An Autarky Thought Experiment

 

In response to my post about refugee bonds, the Great Ghost of Gödel left this comment obiter dicta:

Not without trepidation or regret have I come around to the Fortress America position, but here I am. Bring all of our troops stationed overseas home. Defend our borders without mercy. If the rest of the world is hell bent for leather on destroying itself, whether rapidly with open war or slowly with insane economics and/or immigration policy, so what? We’re perfectly capable of being self-sufficient as a nation, and it never was a good idea to be the world’s police. …

In short: we need to quit acting like we need the rest of the world at all, let alone that we need the rest of the world’s governments to like us. We’re supposed to be different from everyone else. So let’s actually be different, keep attracting people because we’re better, and make no excuses for being better — and being loners.

What about trade, I asked? How would we ensure freedom of navigation without the US Navy? He proposed that if people want to trade with world beyond our territorial waters, they can hire their own navy:

The Navy is appropriate within our territorial waters, and of course there is extensive maritime law with respect to what that means.

Beyond that, I think a private security/defense model, presumably attached to some kind of insurance system, is appropriate. This is, of course, also historically precedented, by the security and defense approaches taken by the British East India Company, et al. I think it’s reasonable to imagine similar arrangements without the connection to colonization. It might look something like this. …

Keep in mind I’m suggesting this as a contingency upon international trade being “not worth it,” as measured by actuaries insuring international shipping, who in turn are paying security forces to protect them. In other words, if the fixed costs of security and insurance leave international trade profitable, great! If not, I’d call that a pretty good definition of “the world has gone to hell,” wouldn’t you?

So let’s take this idea seriously. Let’s imagine what would happen if tomorrow we brought all of our troops stationed overseas home. We bring back the subs and the aircraft carriers, and if anyone complains about the pirates, we tell them to go out and rent themselves some sepoys and find someone to insure their own aircraft carriers. Freedom of navigation’s their problem.

As of tomorrow, every one of these men and women shutters the bases, closes up shop, and sails back to CONUS:

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.06.04Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.06.28Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.06.46Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.07.08Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.07.22Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.07.35Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.07.53Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.08.19Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.08.31

They bring their gear back with them, of course. Especially the nukes and the missile interceptors. We’re not leaving that stuff in someone else’s hands.

What do you think would happen? What would the headlines look like in a month’s time, in your view? What about a year?

Would it be in our interests, overall?

Source: DoD Personnel, Workforce Reports & Publications, Active Duty Military Personnel by Service by Region/Country Total DoD – June 30, 2015 (DMDC Data)

Published in Foreign Policy, General, Military
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  1. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Huzzah!

    • #1
  2. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    I’m all for leaving the Navy on patrol.  That is a different proposition than fixed bases or airbases — different mission.  Maintaining our ability to freely use the international waters of the world is in our interest in a way that few indirect defense missions are.

    I am also for using that ability in a more pointed fashion — if pirates, terrorists, Russians or other gangsters want to molest the shipping of people who tell the US to get bent, then they are free to molest.

    The way modern navies work, they are nearly useless in coastal waters — they don’t defend ports by being predictably located at the port.  They do so by menacing any force, anywhere, and by denying the use of the entire ocean to a declared foe.  The Navy has its own air power, which is a good match for most entire national air forces in the world.  This does mean that we would have to afford powers such as Russia and China more leeway.  Well, that’s reality.

    • #2
  3. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh
    1. We can’t do everything, we sometimes do too much or simply the wrong thing, our government’s first duty is to its own people… but we must remember we see only the bad headlines. We don’t see the thousands upon thousands who have lived lives of relative peace and freedom because of NATO — for a start.
    2. This idea would work better if accompanied by an absolute foul-proof missile defense system. Our borders are not the only source of danger. The bomb shows up, inevitably, sooner or later. Because one thing that would happen in very short order — we’re too close to it as it is — is nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. And if we think retreating into Fortress America would mean we’re no longer seen as the Great Satan, we are naive.
    3. And second to that: there are people who want to kill us. And we’re not the only ones they want to kill. That does not always mean it makes sense to work together — but sometimes it sure does. Even if it’s messy.
    • #3
  4. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    This was exactly the premise in Heinlein’s Sixth Column. Didn’t work out so well for the USA.

