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Sunday
Sep242006

Ensuring global security: no zero deductible

We don't live in a more dangerous world today. We just live in a security system that no longer offers zero-deductible insurance policies for global stability.

America's zero-deductible mindset grew out of our long-term standoff with the Soviets, a strategic stability cemented by our dual decisions to pursue detente and abandon the Vietnam War's domino theory.

It can be summarized as such: So long as nukes make great power war unthinkable, global stability is an existential reality that requires no regular blood premiums from America.

This mindset survived the Cold War's end. In the 1990s, Western great powers got involved with great reluctance in situations where globalization's disintegrating impact spun secessionist conflicts into genocidal fits of ethnic rage - such as the Balkans.

And, if the killings were located far enough away from our integrating global economy, as in the case of Central Africa, then we made no effort at all.

After 9/11, Americans grimly embraced the idea that defending our way of life would once again require regular sacrifices of both treasure and blood, and although many dispute President Bush's decision to invade Iraq, there remains a strong consensus that freedom isn't free.

But this zero-deductible mindset remains prevalent among several of our allies, leaving America dangerously exposed in several regional scenarios with the potential to derail globalization's advance.

In the Middle East, Israel has long stood as the region's sole nuclear power, much to the humiliation of neighboring Muslim states. Despite this trump card, Israel has never come close to a zero deductible defense, spending much blood and treasure over the past half century to secure its existence.

Now, with Iran near the bomb, there are fervent voices within Israel and among its international supporters for America's pre-emptive war against Tehran's authoritarian regime.

The concept of mutually assured destruction, or MAD, is held to be unworkable when such irrational actors are involved.

But does it make any sense for the United States to assume all the risk here, providing Israel a zero-deductible clause on Iran's nukes - as in, "We'll take them out at whatever cost to ourselves rather than see you live under the same threat we long endured"?

Again, during the Cold War, it was precisely because both superpowers knew how an escalating conflict would end that neither risked direct military confrontations, including terrorist attacks on the other's homeland via third-party proxies - something Iran just pulled off against Israel through Lebanon's Hezbollah.

The reality is that MAD has worked the world over, primarily by equalizing and making explicit the sense of strategic risk on both sides. We all want Israel and its Muslim neighbors finally to sit down at the same table and forge a regionwide peace.

The question is, do you think that's more likely to happen if Iran openly has nukes, thus ruling out a U.S. invasion? Or did Israel's recent showing in Lebanon convince you that Tel Aviv can bomb its adversaries to the negotiating table?

After three and a half years in Iraq, which path feels more irrational to you?

In Asia, America suffers two longtime allies who likewise believe they enjoy a zero deductible on strategic risk: Taiwan and South Korea.

With Taiwan, there is America's 1979 defense guarantee that implies we'll do whatever it takes militarily to preserve Taipei's independence from the Mainland.

Throughout Pentagon planning circles, this contingency has no peer when it comes to rationalizing expensive defense programs that otherwise present little utility in a Long War against radical extremism - in effect, transferring the cost of Taiwan's zero deductible to the under-funded Army and Marine Corps.

But far more frightening is the notion that Taipei can declare war between globalization's two most strategic pillars - China and America. Remember World War I's Archduke Ferdinand? His World War III equivalent logically hails from Taiwan today.

With South Korea, the zero deductible naturally applies to North Korea. Rather than force Seoul to face the costs of a reunification that's historically inevitable, America is trapped - thanks to its trip-wire troops - into risking a major Asian land war nobody wants.

The worst thing about all these zero deductibles?

So long as they delay strategic alliance between Beijing and Washington, America gets stuck playing globalization's sole bodyguard while "rising China" free rides in our wake.

In the Long War, that's one zero-deductible policy the United States cannot long endorse.

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