Let Them Have Nukes!
Once again Donald Trump has sparked debate and controversy over his policy ideas. A few days ago Trump suggested that NATO was obsolete in its current form and needed to be reorganized in a way that better suited the threats of today. And that other countries need to take care of their own defense without America paying for it, and besides Europe, he mentioned Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia.
And while there is some truth to his assertions, as usual, he went a bit too far and ignored some key facts. He continued by suggesting that Japan, South Korea, and anyone else should be allowed to develop their own nuclear weapons. What makes this kind of talk even more worrisome is the fact that Trump wasn’t aware of what our own nuclear triad even was (our ability to project our nuclear forces via land, air, and sea).
First, I’d like to take on the subject of joint security treaties and funding.
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was founded in 1949 on the heels of World War II and in the face of a growingly aggressive Soviet Union. Today it has 28 member states between North America and in Europe. NATO was founded to ensure peace in the North Atlantic region and is a joint-security organization. The main stipulation of the NATO agreement is Article 5 which states that, if any one NATO member is attacked by a non-NATO country, all of the other NATO countries will come to the defense of the other.
Trump has said that NATO is out of date, particularly when it comes to dealing with international terrorism, and he’s practically blamed them for not stopping the attack in Brussels. His criticism continues, saying that the United States is basically subsidizing the defense of the other NATO countries, which hurts our economy.
For the record, NATO is not some internal police force. It doesn’t have the authority to search homes, bust up gangs, and arrest people – that’s what law enforcement does. NATO, like every other military organization in the world, was founded to defend against invasions by another state. Of course, like any other military force, it also needs to adapt to become useful against terrorism. But it must do so within an existing foundation. NATO came about after two shattering world wars, and the lessons of a militarized “police” force and even letting the regular army engage in domestic matters, those lessons that we learned after the terror of fascism need to be remembered.
NATO has been involved in the fight against terror since 9/11. NATO even led the 42-nation coalition in the War in Afghanistan. At its height, NATO commanded 130,000 soldiers in that theater. It’s true that NATO needs to be modernized and intelligence sharing definitely needs to be increased, but ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (which is not a NATO member), the organization has been doing these things.
The only thought about NATO that Trump had that might have some validity was on funding.
The US contributes around 22% of NATO’s operational budget. Combined, the UK, Germany, and France contribute another 39%. And while these figures may sound like America is paying too much, when you look at our economy and the amount of money we spend each year on our own military, we far exceed the capabilities of the other countries. When you take all NATO members combined, America accounts for 35% of the total population, 48% of total GPD, and over 65% of military spending.
The US spends around $700 million on NATO, that equals 0.003% of our GDP, or 0.11% of our national defense budget. If you were to insist that each of the 28 member states paid an equal share, for a country like Albania, that would consume 1.6% of their GDP or a whopping 200% of their defense budget – JUST for NATO! And if you wanted to make things truly proportional, America would have to double or triple the amount we send to NATO.
Look, it’s certain that some countries can and should pay more, but NATO helps America too. The US received $3.2 billion in NATO funded projects during the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. NATO has also funded hundreds of millions in military base expansions and improvements throughout Europe; bases the United States use.
Organizations like NATO are incredibly important. These types of cost-sharing and security guaranteeing organizations help to maintain over-all peace. Believe it or not, the world is far more peaceful today than it was in the past. NATO helped save West Germany from Soviet occupation, allowed the former European states of the Soviet Union to keep their independence, and, despite what Trump says, has played a role in defeating terrorism.
So while the US may pay more, we also spend more on our own military than any other country, we make more money than any other country, and we get stuff in return. The European Union accounts for $700 billion in annual trade for America, keeping Europe stable IS a great deal.
Next, I want to look at security arrangements with Japan and South Korea.
Trump makes it sound like all America does is give those countries money, men, and machines, while we get nothing in return.
The origins of all of this goes back to World War II and the Korean War. During WWII we had to occupy Japan and had a moral obligation to keep the civilians safe until a new, stable government could be formed. And since we occupied southern Korea after WWII, we needed to help keep them safe too, particularly since the Soviet Union was keen on taking all of Korea.
Then a little thing called the Korean War happened which resulted in the deaths of over 2 million civilians, and 128,000 American casualties. The southern half of the Korean Peninsula, the Republic of Korea, was our ally in that war and was nearly destroyed by the Soviet and Chinese backed Democratic Republic of Korea – otherwise known as North Korea.