    • #4
  5. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    I think you’re attempting to blast a strawman into chaff- and have perhaps knocked away the strawman’s hat.

    The US government seems numbly disinterested in the actual United States, instead preferring to agonize about how bad the billions of foreigners have it because they can’t get a bridge card to buy themselves steaks at American taxpayers’ expense. Or pork, if you’re Hindu, but not if you’re Muslim.

    Agree or disagree, but that’s my take as a taxpaying American citizen. I’m not that interested in hearing about all the bad things that will happen to foreigners if we don’t save them, because I’m a lot more worried about the fate of the United States.

    It seems the public agrees with me, because despite much effort from the usual suspects there has been no groundswell of opinion to intervene in Syria or Ukraine or anywhere else.

    Hence I think we’re already looking at what the headlines would be if the US disappeared from the world, because the US already has.

    I note that it wasn’t the USN that saved the world from the menace of the Somali pirates. It was a global force for good including such countries as Russia and China, with the USN thoroughly hamstrung by the idiot US government.

    Would anyone like to argue that Iran was deterred from anything by the aircraft carrier that has been sailing around off their shore?

    I won’t.

    • #5
  6. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Leigh, you are right on several points, but being right is not enough.  Coulda, shoulda, woulda — not gonna happen.

    [Insert doctoral dissertation here]

    And that’s why future military planners will always have to discount the cost of treacherous leadership in plans going forward.  Otherwise, it’s McLellans and McNamaras as far as the eye can see.

    What Obama has broken — what the American people have cast aside — will not be regained any time soon.

    • #6
  7. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Xennady:

    Would anyone like to argue that Iran was deterred from anything by the aircraft carrier that has been sailing around off their shore?

    I won’t.

    I’d favor a return to the 1980s.  Let Iran sink an odd tanker from time to time — let them touch one with an American flag and we sink half of their navy.

    Much old wisdom will resurface soon, of necessity.  Punitive strikes, occupations that will make Iraq look like Saddam invited us, and a colonial reality that power instructs, while everything else begs.

    If we live that long.

    • #7
  8. E. Kent Golding Member
    E. Kent Golding
    @EKentGolding

    I have no problem helping to defend Taiwan,  Japan, Australia,  The UK  and Israel.   At a minimum,  I would want a defined Taper  to give them a chance to adjust to their own self defense needs  as we slowly stuck our heads (CoC) in the sand.

    • #8
  9. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    I love your comment sections, Claire. It’s as good as my morning cup of coffee as I sit here in autumnal Ohio waiting to hear the weekend National Guard pilots practicing their maneuvers.

    • #9
  10. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Ball Diamond Ball: Leigh, you are right on several points, but being right is not enough.  Coulda, shoulda, woulda — not gonna happen.

    If you mean the absolute foul-proof missile defense system wouldn’t cut it — no kidding. I think you missed the mild sarcasm. Nuclear proliferation plus terrorism makes Fortress America a fantasy.

    If that’s not what you meant I’m not sure quite sure what you mean.

    • #10
  11. Mister Magic Inactive
    Mister Magic
    @MisterMagic

    We dont need to be the world’s police; we need to be the world’s Batman.

    • #11
  12. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Leigh, I mean that great ideas are one thing, and Obama is another. The “generation” problem spoken of by Reagan regarding liberty is now down to four years. Obama is the reason the Constitution was written, and Obama won.

    • #12
  13. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    Ball Diamond Ball:I’d favor a return to the 1980s. Let Iran sink an odd tanker from time to time — let them touch one with an American flag and we sink half of their navy.

    Much old wisdom will resurface soon, of necessity. Punitive strikes, occupations that will make Iraq look like Saddam invited us, and a colonial reality that power instructs, while everything else begs.

    If we live that long.

    I agree, but I recall that those tankers from the 80s were reflagged for the purpose of giving us an excuse to hit the Iranians.

    They weren’t actually US ships, crewed by Americans. They were foreign ships- Kuwaiti?- given a US captain as a figleaf.

