Foreign Affairs: How We Became the World’s Police Force

Foreign Affairs, How We Became the World's Police Force

Like it or loathe it, the United States is effectively the world’s policeman. An undisputed military hegemony means that, to a large extent, America can enforce its will anywhere in the world. While there are lines no sensible US leader would cross, like launching an unprovoked attack on China or Russia, the world’s other major powers also would hesitate before directly attacking the US or one of our close allies. Given the US military capability, any step that might provoke the US wouldn’t be taken lightly.

How Did This Happen?

In the late 1930s, the US was an isolationist country with a small, weak and neglected military. We all know about the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor — people weren’t afraid to attack us then — but how many of us know that the battleships sent to the bottom that day were all WW1 relics? At that time, our army had no modern tanks at all. Most of our combat aircraft were so antiquated that, even with their backs to the wall under the Nazi onslaught, the British rejected them as inadequate for European warfare.

How did we get from there to here, with a chain of overseas bases putting US forces within striking range of anywhere on the planet and a military capable of taking on the five next most powerful concurrently? It seems incredible — but our earlier isolationism is why we’re so powerful now.

Role of Isolationism

US isolationism played a major role in letting Japan and Germany launch their expansionist wars. By the time we got involved, both countries were militarized to an advanced degree, Germany was already 2 years into a successful war, and only the UK was putting up any effective resistance. Isolationism didn’t keep us out of that war; it only meant that we were dragged into it at a time and place chosen for maximum advantage by our enemies.

Because of the steep costs incurred in blood and treasure during World War II, the leaders of the Allied nations resolved never to let it happen again. In 1945 the USA, USSR and UK all had huge and powerful veteran armed forces; the UK chose to steadily reduce its military over the next few decades, while the USSR collapsed in the early 1990s, leaving the US as the world’s sole, undisputed military superpower.

So the US that must respond when war or violence breaks out and the world cries “Something must be done!” No other country really has the capability. China and Russia are regional powers with no real ability to operate more than a few hundred miles from their own borders. The only other global power, the UK, can operate anywhere in the world, but with a relatively small force. If real power needs to be exercised, it must be employed by the United States because there isn’t another country that can.

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