.

41 thoughts on “Say Ron Paul Won…Which US Allies would get Retrenched? (2) Japan?

  1. Pingback: Would Ron Paul Retrench the US from Korea? | Robert Kelly — Asian Security Blog

  2. Is Indonesia an ally of the US? As far as I know, there are only two ASEAN member-states that are considered treaty allies of the US, which are the Philippines and Thailand. Indonesia because of its stated goal of neutrality does not enter into alliances.


    • That’s a good point. I was not thinking of formal statements, but more general alignments. Saudi Arabia and India don’t have formal US commitments either, but the interest and interaction I pretty high. I think a greater US investment along those lines in Indonesia would be very valuable given how much there is to ‘win’ in Indonesia. Nevertheless, you’re point is well-taken. Thanks.


      • I see your point. Indeed, Indonesia would be important to the US if it aligns its interests toward it. How about Singapore? Would it matter to US calculations along with Vietnam?


      • Well Singapore and Vietnam are pretty small. The point of the post was to try to burn down from all possible choices (Georgia, South Africa, Singapore) to just 5-10 that are really critical. Expansion strikes me as easier than retrenchment, so I am trying to keep the bar high.


      • I would argue for the Philippines here if not for the fact that it has to deeply reflect on its own commitment to the alliance with the US. But strategically, the Philippines would rank higher than Indonesia both for values and direct national interest since it’s the closest ally to the South China Sea which is becoming the theater for US-China rivalry.


      • Indonesia acts as a shield of islands making i very affeftive as one whole uge carrier for fighter planes to be launch in emergency to the south china sea


      • Vietnam actually has near 80-90 million people and represents some real military potentials (400.000 man standing army, larger than the armies of France or Germany) although their budget is comparably tiny.
        They also have a history of not liking China for about 2 millenia, and the last serious war between them happened in 79, just after the US was no longer there to “change things”.
        Amazingly, Vietnam did not loose this war.


  3. Pingback: Robert Kelly: “What if Ron Paul Won”–Japan and South Korea | Asia Security Watch

  4. I’ll actually put Japan over South Korea because:

    a) Geography. Sure, it is unlikely China will conquer Japan outright, but abandon Japan and Japan becomes Finland to the Soviet Union. When that happens, Korea becomes a very isolated existence that is hard to protect. While Korea is sometimes called the “fulcrum” against which pressure can be applied on Japan, at least Japan won’t be surrounded by neutral->hostile states just because you lost Korea.

    b) You (Americans) got what you wanted. Remember that the original plan was to turn Japan into the “Switzerland of Asia”? It was McArthur’s decision to put an Article 9 (the pillar of Japanese infantilization) into the Japanese Constitution.The decision to select a historical variant that puts most of the blame on the Japanese military was America’s – thus creating strong irrational anti-militarism rather than a strong desire to create a balanced (what Americans may call mature) security policy. One would argue America has the moral obligation to live with the results of her social engineering plan (which is one of the more successful ones out there).

    Besides, Americans cannot say Japan are in deep financial and economic blues and then say they have plenty of resources to put to defense.

    c) America’s presence can become a motivator towards reconciliation rather than a freezer.

    To put it bluntly, national apologies (the kind the Koreans and Chinese claim to want) are national policy, and are only given when relative advantage is perceived. Any politician that gives a national apology to the disadvantage of his country, out of the goodness of his heart is not acting in the best interests of his nation and should be fired.

    To accept a national apology, and to quietly guide your people to let the past be past is also a matter of national policy governed by national interests.

    It is possible to make a case that Japanese apologies aren’t sincere enough, but on the other hand, there is extremely little reason for Korea to accept Japan’s apology. It is much too convenient to keep saying “More, more” without limit. They even lumped East Sea in out of nowhere, threaten to invalidate the 1965 Treaty and now they are building those statues.

    I think that when the Japanese realized that, they started getting apology fatique.

    Sure, a deeper apology can potentially be squeezed out of them by US pressure (that relative advantage thing), but with no pressure on South Korea they are free to exercise “domestic maximalism”. What will the United States do, lean on Japan again? And again?

    The apology can also be beaten out of them by China when Japan goes Finland, but then SK will be surrrounded.

