Trump’s Failure to Judge Risk: Why U.S. Security Can’t Be Run Like a Business

 

shutterstock_48936454Over 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.

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  1. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Jamie Ellis: This election has shown the unpredictability of national opinion. If America can elect someone like Trump, how can we possibly be sure that Japan or South Korea wouldn’t wind up with a leader willing to start a nuclear holocaust with North Korea on a whim? When that event occurs and Trump’s gamble fails, there is no bankruptcy court to run to. There is no tangling Japan up in court for years until they just give up. There is the real possibility of death and destruction not seen in human history.

    An excellent point.

    • #1
  2. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    No offense but Trump has a point. China is building a formidable military and will be exerting massive pressure on both NK and JN to defer to their wishes. Our military capability is going to have difficulty treading water, let alone maintaining the correlation of forces with China owing to massive federal debt requiring cutbacks across the board. If either SK or JN gets nukes, it might very well serve as a stabilizing factor in the region. NK, for example, could not see nearly as much profit from rattling its nuclear sabers as it does now.

    I don’t say that there aren’t major negatives attached to these possible changes, but frankly the US public is less interested in providing a protective shield for these two highly prosperous nations as they were back in the Cold War days. Both SK and JN can rely on their own resources to maintain their national security vis a vis Big Brother next door much more than previously. Think about how much quieter the NK will be if both or either obtains the ability to turn that garden paradise into radioactive dust.

    • #2
  3. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Manfred Arcane: frankly the US public is less interested in providing a protective shield for these two highly prosperous nations as they were back in the Cold War days

    What additional costs are there if our nuclear deterrent, which we need to protect ourselves, also protects Japan and South Korea? We still need nukes that work, and bombers, subs, and missiles to deliver them. Why should we encourage people who have a long history of hatred and warfare to arm themselves to the teeth with nukes? We might as well encourage the Iranians, Saudis, and Turks to all become nuclear, too. That might quiet things down in the middle east (not).

    Manfred Arcane: Think about how much quieter the NK will be if both or either obtains the ability to turn that garden paradise into radioactive dust.

    Or think about how that might cause the (literally) mad men of North Korea to believe that their best bet is a first strike. Have you gamed that all out, and are you confident in your analysis? I only ask because the stakes are high.

    • #3
  4. Xennady Member
    Xennady
    @

    Man With the Axe:We might as well encourage the Iranians, Saudis, and Turks to all become nuclear, too. That might quiet things down in the middle east (not).

    For all intents and purposes we have.

    I’d argue that we should encourage people who actually like the US to arm themselves for a change, instead of our enemies.

    • #4
  5. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Xennady:

    Man With the Axe:We might as well encourage the Iranians, Saudis, and Turks to all become nuclear, too. That might quiet things down in the middle east (not).

    For all intents and purposes we have.

    And you support that?

    • #5
  6. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Man With the Axe:

    Manfred Arcane: frankly the US public is less interested in providing a protective shield for these two highly prosperous nations as they were back in the Cold War days

    What additional costs are there if our nuclear deterrent, which we need to protect ourselves, also protects Japan and South Korea? We still need nukes that work, and bombers, subs, and missiles to deliver them. Why should we encourage people who have a long history of hatred and warfare to arm themselves to the teeth with nukes? We might as well encourage the Iranians, Saudis, and Turks to all become nuclear, too. That might quiet things down in the middle east (not).

    Manfred Arcane: Think about how much quieter the NK will be if both or either obtains the ability to turn that garden paradise into radioactive dust.

    Or think about how that might cause the (literally) mad men of North Korea to believe that their best bet is a first strike. Have you gamed that all out, and are you confident in your analysis? I only ask because the stakes are high.

    You remember the famous remark of the Chinese general who said we would never trade Los Angeles to defend Taiwan? It’s at least partially true that our nuclear retaliatory capability is less credible if employed to deter an attack against these countries then invites attack against our own. It was somewhat for this reason that France went ahead and built its own nuclear forces.

