In his recent National Interest article vowing to vote against Finland and Sweden’s NATO accession, Sen. Josh Hawley’s core argument is about China. China, he writes, is America’s main security problem, and “expanding American security commitments in Europe now would only make that problem worse—and America, less safe.” He continues, “We must do less in Europe (and elsewhere) in order to prioritize China and Asia.”
Hawley is not the first Republican to make statements like this. This attempt to excuse being soft on Russia by redirecting the conversation toward China’s growing threat is an increasingly common tactic among Republican doves who masquerade as hawks. In a way, the tactic is a curious rehash of Barack Obama’s failed “pivot to Asia” initiative to cover his precipitous cut-and-run policies in the Middle East, policies that resulted in the rise of ISIS, the near-collapse of Iraq, and an Iran deal that will likely end with a deliverable Iranian nuclear warhead. Obama’s public folly was rooted in the same truth that Hawley’s is: China is the biggest long-term threat to American interests. However, China’s threat does not magically shrink if America neglects its defenses in other regions, and imprudent underinvestment in a region could end with us spending far too much fighting a hot war and distracting us still further from Asia, as Obama discovered.
Hawley writes that we should not abandon NATO. Agreed. But if we don’t abandon NATO and Russia attacks a NATO member and starts a war in Europe, the U.S. will have to spend trillions and trillions and probably lose thousands of soldiers while defending our allies. In that situation, does Hawley believe that there will be much of anything left over to bolster our deterrence in Asia? If we are going to spend the appropriate amount of resources on Asia in the long-term, we need to make sure we don’t spend an insane amount of money on a war in Europe.
Hawley’s argument that the U.S. should “do less” in Europe would make more sense if he wrote this article arguing against stationing more troops in Poland or for dismantling missile defense infrastructure there. Instead, he is saying he opposes bringing one of the most militarily capable countries in Europe into NATO. Bringing Finland into NATO would significantly increase the alliance’s strength overnight. Unlike most NATO countries, Finland has a capable military and a huge well-trained reserve army that is ready not only to be called up to fight Russia within days but also able to fight on its own.