Why Should the World Order and NATO Matter to Average Americans?

I’m really think these are important questions for Americans to understand–especially since Trump seems to want withdraw American power from the world. Is this a good move or not? To answer this question, we need to understand the longstanding global order, lead by the U.S., and including NATO–what exactly are both and what’s good or bad about them from the point of view for American citizens. It’s a big topic, and I don’t have all the answers. Because of that, the purpose of this thread is to try and gain a better understanding of this topic.

I should really start by defining what I mean by a world order and even NATO, but I’m going to delay that, and just post a threaded tweet about possible consequences of U.S. withdrawing their power around the world. The tweets are from Andrew Clarkson, who, according to his twitter page, is a lecturer on German and European Studies in King’s College London. (I found this via a re-tweet by David Frum.) Here are the tweets:

We’re seeing a grand experiment in what happens to different parts of the world when the withdrawal of US power suddenly seems possible. The biggest mistake is to think that states neighbouring other Great Powers will simply roll over and let themselves be dominated. The opposite is more likely the case. India-Pakistan relations could become a template for what happens in many parts of the world. Vietnam vs China. Ukraine vs Russia. Iran vs Saudi Arabia. Withdrawal of US means it has less control over how allies respond to threats. Russian and Chinese leaders overjoyed at Trump’s farcical errors will face more unpredictable local challengers to their dominance. While US could strike grand bargains with Russia or China, large states neighbouring both have far more intractable points of conflict. In less than 3 years Ukraine has expanded its army to 280 000 troops. Vietnam has a vast defence and security establishment. By binding states like Japan, Ukraine or Vietnam into formal or informal alliances the US also had influence to restrain them in a crisis. Once US leaves there is little to restrain powerful states neighbouring China and Russia from taking big risks to defend their position.

If you want to look at what happens in parts of the world where US has limited means to influence powerful states take a look at Kashmir. If Donbas and the Spratly Islands develop the same dynamic as Kashmir has even a US resurgence after Trump will not lead to deescalation. The Trump paradox for Russia could be that the grand bargain it strikes with the US turns out to make its situation worse. The Trump paradox for China could be that the power vacuum left by US withdrawal is filled by Japan, India and Vietnam. Russian and Chinese elites talked about a multipolar moment for decades. Well it’s here and it may be too multipolar for their taste. Last year I explored the risks of pulling away support from Ukraine in its battle with Russia here
http://intersectionproject.eu/article/russia-europe/ukraines-iron-wall …I also examined the multipolar nature of South China Sea tensions and how Russia, Vietnam and China interact there
http://europeans101.blogspot.de/2016/04/gunboat-absurdity-what-is-kremlin-up-to.html …

One thing that Clarkson doesn’t mention (probably because he thinks it’s obvious) is that the situation he describes would be more unpredictable and less stable. We might see more crises–economic or militarily–around the world. This can disrupt our economies. Additionally, these type of regional conflicts can spiral into a global war, like the two world wars in the 20th century. It’s hard to imagine a world war where the U.S. just sat on the sidelines. So one answer to the value of the U.S. lead global order is more stability economically and in terms of peace.

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What About Partnering with Russia to Fight Terrorism

Daniel Benjamin, who served as coordinator for counter-intelligence with the State Department between 2009 and 20012, in a New York Times op-ed, explains why this is a bad idea.

8 Responses to “Why Should the World Order and NATO Matter to Average Americans?”


  1. Reid

    Trump Kills Trans Pacific Partnership Giving China It’s First Big Win

    Here’s my basic understanding of the TPP: It would create a trade structure for several Asia-Pacific countries and the U.S. that a) reduced tariffs (most of which were from other countris; b) established labor and environmental laws modeled after those in the U.S. One big objection to some critics was that the TPP would establish a court that would allow businesses to bring complaints that could possibly overturn laws made by a particular country.

