- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

By Edward A. Olsen
With an introduction by Ted Galen Carpenter
Frank Cass Publishers, $52.50, $24.50 paper, 210 pages

By Edward A. Olsen
Lynne Rienner Publishers, $42.40, 2002, 148 pages

America is rushing to war with Iraq. Whether this represents the new rule of preemption or an exception to the older doctrine of containment remains unclear. In either case a serious debate over foreign policy is long overdue.
Hoping to spark such a discussion is Edward Olsen, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and a former State Department analyst. He argues that today is a moment for America to disengage, not dominate.
Washington's Cold War goals were obviously worthy, but, complains Mr. Olsen, "maintenance of alliances and protection of allies became more important than the focus on why Americans require allies." Indeed, for the five decades following World War II, "with the major exception of US-Canadian relations there has never been a military situation where one can argue convincingly that any of these other allies were truly essential to the territorial national security of the United States."
America now stands astride the globe as a colossus. Writes Mr. Olsen: "Most of the 'enemies' confronting the United States today are the product of an overactive imagination coupled with bureaucratic creativity."
Yet September 11 demonstrated that Washington cannot act without consequence. In a world in which China and India grow more powerful, Europe grows apart, and other states rise, the United States might find itself facing even more constraints in the future. Complains Mr. Olsen, Washington's current military posture "is extravagant, imprudent and gratuitously risky."
He offers an alternative of nonintervention. At its core, Mr. Olsen's policy prescription is to defend the United States, not its allies. Not only are the allies irrelevant to America's defense; they do nothing to defend America. "Outside North America there is not a single alliance to which the United States is a party that requires any ally to contribute militarily to US homeland defense, or to the national security interests of Americans beyond the region covered by the particular alliance."
Mr. Olsen challenges the assumption that one-way defense commitments to a host of populous and prosperous states benefit America. As he notes, "It may be better to fight wars on someone else's turf than on our own, but it is far better not to fight or deter them on their soil at all, if Americans are confident that the United States will not be forced to wage war on US territory."
Very helpful is his extended discussion, region by region, of how to disengage. Indeed, Mr. Olsen, a Japan and Korea specialist, has simultaneously published a short volume on U.S.-Korean relations. He contends that the South Korean alliance is outdated: The ROK has 40 times the GDP and twice the population of its decrepit northern neighbor. Against what is America defending? Mr. Olsen wants "to normalize U.S.-Korea interactions."
This means North as well as South Korea, a controversial notion at a time when the former has been characterized as a member of the "axis of evil." But he suggests turning Korea policy over to the Koreas.
Particularly important, he contends, is "modifying the U.S.- ROK alliance in ways that induce far more bilateral equality and reciprocity in the forms of defense burden-sharing and policy decision-sharing." He foresees eventual American military disengagement. As he puts it: "Although U.S. and Korean citizens have become accustomed to a certain level of entanglement, there are viable alternative means for preserving peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula that do not require such a degree of U.S. involvement."
Such a course could ultimately resolve even the nuclear issue. Washington would allow the ROK to take the lead in reunifying the peninsula. If that happened, "The North Korean rogue-state issue would cease to exist."
Mr. Olsen emphasizes that his policy is not pacifism. Nor even neutrality, like Switzerland. Rather, he explains: "Maintaining a strong national defense capability and the will to use that capability if the United States is attacked, hardly qualifies as pacifism. It does, however, sharply restrict the definition of what must occur for a war to be deemed a 'just war' in the United States' national interests."
Such a stance is even more important in the world that exists after September 11. As Mr. Olsen observes, "It is a profound commentary about the state of US homeland defense preparedness that US armed forces deployed around the world were far better positioned, trained and funded for the defense of various locations in Europe, Asia and the Middle East than for defending the headquarters of the US armed forces at the Pentagon."
Ever since the Cold War ended, defenders of the status quo have managed to preserve most of America's commitments and forces by chanting the mantra that we continue to live in a dangerous world. But both enemy threats and allied capabilities have changed dramatically. Mr. Olsen's two finely argued books present a potent challenge to the sclerotic status quo.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of "Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World."

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