Thursday, April 04, 2002

We're Here, We're Exceptional. Get Use To It! Airstrip One linked to this Christopher Montgomery piece on the precariousness of American hegemony. While Monty makes some good points, each of his four premises are severly flawed. (1) Globalization-Montgomery mentions that “classical theory of free trade made no promises of permanent national advantage” True, the Japanese model looked good for a while, but petered out. Central planning only helps if you keep guessing right. The US has a larger GDP than Europe or Japan and will likely grow faster than either of them for the near term. Only if Japan and the EU gets rid of some of its statist baggage will they be able to match growth rates with the US for the long haul. Russia is out of the loop for the near term. China and India could be competitors in the far future, as they have four times the population and would only need one-fourth the per capita GDP to match the US in monetary terms. India is the one that could pull that off; with the BJP being more free-market oriented than that socialist-rooted Congress party, India could parlay its computer expertise and English-speaking elites to get up to that 25% of US GDP by the 2020s. With an angry Pakistan on its west, China on its north as well as possible problems with Maoists in Nepal makes the need for a strong military much more likely in India than in Europe. However, a free-market, economical stronger India would be likely to be an ally rather than a foe of the US. If you doubt that, give Suman Palit's site a read-over. There's no guarantee that the US will stay #1 in GDP forever, but no grouping is within striking distance within the next few decades. (2) We’re not as strong as we think-Montgomery scoffs at the permanance of the US’s 'full spectrum dominance' in military matters. He notes that when compared to Britain a century ago “US controls very few of her strategic assets.” The forced pullout of our Subic Bay naval base in the Philippines does help make his point. There is a key difference between the British Empire and the American hegemony. The British owned Gibraltar, Singapore, Egypt and South Africa while we borrow our bases. Keeping good relations with a few players in each region is needed. Witness the move recently in the news to set up backup bases in the Persian Gulf area in case the Saudi’s don’t want us using out Gulf War bases to stage an attack on Iraq. It makes for a different level of diplomacy than a simple empire, but we don’t have to dominate the area we base in, just have an enlightened friend in the country in question. This could make things interesting on occasion, but would be merely an impediment to hegemony rather than stop it in its tracks. (3) Decline is already under way- Montgomery points out that
US leadership rests much more upon the consent of her 'western' followers than is commonly allowed for. Subtract from the calculus of American power the sheepish behavior of say Britain, Germany and Japan, and again, the equation is markedly different. These (rather than basket cases like Iraq, China and Russia) are precisely the countries which could most plausibly 'compete' with the United States, being rich, militarily capable, and most importantly, on the whole underexerted. If her Western allies took repeated American advice and raised their percentage of GDP allocated to defence to American levels, that would have an astonishing effect on those tables which presently show the US to be spending as much on defence as the next seven powers combined.
According to this Martin Walker piece, the US spends 3.3% of its GDP on its military while Europe spends 1.8% on average currently. Given that the EU's GDP is only 78% of the US's, they would have to spend 4.2% of GDP to match US spending. I don't think the Europeans have the will to raise taxes or cut social spending to get to military parity, given the current GDP. Raising taxes would further slow economic growth while an entrenched socialist mindset would balk at giving up the goodies. The post-Christian moral relativism that is the current paradigm in Europe would tend to bring an isolationist tone to foreign policy, as they would be both less concerned about the welfare of other nations and less convinced that their are universal values that are worth going to war over. Such a world-view would lead to skepticism about the need for a big army that they weren't overly interested in using. continued statists policies in the EU will likely make European economic growth slower than the US, thus making it even harder for the EU to achieve military parity if it did have the will to do so. Japan is unlikely to catch up with the US militarily anytime soon. The Japanese GDP is only 41% of the US. That added to a aversion to big military spending makes getting past 1% of GDP very tough for the Japanese. (4) The instability of the perpetual hegemony-Montgomery gives both barrels to the National Greatness pack of Kristolian neocons, doubting that the US will use its power with restraint.
America will decline more, then fall, largely because neo-conservatives will spend vast, unnecessary sums on defence; boast about American power, thereby provoking determined opposition; and, make significant strategic errors – principally regarding China as a preordained foe, and, overcommitting resources on Wilsonian fancies due to pursuit of neo-Reaganite goals. Perhaps the neocons know this – they're very smart – perhaps the reason they'll destroy the thing they claim they love most, American pre-eminence, is because they realise at some level of consciousness its basic incompatibility with their creed's fundamentally moral raison d'être (liberty, freedom, all that jazz). Maybe neocons are secretly yearning to scream out too, 'A republic, not an empire'. Of course the opposite might be true if we look to the under considered field of geopol-psychology for an answer – perhaps neo-cons are so loudly triumphalist because of deep-rooted anxiety, perhaps they're simply screaming at the night?
Those "neo-Reaganite goals" stem from the exceptionalism that Montgomery states is bogus. I, as do most Americans, think that our blend of a free market democracy tempered with a modest amount of wealth transference to help the poor is the best system and should be copied elsewhere. It's this system that gave us the largest economy in the world. The Kristolians want to spread this system around the world, not as an empire but as fellowship of free democracies. Twenty years ago, foreign policy had a central goal-contain and contract Communism. We've done that; the USSR in the dustbin and China is looking more like Singapore than it does the Cultural Revolution. Now, our foreign policy is more complex. Prior to 9/11, the general policy was to defend our friends and to expand democracy, human rights and free trade around the world. Containing Islamic terror got added to the plate after 9/11. This 21st century multiethnic version of Kipling's "White Man's Burden" is centered upon a trust in that democracy is better than dictatorships and that free markets and free trade is better than statism and autarky. It also is altruistic in that it looks after a mutual good, interactions that benefit both countries rather than forcing one's will upon the vanquished. As I pointed out earlier, our post-Vietnam military activities have had the intent of helping the areas involved. Montgomery's seemingly cynical heart doesn't relate to the concept that we'd use this power for good rather than to play the thug. The exceptionalism of the US comes from the Christian concept of the value of one's fellow man and a willingness to help individually as well as corporately. While some cultures will view lives as fungible, American's don't. This is one of the reasons that the US and Europe are at odds on many issues; we're thinking in two diferent paradigms. Yes, we shouldn't get cocky and bite off more than we can chew, but we will likely surprise Montgomery and the other cynics of the world of how we will use this power for the good of the world, which ultimately will help the US.

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