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Should America be the policeman of the world?

Posted by John Reed on

Copyright by John T. Reed

You often hear Americans say that we are not, or should not, be the policeman of the world.

Let’s think about that.

A world with no policeman?
First, do we want to live in a world with no policeman?

I think not. There are currently a number of countries or sections of countries where outlaws dominate. They include, North Korea, the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, The tribal areas along the Afghan border in Pakistan, Somalia—Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq. There are a number of other countries who threaten their neighbors with violence like Iran.

In a world with no policeman, these outlaws and belligerents harm innocent people and prosper from doing so thereby encouraging them to expand their bad behavior and encouraging others to imitate them. 70 years ago, the Axis leaders—Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and the Japanese—decided to take over the world. No policeman stopped them—at first.

These issues come up a lot in my forthcoming novel The Unelected President.

The Unelected President novel

They did take over much of the world and 62 million people died in the war, twice as many of them civilians as military. And 50,000,000 or 81% of the dead were in the allied countries that “won” the war. Untold property damage was caused. Huge national debts were incurred and are still being paid by succeeding generations. That’s what can happen in a world where no one acts as policeman.

If ever there was a stitch-in-time-saves-nine example, it was World War II. Had there been a policeman who nipped the Axis Powers in the bud, 99% of those losses could have been avoided.

Clearly, the world needs a policeman the same as your local neighborhood needs policemen.

So the question is not whether we need a world policeman, but who it will be.

Should the U.N. be the policeman of the world?
Most people would say the United Nations. Actually, the United Nations was the name of the warring powers who opposed the Axis (Germany, Italy, and Japan) during World War II—also known as the Allies. The United Nations was formed right after World War II ended by the victors.

Has the U.N. been an effective policeman?


It votes to take military action very rarely—far more rarely than is needed. Furthermore, even when it does vote to take military action, members often refuse to provide the needed military personnel and assets, or provide them, but restrict their use to the point where the U.N. force is impotent.

If not the U.N., who?
So we must have a policeman. The U.N. has had 60 years to prove it can do the job and has proven it cannot do the job except in the most clear-cut, extreme cases involving relatively weak aggressors, most notably Iraq invading Kuwait in 1990.

For one thing, it takes a certain amount of size and prosperity to be the policeman of the world. Denmark, for example, is not a candidate. They are too small and have too few people and resources. So which countries have the size and resources to possibly serve as policeman of the world?

Maybe the United States, Russia, China, India, the United Kingdom, Germany, France. The next country on the list would be Italy by gross domestic product. Actually, Italy has a higher GDP than Russia. (Just think how much higher Italy’s or Russia’s GDP would be if they embraced capitalism more completely.) But Russia was a former super power, so I included them.

I think Americans might trust the U.K.—maybe France, two countries who have been our allies going back 200 years. As I will explain below, U.K., Germany, and France will also trust us to be policeman of the world. You will see the evidence of that below. Then there is the question of whether anyone else on that list would trust anyone else on that list.

China, for all its recent use of capitalism to become more prosperous is still a Communist dictatorship that murdered its own people in Tiananmen Square. China is still a country where you cannot click on the Tiananmen Square link I just provided. In China, you get a Tiananment Square search result that treats it solely as an ancient historic plaza with no mention of the democracy demonstrations there in 1989. And while China has the second highest GDP in the world after the U.S. ($17 trillion versus $10 trillion), its GDP per capita is far lower versus ($54,800 versus $12,900). I think the Chinese people would expect one of the countries in the $50,000-plus-GDP-per-capita range to shoulder the responsibilities of world policeman.

We ARE a U.N of sorts
Also, the population of, say, Denmark is almost entirely Danes. The same is true of all the Old World countries. Only the U.S. and Canada have a sort of U.N.-like “melting pot” population. The U.S. is not the U.N., but a platoon of U.S. soldiers may look like the U.N. when you note that there are Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, Caucasians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and all sorts of other races and mixed-race personnel.

I saw a TV comedy skit once where they made fun of the diversity that American movie makers celebrated in movies made during World War II when we were fighting against two countries—Germany and Japan—whose governments and people looked down on other races. A World War II Hollywood platoon leader would give a command like, “Murphy, take Weinstein, and Swenson and lay down a base of fire on the left side of the hill. Guglielmo, you take Kowalski, McTavish, and Lacroix and move up the right side of the hill. Apostopolos, you and Gomez stay here and direct artillery fire.”

And that “great” diversity was all Western European. America’s Japanese were locked up in internment camps or, like blacks, in separate military units back then. Other Asian-Americans looked like Japanese to most Americans. An equivalent movie scene today would have the U.S. platoon leader barking out names like Nguyen and Hussein and Singh and Wong and so forth.