    • #6
  7. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Man With the Axe: Or think about how that might cause the (literally) mad men of North Korea to believe that their best bet is a first strike. Have you gamed that all out, and are you confident in your analysis? I only ask because the stakes are high.

    I don’t see any difference in principle between SK and US both possessing nukes, and US alone possessing them – from the viewpoint of NK rulers. The NK know the SK well enough to know that a 1st strike is highly unlikely from that quarter, I would think.

    • #7
  8. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Manfred Arcane:

    I don’t see any difference in principle between SK and US both possessing nukes, and US alone possessing them – from the viewpoint of NK rulers. The NK know the SK well enough to know that a 1st strike is highly unlikely from that quarter, I would think.

    I’m old enough to remember when we had very little confidence that the Russians would not launch a first strike against us. Knowing we had that fear led them to fear that we might have to launch first. That led to the concept of the doomsday machine. There was also the scary scenario of “Fail Safe.”

    Both sides in Korea and Japan having nukes could give rise to the same fears all over again in that region. No one trusts the Norks to be rational, and they know they are not trusted. A recipe for disaster, as described in the original post.

    • #8
  9. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Man With the Axe:

    Manfred Arcane:

    I don’t see any difference in principle between SK and US both possessing nukes, and US alone possessing them – from the viewpoint of NK rulers. The NK know the SK well enough to know that a 1st strike is highly unlikely from that quarter, I would think.

    I’m old enough to remember when we had very little confidence that the Russians would not launch a first strike against us. Knowing we had that fear led them to fear that we might have to launch first. That led to the concept of the doomsday machine. There was also the scary scenario of “Fail Safe.”

    Both sides in Korea and Japan having nukes could give rise to the same fears all over again in that region. No one trusts the Norks to be rational, and they know they are not trusted. A recipe for disaster, as described in the original post.

    A first strike only has any cogency if you thereby destroy most if not all of the other side’s retaliatory capability. Otherwise it is suicidal. So, hiding or protecting ones weapons is good surety against 1st strike concerns.

    • #9
  10. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Manfred Arcane:

    A first strike only has any cogency if you thereby destroy most if not all of the other side’s retaliatory capability. Otherwise it is suicidal. So, hiding or protecting ones weapons is good surety against 1st strike concerns.

    If South Korea and Japan have nukes and North Korea decides to attack them, would we stand back and watch, or would we retaliate? And if the answer is the latter, why encourage them to have their own?

    • #10
  11. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Man With the Axe:

    Manfred Arcane:

    A first strike only has any cogency if you thereby destroy most if not all of the other side’s retaliatory capability. Otherwise it is suicidal. So, hiding or protecting ones weapons is good surety against 1st strike concerns.

    If South Korea and Japan have nukes and North Korea decides to attack them, would we stand back and watch, or would we retaliate? And if the answer is the latter, why encourage them to have their own?

    What we would do would highly depend on the circumstances. There is no pat answer. They having these weapons should reduce likelihood of NK getting too frisky, yet you seem to want to worst case the matter. Great Britain and France do not rely on our shield. Nor does Israel. Ever wonder why?

    • #11
  12. Bucky Boz Member
    Bucky Boz
    @

    Manfred Arcane:No offense but Trump has a point. China is building a formidable military and will be exerting massive pressure on both NK and JN to defer to their wishes. Our military capability is going to have difficulty treading water, let alone maintaining the correlation of forces with China owing to massive federal debt requiring cutbacks across the board. If either SK or JN gets nukes, it might very well serve as a stabilizing factor in the region. NK, for example, could not see nearly as much profit from rattling its nuclear sabers as it does now.

    I don’t say that there aren’t major negatives attached to these possible changes, but frankly the US public is less interested in providing a protective shield for these two highly prosperous nations as they were back in the Cold War days. Both SK and JN can rely on their own resources to maintain their national security vis a vis Big Brother next door much more than previously. Think about how much quieter the NK will be if both or either obtains the ability to turn that garden paradise into radioactive dust.