    My understanding is that now Asia-Pacific countries that were signing on to the TPP are now making deals with China–meaning, China will set the terms of these interactions, which may not be rules-based–may not protect labor and the environment in the way that the TPP would. Is this in the U.S. interests? From what I know, it doesn’t seem that way. (It should be noted that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren opposed the TPP. In the campaign, Hillary Clinton also ran against it, but I have a feeling this was primarily for political reasons.)

  2. Reid

    I’ve been neglecting this thread, mainly because I’ve been avoiding it. Specifically, I don’t feel capable of talking about this subject. I’m going to press on, with the caveat that my knowledge about this is very limited, and probably very crude, and maybe even flat out wrong in some respects. Hopefully, I’ll get the main points right.

    Q: What do we mean by a “global world order?”

    A: Basically, I understand this to a rules-based system that governs the way countries interact with each other. I believe this is analogous to the laws in a rules-based society. The countries being analogous to individual citizens and the global world order being analogous to a legal system.

    The system (lead by the U.S. and other Western allies) is also based on liberal democratic values–human rights, equality, democracy, etc. These values spread as the system expands.

    Q: What would an alternative be to the current global world order?

    A: My sense is that if we get rid of the current global world order, we would be moving to a system that is based on power. That is, the countries with the most power get to make the “rules.” Think of a country rules by a strongman dictator or monarch. The laws are determined solely by the dictator. The people have limited or no power to change the laws.

    Q: But isn’t this explanation misleading? For example, under the current world order, powerful nations like the U.S. don’t always follow the rules and laws, do they? And some countries that defy the rules, often receive little or no punishment.

    A: I believe this is basically correct. That is to say, the current system isn’t perfect–it is not a perfect rules-based system. Enforcement of the rules isn’t always consistent.

    However, two points should be considered:

    1. Is there such a thing as a perfect system? I would say there is not.

    2. Is the current system better than alternative systems? And if so, what are they? Note: These questions are different from the idea of trying to improve the current system. I make this point because I get the sense that some critics of the current global world order want to tear down the system–as opposed to trying to improve it (i.e., keep the overall framework, while making improvements wherever possible). I personally feel this is the best system we have, and we should strive to make it work better–not destroy it.

    Q: How is Russia and Vladimir Putin relevant to this discussion?

    A: Based on what I know, my impression is that Putin wants to tear this system down. This make sense because my understanding is that Putin is an autocat. Any autocrat would hate this system because it constrains their power and also threatens their power; it provides a way to hold the autocrat accountable for their actions.

    If we destroy the system, the autocrats have less accountability to their people and to other nations. For example, Russia has invaded and taken over parts of neighboring countries–not respecting national borders. (They’re attacking Ukraine right now.) In the current world order, nations have to respect these borders, and if they don’t, there are consequences. So you can see why an autocrat/autocracy would want to weaken or destroy the current rules-based order.

    Q: What about a bi-lateral approach–where a nation will make separate agreements with nations on a individual basis?

    A: From what I gather, this is basically moving back into a “law of the jungle” scenario. The stronger countries will have influence and can abuse this influence because there is no overarching rules-based system, founded in liberal values, that determines which actions that are acceptable or not. The system also have an enforcement mechanism (sanctions or military actions).

    Based on what I’ve read about Putin and Trump/Bannon, they all want to return to a world where bi-lateral deals are made–that is, they want to move away from the current world order.

    Q: How would this change impact everyday Americans?

    A: Well, Americans have an idealistic streak–they want to spread democracy and our values throughout the world, because we believe this is a good thing. But suppose this is not compelling enough. (It is kind of arrogant, tool; and yet, I think many other nations would agree–except authoritarian regimes.)

    The way the current system benefits everyday Americans is by providing global stability. That is, the number of major economic disruptions are a lot smaller; the chances for a world war are also greatly reduced. Consequently, the American economy will likely be more stable, and Americans will not have to be drawn into a major war. If there is a world war, at some point, we’re likely to be drawn into this (as in WWI and WWII), because if a certain side wins, that will likely threaten our interests and well-being.

