Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDem rep: Nunes acting ‘aggressive,’ ‘unusual’ The Democratic Party playbook must change if liberals are to win the future How Gorsuch's SCOTUS tap is a painful reminder of civic ignorance MORE’s foreign policy pronouncements can be divided into “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Trump highlights the excessive recent emphasis on nation building and quagmire of endless wars, pointing out that our commitments outstrip available resources.
However, Trump often belittles our allies, minimizing threats posed by adversaries. He lambastes assumptions upon which U.S. foreign policy is predicated, but his disjointed, incoherent proposals provide no discernible substitute, especially for existing alliances.
Trump decries NATO, Japan, and South Korea as “free loaders,” parasitically depending on the U.S. to defend them, even as they sap U.S. economic vitality — especially, the latter two — with predatory trade. He says he may not honor NATO commitments unless members pay their “fair share.”
Trump threatens to scrap commitments to Japan and South Korea, even though North Korea has completed a fifth nuclear test and China seeks hegemony in the South and East China Seas. He suggests Japan and South Korea should develop their own nuclear forces, which could ignite a nuclear arms race.
Former Secretary of Defense Gates warned about NATO, “there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. … to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote necessary resources ... in their own defense.”
Nevertheless, Trump’s cavalier statements that he might not come to the defense of Baltic states likely will only encourage Vladimir Putin to ratchet up tensions in the Baltics and act more aggressively. Trump expresses admiration for Putin as a “strong leader,” saying he expects to have good relations with him.
Trump, like Wallace, is a Russian apologist. He downplays reports of Russian human rights abuses, assassination and imprisonment of opposition figures, and liquidation of an independent media. He says he will consider recognizing Putin’s annexation of the Crimea and re-evaluate sanctions triggered by Putin’s invasion and occupation of eastern Ukraine.
Trump’s infatuation with Putin flies in the face of recent hostile Russian acts. Russia conducts massive exercises in the Baltic Sea and on the borders of Ukraine and Baltic states.
Russian ships and combat aircraft harass US military forces. Russian airstrikes came close to hitting U.S. forces in Syria at least three times. Putin’s primary objective in Syria is not to defeat ISIS, but to salvage Assad and bolster Russian influence in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean.
Russia is intervening in U.S. presidential elections, apparently leaking hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, Clinton Foundation and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. These are not actions of a potential partner.
Trump has grotesquely mischaracterized Asian geopolitics. Japan defrays 48% of costs for basing U.S. forces. It spends only1% of GDP on defense, but this is a byproduct of a pacifist, U.S.-imposed constitution.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has increased defense spending for five consecutive years. He has altered armed forces’ restrictions, committing Japan to engage in joint patrols and authorizing potential combat operations with the U.S. in support of regional security.
Japan plans to upgrade Patriot missile defense systems. It is committed to deploying new submarines, surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles and nearly 30 U.S. F-35s
South Korea is no free loader. It spends over 2.5% of GDP on the military and covers 40% of costs of basing US forces.
President Park Geun-hye is committed to deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system. According to recent polls, a majority of South Koreans might support development of nuclear weapons, which both Park and U.S. oppose.
Forward deployed military forces facilitate US power projection. It would be more costly to redeploy US forces home than keep them where they are. NATO and our Japanese and South Korean alliances are primary means to defend against potential adversaries.
Trump is correct that the U.S. is overcommitted and we have gotten bogged down in nation building and wars with no foreseeable end. Some allies are “free loaders.” However, Trump needs to remember who our friends and adversaries are. In proposing changes to alliances, Trump must be more nuanced and engage in cost-benefit analysis.
Davis is a retired intelligence analyst, who worked with the Army Special Operations Command, Defense Intelligence Agency, and CIA.