By Anders Corr, Ph.D.
As evidenced by collapse of the ceasefire last week between Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists and the Western-backed democracy of President Petro Poroshenko, there is little hope that the bombast of Vladimir Putin’s intensifying dictatorship will subside anytime soon. Economic sanctions by the U.S. and EU have done much to counter Putin’s nakedly militaristic reach into the former Soviet satellite, which has witnessed a flood of Russian troops, tanks, and artillery to support the separatist rebellion in the last year.
But more is needed. NATO has dithered on the sidelines and refused to send significant military assistance, forcing Ukraine to seek arms from non-Democratic states such as the UAE.
Meanwhile, China’s military has spent recent months stealthily constructing man-made islands as well as securing undersea oil access and air space in the territories of neighboring Asian democracies. Most recently, China unilaterally declared an air-defense zone over maritime and island territory long recognized by international law as belonging to Japan. And, the Chinese continue to support North Korea’s cruel regime, which threatens nuclear attacks on South Korea, Japan and even the United States.
In the Middle East, the almost unimaginably brutal and potentially genocidal Islamic State has occupied much of Syria and Iraq. Elsewhere radical jihadists have infected Africa, the Taliban terrorize Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Iran’s theocratic dictatorship threatens to become a nuclear power. Suffice it to say that in each of these three major theaters of global diplomacy, democracies are on the run from overt military expansion of autocratic regimes as well as extremists.
In turn, citizens of Western democracies are paying a significant cost in civil liberties through the loss of privacy and the use of torture by their governments. At stake is the threat of weapons of mass destruction against soft civilian targets such as major cities in the United States and Europe.
In regards to defense spending, many democracies are not paying their fair share, leaving it to the U.S. to make up the difference. Canada, Germany, and Italy, for example, each spend less than the 2 percent minimum of GDP that NATO recommends for defense. So does Australia, another important ally of the United States. Meanwhile, the U.S. is spending 3.8 percent of its GDP on a global defense apparatus that is already badly overextended, both fiscally and militarily.
While joint defense burdens are not equally distributed, neither are treaties among democracies always honored. Ukraine relinquished its nuclear weapons through the Budapest Agreement of 1994 in exchange for guarantees of territorial integrity. But the U.S. and UK have largely ignored Ukraine when the third signatory, Russia, violated the agreement with an invasion. In the Pacific, the U.S. and Philippines have a 1951 mutual defense treaty, but the U.S. has largely ignored an ongoing Chinese occupation of the Philippines’ Scarborough Shoal that started in 2012.
In response to the worrisome growth of dictatorships and jihadist insurgencies, across-the-board increases in defense spending are tempting, but unnecessary because Russia and China are already punching way above their weight in this respect. According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, NATO has a 10.6:1 defense spending advantage over Russia, and the U.S. has a 3.4:1 defense spending advantage over China. More importantly, NATO countries have a huge technological lead over these hide-bound dictatorships, as well as extremists in the Middle East.
War can be avoided through peaceful persuasion, including economic sanctions of the type that have brought Russian, Iranian, North Korean, and Cuban leaders to the negotiating table. The same should be done to China for its aggressions against Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea (through China’s proxy, North Korea). But economic sanctions are insufficient, as territory must be defended.
To make democracies more effective as a fighting force, and less dependent on the United States, a globally-organized military, political, and economic alliance of democracies should be instituted. A straight-forward approach would be to include Pacific democracies, like Japan, South Korea, and Australia, in NATO. This would militarily unify and thereby strengthen democracies in Asia and Europe against autocratic aggressors, increase and coordinate forces capable of stopping Islamic extremism, more equitably share the burden of defense spending, incentivize democratic states to protect each other, and reap economies of scale from a global strategy to defend democracy. Divided, democracies are weak. Together, we can stabilize the world.
Anders Corr is the founder of Corr Analytics as well as the publisher of the Journal of Political Risk. Between 2008 and 2013, he provided military intelligence for such entities as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Special Operations Command Pacific, and United States Pacific Command.
Robert Whitcomb contributed to the research and writing of this article. Mr. Whitcomb is a Fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, editor of New England Diary, a former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune and former vice president of The Providence Journal.