The Case for a Neutral America

While this is hardly a case you’d expect to be made here at Coming Anarchy, I’ve come to believe an eventual move to complete neutrality would not only be in America’s best interests, but that the US is particularly well suited for such a policy. In fact, there are far more neutral countries than most people believe. Switzerland is the most famous, followed by Sweden. However, Austria, Costa Rica, Finland, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Panama, Turkmenistan (?) and the Vatican are all officially recognized as neutral.*

Some countries of course cannot afford neutrality. Russia is too much of a threat to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for them to be able to remain neutral. Thus, they eventually joined NATO after their neutrality was violated in WWII by Russia. We also know how well neutrality worked out for Belgium in the past century. And yet, for other countries, particularly Switzerland and Sweden, neutrality has worked out beautifully. Indeed, they both consistently rank highly on every possible measure of wealth, security and quality of life. Moreover, they are both well armed and in no danger.

Security

Let us begin with examining why the United States would be well suited to a policy of neutrality such as Switerzland’s. Geographically, America is in a position very conducive to neutrality. Indeed, America’s historical lack of interest and involvement in foreign affairs stems from this. With three bodies of water surrounding the country coupled with two weak and friendly neighbors, there are no immediate physical security threats to the country. In fact, there are no other countries in the Western Hemisphere, and only few worldwide who pose a strategic threat to the United States. Keep in mind we’re speaking of strategic threats, not the occasional nuissance terrorist attack or organized crime or smuggling from Mexico.

Next, the United States military is the most powerful in all of world history. That combined with the second largest nuclear arsenal more than ensures our national security. Lastly, the United States populace has the highest rate of civilian owned firearms per capita in the world (and probably in absolute numbers too). US citizens have more firearms than their own military. Also interesting to note is that per capita, other nations with high rates of civilian gun ownership are Finland (#3) and Switzerland (#4), both of whom are neutral. Even with the closure of all overseas military bases and cutting our armed forces by two-thirds (for example), the United States could still more than adequately deter and defend itself against all potential foes.

Geography, Resources, Space

With great protection geographically and military wise, the United States is also blessed with abundant space and the natural resources that come with it, both on land and sea. America is home to almost every time of climate and is thus able to grow more than enough food for its own needs, though of course we do not. Other natural resources including energy, minerals, flora, fauna and more are all readily available. This is not to say our country is currently setup infrastructure wise to take advantage of all of these (e.g. particuarly to exploit renewable energy) as we are dependent on many imports. However, neutrality in no way prevents international trade nor would it hurt to become more independent and self-sustaining.

America is also a world leader in technology, innovation and education, giving us ample human resources. In the past we had a strong industrial base, and could have one again. It has the best universities in the world and the largest companies. The US still attracts top minds worldwide and has the world’s biggest economy, even during a recession.

What Neutrality Is Not

Before concluding, I’d like to be clear about what a policy of neutrality is not.

Neutrality is not isolationism. The US would continue to be involved in global trade and international relations. However, it would simply not join alliances nor start wars of aggression. There would be no military aid to others and the US would maintain friendly relations with all, from Britain and Germany to Iran and North Korea. This in no way means we condone their behavior nor have much in common with them, any more than our current buddy-buddy relationship with Saudi Arabia means the same. Our foreign policy would concentrate on US interests first, and neutrality would leave more time, energy, resources and money to do so. No billion dollars a year to Egypt and Israel. No wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. No 700+ military bases abroad.

Neutrality is also not pacifism. In fact, one of the key components to a successful policy of neutrality is our Coming Anarchy motto, si vis pacem, para bellum. Countries like Switzerland, Sweden and Finland are intentionally well armed (both military and civilian) in order to maintain their neutrality. For evidence of how aggressive and just straight up nasty a neutral country can be, see the Winter War when the USSR invaded Finland.

Neutrality also does not mean the United States will have no enemies and will never be at war. The past six decades have seen America involved in plenty of other countries’ business and make many enemies. Naturaly, withdrawal from overseas bases and a stop to alliances and favoring countries like Israel would vastly reduce the current threats and enemies we face. However, there will always be enemies and the US would always remain vigiliant, not ceasing to unleash hell should the US be attacked.

Conclusion

The United States is in a strong position to adopt a policy of neutrality. Its economic, geographic and military strength ensure that such a policy would not only be viable but could indeed thrive. Neutrality would be truer to America’s roots and traditions than our current imperalist policies and would also reduce our threat level, enemies and military expenditures.

