With late Thursday’s detonation of what Drudge on Sunday called a “’Hezbollah-like’ car bomb” in Ciudad Juarez, just across our southern border from El Paso, it is worth asking, are we preparing for the national security challenges ahead? (See Drudge-linked story here: http://tiny.cc/kiqgg )
The border with Mexico is an obvious prize for anyone hoping to lower the U.S. profile in the world. When I served in the Reagan White House, it appeared to me likely that Soviet interest in Central America was aimed at ultimately destabilizing Mexico. Severe unrest in Mexico would require the United States to position troops along the border, potentially compromising our ability to maintain a full-strength garrison in German or other Cold War focal points.
Mexican authorities today are confronting the narco-terror challenge with a heroism that should command American admiration. Mexico has evolved into two-party political system that, more nearly than ever before, is rooted in genuine popular sovereignty. But this evolving system is being challenged, possibly by more than just the drug cartels. Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, and other global players who dislike an international system with the United States at its center have every reason to look for ways to stoke Mexico’s chaos. Reports are circulating that various combinations of them have already started to do just that.
Mexico is just one emerging challenge. Another is rising across the Pacific in China. Consider a recent Parliamentary debate on British national security strategy. The UK’s new Secretary of Defense, Liam Fox, said that, despite today’s focus on terrorism, a major state-to-state conflict involving U.K. forces could not be ruled out a decade or more off. Given the list of other challenges that preceded this jolting assertion, he surely had in mind at least China. (Debate is here: http://tiny.cc/z5hdj) And given the nature of global relationships and security imperatives, he could at least as aptly have said the U.S. as the U.K.
China today is much like Germany before the First World War. An opening economy and limited democratization have led to breathtaking growth. But, as in late 19th and early 20 century Germany, democratization such as it is does not extend to international affairs, where the military has ambitions.
In the current Claremont Review of Books, novelist and national security writer, Mark Helprin, draws out the China scenario with particular brilliance (see: http://tiny.cc/di6jq ).
As Helprin says, “in the Western Pacific … the United States and China are on a collision course.” He notes that a ten-fold increase in per capita GDP between 1988 and 2007 has produced a “twenty-one-fold purchasing power parity… increase in military expenditures.”
Helprin warns that the U.S. has let its carrier fleet decline by a third since 1987. Meanwhile, China is acquiring the ability to direct its 1,500 short-range missiles at our fleet in the event they decide to invade Taiwan. He adds, “Had we built more carriers, provided them with sufficient missile defense, not neglected anti-submarine warfare, and dared consider suppression of enemy satellites and protection of our own” this challenge to our dominance of the western Pacific would not be possible.
But as things stand, Helprin fears that the decade ahead will produce a “western Pacific cleared of American naval and air forces”, with a collapse of American alliances in the Pacific following. Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, and even Australia would adjust to the new reality of power: China in, America out.
In a particularly insightful anticipation of next steps, Helprin sees China then moving to establish bases for its emerging blue water navy in Central and South America. “What awaits us if we do not awake,” he concludes, “is potentially devastating, and those who think the subtle, indirect pressures of domination inconsequential might inquire of the Chinese their opinion of the experience.”
Military strength ultimately depends on economic and financial strength. In the last two years, the weighting of resources has moved from national security to, oh, I don’t know, a crushingly expensive health care plan that the nation doesn’t want and a trillion dollar stimulus package that doesn’t work. And we have moved towards spending levels and a debt burden that will soon dwarf anything before.
The Juarez bomb should be our wake up call. New kinds of threats, new orders of hazard are coming our way. If we are to meet and best them in the next decade, we must have both appropriate security assets and the financial strength to support them.
The simple, obvious, and yet very much in doubt question is not just will we, but, given our profligacy, can we.