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Forget "Checkbook Diplomacy" and Bring the Troops Home

August 20, 2019 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

President Trump is once again beating the drums about the need
for greater burden-sharing by U.S. allies. The latest example is
his demand that South Koreans pay “substantially
more
” than the current $990 million a year for defraying the
costs of American troops defending their country from North
Korea. 

This is not a new refrain from the president. Most of Trump’s
spats with NATO members have focused on the financial aspects of
burden-sharing. Yet the nature of his complaints leads to the
inescapable conclusion that if allies were willing to spend more on
collective defense efforts, he would have no problem maintaining
Washington’s vast array of military deployments around the
world.

Trump’s obsession with financial burden-sharing misses a far
more fundamental problem. Certainly, the tendency of U.S. allies to
skimp on their own defense spending and instead free ride on the
oversized American military budget is annoying and unhealthy. But
the more serious problem is that so many of Washington’s defense
commitments to allies no longer make sense-if they ever did. Not
only are such obligations a waste of tax dollars, they needlessly
put American lives at risk, and given the danger of nuclear war in
some cases, put America’s existence as a functioning nation in
jeopardy. American military personnel should not be mercenaries
defending the interests of allies and security clients when their
own country’s vital interests are not at stake. Even if treaty
allies offset more of the costs, as Trump demands, we should not
want our military to be modern-day Hessians. 

Donald Trump wants our
allies to pay more, but outdated overseas defense obligations are
the real problem.

Unfortunately, the current situation is not unprecedented.
During the Persian Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush expressed
satisfaction that allied financial contributions offset most of
Washington’s expenses. That was undoubtedly true. Indeed, according
to some calculations, the United States may have ended up with
modest
profit
. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were especially willing to
contribute financially to support the U.S.-led military campaign to
expel Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait. Japan, still agonizing
over the alleged limitations on military action that its “peace
constitution” imposed, asserted that while it could not send
troops, it would contribute funds to the war effort. All three
countries practiced rather blatant “checkbook
diplomacy
.”

The Persian Gulf War was surprisingly short, and U.S. forces
incurred far fewer casualties than anticipated. However, the
immediate costs were merely the beginning of an expanded
American security role
 in the Middle East that has proven
to be disastrous. The checkbook diplomacy payments of 1990 and 1991
did not even begin to offset those horrendous, ongoing costs in
treasure and blood. 

Financial considerations …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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