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Can America Afford the Pax Americana? : BEYOND AMERICAN HEGEMONY The Future of the Western Alliance by David P. Calleo (Basic Books: $20.95; 281 pp.)

December 27, 1987|Geoffrey Kemp | Kemp, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was Special Assistant to President Reagan for National Security Affairs from 1981 to 1984

Do budget deficits and overextended defense commitments mean an end to Pax Americana as we have known it since 1945? How much more should our allies pay for their defense? Should they share responsibility for crisis areas like the Mideast?

These questions are increasingly being asked as we approach the 1988 election campaign. The New Republic's Morton Kondracke calls burden-sharing "the 1988 sleeper issue." Paul Kennedy, writing in the Atlantic, points out that in 1945, the United States controlled 40% of the world economy, whereas today the figure is 20%. Yet, during this period, U.S. commitments have grown dramatically. Kennedy argues that the imbalance threatens both our military and economic security.

Kondracke puts this argument in the context of practical politics and cites the big names who are calling for greater burden-sharing between ourselves and our key allies, especially the Japanese. They include George Bush, Bob Dole, Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Irving Kristol, Sam Nunn, Les Aspin, Richard Gephardt and, believe it or not, billionaire Donald Trump.

To this prestigious list one must now add David P. Calleo, professor at Johns Hopkins University. "Beyond American Hegemony" is a serious and timely book that provides good background reading for the growing debate about America's world role. Because he has a fine grasp of international economics and a keen historical sense, Calleo's book is an especially welcome addition to the literature.

Calleo's focus is primarily on relations with Europe, particularly Germany and France. His thesis is that American hegemonic power has outlived its usefulness and that massive budget deficits threaten the integrity of the enduring alliance that has so successfully preserved the peace in the Northern Hemisphere since 1945. What successive American leaders are unprepared to recognize is that greater burden-sharing--which is not a new topic in alliance relations--requires a parallel devolution of power. Calleo believes that devolution will be good, not bad, for America and that it is essential if we are to preserve the Atlantic alliance. This is a sensible thesis and one that, at the most general level, is likely to find much support. That said, the focus, style and context of the book present some problems for the discerning reader.

A cursory reading might persuade some that the author belongs to the "blame America first" brigade. His attacks on successive administrations, Republican and Democrat, are scathing and in the end so overwhelming and relentless that they test his credibility. He admits that American postwar diplomacy has been fabricated by the "policy elite"--whom he seems to despise--yet he states quite bluntly at the beginning of the book that "this postwar order has been a dazzling success." The only two individuals he has respect for seem to be George Kennan and Dwight Eisenhower, the latter because he left office with a balanced budget.

As for the rest, since the 1950s it has been downhill. The Reagan Administration is savaged from top to bottom. However, some of his attacks on Reagan may be passe. Since the book went to press, the President has signed a serious arms control agreement with the Soviet Union on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF). This could be followed by a strategic arms agreement and possibly conventional force reductions. If this were Reagan's legacy, many would argue it would be a good one.

Yet, while Calleo may not have any respect for American policy-makers, he scarcely is in love with the Europeans or the Russians. His chapter on the Soviet Union, although tucked away at the end of the book, is critical and disdainful of Soviet behavior, though somewhat outdated. He makes no attempt to describe or discuss glasnost and what Mikhail Gorbachev's ascendancy heralds for Soviet society. It is easy to be irritated by some of Calleo's overdrawn phraseology. Consider, for instance, this sentence in the concluding summary chapter: "Congress, half controlled by the Democrats, could not bring itself to prevent a defense budget almost universally acknowledged to be preposterously and uselessly bloated." "Universally acknowledged?" By whom? Certainly not by the Congress or the Administration. Calleo doesn't say. Neither does he make any effort to explain just how and why the defense budget is "preposterously and uselessly bloated" and how it might be cut. There is debate about whether money spent on a 600-ship navy or SDI is a useful priority, but much of the defense money spent by the Reagan Administration has been on mundane items required for the operation and maintenance of highly complicated equipment.

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