A vigorous conversation is underway at The Economist ‘s American politics blog over whether or not much of Europe and East Asia “free ride” on the back of American military power.
Touching off the debate was this post by right-leaning AEI’s Michael Auslin, warning that the decline of America’s global presence and strategic influence, brought about by burgeoning national debt, will lead to “decades, if not centuries, of global instability, increased conflict, and depressed economic growth and innovation.”
That claim led to a counter-argument that Russia and China, the potentially destabilizing powers, have as much interest as anybody else in maintaining the free flow of goods and capital. Expanding further along this line of debate, The Economist said the free rider argument is a spurious one, citing relatively high levels of defense spending in South Korea and Taiwan and asking: “What is the threat to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, or (apart from tussles with China over undersea mineral rights in the Yellow Sea) Japan?”
As for Europe, the most frequently cited free riding offender, The Economist says: “1. The major European powers spend a healthy 2%-plus of GDP on defense, and 2. No major European country faces any serious military threat.”
I’d be curious to hear what readers think on two issues raised here: Is the prevailing global power balance so fragile that marginal changes in certain nation’s weapons portfolios can upend the entire order? Is the global “just-in-time” trade flow conveyor belt self policing?