The days when West Europeans have been able to look, with complete confidence to the United States as their military protector, are rapidly coming to an end. I doubt if there will be any American forces in Europe within three or four years. And when the troops go, America is unlikely to continue to extend its nuclear umbrella over the Continent.
This development should not take anyone by surprise. The wonder is that it has not occurred before. Certainly, in 1945, no American would have thought it conceivable that his country would maintain a vast army and air force in Europe for more than a quarter-century after the defeat of the Nazis. America drifted into this open-ended commitment more by chance than as a result of a deliberate, long-sighted decision.
It was made possible, of course, by America's enormous economic strength, which in those days overshadowed the whole world.
Today the cjicture is very different. The Vietnam War has broken the will of Americans to act as world policemen. they want no more commitments, and are anxious to liquidate those they already carry. They are worried about the future of their economy as never before. The dollar is now the weakest of the world's major currencies, and America is running an enormous deficit on its overseas account.
In the 19th century, the Americans took over a vast and almost empty country, which seemed to possess limitless resources of raw materials. They exploited this wealth with a ferocity and recklessness unprecedented in history. raised their living standards to unparalleled heights, and invented a modern society whose raison d'etre and dynamic was consumption. This process has continued for well over a century, and at an accelerated pace, but at long last the Americans are beginning to realise that it cannot go on indefinitely.
America is running out of raw materials. It is exhausting its natural capital at frightening speed. From being an exporter of oil, America is now the world's largest importer, and the ratio is moving relentlessly against her. Oil is the most spectacular example, but there are a great many others.
It is for this reason that a change in her relationships with Japan and West Europe is inevitable. Japan has risen to become the world's third largest industrial power under American military protection. Securely sheltered under the eagle's wings, she has been able to concentrate her national efforts exclusively on industrial development. The Common Market Powers have enjoyed a similar felicity at America's expense. Today, both Japan and West Europe arc strong enough to challenge America's industrial leadership, and their efforts to increase their growth-rates and living standards are adding to America's economic problems. Sooner or later it was inevitable that the Americans would insist that, if Japan and West Europe were strong enough to drive America from world markets, they were strong enough to take over the burden of their military defence. The moment was delayed by the power of the American Presidency, and the desire of successive American Presidents to continue to exercise the influence on international events which their overseas fleets and garrisons secured.
Now, in the wake of Watergate, the dominance of the Presidency has been undermined, and Congress, which is far more susceptible to public opinion, is beginning to pull its constitutional weight. America is revolting against the weight of its world burdens, and there is a growing demand for the legions to he brought home.
Thus a long epoch. in which the Japanese and the West Europeans have enjoyed unprecedented prosperity on the cheap, is coming to an end. Henceforth, they themselves will have to pay the military price of defending their living standards from the "have not" powers. They will be brought to realise that their triumphant capitalist systems are vulnerable to the pressure of heavily-armed collectist Powers like the Soviet Union and China.
They will either have to compromise with these rival systems — and help them to attain similar standards of living — or else embark on vast programmes of rearmament which will have a depressing effect on their domestic economies. Either way, Uncle Sam will no longer be around to pick upthe bill.