    Thus, the correct move is to lean on Korea, to send (in reality, this will be heavily wrapped in diplomatic language and appeals to broader cooperation and harmony, but the below is the essential message) a quiet message of:

    “OK, we recognize you have a moral claim. We will press the Japanese for a deeper round of apologies and compensation. When it does happen, however, your government will accept it as the final word and fan down the flames of your people. If you don’t do that, you are the troublemaker and we will abandon you.

    And cut that East Sea BS.”

    Between American pressure and the lure of an (covertly) American-guaranteed firm end, it is hard to think the Japanese won’t deliver an apology that allows reconciliation to begin.


    • Japan becoming China’s “Finland to the Soviet Union” is an inaccurate analogy. The relative history between China and Japan is quite different to that between Finland and Russia.

      “The decision to select a historical variant that puts most of the blame on the Japanese military was America’s…” I think most of the blame is placed on the Japanese military because it first invaded the Asian continent (directly causing the deaths of hundred of thousands) and later attacked the US. In fact, America subsequently failed to hold Japan responsible for its crimes against the Korean and Chinese people who were not represented at the Tokyo war crimes tribunal.


      • I do not mean to say Finland v USSR is exactly the same as Japan v China, historically or situationally. However, in terms of having to make huge concessions to China (the Soviet Union) to stay alive, they will be similar.

        For your 2nd point, I’ll say the choice to mostly blame the military is a defensible variant for the reasons you describe. However, there was also the choice of blaming the Emperor (the nominal head and god), or the civilian government for not doing its work, or just concentrating blame on the upper tiers. Even if you stick solely to truth, a change in direction can be effected just by the emphasis you put on each point.

        It was understandable the US chose to focus blame the military, both for the reasons you said and for their social engineering goal. I’m just saying that it was, in the end, America’s decision, and so they should be a bit less whiny or accusative that they got what they wanted.

        For the 3rd point, Koreans aside, the Chinese were in the Tribunal. That’s why Nanking was trialed.


      • I certainly agree on the whining 🙂 The US loves unipolarity and then complains that others free-ride. That’s fairly contradictory. American allies are smart enough to see these opportunities


    • Firstly…

      You make it sounds like as if only PRC and South Korean government play “blame, hate & mistrust the neighbors” cards… Japanese government(especially right-wing) is the Queen of playing such cards. 🙂

      Of course Chinese and Korean elites will “strategically” play and abuse “apology” card – but most of Chinese and Koreans I’ve encountered actually just want Japanese government to what post-Nazi German government have done.

      German government not only properly record teach their folly in their school textbooks, they’ve actually outlawed “denial of Holocaust”, “Nazi Party” and banned numerous “Neo-Nazi” groups.

      While Japanese government allows people to “openly deny” Nanking massacre, forced human experiments of Chinese(mainly) and Koreans, sex slavery (as Hillary Clinton has put it) of Chinese and Korean women. – They themselves also openly(and pathetically) claim that Pacific war was “sacred war” of Asia versus “White predators” and they annexed other Asian countries to protect them from European colonization 🙂

      So, yes there have been several “apologies” made by Japan in the 80s and 90s but there were virtually no follow up domestic policies show their “sincerity” but rather several backlashes within Japan by “Neo-Imperialists” – they still either under-teach or not teach at all about Japanese war crimes in Pacific war, abuse of native populous of colonies.

      The Neo-Imperialists have never recovered from “inferiority-complex” and now they are trying to exploit “racial nationalism” to protect their vested interest – 60 years of same handful of political families must be sickening for Japanese citizens by now 🙂

      PS. Why do you think Japanese deserve “Sea of Japan” ??? – I don’t agree with “East Sea” argument either, but I do understand why Koreans will not accept “Sea of Japan”


      • I normally just type the whole thing without double-checking and edit it later, but it seems that there is no such function on this blog.

        So here I go again – fixed version.

        You make it sounds like as if only PRC and South Korean governments play “blame, hate & mistrust the neighbors” cards… Japanese government(especially right-wing) is the Queen of playing such cards.

        Of course Chinese and Korean elites will “strategically” play and abuse “apology” card – but most of Chinese and Koreans I’ve encountered actually just want Japanese government to do what post-Nazi German government have done.

