July 21, 2015 by Anders Ingemarson
In this day and age of pragmatic, short-range, agreements for agreement’s sake with communist (Cuba) and theocratic (Iran) dictatorships, and of the United States sacrificially financing both the defense of half a welfare statist continent that mostly despises us (Europe) and parts of a backward corner of the earth that by and large hates us (Middle East), it may be of value to ponder what foreign relations would look like if solely based on the rational self-interest of Americans.
Here at SEPARATE!, we advocate that the best foreign policy is leading by example at home:
“A foreign policy is an extension of the proper role of government to protect us against foreign threats. We’re advocates of the idea that by far the best foreign policy instrument available to us doesn’t really involve other countries at all. That instrument is leading by example at home.
“What do we mean by that? If we turn our focus to protecting individual rights and expanding capitalism, and work towards the total separation of state and the economy, we will send a very strong signal to the rest of the world as they see our policies bearing fruit.
“Cutting taxes, regulations and government spending will unleash growth and lead to an increase in wealth all around. You think China’s [past] 10% annual growth is impressive? (assuming you can trust any numbers coming out of a totalitarian regime) We’re convinced we can match that in a heartbeat once we get the reducing of government on the right track. Do you think the rest of the world will take notice? Any chance they will start copying our policies? You bet they will. They may initially do it reluctantly, but the power of our example will not go unnoticed among the citizens of other countries. Over time, the pressure will build on their politicians to follow our example as watching us improve makes them realize what they’re missing out on.
“Obviously, our military will still be needed to protect us against foreign threats. Are you worried about military expenditures? With 10% growth we’ll be able to increase military spending drastically if needed while still seeing its share of GDP drop over time. But we doubt we’ll see a drastic increase in military spending. Why? Because the countries copying our policies will become freer, will increase the protection of individual rights, and over time will start to see us as friends, as allies, drastically reducing the potential threat of military aggression.
“A foreign policy based on leading by example at home, centered on the protection of individual rights, capitalism and the separation of state and the economy is the only way to achieve that elusive goal strived for by so many – world peace.”
(Adapted from “The Best Foreign Policy? Lead By Example At Home”)
We’re currently far from leading by example at home. On the contrary, we seem all too willing to emulate the mistakes of the European welfare states with high taxation, suffocating regulations, and out-of-control government spending.
But let’s indulge for a moment and pretend that we had changed direction, that we were yet again leading by example at home, that we had reached the top in the Heritage Foundation’s “Index of Economic Freedom” (we’re currently 12th with a score of 76.2 which is only considered “mostly free”). And let’s imagine that we were tasked with overhauling our relations with the rest of the world. What would we do?
As part of leading by example at home, we would have unilaterally removed barriers preventing the free movement of goods, services and people. This is the only approach to trade that is consistent with individual rights. Americans have the right to enter agreements with anybody anywhere without the interference of government (with the possible rare exception of countries that possess an eminent threat to us). Other countries may erect barriers against trade, but such policies are self-defeating as it deprives their residents of the benefits of free markets in the form of economic growth and wealth creation.
If we wouldn’t have to bother with entering into trade agreements like NAFTA, what kind of agreements would other countries be interested in? You guessed it: defense agreements.
And here is our opportunity to speed up other countries in following our example. As part of entering into a defense agreement with the United States, a country would have to agree to join us in “leading by example at home.” The prospective ally would have to put a plan in place for protecting individual rights, expanding capitalism, and working towards the total separation of state and the economy by reducing government spending, rolling back regulations, and eliminating taxes. And as American taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for defending another country, the country would have to pay for its share of United States defense spending in exchange for being part of our defense alliance.
You say no country would take the bait? We say, you’d be surprised. We would probably see a number of smaller countries feeling threatened by larger neighbors joining first. As their “leading by example at home” policies started to bear fruit—think a number of Hong Kong or Singapore like economies emerging around the world—others would line up. And someday even Cuba and Iran may join.
As for our current defense agreements (NATO, etc.), we would give our allies sufficient notice to make up their minds if they want to join the new direction or take on their own defense.
Where does the rational self-interest of Americans come in? Due to economies of scale the cost of defending ourselves would be reduced, as the U.S. military together with its allies can protect more territory without a proportional increase in costs. That’s in our self-interest. And with more countries becoming our friends and allies, real defense expenditures will start to go down as well. That’s in our self-interest. And most importantly, with more and more countries joining us in “leading by example at home,” the world will become a more prosperous place. And the more prosperous the rest of the world, the more prosperous we become. And that is definitely in our self-interest.