Policing the World and the Transformers

The Benefits and Consequences of a Superpower’s Global Defense Strategy

The “Transformers” is only a cartoon and more recently a highly popular big-screen movie franchise. But can the show be used as an analogy for debate over the “policing of the world” today? I personally saw an immediate connection after watching the trailer and finally was able to see the latest installment of the movie (Transformers 3) over the weekend. Without spoiling the movie for those who plan on watching later, the basic premise of the movie is fairly simple, but important. The Transformers, also called Autobots, (with the proud, but thankless job of being global protectors) have been asked to leave Earth in order to pacify a familiar, but newly more powerful aggressor (the Transformers’ archenemies called the Decepticons).

Literature, in the past, has often used analogies to illustrate contemporary political dilemmas for those savvy enough to see the connection and I hope my readers will see this in the same light. Since the end of the Second World War, the United States has been viewed to be the primary torch-bearer for liberty tasked with protecting the planet. This was no accident. Prior to the outbreak of the German tank strategy known in the English-speaking world as the “blitz”, isolationism and nationalism in economic affairs had been taking hold globally for years. Mercantilism, or the belief that trade was a zero-sum game (one winner & one loser) was dominant and European nations in particular were erecting huge taxes on their neighbors’ exports in order to try to gain more gold than the next nation. The goal was much like China’s today: export everything, import very little. In this scenario, if you don’t have a particular resource, you have to do one of two things: conquer a nation that does, or pay extremely high prices for it. This problem often made war an attractive option.

As a result of changes made since the fall of the Axis powers, international law has become strong enough to prevent a great deal of anti-social decision-making (most “illegitimate” wars and punitive economic policies) and the United States and NATO have been fending off older threats such as the Soviet forces and today, terrorists and “modern” pirates. The problem, in a way, is that the world has become too peaceful. Without large and credible threats, such as the imminent invasion of the Nazis or a nuclear holocaust following war with the Soviet Union, many feel that protecting the planet has become too burdensome.

Military action does cost money, and often a great deal of it. War should never be taken lightly and should be avoided if other solutions are available. Today, however, there are many (particularly in Europe, but some in the United States) who question the value of the service provided in keeping the planet a relatively safe place. This can be seen in the actions of several NATO countries who have refused to be involved in either Afghanistan or Libya as well as those who do not spend enough on their militaries to protect themselves, let alone protect others. Many do not meet the minimum military spending of two percent of GDP that NATO rules stipulate. This causes several problems; other nations are envious of the military capability the superpower has and others believe that they can shirk their responsibilities with regard to global safety. This often leads citizens of the superpower to believe that their country should not contribute to global peace because they may feel that others are taking advantage of their nation’s efforts. This dilemma leads to dangerous decisions.

In the film, the Autobots must make a decision. They must either:

A)     Ignore the orders of the humans who are asking them to leave and then potentially have to fight both the humans and the Decepticons, or

B)      Leave the planet as asked and allow the humans and Earth to be conquered and destroyed by the enemy.

I’ll leave what the Autobots eventually decide for you to find out as you watch the film, but for now, think of what the average voter should do when given the situation below and compare that with the above situation. Similar to the humans facing the difficult issue of the Decepticons, the voter’s nation is facing a deep financial crisis as a result of the recent economic downturn and the government needs to eliminate costs where feasible. Seeing a politician who advocates bringing all troops stationed abroad home, the voter chooses:

Q1)      To back a candidate who argues for bringing the troops home and ending global police action knowing that money and lives will initially be saved, though there are potential national security risks that could be allowed to fester (Transformers: This was the human choice)

Q2)      To back a candidate who argues for deeper cuts to non-essential programs and subsidies in order to maintain the global world order (The United States of America leading at home and abroad) knowing that this will cost a substantial amount of money, but will save money in the long run by allowing business to expand into ever-increasing areas, rather than retreating from increasing crime and aggressive state behavior

A1)      This option is the best economic option in the short-term, as it drastically reduces or nearly eliminates military spending overseas while making American soldiers less likely to get hurt or killed. (Transformers: This was the human choice)

A2)      This option may be the best economic option in the long run due to its ability to slowly bring more nations into developed country status, but costs a substantial amount of money to implement.

Just as the police are not generally well-served by leaving dangerous areas to the criminals, nations failing to monitor dangerous situations and address them proactively will only cause the problem nation/entity to become better organized and equipped and thus more difficult to manage in the future. This was precisely the situation that permitted the outbreak of World War II. Britain and France were trying to make a deal to contain Germany with the Soviets, but were more concerned about getting the terms they wanted than with the potential long-term threat posed. Britain and France never really appeared to believe Germany would attack them and were subsequently completely unprepared when it actually did happen. The humans in Transformers make the same bad decision. They fail to believe bad things will actually happen and rather than face confrontation now, they face more dangerous problems later.

