A New American Grand Strategy--Or The Same Old Grand Delusion?
John Bolton has come out with an Op-Ed at the WSJ in which he calls for a “modern-day NSC 68”. Don’t worry, I wasn’t familiar with NSC 68, either. But now I’ve had a look at the Wikipedia version of NSC 68, which begins with this handy summary:
United States Objectives and Programs for National Security, better known as NSC 68, was a 66-page top secret National Security Council (NSC) policy paper drafted by the Department of State and Department of Defense and presented to President Harry S. Truman on 7 April 1950. It was one of the most important American policy statements of the Cold War. In the words of scholar Ernest R. May, NSC 68 "provided the blueprint for the militarization of the Cold War from 1950 to the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s." NSC 68 and its subsequent amplifications advocated a large expansion in the military budget of the United States, the development of a hydrogen bomb, and increased military aid to allies of the United States. It made the rollback of global Communist expansion a high priority. NSC 68 rejected the alternative policies of friendly détente and containment of the Soviet Union.
What would a “modern-day NSC 68” look like? That, of course, is what Bolton wants to tell us. His account is quite revealing—of the Neocon mentality and how we got into the fix we’re in currently, facing our global standing going south due mostly to hubris and overreach. Simplicius has his own take on Bolton’s article, John Bolton Declares Total War on Russia, but because I believe Simplicius gets a few things wrong I prefer to deal with the original (which Simplicius obligingly links):
The U.S. and its allies can’t afford to drift aimlessly as history’s tectonic plates shift.
I’ll skip the boilerplate at the beginning and get right to Bolton’s One, Two, Three:
First, Washington and its allies must immediately increase defense budgets to Reagan-era levels relative to gross domestic product and sustain such spending for the foreseeable future. Federal budgets need substantial reductions to eliminate deficits and shrink the national debt, so higher military spending necessitates even greater reductions domestically. So be it. Neither the obese welfare state nor massive income-redistribution schemes protect us from foreign adversaries. Higher levels of economic growth, freed from crushing tax and regulatory burdens, will underlie the necessary military buildup.
Who trusts our government to perform this hat trick responsibly—massively increase defense spending while allocating it without waste, cut domestic waste while taking care of needed infrastructure upgrades, and increase economic growth after having outsourced our manufacturing base. The historical record since the end of the Cold War doesn’t induce confidence. And note—not a word about the increasingly shaky status of the US dollar. I just began reading Jim Rickards’ Currency Wars (2011), in which he begins with this trenchant observation—one which Bolton appears to be oblivious to: “Senior military and intelligence officials have now come to the realization that America’s unique military predominance can be maintained only with an equally unique and predominant role for the dollar.” Sadly, I’m afraid Rickards was far too sanguine. I see no reason to believe that our intel and military have internalized, or even understood, Rickards concerns. Douglas Macgregor has warned that the decline of the dollar will force a military retrenchment. Bolton’s scheme is pure pie in the sky.
Second, America’s collective-defense alliances need improvement and expansion, with new ones forged to face new threats. Good allies are critical force-multipliers, a test not all our current “allies” meet. We should pursue José Maria Aznar’s proposal to take the North Atlantic Treaty Organization global, inviting Japan, Australia, Israel and others committed to NATO defense-spending targets to join. Efforts like the Proliferation Security Initiative against weapons of mass destruction, from which Russia recently withdrew, need reinvigoration. We must address the unease our Middle East friends feel about American resolve and, consistent with longstanding U.S. policy, exclude Moscow from regional influence, along with Beijing.
Maintaining NATO, a weak reed at best, is what is now at stake—expanding it in any meaningful sense (that excludes Finland’s accession to NATO) is almost certainly out of the question. Japan join NATO? And jeopardize their joint energy development projects with Russia? I very much doubt that. And the notion that a display of “resolve”—whatever that would entail—would address the unease of our “friends” in the Middle East? Those aren’t friends. Those are sovereign nations with sovereign interests, and they see a new world economic and financial emerging. They want to be on board with that. What does Bolton have to offer in that regard? Not a thing—just more military bluster rather than a path to prosperity in a changing economic environment. Maybe Bolton’s seeming equation of “resolve” with military aggressiveness is part of our problem with so much of the world. Once they see an exit from that trap …
Emerging Indo-Pacific security efforts like the Quad (India, Japan, Australia and America) and AUKUS nuclear-powered-submarines can be enhanced and replicated. An Asian NATO isn’t imminent, but there is enormous room for innovative alliances with like-minded states, including more South Korea-Japan-U.S. cooperation. Most urgently, Washington and its European and Asian allies should provide Taiwan much more military aid and embed Taipei into collective-defense structures with other states opposing Beijing’s hegemonic aspirations.
The reality of China - Taiwan relations is that both parts of China are joined at the hip economically. The reality is that both Chinas are heavily invested in each other. China has no desire to damage—let alone kill—a goose that is laying golden eggs. Nor does Taiwan.
And now we get to the tired old geopolitical nub of it all:
Third, after Ukraine wins its war with Russia, we must aim to split the Russia-China axis. Moscow’s defeat could unseat Mr. Putin’s regime. What comes next is a government of unknowable composition. New Russian leaders may or may not look to the West rather than Beijing, and might be so weak that the Russian Federation’s fragmentation, especially east of the Urals, isn’t inconceivable. Beijing is undoubtedly eyeing this vast territory, which potentially contains incalculable mineral wealth. Significant portions of this region were under Chinese sovereignty until the 1860 Treaty of Peking transferred “outer Manchuria,” including extensive Pacific coast lands, to Moscow. Russia’s uncontrolled dissolution could provide China direct access to the Arctic, including even the Bering Strait, facing Alaska.
First, the idea that Ukraine will win our war with Russia is pure fantasy. From that point of view, none of the rest really matters, except that it makes clear the delusional thinking that animates Neocon strategery: The whole point is to fragment Russia in a “controlled dissolution” and then seize “incalculable wealth” for ourselves—while simultaneously freezing China out (!) of the Arctic.
Hey, piece of cake, right? And what’s Bolton’s Plan B—for when Russia wins its Ukrainian war against NATO? Yeah, that’s the tricky part.
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