Is it in a given nation's best interests to align strongly with foreign countries to the extent that an attack on them would automatically trigger a war ? A lot of what I see wrong in the world seems to be around the "sphere of influence" idea where a nation deems that not only do they have national sovereignty but that they have "special pals" who are basically also to be considered as somehow part of an extended sovereignty. Nations constantly bicker over these and in some cases go to full fledged war. A classic example of this is the Israel+USA alliance. Other examples are Britain with the Falkland Islands or the USA with Taiwan or South Korea. George Washington gave a famous farewell address (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington%27s_Farewell_Address) warning against "foreign entanglements" and for the USA to keep a certain distance from other nations. We have certainly violated this admonition quite freely and my question is around whether this has been proper, desirable and good for the USA? Has the great good that South Korea has brought the world been worth the American blood spilled and potentially to be spilled? Is this all being done for economic benefits? In the final analysis, if we are to have dozens of small pals scattered around the world, I foresee more or endless conflict for the USA as some regional force will always try and counterbalance USA influence. This can have the effect of leading to a de-facto military Empire with hundreds of thousands of soldiers stationed worldwide. Are the little pal countries worth this?
asked Feb 20 '12 at 19:49
I think Ideas for Life's answer is great. I wanted to address some of the questioner's further arguments made in the comments, but found my response becoming too long to fit in the comments, so I have moved it here.
I think that the questioner misunderstands the reasons why Rand thinks it is in our rational interest to help--yes, even go to war for--certain allies. The reason is that the defeat of these allies would be a moral victory for an evil ideology. The connection between preventing a moral victory for an evil ideology and our rational self-interest may not be obvious, so let me explain.
(1)--Determining what is in our rational self-interest requires us to plan for survival long range, rather than on the spur of the moment. Events that do not appear to affect us immediately and/or directly can end up affecting us at a later time or through indirect means. Accordingly, determining our rational self-interest requires taking account of events even if they do not directly and immediately affect us.
(2)--Certain ideological movements pose a long-term threat to us, even if they are not immediately or directly harming us this moment. Evil is not content to leave the good in peace. The good are a reproach to them, a constant reminder of their viciousness. Accordingly, the most radical and consistent of these evil ideological movements systematically seek to wipe out the good.
(3)--Evil ideological movements gain power when the good fail to morally oppose them, and tend to struggle when the good do morally oppose them. Ideas are important--they drive people's actions, and, ultimately, the course of history. Evil ideological movements are made up of people who hold, implicitly or explicitly, evil ideas. By morally opposing those ideas we undercut the fuel that feeds the movement. By standing by, or even worse sanctioning the evil, we allow the evil to grow.
(4)--The destruction of Israel or Taiwan would be a huge symbolic victory for evil ideological movements (Islamic totalitarianism and Communism, respectively). Our failure to come to their aid would be at best standing by and letting the evil grow unchecked, at worst sanctioning the evil.
Conclusion--Premises (1) through (4) together imply that it is in our rational interest that Israel and Taiwan not be destroyed.
The questioner argues that "a small band of (admittedly courageous and noble) people  aren't critical to [our] survival by any stretch." I think the questioner underestimates how much our allies do for us existentially (electronics from Taiwan is just one example), but for the sake of this discussion let us stipulate that if the people of Taiwan or Israel were wiped out we in the US would not be immediately and directly harmed by it in any material sense. This does not mean that there is no connection to our rational interest, as explained above. What message has been sent to Communist China or the Islamic totalitarians by our acquiescence to their actions? Have they become stronger or weaker as a result of their victory? Is it in our interest for those movements to become stronger? Do you really believe that Communism and Islamic totalitarianism pose no long term threat to us?
The point is that some of the most important struggles going on in the world are not between individual dictators or discrete nations, but between ideologies. Rand recognized that it is in our interest to oppose these evil ideologies where and how we can.
This does not mean that it is in our rational self interest to respond to any attack by any evil nation anywhere in the world. We must try to objectively identify how much of a threat the attack poses. To argue that an attack on an ally can pose a threat to our rational self-interest is not to argue that it must. We would want to know what ideology, if any, is guiding the attack. Is this ideology a powerful force in the world? Who is the victim of the attack? Are they just another evil nation, a mixed nation, a good (but not great) nation, or a beacon of freedom in a sea of evil? So, for example, Hutu slaughtering thousands of Tutsi is sad, but it is not an objective threat to our self-interest. Tribal racism in Africa is not a movement that has the power to threaten us. Islamic totalitarianism, on the other hand has demonstrated repeatedly that it does have the power to harm us.
Neither does it mean that we should do anything we can to protect our allies. Yes, their demise would be a great harm to us. But, if the only way to protect them is to commit suicide, then of course our rational self-interest cannot require that. We must always balance the costs against the gains. Is this easy? No. But when are moral judgements ever easy? And yet we make them--as we must--every day.
Finally, consider the following hypothetical story as an illustration of the above discussion:
Suppose your family is stranded on an island with four other families. The four families spread out and inhabit different parts of the island, but continue to interact with each other.