        German government not only properly teach their folly in their school textbooks, they’ve actually outlawed “denial of Holocaust”, “Nazi Party” and banned numerous “Neo-Nazi” groups.

        While Japanese government allows people(often themselves as well) to “openly deny” Nanking massacre, forced human experiments on Chinese(mainly) and Koreans, sex slavery (as Hillary Clinton has put it) of Chinese and Korean women. – They themselves also openly and pathetically claim that Pacific war was “sacred war” of Asia versus “White predators” and they annexed other Asian countries to protect them from European colonization

        So, yes there have been several “apologies” made by Japan in the 80s and 90s but there were virtually no follow up domestic policies to show their “sincerity” but rather several backlashes within Japan by “Neo-Imperialists” denying everything and claiming that Imperial Japan did a huge favor for Asia.

        They still either under-teach or not teach at all about Japanese war crimes in Pacific war, abuses and exploitation of native populous in Imperial colonies.

        The Neo-Imperialists have never recovered from “inferiority-complex” and now they are trying to exploit “racial nationalism” to protect their vested interest – 60 years of same handful of political families must be sickening for Japanese citizens by now

        PS. Why do you think Japan deserves to name a shared sea as “Sea of Japan” ??? – I don’t agree with “East Sea” argument either, but I do understand why Koreans will not accept “Sea of Japan”


  5. Both posts, interesting reads indeed. In relation to the US pivot to Asia, or rebalance, Leon Panetta’s Shangri-La Dialogue presentation stated intention not only in strengthening existing US alliances, but increasing US strategic partnerships, which raises two important questions: can the US afford to do this, and do these other states want the US to (and believe they credibly can) do this? For an interesting and provocative look at the Pivot to Asia strategy, check out Ben Moles’ post at International Security Discipulus


    • My opinion on the affordability of US hegemony is changing. I used to think that the America’s skyrocketing debt would eventually force some kind of retrenchment. But it is increasingly clear that foreign demand for dollars is nearly limitless. Even today, amid the Great Recession and the disastrous course of the GWoT, the interest rate on the US 10-year is less than 2 percent which is all but zero percent when you figure in inflation. There’s no pressure to stop warring when borrowing is so cheap.


  6. Pingback: More on US Allies: America’s ‘Exorbitant Privilege’ means it can borrow to Sustain Hegemony Longer than Anyone Ever Expected | Robert Kelly — Asian Security Blog

  7. I would not consider an Indonesia an ally at present — there is a reason why Yudhoyono and Natalegawa have persistently reminded America not to force anyone to choose between it and China — but I have the feeling that Dr. Kelly’s mention of the country in his last post was prescient, contingent on the country remaining stable. The next Presidential election there will be crucial to solidifying the positive developments it has experienced over the last decade. In fact, it’s surprising to me how neglected Indonesia is.

    On the question of India, I am not enamored with our handling of that relationship for a variety of reasons. We never seemed to appreciate its effect on our interaction with Pakistan and by extension the environment in Afghanistan. Although the NSG agreement was a concession to reality, it also contributed to the perception that America is only concerned with nuclear proliferation when it is carried out by a potentially antagonistic power, which is a perfectly appropriate position, but not if we are concerned with the legitimacy of the NPT or upholding the international order. I am aware that the literature and India’s dynamic with China counsel us that India should be more congenial to America as it matures. However, I don’t believe we can underestimate India’s strategic and cultural predilection toward non-alignment, its distaste for a mutable conception of sovereignty, or the difficulty it might encounter in adhering to certain Western institutional norms. I presume that we want to utilize India as Dr. Kelly indicated, but India may not want to play the role we are laying out for it; alternately, do we want to explicitly balance against China on the subcontinent and welcome India’s expanding reach in Asia, or is it beneficial for us to remain more distant, out of deference to China and Pakistan’s intimacy?

    I think the problem that the Obama administration has encountered with India is the lack of vision and purpose that both parties evince outside of Afghanistan, where India’s involvement will be magnified as the NATO mission concludes. If our relationship has a perfunctory character to it, it’s because we seem to be showing India warmth simply because it is expected of us as a democracy rather than because we have an overriding interest in doing so. Susan Rice’s irritation with India over its conduct at the U.N. last year, although quite petulant, illustrated just how substantial the divide between us can be, and I’m not convinced that will suddenly abate because of our inherent respect for India’s political system.