If the United States were to withdraw from its position as global top cop, a number of things would be likely to happen:

  1.        China would retake Taiwan
  2.        North Korea would try to “reunify” (militarily) with South Korea
  3.        Iran would erase everything that we worked for by attacking Iraq and possibly taking Afghanistan (if Pakistan doesn’t get there first)
  4.        Piracy could spread to become a serious modern problem affecting more places than only the Middle East and northeast Africa
  5.        Drug and human-trafficking operations would have much more freedom of action allowing growth and the acquisition of increased global power

Just like removing police from an area will increase crime, all of these issues would be much more likely to increase in scope upon the removal of global peacekeeping operations. Additionally, regimes such as Iran or Venezuela could feel they need to establish a bigger presence in their neighborhoods; a major threat to regional stability.

The important thing for the U.S. and NATO to do is to promote awareness and begin recruiting other nations to help distribute the task of ensuring global prosperity. It is imperative that more states become involved who will actually strengthen the alliance and take some of the burden off of American shoulders. Lacking this, more American politicians will see voter frustration with that lack of effort and believe it wise to stop helping those who refuse to contribute.

In the film, the Autobots tried to “do the right thing” and avoid unnecessary confrontation because as a group, they are the good guys. But once you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that the good guys cannot leave the planet alone and expect it to be the same when they return.

 “A dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found to be a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; [becoming] demagogues, and ending [as] tyrants”

      Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper number 1

About Barry Saturday

The author is a Lexington, Ky-based financial advisor and formerly taught high school social studies for Fayette County Public Schools. Along with a M.A. in Education, his educational background consists of a B.A. in Foreign Languages and International Economics and an M.A. in Diplomacy with a concentration in Global Commerce. In 2012, he finished a two-month stint student teaching in Xi'an, China, and recently (2018) ran for City Council in Lexington, KY (District 4: Tates Creek / Nicholasville Rd area). Today's news outlets profit most from incendiary, surface-level appeals to emotion, which is poisoning much of our political discourse nationwide. Barry created this site in order to learn more about our world and share that knowledge with others. He hopes this site, aimed at an educated audience, will provide objective information for those seeking greater clarity and understanding than is often available in the current news environment. If you like what you see, feel free to comment and share with your network.

2 Responses to “Policing the World and the Transformers”

  1. Well, first I want to say a good article, but want to comment on some of your points, point by point.

    If the United States were to withdraw from its position as global top cop, a number of things would be likely to happen:

    1. China would retake Taiwan
    2. North Korea would try to “reunify” (militarily) with South Korea
    3. Iran would erase everything that we worked for by attacking Iraq and possibly taking Afghanistan (if Pakistan doesn’t get there first)
    4. Piracy could spread to become a serious modern problem affecting more places than only the Middle East and northeast Africa
    5. Drug and human-trafficking operations would have much more freedom of action allowing growth and the acquisition of increased global power

    First I want to say that some areas of the world I believe we will never stop aiding or having some foothold in. You would be looking at more of a drawback or draw down of soldiers elsewhere.

    1. With China, I do not feel the United States would abandon Taiwan, and frankly if China wanted it they could theoretically invade now and we could not stop them. So this scenario for now, I do not think would come to fruition.

    2. With N. Korea the same, I do not feel we will ever leave the area, however, if we did China and I believe India and Bangladesh would been more concerned with North Korea. They would more than likely fill the role left by our absence. Frankly China has more concerns with North Korea too in that portion of the world.

    3. I feel that no one in that part of the world, especially the Saudi’s trust Iran. As a matter of fact the ex-CEO of Black Water is building them a private military force to counter threats for their region. I believe and some data shows, that other countries may take up the fight against Iran if we were to depart. But here is the flip side to that coin, who are we to dictate policy to the world? Iran has only been found and proven guilty of supporting terrorism via proxy financially. The government has few if any direct links to insurgency at all. I think they would be more concerned with securing themselves over the next 20 years rather than invasion. In part because they have no WMD’s of any kind.

    4. I do not want to take this stance, but this should be an issue for the UN and handled by them since this is in International Waters. If not, you will see more and more privatized military companies, which now a Navy one is being or is already formed, to come in and have no legal justification to hold them in check and start policing the area. And who is to say they will be any better? This is a job for the UN and needs to be dealt with ASAP.

    5. If the United States got a handle on its own affairs, although the human trafficking issue is a large problem in the still Eastern Block European countries, the drug issue could be dealt with severely at home. We could militarize our border, one option, or help train the Mexican military in a fashion to respond to their own threat, second option, or finally conduct a joint operation with the Mexican government against the drug cartels in Mexico. As far as the drugs coming out of the Middle East and Asian countries, we will have to let those countries inflict their own punishments, but remember that they are sovereign and not judge them when they deal with punishment in their own way.

    These are just my personal takes on these issues. Sorry this was a little long winded. I am passionate about some of this.

  2. Chris, thank you for the comment! It seems I may not have sufficiently clarified my purpose in addressing that particular list of counterfactual (what if) scenarios. While intelligent people may differ on what would happen if the United States were to withdraw from global affairs or policing, the primary purpose of this article was to discuss the issue of whether or not the US should be involved in “global policing”. If you’d like to write an article for TSS about the actual consequences of a withdrawal, please do! Otherwise, I am in complete agreement with your belief that the United States will be unlikely to abandon its current allies and missions anytime soon.

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