    Q: Even if this is true, doesn’t the U.S. put in pay the highest price, in terms of blood and treasure, than any other nation?

    A: I think this is probably true–and a part of me does find this problematic. However, what we get in return, besides everything else I mentioned, is influence, prestige and credibility in the eyes of the world. We’re seen as a leader, and this provides benefits to our nation (e.g., economic).

    In a way, other nations take advantage of our leadership–they’re free riders (although this is not to say that other nations don’t meaningfully contribute to this world order)–but I’m not sure trying to eliminate this is worth it. It doesn’t seem worth tearing down the whole system to make things fairer. Again, the system–or lack thereof–seems a lot worse–including for everyday Americans.

    Conclusion

    In addition to autocrats, there are those on the extreme right and left that want to attack, and even tear down the system. On the far right, you have ethno-nationalism. At best, I think this approach is problematic relating to the justification of the current system. I also suspect that this approach will leave these nations economically worse off. At worst, we’re talking about a xenophobic, illiberal society, where bigotry and racism are more in the mainstream.

    on the far left, you have those motivated by anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism. My sense is that these people feel like the U.S. uses their power to abuse other nations, mainly for economic reasons, including benefiting corporations. To some degree, I sympathize with these individuals. However, I tend to think they overstate the imperial nature of the U.S., and, more importantly, I don’t agree that we should make a dramatic withdrawal from the world stage, which would be tantamount to weakening the current world order.

    My feeling, to paraphrase Churchill, is that the current global order is bad, except when you compare it to every other type of world order. In what I think is part of the American tradition, I think we should keep working towards make it better, working to make it a more perfect world order.

  3. Reid

    The Atlantic has a “review” of a forthcoming Brooking’s foreign policy proposal, written by a bi-partisan group.

    In the following quote, the authors describe two competing visions for the world:

    The “emerging strategic competition between the United States, Russia, and China is over two competing visions: the American postwar international order and an authoritarian vision of a spheres of influence system” in which “China dominates much of East Asia, Russia dominates much of Eastern and Central Europe, and the United States is preeminent in its own hemisphere and possibly Western Europe,” the authors argue. The Brookings report comes just days after Russia’s foreign minister spoke of a “post-West world order” and China’s president called for his country to help guide a “new world order.”

    A world organized around “spheres of influence” is “inherently unstable,” the authors add, because the boundaries of those spheres tend to be hotly contested. “It is a configuration prone to great power conflict,” of the kind that raged before the U.S.-led order came into existence.

    What’s interesting is that Trump’s nationalistic attitude may be really compatible to Russia’s and China’s sphere of influence approach. To my mind, this vision of the world would suit authoritarian states–and intuitively I think this would be bad for liberal democracies, as authoritarian states would prefer more authoritarian states and non-rules based world order, since liberal democracies and a rules-based world order would greatly restrict them.

    It should be noted that the restrictions, in real life terms, would probably mean protections for weaker nations surrounding powerful authoritarian states like China and Russia. Moreover, as Alexander Clarkson mentioned in the OP, the smaller states won’t likely let China and Russia bullying them. This can lead to instability, including arm conflict.

    The author of the article, Uri Friedman, raises some good questions about the proposal:

    In defending a set of policies they acknowledge are unpopular at the moment, the authors are suggesting that many Americans’ assumptions about U.S. foreign policy, while understandable, are ultimately misguided. Yet they don’t devote much space in the report to interrogating their own assumptions. If World War III has not erupted in the last seven decades, is that really because of the international order, as the authors argue? Or is it the result of other factors, like the chilling effect that nuclear weapons have had on great-power conflict? Is the endurance of NATO more a cause or a symptom of peace in Europe?

