Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Coming Scramble and Odd Men Out

In a recent entry, I talked about the administration's shifting focus, away from Europe and towards Asia and the Pacific, with regard to future economic policy. And--in fact--I even gave them a bit of an "attaboy" for their recognition of where the future will likely lead. But I concluded with a warning, of sorts:
But it's not enough to know where the action is, when it comes to the world economy. Just as important is a means of access, which necessitates some level of control. In this regard, the naval bases of the Indian Ocean are critical. Kaplan rightly notes that the cultivation of friendship with the many nations in control of such is critical. Once again, sea power will become the standard, something that China seems well aware of.
Justin Logan at the Cato Institute has penned this excellent essay on the same topic. However, he's opted for a slightly different viewpoint, insofar as he is suggesting that the U.S. will get snookered by Asian nations--much as it has been supposedly snookered by NATO nations--into footing a majority of the military bill:
The desire to focus on the Asia-Pacific is sound, but the administration's policies there are not. The impulse to reassure America's Asian allies that the U.S. commitment to their security is rock solid perversely makes it likely that they will continue to free-ride on America's exertions — in an era when Washington has less and less money to spend.
He also notes an unarguably true and cogent economic reality in this regard:
In a 1966 article, economists Mancur Olson Jr. and Richard Zeckhauser showed that in the provision of collective goods (like security) in organizations (like alliances), the largest members will tend to bear a "disproportionately large share of the common burden." When a group declares something a common interest, it is rational for the poorer members to shirk and allow the wealthier members to carry a disproportionate portion of the load.
As should be obvious, this reality goes well beyond things like defense spending. Looking at it through the prism of "largest members" equating to "wealthiest members" yields more juicy tangents than I have time to address. However. Mr. Logan is missing something, here. While there may be a "common burden," when it comes to security in the Pacific Rim, that does not mean that a sharing of the burden is a sound idea.

The fact that the U.S. foots most of the bill for NATO translates into something else: power. The U.S.--it must be admitted--controls NATO. The organization has never and will never act against what is in the best interests of the U.S. And other member-nations will--for the most part--follow the lead of the U.S.

And though these other nations in NATO have truly benefited from not having to fund their militaries at the same rate as the U.S., look where they are now. Moreover, there is a dependence created by this process. Often, this is sore spot for the dependent nation, but it remains a truth.

Ms. Clinton, Mr. Logan, and I all agree: the Pacific Rim (and Indian Ocean corridors) is a region of critical importance for the world economy. A heavy U.S. presence in this economic sphere of influence is a necessity.

But Ms. Clinton recommends simple reassurance to the nations there that the U.S. will be available for security needs. Mr. Logan suggests that the U.S. balk on such commitments, thus forcing these nations to chip in a fair share or at least some share. Me? I think that if other nations want to depend on the U.S. for security, we should oblige them. But on our terms, not theirs. Access and control go hand in hand with security in my view, and that's exactly how it should be. Other nations--in Europe and elsewhere--will be the odd men out, at the end of the day, since they have already forfeited their ability to demand either access or control.

Cheers, all.

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