By Alan W. Dowd 

Nuclear Warning
With North Korea rattling nuclear sabers and the US moving ahead with its plan for a phased withdrawal from the heavily armed demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, Washington is making it clear that South Korea is still protected by America’s nuclear umbrella. In fact, during his visit to Asia in late November Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went out of his way to remind Pyongyang of America’s nuclear deterrent.  

As Bill Gertz reported in the Washington Times, such a pointed reference to America’s nuclear capacity is highly unusual—but arguably necessary, given the unpredictability in North Korea. The slow-motion withdraw of US forces southward, away from the frontlines in Korea, could take 13 years. America’s nuclear force will no doubt be important during this delicate process in deterring North Korean aggression. 

The United States withdrew its nuclear weapons from South Korean territory in 1991, in hopes of coaxing Pyongyang away from making the peninsula a nuclear tripwire. Since then, Washington has kept nuclear-armed submarines in the region as a deterrent.  

Deep Cuts, Deep Water

Speaking of submarines, a recent analysis conducted by the San Diego Union Tribune found that the Navy’s fleet of warships has shrunk to its smallest size since the start of World War I.  

The Navy’s battle force totals just 296 ships today, even though the demands of the global war on terror continue to hurl the Navy into virtually every ocean and sea on earth. Navy ships are monitoring the Persian Gulf, protecting the vital shipping lanes of the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Pacific, policing the waters around the Horn of Africa, keeping watch over Taiwan and South Korea, and supporting anti-terror missions in the Philippines and Afghanistan. According to Rep. Duncan Hunter, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, “We’ve cut too deep.” 

Before it gets better, it will get worse. In FY2003, 20 ships were mothballed and just four were christened. The Navy is on course to have just 291 ships in 2006, before building back up to 300 by the end of this decade.  

Of course, more is not always better: The Navy’s newest ships can perform multiple missions and roles, while their older counterparts often did fewer tasks less efficiently and more expensively.     

United States of Europe?

The European Union is lumbering toward a new era of political and geographic integration this year, as ten new members are added into the EU fold and a new draft constitution works its way through capitals for review and comment. Papering over the glaring problems of 2003, when Europe was badly splintered over the Iraq war, EU leaders are pushing the expansion and constitution as proof of Europe’s “unity in diversity.”  

The EU constitutional process is a major undertaking, and at 263-single-spaced pages, so is reading the EU constitution. It addresses everything from the right to a free and fair trial to fisheries, monetary policy to occupational hygiene. Its preamble quotes Thucydides, boasting that “power is in the hands not of a minority but of the greatest number.” 

One can’t help but compare the EU’s behemoth to the US constitution, which is a modest 4700 words. While the EU document comments on specifics and scrambles to address seemingly every imaginable social, political and cultural issue, the US constitution deals with broad, thematic matters—treaties and taxation, war and peace, trade and commerce, rights and responsibilities. And while the EU races to empower the majority and lubricate the gears of government, the compact penned by America’s Founding Fathers actually sought to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority, institutionalized inefficiency with a maze of checks and balances, and wisely chose to create a republic rather than a democracy.  

Almost 220 years later, their masterpiece endures. One wonders if the EU’s will even come into force, let alone stand the test of time.

Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.