  4. Reid

    From a New Yorker article, Putin, Trump, and the New Cold War

    “Trump changes the situation from a NATO perspective,” General Shirreff said. “The great fear is the neutering of NATO and the decoupling of America from European security. If that happens, it gives Putin all kinds of opportunities. If Trump steps back the way he seemed to as a candidate, you might not even need to do things like invade the Baltic states. You can just dominate them anyway. You’re beginning to see the collapse of institutions built to insure our security. And if that happens you will see the re-nationalizing of Europe as a whole.”

    and later,

    Strobe Talbott, the former Clinton adviser, said, “There is a very real danger not only that we are going to lose a second Cold War—or have a redo and lose—but that the loss will be largely because of a perverse pal-ship, the almost unfathomable respect that Trump has for Putin.” Talbott believes that Trump, by showing so little regard for the institutions established by the political West in the past seventy years, is putting the world in danger. Asked what the consequences of “losing” such a conflict would be, Talbott said, “The not quite apocalyptic answer is that it is going to take years and years and years to get back to where we—we the United States and we the champions of the liberal world order—were as recently as five years ago.” An even graver scenario, Talbott said, would be an “unravelling,” in which we revert to “a dog-eat-dog world with constant instability and conflict even if it doesn’t go nuclear. But, with the proliferation of nuclear powers, it is easy to see it going that way, too.”

    (emphasis added)

    That highlighted passage seems like a very compelling argument for the current world order. Currently, when more countries are democratic and economically dependent–the chances of a major war is a lot less. These countries have an incentive not to get into a war and democratic mindset will allow them to resolve conflicts in a non-violent way.

    But if the current world order disappears–and more and more nations turn inward, becoming more nationalistic–creating an us against them mindset–without any rule-of-law order based on liberal democratic values–then I think the chances of war and instability increase significantly. Additionally, autocrats have will be less constrained to act in illiberal ways–moving the world closer to a law-of-the-jungle scenario.

  5. Reid

    This is a retirement speech by Dan Fried, worked for 40 years in the U.S. State Department.

    By abandoning our American Grand Strategy, we would diminish to being just another zero-sum great power. Spheres of influence – admired by those who don’t have to suffer the consequences — would mean our acquiescence when great powers – starting with Russia and China – dominated their neighbors through force and fear, while creating closed economic empires. Were we to recognize this, we would abandon our American sense of the potential for progress in the world; we would abandon our generations-old support for human rights, turning our backs on those who still turn to American in hope. And of course we would have to accept permanent commercial disadvantage. America would essentially retreat from whole areas of East Asia, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe. More retreat would follow as other emerging great powers carved out their own spheres, small and large.

    Some so-called realists might accept such a world as making the best of a harsh world, but it is not realistic to expect that it would be peaceful or stable. Rather the reverse: a sphere of influence system would lead to cycles of rebellion and repression and, if the past 1000 years is any guide, lead to war between the great powers, because no power would be satisfied with its sphere. They never are. In 1940, Germany offered Britain a sphere of influence deal: German recognition of the British Empire in exchange for London’s recognition of Germany dominance of continental Europe. Churchill didn’t take the deal then; we should not take similar deals now.

  6. Reid

    Thread on Contributions to NATO from European Countries

    In a nutshell, European members don’t pay the U.S. They agree to spend 2% of their budget on their own military by 2024.

    1/ Sorry, Mr. President, that’s not how NATO works. The US decides for itself how much it contributes to defending NATO. pic.twitter.com/8svkzRBEQb— Ivo Daalder (@IvoHDaalder) March 18, 2017

    Addendum

  7. Reid

    Why the Failure to Clearly Endorse Article 5 in the NATO Agreement is Significant

    I really didn’t understand the answer to this question, but this Atlantic article provides a succinct answer:

    Trump’s failure to personally endorse Article 5 may come to be one of the greatest diplomatic blunders made by an American president since World War II. We will not know for sure for some time. The thing about diplomatic mistakes is that they create new incentive structures that take a while to play out. Few noticed when Dean Acheson failed to include South Korea in the American defense perimeter until Kim Il Sung invaded six few months later. And no one paid much attention when April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told Saddam Hussein that the United States had no interest in his border dispute with Kuwait until he invaded a week later.