    So you think the best way to deter China is to enlist allies, currently unarmed or lightly armed depending on what weapon or capability you are discussing, in a multilateral arms race? Do you think China’s economic position is a precarious as that of the former Soviet Union? In short, how do we win an arms race with the Chinese by adding SK and Japan to the race?

    • #12
  13. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Manfred Arcane: They having these weapons should reduce likelihood of NK getting too frisky, yet you seem to want to worst case the matter. Great Britain and France do not rely on our shield. Nor does Israel. Ever wonder why?

    Probably because they don’t trust that they can rely on us. And with good reason.

    Israel is always worried that tomorrow could bring a war for its existence. They are six million Jews confronted by perhaps a couple of hundred million enemies on three sides. They need their own deterrent, and they learned early on that only some US administrations are even friendly to Israel.

    France and the UK developed their weapons decades ago as an offset to the Soviets, who for half a century threatened a massive land invasion of Europe. The French and Brits could not stand up to such a conventional onslaught.

    Perhaps most significantly is the question of why the Japanese and Germans don’t have them. That is a historical artifact of their transition to peaceable countries after WWII.

    But as to why I “worst case” the matter? Because the whole point of nuclear weapons is the worst case.

    • #13
  14. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Man With the Axe: Because the whole point of nuclear weapons is the worst case.

    Literally your statement would impel us to give up all nuclear weapons because the worst case with them is so utterly annihilating. So I can’t interpret your statement literally, hence I have no clue what you are meaning. Why don’t we just not continue this conversation, I don’t think it gets us anywhere.

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

    Bucky Boz:

    Manfred Arcane:…China …will be exerting massive pressure on both NK and JN to defer to their wishes. Our military capability is going to have difficulty treading water, let alone maintaining the correlation of forces with China owing to massive federal debt requiring cutbacks across the board. If either SK or JN gets nukes, it might very well serve as a stabilizing factor in the region. NK, for example, could not see nearly as much profit from rattling its nuclear sabers as it does now.

    So you think the best way to deter China is to enlist allies, currently unarmed or lightly armed depending on what weapon or capability you are discussing, in a multilateral arms race? Do you think China’s economic position is a precarious as that of the former Soviet Union? In short, how do we win an arms race with the Chinese by adding SK and Japan to the race?

    You are the one who projects a massive arms race, not me. If SK and JN got a small stockpile of nukes, it would have very little effect on China’s military posture that I can see. It would make China more deferential and less pushy though, at least on the margin. Your last statement is a doozy. If we did have an arms race, wouldn’t it be to the US advantage to have rich ally countries SK and JN footing a considerable portion of the bill? I don’t get it.

    • #15
  16. Bucky Boz Member
    Bucky Boz
    @

    Manfred Arcane:

    Bucky Boz:

    Manfred Arcane:…China …will be exerting massive pressure on both NK and JN to defer to their wishes. Our military capability is going to have difficulty treading water, let alone maintaining the correlation of forces with China owing to massive federal debt requiring cutbacks across the board. If either SK or JN gets nukes, it might very well serve as a stabilizing factor in the region. NK, for example, could not see nearly as much profit from rattling its nuclear sabers as it does now.

    So you think the best way to deter China is to enlist allies, currently unarmed or lightly armed depending on what weapon or capability you are discussing, in a multilateral arms race? Do you think China’s economic position is a precarious as that of the former Soviet Union? In short, how do we win an arms race with the Chinese by adding SK and Japan to the race?

    You are the one who projects a massive arms race, not me. If SK and JN got a small stockpile of nukes, it would have very little effect on China’s military posture that I can see. It would make China more deferential and less pushy though, at least on the margin. Your last statement is a doozy. If we did have an arms race, wouldn’t it be to the US advantage to have rich ally countries SK and JN footing a considerable portion of the bill? I don’t get it.