    That matters. We’re continually told about the awesomeness of trade, etc.  Rather too often that consists of foreigners who have something roughly equivalent to the opium trade England once enjoyed with China, only with the US expected to provide escort for the opium shipments.

    My opinion, of course. But I suspect my view is widely shared.

    • #13
  14. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Ball Diamond Ball:Leigh, I mean that great ideas are one thing, and Obama is another. The “generation” problem spoken of by Reagan regarding liberty is now down to four years.Obama is the reason the Constitution was written, and Obama won.

    What great ideas? I didn’t think I posited any. It’s an imaginary abstract thought experiment that would only ever happen under an imaginary Ron Paul presidency.

    If you mean my reference to thousands living in relative peace and freedom — that’s history and current fact, not an inspirational idea. I completely agree that is — at least — at risk under Obama. But that’s not the point of the experiment.

    • #14
  15. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Here is the hard reality:

    federal unfunded liabilities

    See how the defense budget declines yearly for 35 years, and we still are fiscally hosed.  How do we avoid retrenching considerably?

    • #15
  16. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Leigh:

    Ball Diamond Ball: Leigh, you are right on several points, but being right is not enough. Coulda, shoulda, woulda — not gonna happen.

    If you mean the absolute foul-proof missile defense system wouldn’t cut it — no kidding. I think you missed the mild sarcasm. Nuclear proliferation plus terrorism makes Fortress America a fantasy.

    If that’s not what you meant I’m not sure quite sure what you mean.

    FYI, you can make missile defense much more effective with a larger investment.  More layers, more testing, etc.  (The Israelis are doing just that – with our considerable financial and technical help- and they face much larger raids than we would.)  You would have to find the funds, of course, but if you pull back from overseas commitments, you thereby release funds for that use.  Not advocating this so much as making sure it is known in these deliberations.

    Now, of course, that doesn’t prevent the use of sneaky bombs, brought in by yacht or what have you.

    • #16
  17. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive
    Great Ghost of Gödel
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Leigh:

    1. This idea would work better if accompanied by an absolute foul-proof missile defense system. Our borders are not the only source of danger. The bomb shows up, inevitably, sooner or later. Because one thing that would happen in very short order — we’re too close to it as it is — is nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. And if we think retreating into Fortress America would mean we’re no longer seen as the Great Satan, we are naive.

    I take it as axiomatic that we continue to develop and deploy our SIGINT and even resurrect our HUMINT capabilities to assess and monitor these threats, and defense technologies to counter them. I’m already on record saying anyone dumb enough to attack us outright gets turned into a glass parking lot (I framed it as “three strikes and you’re out” assuming conventional weapons on their part; a nuclear attack should simply result in their annihilation in retaliation. We, of course, have the capability of doing that whether the attacker is a belligerent Iran or a belligerent USSR).

    In other words, of course the borders are not our only vector of attack. But the alternative should be ICBM technology, which we have a lot of technology and experience with.

    • #17
  18. Chris Campion Coolidge
    Chris Campion
    @ChrisCampion

    In a way, we’ve already hired our own Navy, through tax dollars.  It’s being paid for one way or another.

    A surefire way to ask someone to kick you in the teeth to to bare them to them, meekly, to demonstrate that you’re no threat to them.  Retreat from the world is not an option.  We are not the world’s police but if we idealize Democratic tenets, like freedom of speech, trade, etc., then defending those ideals comes with a cost.

    The US was not a dominant world power on Dec. 7, 1941, yet we were attacked.  Pretending that realities would never impact this idealized theoretical world is a Bernie Sanders-esque level of thinking, in terms of sheer magic being required to believe it.

    • #18
  19. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive
    Great Ghost of Gödel
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    By the way, a lot of people seem to be missing that my whole premise is conditional:

    If the rest of the world is hell bent for leather on destroying itself, whether rapidly with open war or slowly with insane economics and/or immigration policy…

    Related: I’m considering tutoring in formal logic, per Claire’s other thread. :-)

    • #19
  20. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive
    Great Ghost of Gödel
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Chris Campion:The US was not a dominant world power on Dec. 7, 1941

    *cough**cough**cough*

    Pretending that realities would never impact this idealized theoretical world is a Bernie Sanders-esque level of thinking, in terms of sheer magic being required to believe it.