It would put America back on track to a stronger position in worldwide and improve its prestige, allowing the country to remain the ‘beacon on the hill’ and leading example of democracy we strive to be, and yet are currently failing at. It would additionally help refocus Americans’ attention and energy on our many domestic problems. Neutrality would make us safer, richer and more prosperous overall, not to mention return to our anti-imperialist roots.

* There is some debate as to countries like Finland and Ireland who have joined the EU and whether they can still technically be called neutral

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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17 Responses to The Case for a Neutral America

  1. DPT says:

    I sort of disagree with the idea that the US has “anti-imperialist roots,” at least any more so than it has imperialist roots. But this is a good, succinct defense of the idea of neutrality, particularly armed neutrality (though I’m personally more inclined towards a policy of offshore balancing than neutrality, in the ideal). As Hamilton said, “A nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral.”

  2. Chirol says:

    Would “anti-colonial” be more accurate?

  3. Brent Grace says:

    America walked away from neutrality because it didn’t work.

    History suggests that American involvement, at least in central Europe and Northeast Asia, is far less expensive than the alternative, i.e. arms racing and great power rivalry in those regions. How much would we save versus the potential cost of a future war? What percentage of our military budget goes to maintaining overseas bases in Japan and Germany? Also, what do we get for protecting the world? Are countries willing to buy long term bonds with a very low rate of return in exchange for the promise of the American Leviathan?

    Changing American foreign policy involves asking what works and what doesn’t. Our policy of ending great power war works. Let’s not mess with 65 years of success. Paying Egypt and Israel not to have a war is pretty cheap – the Mediterranean and Suez canal are both vital shipping lanes and even a neutral America has an interest in keeping them open. Paying Pakistan not attack India is also cheaper than the alternative, and a war between one of our largest trading partners (India) and a regional bully (Pakistan) would involve a neutral America whether we liked it or not.

    Ultimately, I say maintaining an America presence in the world is cheaper than the alternative. In no way should American policy be directed by the fear of the later day Ghost Dancers (al Qaeda) or the belief that they would leave us alone if we just let them build their Caliphate. Bin Laden used to say he wanted American troops out of Saudi Arabia, now most American troops are out of Saudi Arabia, I haven’t heard him declare a truce. They would find a way to pick a fight with a “neutral” America anyway, because if nothing else we would still buy a lot of oil from the region, by extension propping up the government that Bin Laden hates. As long as we exist, are prosperous and engaged in world trade, we are a threat.

    Nothing I just wrote suggests that their might not be a less expensive alternative to leaving 100k troop in Afghanistan forever. America can decide that our major trading partners (which covers Europe and east Asia) and our major energy suppliers are our primary interests and abandon nation building in central Asia. This would save us 10s of billions of dollars a year. Also, nothing I wrote assumes that we have to have x number of the latest and greatest fighter aircraft to meet a great power rival that doesn’t yet exist.

    Overall, I think there is room to argue that the U.S. should look into a more limited foreign policy without abandoning long standing alliances in important parts of the world.

  4. chirol says:

    The DoD is the largest part of the US budget and at a time when we don’t face any existential or major threats.

    Also, you give examples citing our current policies such as Egypt and Israel. The fact is, it’s none of our business whether they go to war or not. Even if they do and there are issues with the Suez, life will go on and it will be a good reminder why we shouldn’t be so dependent on a few choke points.

    We also don’t pay Pakistan not to attack India, they wouldn’t do it anyway (unprovoked). That’s also a situation we will never be able to solve, nor should we waste our time and political capital trying. We can still have friendly relations with each without getting involved in their bilateral issues.

    Again, this is not to say the US would not be in the UN or attempt to be an independent arbitrator if others desired, but we wouldn’t actively involve ourself in problems we can’t fix. Israel/Palestine is a great example. It’s only hurt us and we have absolutely nothing to show for it.

  5. This is a fascinating concept! I was going to write on my blog today about India being a permanent member of the Security Council (good idea, I think), but instead I’m going to blog about this. :)

  6. DPT says:

    I do think anti-colonial would be a more accurate descriptor of the first century or so of American politics. Though there were always people with a taste for becoming a newer, better Britain (the Hamiltonian strain), the US was definitely engaged in empire-building within its own hemisphere.

