Commentary Magazine


Dealing Ourselves Out

In the Wall Street Journal, Andrew Shearer reports on Kevin Rudd’s plan to enlarge Australia’s military:

The new force would have enhanced maritime capabilities (particularly for antisubmarine warfare), Joint Strike Fighters, a larger army, big amphibious ships to transport it and at least three air warfare destroyers to protect them. Australia’s six existing conventional submarines will be replaced by 12 larger and more capable boats. And in a first for its immediate neighborhood, Australia would acquire land-attack cruise missiles.

If you think of the Anglosphere as a dominant and cooperative network within the larger West, a bulked up Australia makes a lot of historical sense. The U.S., Britain, Canada, and Australia share a dynamic tradition of free trade and liberal society originally honed by the Dutch in the 17th Century, and expansion of maritime power has always been a key feature of the alliance. Moreover, as one state hands the superpower baton to another, (as happened with England and the U.S. after World War II) all states who share the same conception of free markets and free society continue to benefit.

But to label these cooperative countries the Anglosphere is, today, a misnomer. Ever more open and successful societies have emerged in the non-English speaking world over the past decades, and the successes of, say, India and Japan are not a threat to American power, but a complement to it. It is much better to trade with and fight alongside countries that share our aims, then it is to waste resources keeping them in line. That is what declinists always get wrong.

What Barack Obama has gotten wrong is the extent to which upholding our obligations to our newer Pacific allies benefits both them and us. As Shearer notes:

The Obama administration’s recent decision to slash funding for missile defense and the F-22 Stealth Fighter program are particularly disappointing. Both are vital not just to future U.S. force posture in Asia but also to U.S. allies. Integrated missile defense capabilities are important to both Japan and South Korea. Refusing to release the F-22 to Japan has two consequences-helping to ensure the production line closes in the U.S. and implying American distrust for Tokyo. No wonder Japanese politicians of both stripes are weighing whether to develop their own autonomous national strike capabilities.

On the face of it, the Rudd government, too, has decided it is time to beef up. Canberra is obviously watching the U.S. budget process closely. Buried in the policy paper is the bland-seeming observation that “balancing the capabilities required for unconventional operations such as counter-insurgency and stabilization, while retaining strong high-technology conventional forces, will be a major challenge for U.S. defense planners.” That’s defense-planner speak for, “We’re nervous you aren’t going to spend enough money to keep ahead of China and maintain security in Asia.”

You can say you don’t want the U.S. to police the world, but there’s a lot more at issue than American arrogance and dominance. If the world is no longer going to be unipolar, can we at least try to be part of the multipolarity? In the Pacific today, as in Europe centuries ago, lines are being drawn between powerful countries that believe in aggression and autocracy and those that believe in dynamism and liberty. By flattering the former group and turning our backs on the latter, we’re dealing ourselves out of a crucial game.

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