Friday, February 18, 2011

A fourth wave? - and some other things

I think it's probably too early to say that developments in the Arab world represent a "fourth wave" of democratization, but Richard Wolin's Feb. 8 column, which I've just read quickly, is interesting. I'm not sure I'd have gone with the reference to Hegel (at the end of the column).

Wolin wrote before
the protests and subsequent brutal crackdown in Bahrain. I knew nothing about Bahrain until a few days ago, and now I know a few facts thanks to the news coverage, including that Bahrain is host to the h.q. of the U.S. 5th Fleet. This prompts one to consider (again) why the U.S. has naval and military bases all over the world, not just in 'crucial' regions like the Mideast but in a great many other places as well. A book I was looking at yesterday, John Kane's Between Virtue and Power: The Persistent Moral Dilemma in U.S. Foreign Policy, contains a sentence to the effect that the decision to establish a global network of U.S. bases stems from the human and other costs of fighting the Japanese in the 'island-hopping' campaign of WW2. This may well be standard wisdom among historians. And yet -- why should the war in the Pacific have convinced policy-makers that they needed a global network of bases to prevent another such war? Why wasn't it enough to occupy Japan and reconstruct it under a new, non-militarist constitution? Perhaps it made sense to add a few permanent bases in the Pacific for insurance, so to speak, but the global U.S. base network as stemming from a purely preventive, defensive motive doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

The global base network and the network of security treaties and status-of-forces agreements that accompany it have never made much sense from the standpoint of a reasonable grand strategy, and they have made less and less sense as the years have gone by. Whether one favors 'offshore balancing' or some other approach, the presence of U.S. military forces all over the world, 65 years after the end of WW2 and 20 years after the end of the Cold War, is wasteful and counterproductive. There may be a case to be made for some overseas bases, but not for the hundreds that presently exist.


hank_F_M said...

I think you may the process backwards.

Reportedly, about 1940 or so FDR decided that to protect the East Coast and maintain our interests in the Caribbean we should cover the area with a hundred bombers, that still needed to be built, doing so would be a signal that would prevent any unfortunate events. He asked for a plan. The plan cam came back costing much more than 100 aircraft at $### each.
“What is this? I just want a hundred bombers.”
“Well Mr. President, the bombers need crews, fuel to fly, runways to fly from, the runways need to be with in range of where we want them to fly. The crews need a place to sleep and they have to be fed. . . ad nauseaum

Of course FDR was a tad smarter and able to learn than the politicians of both parties who have managed foreign policy since then.

The national political leadership decided to have certain polices which may require the use of force to conduct, though hopefully a credible threat is enough. This is limited by how far a plane can fly, how much cargo a ship can hold, providing 2000 calories a day for people all of which needs a base.

Which, as you imply, can be real problem, when the base outlives the policy, or maintaining it is more politically costly than the gain

I basically agree with your point. After the end of the cold war their should have been a realignment of policy and the resulting reduction of bases.

LFC said...

Thanks for the FDR note.

Since I didn't give a full citation in the post to the book I mentioned, here it is:
John Kane, Between Virtue and Power: The Persistent Moral Dilemma of U.S. Foreign Policy (Yale Univ. Press, 2008), pp.200-201.

LFC said...

I'd also point out that there's no contradiction between your FDR point and the point in my post. The Caribbean was a traditional U.S. sphere of influence going back to the Monroe Doctrine, if not before. (See also T.R.'s 'corollary' to the Monroe Doctrine.) The official decision to have a global network of bases apparently emerged later than 1940. Of course, from 1898 (or earlier) the U.S.'s interests were not confined to Latin America but, again, the question was when the U.S. decided it needed bases basically in every part of the world. As Kane notes, Pearl Harbor plus technological advances in weaponry ended America's sense of geographical invulnerability, so no doubt there was some defensive motive involved: "Future effective defense of the homeland would have to be defense in depth and in breadth. America's new 'strategic frontier' would, in other words, have to be located far from its own shores and across broad swathes of the earth." (p.200) Then the next sentences, the ones I alluded to in the post: "The blood and treasure expended in capturing Pacific islands from the Japanese had convinced U.S. officials and military planners, as early as 1943-1944, of the need for a comprehensive overseas base system. Plans were argued and revised over time, and not all of them came off, but the general policy remained that of creating a series of bases -- in the Pacific rim, in the Atlantic, in Africa and the Mediterranean -- that would protect American access to necessary raw materials while denying them to any future enemy, as well as providing platforms from which American power could be swiftly projected anywhere in the world." (emphasis added)

Note the word "comprehensive." I'm no military expert, but it seems to me that the need for a comprehensive worldwide base system is not the only conceivable conclusion that reasonable military planners could have drawn from the war in Pacific and WW2 generally. Yes, it was a global war, and they might well have been anticipating another one at some point. On the other hand, the two main defeated Axis powers were occupied and demilitarized. The Soviets' immediate expansionist interests seemed pretty much limited to Europe. The Korean war was probably not anticipated or predictable at that point. Yet the decision apparently was made for a comprehensive base system allowing power projection anywhere in the world.

Certainly U.S. policy-makers thought they were acting in both the national interest and the world's interest -- "the intention to maintain and extend rather than withdraw American power at the war's [WW2's] end was underpinned by the certainty that such deployment would both safeguard American security and be good for the whole world" (ibid., p.201) -- but that does not alter the point that other decisions were possible. George Kennan, it may be worth noting, opposed the creation of NATO, favored early reunification of Germany, and opposed the 'militarization' of containment. He lost these policy debates, obviously, and maybe (?) it is a good thing he did. But this example shows there were other views in circulation even in 'establishment' circles, views which (probably) did not presuppose a need for a worldwide base system.

hank_F_M said...


I went looking for a review of “Between Virtue and Power. Would you believe, it is Google Books so I read a several pages for context!

I think we are taking different approaches to the same sort of idea.

LFC said...

Yes. No major disagreement here.