How Free-Riding French and Germans Risk Nuclear Anarchy

Some of our allies act like spoiled teenagers who badmouth their parents while they're living off of them

Imagine President Bush responding as follows to the latest rebuffs from France, Germany, South Korea, and others and to the stunning surge of anti-Americanism around the world:

"Enough. The American people are weary of holding the world's rogue regimes and barbarians at bay in the face of sneers and obstructionism from faithless 'allies' such as France, Germany, and South Korea, who owe their freedom to America. So I have decided, with a heavy heart, to acquiesce in the profoundly misguided but implacable demands of world opinion and to end our efforts to disarm Iraq and liberate its oppressed people. From this point forward, my policy will be to defend the United States and our true friends. We will pull our troops out of Germany, the Persian Gulf, and South Korea. We will disengage from NATO and the United Nations. I will urge Congress to invest the savings in airtight border controls and missile defense. And I will begin a crash program to end U.S. reliance on Persian Gulf oil.

"We will leave our critics to deal as best they can with nuclear-armed North Korea; with soon-to-be-nuclear-armed Iraq, Iran, and maybe Libya, Syria, and Indonesia; and with the nascent black market in doomsday weapons for terrorists. It has become clear that the United States and our friends cannot long prevent the spread of such weapons while nations such as France and Germany undermine our efforts and trade with our enemies."

How would the French, Germans, Arabs, South Koreans, Chinese, and other America-bashers like that? It would be only a matter of time until Iraq or Iran, or both, took over the entire Persian Gulf region. That would send oil prices to unprecedented levels and drag European, Arab, African, and Asian economies into recession or depression—and it would mean the bloody subjugation of the region's Arab peoples. Islamist terrorists, bent on destroying Western civilization, would find it far easier to attack targets in Europe than in the newly fortified United States. With North Korea's million-man army poised to sweep through Seoul and beyond, South Korea would face blackmail to unite on terms dictated by the North's Stalinist regime. China would soon find itself facing two nearby nuclear threats, as Japan would rapidly go nuclear to defend itself against North Korea.

The point of this exercise is not to suggest that the time for such a lurch into isolationism has arrived. Not yet, at least. Pique is not a policy. And an unpoliced, anarchic world would be an economic and national security disaster for the United States as well as others. The point is to underscore how the Europeans, South Koreans, and others who have become so anti-American depend on American power—unthinkingly, ungratefully, and completely—for their well-being. Abdicating their own responsibilities to help maintain world order, they are free riding, as my colleague Clive Crook noted last week, on the same U.S. polices that they publicly denounce. Like a spoiled teenager who expects her parents to support her even though she refuses to do any work around the house and constantly mouths off to them, these nations enjoy the benefits of U.S. global policing while refusing to share in the costs and trashing the policeman.

Take the views of many anti-war Europeans that Iraq should not be invaded but "contained." By whom? France? Germany? Belgium? They could not contain the two-bit Serbian tyrant, Slobodan Milosevic. And they have been no help—indeed, they have been a great hindrance—in containing Iraq. They want the U.S. to do it, through a costly, draining, long-term commitment of American forces. At the same time, they bash the U.S. for the military pressure and economic sanctions—"starving Iraqi babies"—that undergird containment.

The ignorance and hypocrisy of the European free-riders is perhaps best illustrated by their clamoring that Bush is bent on a greed-driven "war for oil." But Bush could get a lot more cheap oil, a lot sooner, by joining the long-standing French-Russian push to lift the sanctions on Iraqi exports than by spending vast sums and betting his presidency on an invasion and occupation of Iraq. No American leader would dream of invading but for Saddam's persistence in seeking weapons of mass destruction. If Bush's goal were to grab an oil-rich colony for his corporate buddies, Venezuela would be a much easier target.

It's true that the vast oil reserves in and near Iraq help drive U.S. policy—but not in a way that justifies European or Arab sneers. It is oil that brings Saddam enough money to buy and build weapons of mass destruction. And the regional hegemony he seeks would enable him to raise prices to extortionate levels. Every other nation in the world has at least as strong an interest as the United States does in denying Saddam such a stranglehold on the global economy.

The tidal wave of anti-Americanism has multiple wellsprings, of course. Critics are understandably resentful of the Bush administration's arrogant demeanor; its disdain for international institutions, agreements, and diplomatic niceties; and its unqualified support of Israel's Ariel Sharon and his expansionist settlement polices. And they're understandably attached to a U.N.-centered vision of international law that has worked well enough in Western Europe—ever since America liberated and rebuilt the place—but is useless against terrorists and rogue regimes with weapons of mass destruction. Mix in German pacifism; Russian insecurity; French ego and cynicism; Arab self-pity, paranoia, and envy; and near-universal resentment of the world's only superpower.

But underlying them all is the implicit calculation that the safest course for European nations (and others) is to obstruct American policies while free riding on American power. This calculation rests on two assumptions that may prove to be catastrophically wrong. The first is that as long as Paris and Berlin appease the Arab world and Europe's own militant Muslims, it will be New York and Washington—not Paris or Berlin—that are targeted for destruction by any weapons of mass destruction that jihadists obtain from Iraq or other rogue regimes. The second is that Europe need not share in the costs and risks of keeping rogue regimes in check, because Uncle Sam will do it for them.

Similarly, most South Koreans have lulled themselves into assuming that the North will not attack them and that its nuclear buildup is America's problem. They seem to have forgotten that the main reason they are not under the boot of the Stalinist North already is that the United States rescued them 50 years ago and still protects them with 37,000 troops and the nuclear umbrella. Or perhaps they assume the U.S. will protect them no matter how much they spit on us.

This assumption may be correct in the short run. Viscerally satisfying as it might be for the United States to offer North Korea a trade—you abandon nukes, we abandon South Korea—the North would no doubt sign the deal, do its best to take over South Korea, and then resume its nuclear buildup.

All of this is somewhat analogous to the American public's isolationism while Hitler's armies were marching through Europe. Not our problem, Americans thought. Let England and the Soviet Union fight Germany. That seemed the best way to stay out of the war. But only in the short term. As President Franklin Roosevelt understood long before Pearl Harbor, German (and Japanese) aggression would eventually threaten America too. So FDR did all he could to change public opinion and help Britain fight the war.

European or South Korean leaders with a long view would likewise see their own nations' interest in standing with America against the rogue states and barbarians. The reason is that even the American "hyperpower" probably lacks the will or the strength to carry the burden of world security for much longer, with little help from anyone but Britain, and in the face of increasingly widespread anti-Americanism. And unless someone stops the spread of doomsday weapons, anti-Western jihadists are probably within five to 15 years of obtaining enough of them—from Iraq, North Korea, or elsewhere—to endanger civilization as we know it. Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder should ask themselves: After New York and Washington and London have been destroyed or depopulated, how long before Paris and Berlin meet similar fates?

It may be too much to expect the European and Arab publics, who are fed grotesque caricatures of Bush and America by their media and intelligentsia, to grasp their own interests in helping the United States defang Iraq. But wise leadership is about seeing one's national interest in the long term, and educating public opinion instead of pandering to it. The superficially clever Chirac and Schroeder are not wise leaders. They are fools. And they are helping to bring the world closer to a dark era of nuclear anarchy.