    I geuss I just don’t understand the argument that defending ourselves is too expensive. It seems to me that Donlad Trump wants some direct monetary return on an investment for defense spending. He argues that we can’t afford to defend our allies from aggressors opposed to our way of life. This is too simplistic an understanding of our defense policy.

    The return on investment must be measured in terms of the value of stability, of the pax Americana. A free global market secure from military hostility increases our access to markets globally, and vice versa with our trading partners. This increases our wealth as a nation, as companies, and as individuals. If we destablize the global order through the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the weakening of our military committments to our allies, we need to understand what our goal, what our end game is. Yes, the military costs money. Trump has yet to demonstrate why it is not worth the money we are spending.

    If I could pay a greater tax if I knew that the funds would be spent to prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons, I would work a little harder to pay the extra tax. Even Ronald Reagan understood that more nukes is not a good thing.

    Why is it bad for our allies to rely on us? In other words, why is it bad for the U.S. to keep military power in hands it can trust, its own?

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

    @BB

    You can win the argument if you can explain how we pay for all this:

    Federal spending projection

    • #17
  18. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Manfred Arcane:You can win the argument if you can explain how we pay for all this:

    You keep making this argument, but by that logic we can’t pay for any military at all, as defense spending is less than the deficit. How do we pay for any of it? What makes you think that exactly what we are spending today is the limit of what we can spend, or that it’s not possible to take money from other uses and use it on the military?

    • #18
  19. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Suggesting that the RoK and Japan nuke up is a good bargaining chip vis-a-vis the ChiComs.

    • #19
  20. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    ctlaw:Suggesting that the RoK and Japan nuke up is a good bargaining chip vis-a-vis the ChiComs.

    It’s a great bargaining chip. Well said.

    • #20
  21. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    ctlaw:Suggesting that the RoK and Japan nuke up is a good bargaining chip vis-a-vis the ChiComs.

    The history of nuclear gamesmanship shows that such “chips” can lead to massive nuclear weapon buildups as easily as they can lead to agreements to reduce them. The key is how well our player understands the adversary.

    I wonder how much time Trump has spent studying the Chinese leadership to know how they will respond to such bargaining chips?

    • #21
  22. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Man With the Axe: You keep making this argument, but by that logic we can’t pay for any military at all, as defense spending is less than the deficit.

    That’s not “logic”. You use the term different than most folks do. By most folks “logic”, the massive strain to stop hemorrhaging federal debt and prepare for the massive increase in spending on baby boomers retirement SS and medicare coming in a few years requires cuts across the board, to all programs bar none out into the future as far as the eye can see. If you have some magical formula for keeping the top line (spending) in #17 from separating from the red line (revenue) let’s hear it.

    • #22
  23. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Man With the Axe:

    ctlaw:Suggesting that the RoK and Japan nuke up is a good bargaining chip vis-a-vis the ChiComs.

    The history of nuclear gamesmanship shows that such “chips” can lead to massive nuclear weapon buildups as easily as they can lead to agreements to reduce them. The key is how well our player understands the adversary.

    I wonder how much time Trump has spent studying the Chinese leadership to know how they will respond to such bargaining chips?

    I would suggest you spend more time researching the subject yourself, because right now you are guilty of some pretty superficial analysis. You are making analogies to other cases that don’t very well match the current circumstances. You are not really thinking, just TDS-ing.

    • #23
  24. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Jamie Ellis: 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.

    What risk?

    The villains are not deterred by our kindness. Thus, we see the NorKs and Iranians nuking up.

    You have also ignored the risk of non-proliferation. by disarming our allies, their potential adversaries have less to worry about.

    Manfred Arcane: If SK and JN got a small stockpile of nukes, it would have very little effect on China’s military posture that I can see. It would make China more deferential and less pushy though, at least on the margin.

    Fine by me.

    Jamie Ellis: …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?

    I think that’s relatively low on our list of probable events.

