Rich Tucker

The United States is the only developed economy that invests 4 percent of GDP in defense. After the U.K. at 2.5 percent and France at 2.3 percent, things go downhill quickly, with Germany at less than 2 percent and Japan less than 1 percent. Still-developing China spends 2 percent.

It’s a positive that the developed world is comfortable trusting the U.S. military. And it’s a positive that the developed world thinks it has put war behind it. But in his book, “Civilization and Its Enemies,” Lee Harris points to what he calls an unsettling paradox. “The more the spirit of commerce triumphs, the closer mankind comes to dispensing with war, the nearer we approach the end of history, the greater are the rewards to those who decide to return to the path of war,” he writes.

Witness Russia in Crimea and, potentially, the whole of Ukraine. And should the Russians decide to go another few steps, consider the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Latvia. It’s in a tough neighborhood, right up against Russia. But it has almost no military; only 6,000 active troops and 11,000 reservists, financed by less than 1 percent of its GDP. It’s counting on NATO to protect it.

Whether NATO, which really means the U.S., will be there is the big question.

The world has reason to wonder whether Washington remains up for its long-time role of global leader. “What would America fight for?” the cover of The Economist asks. The magazine points out that Barack Obama has weakened his position by ignoring his own “red line” over Syria, and by imposing nearly irrelevant sanctions over Ukraine. As even The Washington Post’s David Ignatius admits, “under Obama, the United States has suffered some real reputational damage.”

In fact, it’s difficult to think of a single country the U.S. has better relations with today than it did during the George W. Bush years. We’ve even managed to anger Canada (Keystone XL) and Britain (Churchill bust).

Perceptions matter. “Rogue states will behave more roguishly if they doubt America’s will to stop them,” The Economist points out. And, “In a world full of bluffers, the ruthless will rule,” as Harris writes.

There’s no reason the 21st century can’t be even more peaceful and profitable than the 20th was. American leadership, though will be key.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for