    I’m rather indifferent toward India, and I have the impression that more people in New Delhi’s establishment reciprocate that attitude than either government would prefer to let on.


  8. Interestingly, I would invert Dr. Kelly’s ‘hierarchy’ for East Asia.

    While one factor may be the importance I place (or don’t) on symbolism and morality in foreign policy, I have to question how we could retain any credible commitment to Taiwan or South Korea in the absence of a vigorous relationship with Japan. On the strength of its longevity and the importance it has been endowed with since its formation, I think that our alliance with Japan serves as the most important indicator of our engagement with Asia, even if Taiwan is often mentioned in that context. Although South Korea has attempted to broaden the horizon of its relationship with us in the past decade (also note the ‘global Korea’ pretense), it is the U.S. – Japan relationship that resonates beyond strictly its security dimensions and is the underpinning of any effective American order in the region. If we were to nullify that alliance, as a result of fiscal reality in the above scenario or in an attempt to induce Japan to provide for itself beyond its current capability, could Taiwan or South Korea see our support as tenable? China would correctly assume that we were prioritizing our relationship with it above everything else. If we had no interest in continuing our alliance with Japan, exactly what value would Taiwan or South Korea possess except to potentially complicate our interaction with China?

    The second point, that the codification of the American alliance system has prevented the resolution of the area’s outstanding territorial disputes, is probably true to an extent, but I’m uncertain as to what would result from an abrupt removal of America’s protective cloak. Dr. Kelly has written here before about the passionate, uninhibited nationalism that is frequently encountered in East Asia; Japan has a formidable military in its own right, with a navy superior to that of South Korea’s as far as I am aware, and no amount of gentle suasion on America’s part has managed to rectify the historical and interpretive differences between the two thus far. The problem with Japan is that any re-imaging of our relationship would not only require a transition in how we view Asia, but force Japan to finally assert an identity for itself after forswearing normal participation in the international system due to its war experience. If we were discussing this subject in 2009, when there was a faction within the DPJ that seemed inclined to make a more comprehensive approach to China and bring equilibrium to the alliance, then maybe we could be justifiably optimistic. But if Japan genuinely wanted to adjust its foreign policy and the DPJ’s ‘East Asian Community’ was designed to be more than a rhetorical device, the Senkaku / Diaoyu affair has probably ended consideration of that indefinitely.

    On the positive side, a Japan bereft of the American alliance would have to confront the vacuousness that plagues its political system and the process of definition might lend its society a dynamism it has been, in my opinion, lacking. It’s also eminently plausible that Japan, already apprehensive about the rise of China and its perpetual economic malaise, would transmute the sense of abandonment it would feel at the reduction of America’s support into an acute security anxiety, and might conclude, correctly from my vantage point, that it can preserve its territorial claims rather than search for accommodation with South Korea (or China? Although I think David Kang, however creative, is going to be disappointed).


  9. The commitment that I perceive as most expendable is our pledge to defend Taiwan, principally because I don’t see our current policy as sustainable, but also since there may come a time when a reduction in support for Taiwan would be to our advantage, even if Taiwan as a democracy is more palatable to our sensibilities than its authoritarian relative. Our ambiguous relationship with Taiwan is ultimately predicated on our possessing the capability to protect it from a reassertion of sovereignty by Beijing; unfortunately, Taiwan no longer has air superiority over the Strait and will never regain it, while China could inflict incalculable damage on Taiwan and probably dominate it before America could intervene. Although a hypothetical Romney administration might be willing to embrace the Bush line of 2001 (“Whatever it would require,”) if its demagoguery on China is sincere, I think it’s clear we have been attempting to downplay our support for Taiwan as China has emerged, with everything that implies. Fortunately, China has no more interest than we do in inciting a conflict in the Taiwan Strait; even if America were to discontinue its material support for Taipei and alter its rhetoric significantly, I don’t believe China would impose its will on the island because of the outcry and international response that would result.