Furthermore, a lot of our enemies have been here if not emigrated here. One captured Iraqi soldier in Desert Storm immediately asked his U.S. captors in perfect American-accented English whether Kansas State’s football team still sucked. He was a grad of that university and was glad to hear that Kansas State football had greatly improved in the early 90s. You don’t get that sort of international rapport if, say, China is the policeman of the world.

What about regional organizations like NATO?
NATO has shown a U.N.-like reticence to use military force. British Field Marshal Lord Vincent described any meeting of NATO about use of military force as “a hotbed of cold feet.”

NATO did send troops effectively to Kosovo. But they pussy-footed around with regard to Afghanistan and other situations where NATO force was proposed.

Also, NATO as world policeman is a more popular idea within the NATO countries than it is outside the NATO countries.

Also, dirty little secret: NATO countries do not have militaries comparable even for their size to the U.S. For example, the U.S. military budget for 2008 is about $623 billion. The combined military budgets of all the European Union countries is less than half of that: $266 billion. This is in spite of the fact that the EU has a combined population of 495 million while the U.S. only has a population of 325 million. On a per-capita basis, the U.S. spends $2,000 per person on military; the EU, $500.

Why do the Europeans spend less than we do? Because they are willing to let us, and can get away with letting us, be the policeman of the world.

Don’t they almost all protest loudly that they hate the way we are handling our policeman of the world duties?

Yep. But actions speak louder than words. Their actions—a military budget that is one-fourth of ours on a per-capita basis—speak far more loudly than their incessant whining. They do not fear us militarily because they trust our character and their military budgets essentially say that the way we carry out the policeman-of-the-world duties, while not totally to their liking, is close enough for government work.

What about the actions of non-EU countries like China, Russia, and India? They indicate even more that they are content to let the U.S. be the policeman of the world. The per-capita military expenditures of those countries are $34; $234; and $22 respectively. They all howl non-stop that they do not like the way we are doing the policeman of the world job, but as you can see, they are not interested in taking the job away from us nor are they afraid we will attack them militarily.

Pax Americana
Since World War II, the world has been living in a condition of Pax Americana. That is, a world peace enforced by American military power and willingness to use it. The phrase comes from Pax Romana, a period of European peace enforced by the Roman empire between 27 BC and 180 AD. Prior to Pax Americana, there was a Pax Britannica between the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s and World War I in 1914.

These various Paxes have been a hell of a good deal for the countries whose name does not follow the Pax. It lets them avoid military expenditures and military service. If America were suddenly wiped off the face of the Earth—perhaps by Islamic nukes—the rest of the world that has been criticizing us would utter a collective “Oh, s---!” and immediately begin spending far more per capita on defense, putting far more people into their militaries, and forming more international military alliances.

If we were not the policeman of the world, the world would find that someone else would have to step up and do the job. Perhaps, no one would, and that would lead to a nouveau Hitler, nouveau Pol Pot, nouveau Saddam Hussein mess. As long as we are the policeman of the world, the rest of the world can do like the 1960’s hippies: call the cops “pigs”—until they need one.

The whole world is free-loading off our policeman services.

To an extent, it is like a marriage where the two spouses have different standards on issues like cleanliness, children discipline, and so forth. The spouse with the highest standards ends up taking care of the department in question because he or she cannot stand to see the lower standards. The U.S. is the policeman of the world because we have the wherewithal to do it and we have higher standards for how much misbehavior we will tolerate in the world. Simply put, Americans cannot stand to wait until the freaking U.N. gets around to doing something about leaders like Saddam Hussein, or until the British figure out that Munich Pacts are not good foreign policy. The rest of the world, knowing that, has relaxed even further knowing they can count on us to police—if not exactly as they would—as least close enough to what they want that they aren’t about to ask to take over the job.

Policeman of the world is a lousy, thankless job, but someone has to do it. That is not to say we should have invaded Iraq. It appears that was a mistake. Probably about half the wars we have gotten into in U.S. history were mistakes. But there is no mistake in our being policeman of the world. We have no choice. One thing I think we should change is the “deductible” that other countries have to pay before they receive our policeman services. That is, we let them suffer for a while, until they are ready to welcome us as liberators as in World War II. Americans should not be dying to defend those who refuse to die to defend themselves. Americans should not be spending thousands per person to defend those who will not spend more than hundreds or even less to defend themselves.

We should renegotiate our military treaties such that the other members are required to spend more and serve more. If they refuse, give them our phone number and tell them to let us know if they change their minds, like if a neighbor’s military is pouring across their borders. France already has the number.


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