Today, South Korea has a numerically smaller army than North Korea, and North Korea tests nuclear weapons every few years. North Korea has also violated the terms of the 1953 Armistice hundreds of times over years, including two separate attempts to assassinate presidents of South Korea.
Japan is also a mortal enemy of North Korea. And while Japan was definitely the aggressor during the early 20th Century, Japan lost the war and has tried to make many reparations to both North & South Korea. Japan also has territorial disputes with Russia and China. And in accordance with their surrender after World War II, Japan doesn’t have a normal military capability, only a small self-defense force. So, the US helps to provide some additional backbone for these two countries.
We maintain 50,000 soldiers in Japan and 28,000 in South Korea. It’s important to remember, just like with Europe, that American trade with Japan and South Korea equals nearly $310 billion annually.
North Korea’s primary reason, they claim, for developing nuclear weapons is because South Korea is under America’s “nuclear umbrella”. However, North Korea’s nuclear program dates back to the founding of the country and has become an integral part of the country’s identity.
Trump seems to think that America is just handing over everything to South Korea. That’s simply wrong. In 2014 South Korea agreed to pay us $866 million to help maintain our presence. That was 5.8% more than 2013 and it’s on track to grow by 4% each year. This doesn’t pay the full bill, but it’s definitely more than “practically nothing” as Trump claims. Additionally, the size of America’s military presence in South Korea has remained quite stable since 2006 and the number of soldiers stationed there is at its lowest level since the Korean War – 63 years ago.
As I stated earlier, North Korea has attacked the South many times and regularly threatens to destroy their capital, Seoul, which has a population of 10 million. In fact, North Korea has thousands of artillery pieces aimed at South Korea and has hundreds of thousands of soldiers deployed along the border. North Korea has even dug three massive tunnels into the South to enable a rapid invasion if war broke out. There is no doubt that having a defense treaty with South Korea has saved many lives and help to avert war.
I want to tie this in with Japan, which has territory within 350 miles of North Korea. North Korea regularly fires short and medium range rockets into the sea, and this activity has been increasing under Kim Jong Un. Many of these launches are aimed in the direction of Japan. North Korea has 3 types of missile that could reach Japan if launched from the Korean Peninsula. North Korea also has a submarine fleet that could help extend the range of other rockets and missiles. Regarding cost, just like every other country, Japan pays America – for the last 5 years Japan agreed to pay us $2 billion annually.
Besides North Korea, which remains the most pressing threat to the two countries, there are also continuing concerns when you look at China and Russia. It’s definitely in America’s interest to maintain our alliances and trade status. Both Russia and China have sought to extend their influence around the world and neither country is afraid to simply take territory. But having a strong and stable American presence acts as a very real deterrent and buffer.
The specific figures of how much we get paid is always up for renegotiation, but Trump continues to say that we need to be ready to “walk away” from anyone if they don’t do what we want. If Trump is such a business and economic expert, he should understand very well that even sending signals – regardless of how real they are – can send the markets crashing. Likewise, with foreign policy, when we tell our closest allies that we’d be willing to leave, even if we really aren’t going to, but by putting that out there we risk severely damaging our alliances.
Let’s not forget that both South Korea and Japan are not only our trading partners and allies against North Korea, but they’re also our allies when it comes to dealing with Russia and China. Telling them it’s possible we’d break our relationship with them, only serves to get them to reconsider their relations with other countries, like China, and drive them closer to our enemies.
Finally, I want to address the nuclear question. Trump’s suggestion that nuclear weapons should be spread to even more countries really blows my mind.
One of the problems with igniting an arms race is that neither country involved ends up better off – both countries have increased their military ability and have spent huge sums of money, so neither has gained a tangible advantage over the other. The goal is to come to a mutual agreement that leaves both countries in a better position and stops the weapons buildup. And promoting nuclear proliferation would create an arms race far more dangerous than the one between the US and the Soviet Union.
For many years the key tenant of global nuclear policy has been and is disarmament. From a high of 68,000 nuclear warheads in 1985, there has been an 83% decrease in the number of weapons today. The only people who want more weapons, or who think it might be a good idea, are those who have never seen their devastation. Even nuclear testing causes harm to people, never mind dropping a bomb on a city and killing a million lives.