    It is true that Japan feels it is extremely important to maintain the Taiwanese status quo, and a Taiwan reunited with the mainland in some fashion would have an adverse effect on the naval balance in the area. However, I am not convinced that Taiwan is worthwhile enough for our commitment to endure in an atmosphere of extreme retrenchment, when the waning of American power would be most pronounced. I also do not believe it would have much meaning beyond sentimentality in the absence of our alliance with Japan, and I don’t think that quality should be a foundation of our foreign policy.

    My primary interest is Korea, so understandably I am quite sympathetic to the idea of preserving our presence there, even if the rationale is evaporating due to the South’s advantage over the North. There are also some who might see an end of our close relationship with Japan as a virtue rather than a deficiency, although they are not particularly relevant in the security sphere. The anecdote about Kim Jong-il asking his entourage why America shouldn’t remain in the South during the summit with Kim Dae-jung in 2000 aside, one could make an argument that only by reducing its attachment to Seoul can America ever conduct successful diplomacy with the North. In the present, if Lee Myung-bak’s successor would like to do anything more than Park Geun-hye’s anodyne ‘trustpolitik’, it will generate tension between the two of us, although it’s inevitable that the relationship will fall from the heights it has reached under Obama.


    • Wow. This is the longest comment I have ever received. I am not sure where to start. If you have your own site, you might just want to post all this there are in a ‘response to robert kelly’-style piece, like this: I will try to respond there.

      I will just make 2 comments then out of all this:

      1. I will say that you are right that a US position in Korea and Taiwan becomes harder without a postition in Japan, without a position in Oceania… Pretty soon we are right back we started from – US alliance sprawl that pulls the US into every corner of the planet. This is why is important to draw limits. Otherwise the US can get chain-ganged into almost every problem around the world. If retrenchment were every really forced upon the US, this would have to be recognized. Hence it might please you to hear think I think retrenchment is less likely than we all thought it would be:

      2. Large states like India and Indonesia will rise in importance to the US and Japan and SK will slip. Sheer scale alone dictates that, as does their modernization. Just as people paid attention to Korea by the 80s, they will do so to southern Asia in the next generation. Japan and Korea are mature, wealthy, stable, fucntional, and aging. They don’t really need US attention; in fact, I think the ROK has badly underprepared for NK’s future implosion because of the US alliance. This is not good. SK needs to stand up and really think about how to pay for NK reconstruction, what do with all those people, how to stabilize and feed a society in collapse, etc. The US umbrella makes it too easy to avoid this conversation here.


      • I never intended for it to reach the length it did. My apologies! As a regular reader of your site, I definitely appreciate your taking the time out to provide us with such thought-provoking content and actually replying to everyone who comments as well. Since I don’t have a website, I’ll attempt to be more succinct in future.

        I quite agree with your second point, especially in reference to Indonesia, which is one reason why I appreciated your mention of it.

        Regarding forced unification, I think your assessment about America’s involvement — which may also contribute to a sense that the ‘conflict’ will continue indefinitely, even as the balance of power is now overwhelmingly in the South’s favor — is correct; some of the dread (is it fair to characterize it as such?) over the prospect has also no doubt contributed to an avoidance of the issue in public discussion.


  10. Just for the purpose of sustaining U.S. military presence near Saudi Arabia, what alternatives would you propose to the naval and air bases and logistics facilities in Japan?


    • Yeah, that’s how alliance sprawl happens, right? One commitment leads to another to another… This is exactly what happened to the Brits in the 19th century.

      America’s other commitments in the ME are enough for Saudi Arabia and have been. The lesson of the Saudi relationship is move toward alternative or indigenous energy so we can slowly draw distance.


  11. Pingback: More on US Allies (2): A Response to My Critics | Robert Kelly — Asian Security Blog

  12. I believe that you miss one big point of US commitment to Western Europe/Germany:
    Preventing a new Rapallo, and frankly, we Germans are beholden to Moscow for the unification.

    Germany and Russia have a lot to offer to each other, and it is Germanys alliance with the USA, together with massive US American influence on a lot of German decision making that prevents Gemany from taking this option.
    Retaining this influence without a military alliance is not likely.