    That said, I agree on the whole with your assessment that the United States needs a more limited and geographically-constrained foreign policy. While shifting US foreign policy more towards flexible bilateral relations is a good idea, I do not think ruling out alliances is. While trying to use alliances to reshape regional politics and impose rule-based hierarchy on anarchy is indeed a wasteful enterprise, shifting bilateral alliances calibrated to address the issue of the day will still be important. Ultimately geopolitical dilemmas will arise in states important to US interests, and we would be better off having a more formal mechanism for strengthening confidence in cooperation than hoping goodwill will shape their interests to dovetail with ours. Hence my preference for offshore balancing over neutrality.

  7. Pingback: What Makes a Man Turn Neutral? « Blogging with Badger

  8. priffe says:

    You are twenty-one years late. Neutral? Between what poles? To be neutral there has to be two poles where you can posit yourself in the middle.
    That went out with the cold war. What are you going to be neutral to today – islamism? Forest devastation? Water pollution? Mass rape? Genocide?
    That there is a will to even send the best you have – your young people – overseas, even to be killed in dubious wars against fascism is something that should be acknowledged from those cynics (e.g. France or most of Europe) who would never stick their neck out and are historically unable to solve even lesser conflicts such as Kosovo. There is a beauty to it even when you are dead wrong.
    Furthermore, in Sweden we have come to face that we were never neutral even as we trashed the yankees and claimed neutrality – we (save for a few loonies) always knew who were our pals. This became evident when the archives were opened post-cold-war and we could see what really went on in the day.
    You shall be fair, but you shall never be “neutral”.

  9. Not really as good as it sounds. The destabilization that would come from the power vacuum would lead to numerous conflicts that would have serious impact on trade, and a more serious impact on the economic livelihoods of americans. An incremental policy, in particular, one that makes europe support itself would, on the other hand, would conserve costs. One that additionally increased our naval, space and air strength, but decreased our ability to project territorial power (armies) would probably be wise, since people are far more expensive than technology.

  10. kurt9 says:

    I think our foreign policy should be limited to keeping the oceans safe for trade and commerce and let everything go whichever way it wants on land. This means we have a big navy (and the willingness to use it), but whatever occurs in anyone else’s land is none of our business. This is the policy that I support and one that is consistent with being a republic rather than an empire. I see no reason for us to involve ourselves in the internal disputes of others. We are the friends of liberty everywhere, but defenders of only our own.

  11. kurt9 says:

    China has what I consider to be the better approach to foreign policy. Rather than expending huge amounts of money and effort into “re-creating” various societies, they just cut deals to get the resources they want and to make the money. The Chinese are also building a “blue-ocean” navy in order to make the oceans safe for their trading.

    They do not involve themselves in the internal affairs of the alien societies they do business with. They only cut business deals with them. Their purpose is to get natural resources and to make the money in international trade. The purpose of foreign policy is to make money, plain and simple. This should be our purpose as well.

    For the purposes of international activities, China is better described as a “republic” than an “empire”. There is no reason for us not to do the same.

    Republics need navies. Empires need armies.

  12. Michael says:

    “US citizens have more firearms than their own military. Also interesting to note is that per capita, other nations with high rates of civilian gun ownership are Finland (#3) and Switzerland (#4), both of whom are neutral.”

    This begs the question of who #2 is: I’m guessing Canada or (maybe) Mexico.

  13. chirol says:

    #2 is Yemen. Civilians cant own weapons in Mexico and its heavily regulated in Canada.

  14. JJP says:

    According to Wikipedia Finland is actually #7 and Switzerland is #3. Canada is #9 and Sweden is #10.

    I would say that the gun laws in Canada are quite deceptive. Handguns are essentially banned in Canada but the rate of long-gun ownership is quite high. In an actual invasion, I’m guessing that lots of natives armed with hunting rifles could cause a lot of damage, provided they know their own territory well.

  15. M Brueschke says:

    Civilians can own firearms in Mexico

    Mexican constitutional rights have long included the right to carry arms. The 1857 Constitution included the right to carry arms: Article 10: Every man has the right to have and to carry arms for his security and legitimate defense. The law will indicate which arms are prohibited and the penalty for those that will carry prohibited arms.

    The Constitution of 1917, as amended, states: Article 10: The inhabitants of the United Mexican States have a right to arms in their homes, for security and legitimate defense, with the exception of arms prohibited by federal law and those reserved for the exclusive use of the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard. Federal law will determine the cases, conditions, requirements, and places in which the carrying of arms will be authorized to the inhabitants.

  16. Chirol says:

    Yes, technically they can. In practice, its very difficult and few own legal firearms.