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

    Manfred Arcane: That’s not “logic”. You use the term different than most folks do

    Your logic, that is your way of reasoning about the issue, is:

    1. We have a deficit
    2. More defense spending will increase the deficit
    3. Therefore, we cannot afford more defense spending.

    I challenge your syllogism by asking you, how is it that we can afford the defense spending we have now, given that we have a $400-500 billion deficit in 2015 and projected $600 billion in fiscal 2016, and military spending is right around $600 billion?

    • #25
  26. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Man With the Axe:

    ctlaw:Suggesting that the RoK and Japan nuke up is a good bargaining chip vis-a-vis the ChiComs.

    The history of nuclear gamesmanship shows that such “chips” can lead to massive nuclear weapon buildups as easily as they can lead to agreements to reduce them. The key is how well our player understands the adversary.

    I wonder how much time Trump has spent studying the Chinese leadership to know how they will respond to such bargaining chips?

    The fact is the bad guys are going to build nukes to their maximum ability anyway.

    • #26
  27. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Man With the Axe:

    Manfred Arcane: That’s not “logic”. You use the term different than most folks do

    Your logic, that is your way of reasoning about the issue, is:

    1. We have a deficit
    2. More defense spending will increase the deficit
    3. Therefore, we cannot afford more defense spending.

    I challenge your syllogism by asking you, how is it that we can afford the defense spending we have now, given that we have a $400-500 billion deficit in 2015 and projected $600 billion in fiscal 2016, and military spending is right around $600 billion?

    Everything will be cut, in my estimation, in the forthcoming years. If you look at the chart you will see that no growth in defense spending was countenanced, and maybe even some reduction was baked into those projections. So where does the money come from?, from everywhere most likely. I expect the defense budget to be cut, along with every other budget on that chart. If you think we can spare the defense budget, even increase it to match China’s investment, the burden is on you to explain how.

    • #27
  28. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Jamie Ellis: 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?

    There are risks in nuclear proliferation, no doubt. In an ideal world the US would be flush with money and could maintain the peace. Unfortunately the US is broke. Consequently, you have to consider other options to prevent China from gaining regional hegemony, followed by who knows what. JN and SK do have some lingering animosities that would be worrisome if they built up their militaries. But they could also grow to become mutual allies against an overbearing China.

    The history of nukes is one of restraint in military affairs, not nuclear holocaust. This also needs to be weighed in the scales.

    • #28
  29. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    Manfred Arcane: If you think we can spare the defense budget, even increase it to match China’s investment, the burden is on you to explain how.

    The answer is obvious: from eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse. This, we are told (I won’t say by whom) is the answer to entitlements. Maybe it is also the answer to the rest of our fiscal problems.

    But perhaps the nation could take a long, hard look at entitlements and act toward them like adults who can do arithmetic. You are not wrong to worry about the debt. It is a looming disaster. But it is not military spending, nor avoiding necessary increases in military spending, that is the cause or the solution to the problem. Nothing could be more foolish, in my opinion, than scrimping on the military in this most dangerous world so that perfectly fit people can retire before they need to, or so that people who should be paying for their own health care get it for free.

    • #29
  30. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Man With the Axe:

    Manfred Arcane: If you think we can spare the defense budget, even increase it to match China’s investment, the burden is on you to explain how.

    The answer is obvious: from eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse. This, we are told (I won’t say by whom) is the answer to entitlements. Maybe it is also the answer to the rest of our fiscal problems.

    But perhaps the nation could take a long, hard look at entitlements and act toward them like adults who can do arithmetic. You are not wrong to worry about the debt. It is a looming disaster. But it is not military spending, nor avoiding necessary increases in military spending, that is the cause or the solution to the problem. Nothing could be more foolish, in my opinion, than scrimping on the military in this most dangerous world so that perfectly fit people can retire before they need to, or so that people who should be paying for their own health care get it for free.

    So run for office. Right now I wouldn’t bet on Americans agreeing to your prescription.

    • #30

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