Should U.S. remain the world police?

The World’s Police Force

There are many reasons to love National Public Radio, but the most recent is that NPR provided immediate fact checking and a transcript for the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

First, the New York Times ended Donald Trump’s candidacy with its post-debate October Surprise front page article (October 1, 2016), Donald Trump Tax Records Show He Could Have Avoided Taxes for Nearly Two Decades, but I digress.

Japan showed up YUGE in this first debate. Trump seems equally obsessed with Japan as he is with China and TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership). Here are a few excerpts where Trump (and Clinton) discuss Japan, which follows an exchange about who has the better temperament (steadiness) to serve as commander-in-chief:

HILLARY CLINTON: He has said repeatedly that he didn’t care if other nations got nuclear weapons – Japan, South Korea, even Saudi Arabia. It has been the policy of the United States, Democrats and Republicans, to do everything we could to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He even said, you know if there were nuclear war in East Asia well, you know, that’s fine, have a good time folks.

DONALD TRUMP: I agree with her on one thing. The single greatest problem the world has is nuclear armament, nuclear weapons. Not global warming like you think and your president thinks. Nuclear is the single greatest threat. Just to go down the list we defend Japan. We defend Germany. We defend South Korea. We defend Saudi Arabia. We defend countries. They do not pay us what they should be paying us because we are providing tremendous service and we’re losing a fortune.

NPR Fact Check: South Korean government figures show it paid around $866.6 million     in 2014 for the U.S. military presence in the country. That’s about 40 percent of the cost. Japan’s budget shows that it covers about $4 billion in base-related expenses. [Source: NPR Seoul-based Asia correspondent Elise Hsu @elisewho]

A quick look at Elise Hsu’s Twitter feed reveals a strong anti-Trump position, but this does not mean that I cannot trust her fact check postings. She was probably thrilled to call Trump on his errors.

But here’s the most interesting U.S.-Japan revelation. Japan symbolizes to Trump the feeling that he and many Americans have that the U.S. cannot keep propping up the defense systems of former war enemies turned allies.

DONALD TRUMP: And it’s a big problem, and is as far Japan is concerned, I want to help all of our allies but we are losing billions and billions of dollars. We cannot be the policeman of the world. We cannot protect countries all over the world.

HILLARY CLINTON: Let me start by saying words matter, words matter when you run for president and they really matter when you are president. And I want to reassure our allies in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere that we have mutual defense treaties and we will honor them. It is essential that America’s word be good.

NPR Fact Check: While this Clinton statement is underlining the basics of America’s traditional foreign policy, it illustrates a key difference between the candidates. Trump doesn’t want to be “policeman of the world,” but a longstanding key of America’s Asia policy for keeping peace in the Pacific is maintaining decades-old alliances with Japan and South Korea. Many view the U.S.-Japan-R.O.K alliance as a bulwark against a rising China, so it’s interesting that Trump both demonizes China when speaking of trade and believes China to be key in solving the North Korea problem but does not support alliances that can be a counterweight to it. [Source: @elisewho]

US News just published an op

So what do some Japanese think of Trump’s statement about the U.S. serving as the policeman of the world?

Here is a sample of reactions by my International Relations students at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies:

  • I think the U.S. should be the policeman of the world. No one can take the U.S. position, however other countries might as well share some responsibilities.
  • As the sole superpower, the U.S. has assumed the role of world’s policeman. Citing a moral responsibility to uphold freedom and democracy around the world, America intervenes in foreign conflicts and wields unprecedented global power. But should America invest its resources and energy in global policing? Or should the strongest nation on earth turn its focus inward and respect the autonomy of its neighbors? In my opinion, America is not or should not be the policeman of the world. But it’s hard to quit because, for example, for Japan America is like the “safety of the world.” How does the U.S. keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?
  • I think America doesn’t need to keep being police of the world because the large amount of money for military is hard for America. I hope every country doesn’t have military power in future. I hope America reduces the military power step-by-step.
  • America should continue to be the world’s policemen because when one country has strong power, the world is more integrated.
  • The U.S. should remain world police because there are a lot of problems in the world, both China and Russia spreading their policies—for example, China declaring its territory in the South China Sea.
  • I think that America doesn’t need to be world police because it has a big burden to continue being world police.
  • President Obama said that the policeman of the United States is not the policeman of the world, but I do not think so. The U.S. should keep staying the world police at least for now. The world is unstable (civil war in Syria, missile attack by North Korea). If the U.S. or President Obama abandons the world police, then how does the world get its problems resolved? I think the world economies are going to crumble, also China or Russia is going to get out of control.
  • The U.S. should be paying the money for the bases and the U.S. should be the policeman of the world. We need someone to lead our world and I don’t want Trump do that. We have SDF so we should be protecting ourselves but we also need support. Some country or institution has to take the lead to make the world peace and police the world.
  • I think Hillary Clinton made a really good point in her debate. Trump should have known about the mutual defense agreement as key to keeping the peace in East Asia.

As I have often observed, if Japan were able to vote in the U.S. presidential election, Hillary Clinton would win by a landslide. This is not Trump country and no one is riding the Trump train.