    Likewise, Germany and China may be concurents economically, but they are playing similiar versions of the general economic game, both are effectivly Mercantilists at heart, both understand each other. Whatever the US is economically (frankly I dont know what, and I suspect the Americans dont know either), it is something else.

    The US alliance with Germany is not about what Germany is doing for the US, but about what Germany is not doing for Russia or China.


    • So Germany would rather run with China and Russia – mercantilist dictatorships – than the US, and would without NATO? Wow. That sounds like blackmail at the expense of Eastern Europe all over again and a rejection of the Westbindung. Yuck. I am disappointed Germany’s commitment to liberalism is so shallow.


      • Nato was created to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down, and this is not a quote by a German. Remove Nato and guess what will happen.

        Also, I take issue with your “commitment to liberalism”. I dont see liberalism as an economic thing, for me it is about how much you can do about your gouverment, and how much your gouverment can do about you.

        Russia is more authoritarian than Germany, but so is the US.
        Compare the number of ways the US gouverment can “legally” kill its citizens, with the number of ways the German gouverment can “legally” kill its citizens, with the number of ways the Russian gouverment can “legally” kill its citizens.

        Now compare the likelihood of each gouverment to imprison its citizens for “professional life ending” time spans. Again, Russia is closer to Germany than the US is.
        Perhaps also compare entry barriers into politics for a new political over the three nations. While Russias entry barriers are high (much higher than Germanys), the American, either subvert one of the parties or get a new party stronger than one of the current ones, is even higher.
        There where irregularities at Russias last election. The most “pessimistic” prediciton concerning their scale of about +-10% for Putin (and thats what the opposition is saying). He would still get an easy absolute majority if you figure that in, and in any case, those “manipulated votes” were likely predominantly from Russias largest opposition party, the communists.
        There where irregularities at some not too unrecent US elections, which resulted in a change of winner, although their absolute scope was more limited.

        The US also has that weird “swing state” thing. Votes in the swing states are much more “equal” than voters in states that arent swing states.

        Now compare the size of the respective state security apparati.
        Big difference between Germany and USA, also big difference between Germany and Russia, not a whole lot of difference between Russia and the US.

        There are signficant difference as far as international aggression goes. The US is by far more aggressive than current Russia is, and people look for allies that dont get them into trouble as much.

        Why is Germanys commitment to Liberalism lacking if it chooses between one nation that claims to be liberal but actually isnt, and one nation that doesnt claim to be liberal and also isnt?


      • Pseudo Edit: In a way the US is closer to Russia than to Europe, if it actually retrenches and reconsiders, an axis Washington-Moscow may well become the “new Nato” rendering an alliance with Germany superflous.
        Russia and the USA have common threats (China), no direct mortal issues with each other, what is stopping you is that the number one and the number 2 in any given system have a hard time justifiying an alliance with each other (against whom would they ally?), Russian memories of what happened the last time they tried to ally with America, and American Imperial Hubris.


      • Germany is liberal and democratic now, and should not need to be kept ‘down’ anybody. To even talk that way, to threaten German revanchism, as if you can’t help yourself without the Americans sitting on top of you to force into good behavior, is just appalling. I hope no one from Poland reads this, because that’s Prussianism all over again. If you really think Germany would, or worse, should, align with China and/or Russia, then you’ve missed the Westbinding, the isolation of the German radical right by the Union, 60 years of the EU, and the rapprochements with Poland and France. Again, it is fairly shocking to hear this. Calling the US illiberal, imperialist or whatever does not change your argument about German foreign policy which not one of Germany’s parties would endorse.

        You’ll see nowhere on the website an endorsement of the tactics you ascribe to the US, none of which is relevant to your argument anyway. See here:


      • To sum up my pov:

        -The USA is becoming increasingly unpredictable. If my points are shocking for you, imagine the effect US republic nomination debates had on me (and lets say that I am farther removed from centers of power than republic presedential nominees are, and I am not calling for death and torture, just for a German foreign policy realignment in response to a possible US foreign policy realignment). Just where the hell does that Bloodlust even come from?
        -The Iraq War has proven that even a chancellor that risked his own political career to get German soldiers into Afghanistan is not capable of influencing US foreign policy from “within” despite vigorous amounts to do so in tandem with other important Nations.
        Even if it was to stop a US war that is against US interests.
        Furthermore, if we go after what a lot of US politicians say, assuming that the US will listen to “reason” in the future is not at all certain, and therefor not something German can base its policy on.

