The Escalating US Trade Wars: Beyond China, Part III
By William Tucker
Columnist, In Homeland Security
This is the third and final article in the series.
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“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of War, where everyman is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” – Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has been at war for all but eight months. In total, however, the U.S. has been engaged in wars in the Middle East and South Asia for nearly 20 years, or nearly 100 percent of the century.
When it comes to maintaining the logistics chains, troop availability and cost of warfare over such a long period, it becomes apparent that this tempo is unsustainable, even for the world’s lone superpower. This unsustainability is what prompted this three-part series with a focus on economics as a means to pursue U.S. national interests without an over-reliance on military applications.
It is important to note, however, that military matters cannot be divorced from national economics or politics. Indeed, these three pillars of the nation-state are inseparable, although they are frequently studied as distinct, if not fully independent entities.
The passage above from Hobbes’ famous treatise published in 1651 describes how humanity would have appeared before the advent of governments. This thought was disputed in Hobbes’s time and in ours.
But the argument that government, or a sophisticated organization among humans with a common purpose, has diminished violence is demonstrably true. This organization of people allows ever-larger groups to cooperate in security matters and pursue economic advantages all brought together under the auspices of government.
The three pillars of the nation-state – politics, economics and security – mesh well with the three primordial objectives as described by Hobbes – safety, gain and reputation. Dr. Kelly C. Jordan made the connection between the U.S. National Security Strategy and Hobbes’ primordial objectives. These inseparable pillars are why we are discussing economics as a weapon to pursue the national interest on a security news site.
Of course, the way the U.S. government behaves is nothing new. Washington has blended security and economics for decades in the pursuit of U.S. interests. Notable approaches such as the Bretton Woods Agreement, dollar diplomacy, the Cuban embargo and sanctions against North Korea have all played a role in furthering U.S. economic and security interests.
The Central Role of Economics in Current Foreign Policy
While the tariffs levied on China may be the most visible, they are not the only tariffs President Trump has targeted for other nations. Trump has targeted Japan, Iran, India and the European Union, among others. Several of these nations have met with the U.S. and renegotiated their trade deals as a result.
The U.S. sanctions on Iran are meant to cripple the Iranian economy and force Tehran back to the negotiating table. Thus far, Iran has chosen defiance as seen in the recent attack on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, and most recently, the downing of a U.S. Navy RQ-4 unmanned drone by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in international airspace over the strait. The standoff with Iran is instructive, however, in showing that when economic matters push a government too far and its security is threatened, the situation can escalate into something more violent.
President Trump, thus far, has shown a reluctance for military adventurism, preferring to rely on economic policy to shape the behavior of friend and foe alike. Furthermore, many applications of U.S. military force have resulted in less than ideal outcomes. U.S. conflicts dating back to the 1990s — such as Iraq, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia – have resulted in U.S. forces remaining on the ground there still.
Expanding the use of the military to challenge rogue states like North Korea, Venezuela or even Iran would leave the U.S. military overextended. The Trump administration seems keen to use the economic heft of the U.S., backed by an unencumbered military, to pursue its national interests. Whether this approach remains firmly in the realm of economics remains to be seen, but for now the U.S. is making its presence felt by wielding the almighty dollar as its primary weapon.