Three years ago, in light of the end of the Cold War, the Clinton Administration undertook a "fundamental reassessment" of America's national-security requirements. But after six months of analysis Administration officials concluded that the defense of U.S. global interests still demanded military spending of more than $1.3 trillion over the following five years and the permanent commitment of more than 200,000 U.S. soldiers in East Asia and Europe--in other words, a strategy remarkably similar to that which America pursued during the Cold War. Moreover, rather than relinquish America's costly and risky responsibilities by dissolving Cold War alliances, defense strategists now plan to expand NATO's responsibilities eastward. Those who call for a more modest plan argue that U.S. strategy seems to be extravagance born of paranoia, or of the defense establishment's anxiety to protect its budget. In fact, given the way the makers of U.S. foreign policy have defined American interests since the late 1940s, these plans are quite prudent. And that is the problem.
If many Americans had been asked ten years ago why U.S. troops were deployed in East Asia and Europe, they would have answered, To keep the Soviets out. They may have wondered, however, why the United States persisted in its strategy long after Japan, South Korea, and Western Europe had become capable of defending themselves. Now that the USSR itself has disappeared, why does Washington continue to insist that U.S. "leadership" in East Asia and Europe is still indispensable?