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Over the past week, Donald Trump has doubled-down on his pro-nuclear proliferation stance with regard to Japan and South Korea (or, at the very least, being very open to the idea of those countries arming). Trump’s reasoning is simple: he doesn’t believe the United States should foot the bill for others’ security without being better compensated for its efforts. For Trump’s supporters, this stance demonstrates his ability to think like a business man and to run the country like a business.
The problem with Trump’s thinking on this matter is that maintaining national security requires a different cost-benefit analysis than does running a hotel or casino. Simply put, Trump fails to apply the appropriate risk analysis to the situation. We spend our treasure protecting Japan and South Korea not so much for altruistic reasons, but because the risk of nuclear proliferation is so great that we can’t afford not to.
This election has shown the unpredictability of national opinion. If America can elect someone like Trump, what confidence can we have that a newly-rearmed Japan or South Korea won’t wind up with a leader who triggers a nuclear holocaust? If Trump’s gamble fails and that happens, there will be no bankruptcy court to run to; there will be no tangling Japan up in court until they give up; there will, however, be the real possibility of unparalleled death and destruction.
Failing to appreciate probabilistic risks that cannot be boiled down to dollars and cents is one of Trump’s many intellectual failings. The security of the United States is not a business that this man can run. And when it goes belly up, we can’t just stick a sign in the window and move on.