        “US policy” heavily affects Germany and is thus too important to remain “uninfluenced” by Germany (this may change if the US stops seeing the entire world as its sphere of influence). For Example the entire policies of Germany right now a based on responding to the largely US born financial crisis.
        Alternative ways of gaining influence thus have to be found.
        If that means occassional dancing on the Russian/Chinese wedding than so be it.

        While there maybe a way of getting “more influence” by going the way of the British, Germans are not alltogether impressed by the degree with which the United Kingdom under Blair (I would argue that an independent nation cannot cooperate more with the US than Blair did) could shape US foreign policy either.


    • (Only because the column gets narrower and narrower, I’ll comment at the top of the dialogue)..

      I don’t have anything major to add, but wanted to say this is a very interesting discussion!

      Whilst Russia obviously comes with history and some potential sense of threat, China makes a comfortable economic partner for Germany. I believe Germany also has quite strong second-track relations with Central Asian countries and may be looked on by them to help balance between Chinese and, to a lesser degree, Russian pressures.

      Despite being allied to Japan in WWII, I imagine (though don’t know) that Germany has a relatively positive image in China – at least compared to UK or France. The fact a German doctor played a protective role during the Nanjing Massacre; and that Germany is a rare Western country which actually produces articles to trade with China, must all help.


      • Germany had a lot of interaction with China following World War 1, the alliance with Japan was based on German perception of Japanese vs German perception of Koumintang performance, Germany had good relations with the Chinese republic before. For example, the earlier National Chinese army was German trained. Before that, there were even some “enemy of my enemy” style cooperation concerning common emnity with France.
        Concerning historical grievances of China, the German particaption in the smashdown of the Boxer crisis propably trumps Germanys WW2 alliance with Japan by an order of magnitude (partly also because of John Rabe, who mitigated the flack Germany gets in China by a lot).
        However Germany has apologized for both, and the difference in appologizing between Germany and just about everyone else is also noted in China.
        We Germans were actually really succesfull with apologizing, and are somewhat amazed that other nations (Russia recently apologized for Khatyn) dont really do it.

        Concerning practical power things:
        Germany is not claiming to be a “pacific power”, it is not intruding into what the Chinese see as their sphere of influence. It is somewhat insulting to China (and Russia) in its mainstream media, but compared to France and the UK, it is by far less “Anti Chinese” then the other 2 European main powers, let alone the USA.

        Long term,the Russians would not want to be put into a position of having to choose between more pragmatic Berlin and Beijing (there would be compelling arguments for either side), and would thus have an impetous of accomodating good relations between Berlin and Beijing. So, given a lack of actual reasons to be enemys, and the presence of a powerfull possible mediator with good incentives to mediate, Large clashes between Germany and China are quite unlikely.

        Concerning other nations using Germany as a “balance”, After World War 2, Germanys policy was to invest economically, but not attach political strings to German investment. This also meant that political help to protect those investments from 3rd parties would, if it would happen at all, take a very non military approach.
        This, in my opinion sadly, changed following the reunification, first on Germanys own (ill fated and ill conceived, Bismarck had it right concerning the Balkans) behalf in Yugoslavia, later Germany agreed to back sanction on Iran etc.
        For nations not in the good graces of Washington, Germany used to offer technology and investment at fairly minimal “political costs” for the buyer. China is offering the same, yet China is usually not putting “pressure” on its investment right now because it doesnt want to, Germany is usually not putting “pressure” on its investments because it both cannot do so and doesnt want to do so. The more Germany becomes involved in the “regime change buisness”, the more Germany gets associated with the highly interventionist USA, the more of our economic investment advantadge we loose compared to China.

        This also explains the German abstension on Lybia, “Hello non pro western nations of the world, we are not out to regime change you even if you are a mad dog like Ghadaffi”.


      • I would also wish to offer the following test for those arguing against German Russian detente:
        How do you think would the USA deal with a hypothetical “dictator” whose cooperation could/would be as usefull to the USA as Russias cooperation could/would be to Germany?


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