AEI's Michael Auslin had an article on Fox News arguing that Japan's unwillingness to host a marine base in Okinawa, Britain's skeptical take on the "special relationship" and the recently passed healthcare legislation spell trouble for global security:
The upshot of these three trends will likely be a series of decisions to slowly, but irrevocably reduce America's overseas global military presence and limit our capacity to uphold peace and intervene around the globe. And, as we hollow out our capabilities, China will be fielding ever more accurate anti-ship ballistic missiles, advanced fighter aircraft, and stealthy submarines; Russia will continue to expand its influence over its "near abroad" while modernizing its nuclear arsenal; and Iran will develop nuclear weapons, leading to an arms race or preemptive attacks in the Middle East.
Under such conditions, global trade flows will be stressed, the free flow of capital will be constrained, and foreign governments will expand their regulatory and confiscatory powers against their domestic economies in order to fund their own military expansions.
For the past six decades, global stability was assured in large part by an expensive US commitment to maintain credible forces abroad, forge tight alliances with key strategic countries, and devote a significant, though not onerous, part of national treasure to sustaining a military second to none. Rarely in history has a country shouldered such burdens for so long, but the succeeding decades of growth and avoidance of systemic war proved the wisdom of the course.
Are these three strikes the writing on the wall, the blueprint for how American power will decline in the world, with a whimper and an empty purse? The choice to reverse these trends will grow increasingly difficult in coming years, until we reach a point of no return, as did Great Britain and Rome.
The result, unhappily, will not be a replay of the 20th century, when Washington stepped up after London's decline. It will almost certainly be the inauguration of decades, if not centuries, of global instability, increased conflict, and depressed economic growth and innovation. Such is the result of short-sighted policies that reflect political expedience, moral weakness, and a romantic belief in global fraternity.
It's one thing to worry if the U.S. was unilaterally unplugging itself from alliances over the objections of its partners, but at least in the cases Auslin cites, that's not the issue. The U.S. is harranging Japan to keep the base deal on track, while a democratically elected government, responding to the desire of its people, is objecting. In Britain, neither the current Labour government nor David Cameron's Tories are talking about seriously undermining strategic ties with the United States.
Auslin sites the success of a 60 year American strategy to keep the peace globally, but isn't this the fruits of such peace? Independent-yet-friendly democracies seeking a little more freedom of movement seems to me a far cry from countries seeking "non-aligned" status or worse, becoming clients of a competitive power.
Furthermore, I'm not sure why Auslin would suggest that "foreign governments will expand their regulatory and confiscatory powers against their domestic economies in order to fund their own military expansions." As Auslin notes, the U.S. is able to fund a globe-spanning military without undue burden, surely these other large economies can fund militaries sufficient to meet their (less grandiose) security needs.
I do agree with Auslin that we're looking at a potentially less stable international environment, but that's mostly due to the rise of China and more powerful states in Asia. And China is rising regardless of the percentage of GDP we allot to defense and entitlements. If defense analysts think this is going to overturn the peaceful workings of global trade, then it seems to me they should spend more of their time arguing against nation building in the hinterlands of land-locked Afghanistan than on health-care. The former pulls resources directly away from the mission of militarily containing China (unless providing security so that Chinese mining concerns in Afghanistan can reap billions in profit is a super-sophisticated form of stealth containment), while the later exterts a longer-term budget strain which may or may not impact defense outlays.
And while those who believe in "global fraternity" are surely romantics, I would argue that those who believe in a durable global hegemony are equally starry eyed.