America just finished a contentious agreement with Iran to prevent them from developing atomic bombs and we have been struggling to slow down North Korea’s weapons program for decades. Every few years, tensions rise between India and Pakistan, both of whom have nuclear weapons but aren’t members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Why would anyone suggest other countries should get their own bomb?
Donald Trump likes to give ideas. He likes to use all of those great words he knows, but he rarely seems to think about their impact or the broader implications of such policies. So, allow me to elucidate what the likely outcome of his idea would be.
If South Korea developed their own bomb, North Korea would be compelled to put every last resource they had into expanding their own program. They would also improve their delivery systems and finally produce a miniaturized warhead that could not only hit South Korea, but the United States mainland. ‘The Donald’ seems to have forgotten that South Korea is Kim Jong Un’s arch enemy and it would verify every bit of Communist propaganda that they have been force feeding their population for half a century. This would lead to an arms race very similar to the one between America and the Soviets. But unlike having a Kennedy or even a Khrushchev in power, we have Kim Jong Un. Is Trump really willing to bet the lives of millions that this trajectory would not lead to an actual war?
The ability to restrain oneself, even in the face of possible annihilation, is paramount when it comes to being a good leader, as is the ability to say “no” to advisers who urge you to push the big red button. The Soviets considered using nukes to kick us out of Germany during the Cold War. And even some American generals during the Korean War debated using nuclear bombs to create a radioactive wasteland along the Chinese-Korean border to knock China out of the war. I praise God cooler heads prevailed.
The point of that history lesson is that even after being responsible for and witnessing the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even some American generals decided to go full crazy and propose using them again. Therefore, can we be certain that others who have no direct knowledge of the destruction these weapons can cause, and who talk about genocide as a matter of national priority, can we really be certain that these rogue regimes wouldn’t use this incredibly powerful weapon to accomplish whatever twisted goals they might have?
A South Korea with a bomb would also make Japan less than comfortable. And if both Japan and South Korea had them, China would feel it absolutely necessary to further expand their nuclear arsenal. Once China did that, India would feel compelled to do the same because India and China have territorial disputes and they have had three major military conflicts since India’s independence.
You also have to consider that India is wary of China’s relations with Pakistan, and that Pakistan, another nuclear armed country, has had very strained ties with India since the creation of the modern Pakistani state.
Obviously, with India growing their own nuclear abilities, Pakistan would do the same. By the way, India and Pakistan have also fought 3 wars since independence. And unlike the US, Russia, or even China, both India and Pakistan have had widespread troubles with home-grown terrorism. Hell, Pakistan has even admitted to helping the Taliban! (Check out this interesting article about India & Pakistan.)
So now we would have North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, India, and Pakistan in an ever spreading arms race. The nuclear genie would never be able to be contained. Russia would be forced to adjust its military strategy to prepare for possible conflicts with Japan, China, South Korea, and India. Iran could then demand nuclear weapons for legitimate national security reasons. That in turn would mean Saudi Arabia would have to get the bomb. Israel might very well attack Iran in that case, leading to the largest conflagration since World War II.
And it’s not just these major countries either. Burma, also known as Myanmar, has been suspected of wanting nuclear weapons for many years. Burma has had nuclear conversations with Russia and has helped North Korea avoid sanctions as well as assisted them with arms and drug trading. Then there’s also groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda who have made their intentions clear. Trump even said in the same debate in which he made it clear he didn’t know what the nuclear triad was that, “The biggest problem this world has today…is nuclear – nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. That's in my opinion, that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.”
You see, this is one area where controlling proliferation would become all but impossible. The more countries that have atomic weapons and the more places involved in manufacturing, transporting, and storing nuclear materials means that you have that many more potential places for security failure. It becomes far easier for a terrorist group to steal or buy needed materials, or for some disgruntled scientist to walk away with technology and products and have it windup in the marketplace.
Donald Trump’s suggestions do not make America secure, they make us far less safe – they make the planet less safe.
NATO is the linchpin of our strategy in Europe and it’s a cornerstone that enables trade, security, and stability on the continent. It has served as a bulwark against Russian aggression toward Finland and in the Baltic. Our treaties with Japan and South Korea have kept North Korea contained and has kept the seas open across the Asian-Pacific region. It has also served to stand against Chinese, as well as Russian, incursions, and has been key toward sustaining our relationships with other partners like the Philippines and Taiwan. We need a Commander-in-Chief who understands this.
--Jacob Bogle, 4/4/2016