Let’s play a thought experiment. Thought experiments are a lot like playing with toys all by yourself, except you don’t have any toys and by using the term “thought experiment” you can seem smarter than other people.
You hear plenty of foreign folk pining for a world without American hard power (that is, our military and our ever-expanding ability to kill people all over the world). If only America would just get out, utopia would pop right up. Moqtada al Sadr, the Shi’a militant who built his reputation on fighting the American army, was famous for saying as much. Leave, America, and Iraq will be great.
If you’ve followed the news in Iraq lately, you’re probably aware that’s not so true.
Contrary to popular world opinion, the planet benefits tons from an American military they don’t have to pay for
In economics, you term this a “free rider.” When you get something, but don’t have to pay for it, you’re like a hitchhiker on the back of a truck. Planet Earth actually free rides the hell out of the American military’s killing prowess. This is because the world trade system, and hence the world economy, is entirely dependent on the security system established by the Americans and Soviets after World War II.
Before World War II, the power structure was divided between European empires, a rising Japan, a surging Soviet Union, and America. No one force was strong enough to dominate all the others. This is why, in the 1930s, you start to get some rather ridiculous alliances with strange bedfellows. Why did racist Hitler ally with non-white Japan? Geopolitically, it was because he needed another great power on his side and didn’t care where they came from.
From the end of the Roman Empire to World War II, Europe was a multipolar environment – that is, no one nation was stronger than any other. The result was chaos. Pick a year and somewhere on the continent you’ll find a massacre from the year 450 to 1945. Not precisely ideal.
World War II ended that
After the war, only two powers remained strong enough to continue fighting – the U.S. and USSR. Japan and Germany were shattered; France and Britain, the other last great powers, were exhausted politically, psychologically, and materially. The 1950s were the age of the two superpowers taking primacy while former powers were relegated to mere back-up status. But it also meant that, because no European power was stronger than any other, and because America and the Soviets were guaranteed to involve themselves in any new continental war, all European nations froze in place. Borders stayed secure; armies went silent. Not since the Romans had Europe enjoyed such peace.
And as with Europe, so too with the rest of the world
The world has a ton of really badly drawn borders. But hardly any of them have been adjusted since World War II. Why? Because to do so would have brought the superpowers to confrontation. Therefore, hardly anyone was allowed to invade anyone else, let alone change the map. This is unbelievably unique in human history. When somebody broke those rules – like, say, Somalia in the Ogden War or Iraq in the Gulf War – one of the two superpowers rode in and annihilated the aggressor.
When the Soviets went down, that left only America standing
Russia simply didn’t have the ability to force project after 1991. So that left America standing in place, still holding the reins, still guaranteeing borders. But America has gone one more step. Rather than encouraging frozen nations, it encourages states to break up. Yugoslavia, Sudan, East Timor, even Kurdistan to a certain extent are all products of American tolerance.
So nobody invades anyone anymore
Because to do so invites an American response. Bad governments can only get away with their bad behavior within their own borders, where America has less interest in solving messy local affairs. While you may point out – rightly – that Russia did invade Georgia in 2008, I might well point out that Russia’s forces never entered the capital, didn’t overthrow the government, and sure as hell didn’t try to annex the country, all for fear of an American response.
Also, America’s navies and air force guarantee world trade
The last time the world didn’t have a preeminent naval power to patrol the waves, you had the age of piracy. Modern Somalia is a prime example of this phenomenon – without someone nearby to blow up badly behaved sailors, you get chaos and therefore rising prices. America’s navy ensures no other nation can dare disrupt world trade by starting up a stupid blockade. It also ensures that the other local navies are freed up to deal with local pirates rather than having to worry about an invasion from some far off power.
The air force places a similar role. Air routes are kept safe either directly or indirectly by the American air force. While it’s easy to route around a country that decides to block the skies, the American air force can force open those routes should world trade be threatened. Nobody else can do that today. As a result, world prices stay lower, food goes from farm to store, and our global economy we’ve all come to depend on remains the same.
So without American hard power, you get two immediate results
1). Wars become more frequent, small states get swallowed by big ones, and people die quite more often in violent conflicts.
2). World trade becomes more expensive, prices go up, the hungry don’t get fed and the fat don’t get their smart phones, and the world economy wobbles.
This may not seem a disaster
So tomorrow we’ll play out the scenario where America leaves the world behind and see how happy everyone is at the end of it.