America as a "Phantom Empire"
Foreign commitments have costs, but few real benefits for the US
I have a new report for Defense Priorities called “Phantom Empire: The Illusionary Nature of US Military Power,” that’s also featured in the Politico newsletter National Security Daily.
The main argument is that much thinking about American military commitments abroad is based on faulty reasoning. The US incurs costs and takes serious risks for little gain, in part because American elites want to defend foreign countries, sometimes more than the nations themselves want the help. The highlights:
The US has become a “Phantom Empire,” a country that appears to be powerful because it has a robust military presence abroad but cannot use garrisoned forces to achieve geopolitical objectives.
More than 225,000 US troops and DoD personnel are stationed abroad in more than 175 countries. The largest deployments are to wealthy US allies (Japan, Germany, and South Korea) capable of defending themselves.
US leaders often justify military commitments by arguing they preserve “influence.” But because American leaders are committed, in most cases, to maintaining troops abroad as a good in and of itself, the US squanders most of its leverage to influence hosts. Threats to withdraw troops are not credible, making them irrelevant for most US geopolitical goals.
The sources of US power and influence are ultimately rooted in economic prosperity and soft power. A foreign policy that cultivates these sources of strength over maintaining military commitments would better achieve US geopolitical goals.
I discuss these ideas in the context of American foreign policy in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. Read the whole thing here.
In other news, two excellent articles recently appeared in City Journal that cite my article Woke Institutions is Just Civil Rights Law, one by Charles Fain Lehman and the other by Gabriel Rossman. Glad to see the idea that opposition to wokeness has policy implications being taken more seriously.
Finally, I recently got a lot of new subscribers (thanks Tyler). For those who are not on the mailing list of CSPI, the organization that I run, you should get on that too, as we’ve been doing great work.