I have to admit I chuckled while reading Philip Stephens’ oped in the Friday Financial Times on “The dangers of American retreat.” Now they tell us.
After spending years complaining about the overweening arrogance and unilateralism of the “hyperpower,” Europeans are now fretting that we are a crippled giant that will no longer be willing to defend them–something they are unwilling, indeed unable, to do for themselves because of the enormous costs of their welfare states. As Stephens notes, even “the emerging powers”–the likes of India, Brazil, Turkey and China–“have prospered from the security and opportunity afforded by U.S. oversight of a rules-based system. They are not yet ready to shoulder the burden. A Hobbesian world will be uncomfortable for the rising and the risen alike. Some – think of India, Vietnam or Indonesia– already see the U.S. as a balancing force.”
Glad the Europeans are now discovering the benefits of American hegemony–just when it appears to be endangered by a combination of fiscal short-sightedness and lack of political will in Washington. Luckily, the fundamentals of American power–whether demographic or economic–remain sound. There is no reason why we have to retreat and decline–and I see little desire among the American public to accept a secondary role in the world. But that could very well be the consequence if, for example, Congress were to slash willy-nilly another $600 billion from the defense budget this fall on top of the $478 billion already cut this year ($78 billion early in the year by the administration, $400 billion this summer after the budget deal). We can maintain our global leadership–but we have to be willing to allocate enough funds to provide a minimal level of support to our armed forces. Otherwise, the worst fears of Europeans–and many others–will come true, and the world will become, as Stephens frets, considerably more Hobbesian.