Your family and two of the other families consist of people who are more-or-less good, and you all begin to thrive. You family is the largest and most skilled, and thus you are the most prosperous, but the other two good families also prosper to a lesser degree.
Two of the families, however, are full of evil-minded criminals. They do not thrive, and become jealous of your wealth. They eventually convince each other that the good families are actually evil because they do not share, and that the just thing to do would be to force the good (in their view evil) families to share. After months of speeches whipping themselves up into a frenzy, one of the evil families grow bold enough to launch an attack on one of the good families, bent on killing and/or enslaving them and taking their wealth. You are able to perceive the beginning of the attack.
What do you do? Do you help the good family, even though the evil family has not attacked you?
I submit that it is clear that it is in your rational self interest to help the good family repel the attack and eventually destroy or subdue the evil family. It is obvious that the evil family is a serious threat to you even if they are not immediately attacking you. It is also apparent that allowing them to destroy the good family is only going to strengthen their position--not only would there be less good guys left on the island if you failed to act, the evil family would have gained a large moral and symbolic victory. Their morale would be increased; descenters in their family would be discouraged; doubters in the family would start to think that maybe the majority was correct. Furthermore, the more timid yet still evil other family would be encouraged. They would see that attacks on the good can work, and that the biggest most powerful family will do nothing to protect the other good families. Thus you would end up facing twice as many enemies, and ones that would be more resolved and morally self-righteous than ever. They would be encouraged to attack the only other remaining good family, safe in the knowledge that you would not stop them. Eventually you would be the lone family of good men on an island of criminals. Consider how long that arrangement would last.
The question states: "A classic example of this is the Israel+USA alliance." Example of what? Here is the full statement:
Is it in a given nation's best interests to align strongly with foreign countries to the extent that an attack on them would automatically trigger a war ? A lot of what I see wrong in the world seems to be around the "sphere of influence" idea where a nation deems that not only do they have national sovereignty but that they have "special pals" who are basically also to be considered as somehow part of an extended sovereignty. Nations constantly bicker over these and in some cases go to full fledged war. A classic example of this is the Israel+USA alliance.
If this is intended as a description of the Objectivist view of foreign policy. it significantly misses the mark (and the point). Objectivism absolutely does not endorse "the sphere of influence" idea as expressed in this formulation. As I have noted more than once in past postings, the essence of the Objectivist view of foreign policy is stated in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "Foreign Policy." I hope the questioner isn't reading more into those excerpts than is actually there or intended. Some of the highlights include:
...a policy explicitly and proudly dedicated to the defense of America's rights and national self-interests, repudiating foreign aid and all forms of international self-immolation.
I have already noted Ayn Rand's view of why Israel deserves America's special support militarily if attacked by foreign aggressor nations (if Israel needs it). Refer to my answer to the question, Why do some Objectivists seem to be so reflexively pro-Israel? -- which includes a reference to Ayn Rand's 1973 Ford Hall Forum Q&A reply in Ayn Rand Answers, pp. 96-97, in the section on "Foreign Policy."
Ayn Rand elaborated at even greater length on her view of Taiwan in The Ayn Rand Letter, Part III, April 24, 1972. Here are some highlights of that discussion:
The Republic of China on Taiwan is a mixed economy, like the rest of the semi-free world, but it is free enough to have become, in the past twenty-two years, one of the world's outstanding examples of economic progress and prosperity. Think of how hard and how courageously those two million Chinese refugees had to work for such an achievement. Of all the various refugee groups that escaped from the mass slaughter conducted by totalitarian regimes in their native lands, only two -- the Chinese Nationalists and the Israelis -- had a chance not to vanish into the resigned futility of "ethnic" memories, rituals and prayers, and have built a new life for themselves against tremendous odds. Are we -- the United States of America, the country that had proudly stood as an asylum for victims of tyranny -- are we to betray men of that caliber and deliver them into the hands of their executioners?
As this excerpt indicates, a similar evaluation also applies to Isreal. Ayn Rand also points out in that article that the U.S. has a treaty to protect Taiwan, a treaty that the U.S. under the Nixon Administration sought to avoid mentioning during their overtures to China in the 1970s.
The question concludes:
In the final analysis, if we are to have dozens of small pals scattered around the world, I foresee more or endless conflict for the USA as some regional force will always try and counterbalance USA influence. This can have the effect of leading to a de-facto military Empire with hundreds of thousands of soldiers stationed worldwide. Are the little pal countries worth this?
If this is meant as a description of an Objectivist approach to foreign policy, then again it misses the mark (and the point). An Objectivist foreign policy isn't about power or "sphere of influence," as the Lexicon excerpts explain. An Objectivist foreign policy, as I understand it, would certainly include a place for specific, well-chosen allies who can be of mutual benefit in production and trade and national self-defense. If other nations wish to avoid war, all they have to do is join in the process of international free trade and refrain from attacking America and its allies. If they choose war, America and its allies ought to be fully prepared to vanquish any would-be oppressors. Historically, international capitalism at its height in the nineteenth century actually led to one of the longest periods of world peace ever seen. Capitalism is a system of peace and freedom of production and trade on a worldwide scale, not war.
answered Feb 21 '12 at 21:39
Ideas for Life ♦