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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Isolationism bad for US credibility

Isolationism bad for US credibility

US Congressional Republicans’ delay in approving aid to Ukraine and former US president Donald Trump’s comments about not protecting certain NATO member states have stirred doubts about Washington’s commitment to safeguarding the global order that it put in place after World War II.

In particular, the US’ friends in the Indo-Pacific region are questioning whether it is still willing to defend their mutual interests and way of life.

Ukraine’s efforts to protect itself as an independent, democratic nation are suffering setbacks due to a lack of ammunition from the US.

This stems from Trump pressuring Republican lawmakers to oppose legislation that combines immigration reforms and aid for Ukraine and Israel.

Trump has the US public on his side regarding challenges at the border and immigration more broadly.

Recent polls indicate that American voters’ attention has turned inward, with immigration surging ahead of all other issues as the most important problem the country is facing in this year’s presidential election.

All this while Trump and his supporters in the US Congress argue that US foreign aid should be restructured as loans, that protecting Ukraine is not in the US’ interests and that NATO protection should only be afforded to those member states who spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense.

During this time of Russia and China seeking to change the “status quo” in the global security balance, Republicans and Democrats are obligated to educate US voters on how NATO is good value for taxpayer dollars and plays an irreplaceable role in keeping free peoples safe.

The US must not alienate itself from world history’s most successful military alliance which, minus the US defense budget, collectively spends US$404 billion on defense each year, making it the world’s second-largest military budget after the US’.

By comparison, Russia’s military budget this year is US$391 billion and China’s is scheduled to be US$232 billion this year.

It bears saying that NATO’s treaty provision of regarding an attack on a member state as an attack on the entire alliance has only been invoked once in its 74-year history — to come to the aid of the US after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack.

Perhaps Trump’s comments on NATO protection were just a negotiating tactic to get European countries to spend more on their own defense.

However, Washington’s friends in Asia want to know how far this reasoning goes and many are curious as to what Trump believes the US’ role is on the world stage.

Hopefully, US voters and Asia’s leaders could learn more soon, as some reports suggest that Trump is open to removing US troops from South Korea and Japan if they do not contribute more to the costs of stationing troops in their countries.

For perspective, Trump’s stances are nothing new for his party. The Republican Party has long had an isolationist wing that opposed foreign entanglements.

As Hitler and Imperial Japan became stronger in the years leading to World War II, many Republicans voted for the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s and opposed the Lend-Lease Act that sent vital aid to allied nations.

Just as abandoning world commitments in the years leading up to World War II did not work (i.e., the attack on Pearl Harbor), the Republican Party’s latest bend toward isolationism is also dangerous and ill-suited for our time.

Cutting off assistance to Ukraine and not living up to NATO commitments would communicate to Moscow that Europe is not in the US’ interest to protect. Similar conclusions would be drawn by Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang in their theaters.

As the world’s threat environment changes, Washington must rebuild its industrial base and increase its military capacity.

The US needs to engage Asia both commercially and diplomatically to demonstrate it is committed to regional partnerships over the long term.

Simply put, US involvement on the world stage is vital for securing the free flow of commerce on the seas and protecting the principle adopted by the world community following World War II: There shall be no changing of international borders by force.

Withdrawing from these commitments would contribute to an unraveling of the world’s security architecture and allow for larger states to swallow smaller states with impunity.

Isolationism would not have salvaged the southern half of the Korean Peninsula from the communist onslaught during the Korean War. Nor would it have brought victory in World War I, World War II or the Cold War, much less success with degrading al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the past few decades.

Furthermore, it strains credulity to think that isolationism would provide protection today against aggression coming from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

On a bipartisan basis, leaders must make the case that the US’ overseas responsibilities are not charity, but an investment in its security.

Ted Gover is an associate clinical professor and director of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2024/03/17

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