Going Global as Alliance Management

In his WPR column a few weeks back, David Axe called attention to South Korea’s promised troop deployment to Afghanistan, and it bears repeating, because I think it’s actually one of the more significant “quiet moves” to emerge recently. For more background on Seoul’s decision in the context of the U.S.-ROK alliance, see this March 2009 WPR briefing by Nirav Patel (itself based on this CNAS report). For a more ROK-centric analysis, there’s also this Asia Foundation article by Michael Finnegan — who notes that the operational capabilities the deployment will provide could have potential applications on the Korean Peninsula in the event of a post-DPRK scenario.

But what I also find striking is the common theme of “Going Global” that characterizes much of U.S. alliance-management these days, whether it be Europe (Germany, in particular, but also Poland) or Asia (South Korea, but also Japan). As Patel points out, South Korea is the most promising candidate for the role, given the political and cultural constraints facing the others. But Finnegan cautions that the move has to be handled from a Korean, and not an alliance, perspective.

That, to me, brings out the internal tension in the U.S. posture. Because while calling on allies to go global, Washington prefers that they do so in the context of alliance structures. So NATO rather than EU defense, and U.S.-ROK rather than ROK. That means that the capabilities built up are interoperable ones, which often create a one-way dependence on American operational resources.

This call to go global, and the accompanying tension, isn’t limited to allies, by the way. We want China, too, to shoulder more global responsibility, so long as it’s guided by the context of Chimerican interests. The same could be said for India’s regional role, as scripted by U.S. policymakers.

America certainly bears a disproportionate share of the “global commons” load, but it does so because the stability thereby acquired is in its interests. It’s not all one-way, of course, as evidenced by the outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan, where foreign commercial interests have begun to benefit from American security interventions. But “going global” still bears an overwhelming resmeblance to “get with the program.” And that’s likely to limit the campaign’s appeal.