If America Can't Police the World, A Global Standing Army Could


Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) wholeheartedly opposes U.S. military intervention in Syria; an action he said would put America in the role of worldwide police, which isn’t the country’s responsibility.

“In accordance with international law, that’s a role that’s exercised through the United Nations and through multilateral agreements like our NATO defense agreement,” Grayson said on HuffPost Live. “Here we’re playing cowboy. We’re going off and dropping bombs and letting the missiles fly without giving much thought to what good it will do.”

Former Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Ill.), one of the 10 House members who filed a lawsuit in federal court against President Barack Obama for taking military action in Libya two years ago without seeking congressional approval, echoed the same sentiments at the time saying America cannot police the world.

“We can’t continue to act on a variety of premises as a basis for American intervention around the world,” Johnson said on MSNBC. “There are over 200 countries in the world and most don’t share our principles, and it’s simply not possible, manpower-wise or financially, to act as the world’s policeman.”

When I heard these same arguments as a college freshman in 2003 during the Iraq War, I asked myself at the time: If America indeed cannot “police the world,” who can? Or rather, who should? One of the papers I wrote that semester (being the bright-eyed, think outside the box 18-year-old that I was) proposed a bold solution.

Before we go further, I want to make a distinction. I do not like this “world police” term; it is inaccurate. A world police already exists, INTERPOL. A more accurate term for the entity I proposed was what I called a Global Standing Army (GSA).

(That’s right, I even used the “Allied Nations” force from Street Fighter as a model.)

Many critics argue it is simply unfair for the burden of a GSA’s duties to fall on any one country, and they have a point. Blood and treasure are disproportionately divided when one country has to pick up most of the slack. The Iraq and Afghanistan interventions, for example, have cost the U.S. over 8,000 military casualties and a total of $2.4 trillion by 2017, when including interest costs, according to a 2007 CBO report.

The closest international force in existence that serves as a GSA is NATO. But, as Robert Gates highlighted during one of his final speeches as secretary of Defense, NATO is struggling to find its identity in the 21st century. Officials could not even find a clear, universally agreed upon strategic concept during their last summit in Lisbon.

The problem is that NATO is turning into a military alliance without a coherent vision of an external threat in the post-Cold War era. While members like the U.S., Britain, and Canada still see NATO as a GSA in the 21st century, Eastern European countries want NATO to focus on resurgent Russia. Western Europe, however, does not view Russia as a hostile power. Quite the opposite, Germany, France and Italy have been striking deals with Russia to swap military technology for discounts on energy. Moreover, it is no secret the U.S. is the only country that has retained its levels of defense spending since the Cold War. In fact, the U.S.’s military expenditure is more than the next 12 countries combined (it was the next 20 countries combined when I wrote the paper 10 years ago, but defense has been the only department the Obama administration has aggressively been cutting spending since it came to power). In other words, NATO is becoming the victim of divergent interests and declining post-Cold War defense budgets.

A UN GSA would remain separate from any one country’s control and would serve to intervene for humanitarian and world security purposes (as PolicyMic pundit Chris Miller recently argued for). I argued that the UN needed its own enforcement arm to carry out its resolutions instead of being dependent on voluntary actors, particularly the U.S. For instance, speeches were made for years, from Elie Wiesel to George Clooney, pleading the world to intervene and stop the genocide in Darfur. The UN passed numerous resolutions against the Sudanese government for its atrocities, but nothing was done to stop it without enforcement.

As for financing, in 2012, INTERPOL’s budget was 70 million euros, of which 74% was statutory contributions by member countries and 21% came from externally funded projects, private foundations and commercial enterprises. I proposed a similar financing model for a UN GSA. All nation states, including the 190 members of INTERPOL, the UN, and even the International Monetary Fund (IMF), would need to contribute and participate.

As for the military force itself, it would be an all-volunteer force open to all countries for enrollment. Many more details from weapons training to transport logistics to technology sharing would need to be ironed out (and quite frankly would be too long to transfer from my old paper), but you get the idea.

I concluded that the entire world has an interest in global stabilization and prevention of crimes against humanity, but the U.S. is strapped for cash and manpower. Plus it was immoral to rely on any one country to act as a GSA, particularly when it doesn’t fall within any one country’s interests or doesn’t pose an immediate threat to that particular country’s safety.

I have since heard plenty of reasonable arguments from many critics why a GSA couldn’t work in reality. Would all five permanent members of the UN Security Council (U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China) contribute their share to the GSA? Doubtful. How would contributions fairly be divided proportionately: by size of military expenditure or equal cuts? Would nation states voluntarily give up command over their own military personnel?

These are all legitimate questions over how a GSA would work in practice. But still, going back to my original question: If America indeed cannot “police the world,” who can? Or who should? Outside of NATO, a UN GSA still remains the only other alternative.

Follow @policymic