Isolationism is appealing - let the rest of the world take care of itself while we trade and prosper inside fortress America. The problem is that the U.S. will not stick with this strategy if the world changes in ways we don't like. If the U.S. allows gradual adverse change, it is likely wake up one day, find the state of the world unacceptable, and intervene massively. It might be better to recognize that we lack the discipline to allow the rest of the world to go its own way. Constant deterrence might be cheaper in the long run than occasional world wars.
This week it was revealed that war games conducted by the RAND Corporation show that Russia could take over Estonia and Latvia within 36-60 hours. NATO, given current capabilities, could not stop them.
Two years ago, before the Russian annexation of Crimea, such a scenario seemed extremely unlikely. The cost of lowering the probability of events with already negligible likelihoods even further did not seem worth the cost. After Crimea and eastern Ukraine, a Russian takeover of the Baltic countries does not seem so unlikely. The U.S., however, has made absolute commitments to defend the Baltics. Six months after the annexation of Crimea, in a speech given in Tallinn, President Obama said:
[W]e will defend our NATO Allies, and that means every Ally. . . . And we will defend the territorial integrity of every single Ally. . . . Because the defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London. . . . Article 5 is crystal clear: An attack on one is an attack on all. . . . We’ll be here for Estonia. We will be here for Latvia. We will be here for Lithuania. You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it again.
Now we know that this was empty talk - Obama does not have the ability to prevent a loss of Estonia's independence. It is the exact opposite of talking softly and carrying a big stick.
If Russia invaded the Baltic region, the U.S. would have a choice of hot or cold war. Both would be very expensive. Given the nature of the U.S., simply recognizing the change in power and conducting business as usual would not be an option.
The RAND Corporation argues that a one time expenditure of $13 billion plus $3 billion annually on armor, artillery, soldiers, logistics, and air and naval support would be sufficient to have a good chance of deterring a Russian invasion of the Baltics. It seems like a reasonable investment given the risks and the huge costs of the alternatives.
The RAND Corporation is as "establishment" as anything can be. The release of this study probably means that the establishmentarian candidates for president will move in this direction, while the disestablishmentarian candidates, Sanders, Trump, Paul (now out), and possibly Cruz, would not.
On this issue, I am afraid I am convinced by RAND, and a supporter of antidisestablishmentarianism.