    The problem is that Article 5 is ambiguous. It does not commit America to automatically defend a member state. It stipulates that each country should come to the aid of another with “such action as it deems necessary.” To compensate for this ambiguity, every American president has interpreted it as an automatic commitment to defend Europe from Russian aggression. This interpretation, combined with a credible military option, has functioned as an effective deterrent. Trump’s clear refusal fuels doubt about his commitment to defend Europe.

    Edit (6/1/2017)

    Daniel Drezner op-ed on McMaster and Cohn op-ed defending Trump’s trip to Europe.

    Edit

    Charles Krauthammer provides what I think is a better explanation of the reason failure to reaffirm Article 5 is a big deal. (Recommended) According to him, it has to do with the nature of deterrence:

    And anyway, who believes that the United States would really go to war with Russia — and risk nuclear annihilation — over Estonia?

    Ah, but that’s precisely the point. It is because deterrence is so delicate, so problematic, so literally unbelievable that it is not to be trifled with. And why for an American president to gratuitously undermine what little credibility deterrence already has, by ostentatiously refusing to recommit to Article 5, is so shocking.

    Deterrence is inherently a barely believable bluff. Even at the height of the Cold War, when highly resolute presidents, such as Eisenhower and Kennedy, threatened Russia with “massive retaliation” (i.e., all-out nuclear war), would we really have sacrificed New York for Berlin?

    No one knew for sure. Not Eisenhower, not Kennedy, not the Soviets, not anyone. Yet that very uncertainty was enough to stay the hand of any aggressor and keep the peace of the world for 70 years.

    And later,

    It’s not that, had Trump said the magic words, everyone would have 100 percent confidence we would strike back if Russia were to infiltrate little green men into Estonia, as it did in Crimea. But Trump’s refusal to utter those words does lower whatever probability Vladimir Putin might attach to America responding with any seriousness to Russian aggression against a NATO ally.

  8. Reid

    If I had to recommend one article that answers the question that this thread raises, I would choose this Foreign Policy article. The article draws on history to answer the following:

    Indeed, if Americans have grown tired of bearing the burdens of international leadership, it is probably because they have simply forgotten why that leadership is worth bearing in the first place. Why do we have troops and military hardware stationed around the globe? Why do we have an extensive system of alliances the world over? Why do we worry so much about what happens in faraway places like Ukraine or the South China Sea? Why do we pursue free trade even when it sometimes comes at a near-term cost to certain industries and workers in the United States?

    For those not motivated to read the article, one of the main ideas is that tragedies from global conflict often motivated nations to find ways to prevent those tragedies from occurring. For example, with World War II experience still fresh in their minds, American leaders responded this way:

    (they) consciously rejected the isolationist attitudes that had prevailed in the 1930s. They committed to making the extraordinary exertions necessary to stabilize the postwar world and prevent World War II from coming to be seen as mere prologue to an even more destructive global conflict.

    They did so by embracing American leadership, embedding the United States within a global network of security alliances, participating in multilateral institutions, and promoting broadly beneficial concepts like free trade, democracy and human rights, and respect for the rule of law. They committed to confronting aggressors early, before they could destabilize key regions or pose an existential threat to international peace and security. They accepted that there would be no “return to normalcy,” that the United States — as the world’s strongest nation and the only one capable of bearing this burden — would have primary responsibility for upholding a congenial world order. And they based these efforts on a set of basic intellectual principles that guided U.S. policy for generations: that it was cheaper to maintain international order than to restore it once it had been destroyed; that it was better to make modest sacrifices now rather than enormous sacrifices later; that global norms and stability were not self-sustaining but rather required continual support and maintenance by those countries that sought to perpetuate and advance them.

    The article suggests Americans have forgotten these things, largely because the we’ve been so successful at preventing a major world war. The authors suggest the system that has prevented such a war is now fraying, and if we don’t start defending and supporting it, we’re likely to experience another major tragedy.

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