    Good thing no one here’s pretending that, then.

    • #20
  21. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Manfred Arcane: Now, of course, that doesn’t prevent the use of sneaky bombs, brought in by yacht or what have you.

    That’s precisely what I had in mind, and it is precisely the kind of thing our potential enemies probably already have in mind. Make that the only realistic means of attack against us and make the means more widely available (which would happen with terrifying speed, were we out of the picture) and no security measures would be truly foolproof. It would only take one error, and there would be many opportunities for error, and many attempts. Someday it would happen.

    Great Ghost of Gödel: I take it as axiomatic that we continue to develop and deploy our SIGINT and even resurrect our HUMINT capabilities to assess and monitor these threats, and defense technologies to counter them. I’m already on record saying anyone dumb enough to attack us outright gets turned into a glass parking lot…

    Again, we can’t protect absolutely against terrorism — nuclear or otherwise. And the thing about terrorism is that deterrence isn’t sufficient.

    Fortress America means more people who want to kill us getting their hands on nuclear weapons. There’s no way around that. There is no way we are safer that way than we are by whatever involvement in the Middle East it takes to protect against proliferation. (This administration is disastrous at that — they’d be disastrous at setting up Fortress America, too.)

    • #21
  22. Pilgrim Coolidge
    Pilgrim
    @Pilgrim

    Can’t we at least get that guy back from the Turks and Caicos?

    • #22
  23. Dave L Member
    Dave L
    @DaveL

    Withdrawing to a fortress America has a comforting appeal. We will just live our lives the way we want to, to heck with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it is an illusion, in due time the Barbarians would be at the gates, we would be alone, with no hope and no one to turn to for help.

    • #23
  24. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Ever play Risk? You can’t sit there and let the rest of the world gang up on you, no matter how strong you start out. To switch metaphors, we could be the last tiger in the cage attacked and killed by a pride of lions (Russia, China, Iran) all working against us, the other tigers (democracies) already destroyed one by one. If you don’t like that metaphor try this one. A police force that doesn’t leave the station to patrol the neighborhood will not be able to control what happens either in the neighborhood or to the station. Eventually, the rioters will burn the station to the ground. I know this because I saw it in the film, “Gandhi.”

    Things change, maybe rapidly. If the US tries to withdraw from the world we cannot count on always being so secure as we feel we are now. Our oceans may prove to be no more of a protection than the Great Wall of China was in keeping out the mongols. Isolation won’t necessarily prevent the internal decay that makes it that much easier for us to be attacked from without.

    I can’t help thinking of that guy, what’s his name, that was on the march in Europe 75 years ago. Some called for isolation then. I don’t think it would have been a good idea.

    • #24
  25. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Boy, is this confusing:  the (OS X) dictionary declares that autarky is both another spelling of autarchy, which is a synonym of autocracy, and means economic self-sufficiency.

    • #25
  26. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    GGoG’s idea has appealed to me for some time, but there’s little sophistication or nuance behind this preference; probably to a significant degree crankiness.

    • #26
  27. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive
    Great Ghost of Gödel
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Leigh:

    Fortress America means more people who want to kill us getting their hands on nuclear weapons. There’s no way around that. There is no way we are safer that way than we are by whatever involvement in the Middle East it takes to protect against proliferation.

    Our “involvement in the Middle East” does precisely bupkis to protect against nuclear proliferation. In many respects, it hampers it (cf. needing Pakistan as an “ally” against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan).

    • #27
  28. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    The single most important function of our foreign policy is intelligence gathering. Put simply, we need to know what’s going on out there. And the only way we will accomplish that is to remain fully engaged with the rest of the world.

    • #28
  29. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive
    Great Ghost of Gödel
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Man With the Axe:Isolation won’t necessarily prevent the internal decay that makes it that much easier for us to be attacked from without.

    This is the part that actually worries me, but “open borders” + “welfare state” + “no real requirement to assimilate” does not strike me as an improvement.

    In other words, the decay, internal and external, is here.

    • #29
  30. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Man With the Axe: Isolation won’t necessarily prevent the internal decay that makes it that much easier for us to be attacked from without.

    That’s a good point.

    • #30
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