Skip to main content

Lomperis – From Police Cruiser to Posse Rider

From Police Cruiser to Posse Rider:

The United States as ASEAN’s County Sheriff


J. Lomperis
Saint Louis University


This article likens the role of the United States in the Post-Cold War
era, particularly in Southeast Asia, to that of a county sheriff in the American
“wild west.” During the Cold
War, by contrast, Washington attempted to construct an international system in
which the United States played the role of a global policeman.
In advocating such a county sheriff role today, the larger point of this
analogy is to underscore that the purpose of Post-Cold War American security
policy should be to serve as the midwife to a global sovereignty that spreads
across the “Mississippi” over the anarchic “wild wests” of contemporary
global society.

Wild West

In nineteenth century America, the Mississippi River divided the country
into two halves of order and anarchy. To
the east of the Big Muddy, the land was organized into states in a fixed
hierarchical structure with a federal government supported by a constitutional
order of enforceable laws. To the
west of Saint Louis, the anarchy of the loosely organized territories evoked the
romance of county sheriffs riding
into such places as Dodge City, Abilene, Tombstone, and
“San Antone” blasting back the forces of lawlessness into
the darkness of the homeless ranges.

“Back East” police forces patrolled the cities of New York,
Philadelphia, Chicago, and even Cleveland, in support of an intricate web of
individual citizens, cascading waves of immigrants, and vested economic and
social interest groups linked in hierarchical networks to the existing political
order. It was an order where cops
were on every block and their writ was wrapped up in legally enforceable
sanctions. There were no security
dilemmas, just court actions to be served, arrests of rogue citizens to be made,
and riots by one group or another to be broken up.

Across the river in the “Wild West,” though, the territories lacked
this hierarchical order of the eastern states.
Cops were not on every block. County
Sheriffs were responsible for hundreds of square miles and scores of isolated
human settlements. They were also
supposed to provide a foundation of security for expanding economic activities
whose harmonious interdependence were still vague, idealistic dreams.
In reality, sheep farmer contended with cattle rancher in an ideological
and practical war over the land– whether to fence it up or to leave it
open-ranged. In the town, the
circuit-riding Methodist preacher denounced the prostitution and drunken
carousing of the saloons, while the owner of the general store was caught in the
middle. Even as he paid his tithe
to the preacher for a new steeple on his church, the shopkeeper also realized
that the surplus enabling his religious charity depended on the spillover demand
for his flour and coffee from the patronage of the cowboys who were initially
attracted to town by the “hot times” in the saloon.

In theory, the County Sheriff was “in charge” of all this.
In reality, he was a distant and intermittent presence.
In modern international security parlance, he was “over the horizon.”
In between these visits, the territorials were on their own.
During these long intervals of time and place, it was a world
of “self-help.”
People tried to fashion their security through a balancing of these
competing interests. Practically, then, various informal balances of power were
created to establish a rough equilibrium among a town’s contending forces:
between the cattle rancher and the sheepherder, the preacher and the prostitute,
and the shopkeeper and the cowboy. All
that was needed in these “self-helped” towns was an occasional visit by the
sheriff to nudge the prostitutes off the streets, confine the wild oats of the
cowboys to Saturday nights, and get the cattle ranchers and sheep herders to
parlay rather than trade shots across their fences.
Internationally, these appearances by the law man might be called
“showing the flag,” providing one’s “good offices,” and even stiffing
the people a little with “gunboat diplomacy.”
Today this could be called a strategy of Preventive Defense.

Occasionally, these local balances of power failed– usually in one of
two ways. One way was to have a
local balance upset from within by one of these forces making a bid for
“hegemonic” power. A cattle
rancher, for example, might hire some itinerant gunslingers (mercenaries) to
tear down the fences of the sheepherders and drive them out of town.
He then might take over the saloon and either get elected mayor directly
or let the honor fall to the shopkeeper, who would be shown the “facts of
life” by the selective torching of a part of his store.
Alarmed, the preacher might steal away in the night to the
County Sheriff and beg him to form a posse to ride into town to restore the
original balance of civic peace. The
recent American interventions in Bosnia and Haiti might be viewed in this light.

Another way, usually the more dramatic, was to have the local balance
upset from without by a gang of outsiders, who would raid the town and take it
over. These outside take-overs were
more rare, but far more serious to the County Sheriff, because they posed a
direct threat to the fundamental principles he was sworn to uphold; namely, that
even in the anarchic territories, certain customs and usages about the proper
establishment of units of government had to be enforced if there were to be any
legitimacy to the concept of a territory linked to a larger order; to wit, that
offered by the federated United States of America across the Mississippi River.
These challenges, therefore, required an immediate and decisive response.
These responses formed the epic legends of the Wild West: the Earps
clearing out the Cantrels from Tombstone in the “Shoot Out at the OK
Corral,” the posses organized by Wild Bill Hickock to quiet Abilene and Dodge
City. In modern terms, this is what
the United States did in the Gulf War in organizing a Coalition Posse to clean
out Saddam Hussein’s outlaw gang from Kuwait in 1991. 1.


In this saga of the Wild West, some significant foundations to this
period usually go unnoticed that are important for its use as an analogy for a
contemporary regional role for the United States in the semi-lawless territory
of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
First, in this bifurcated continent of hierarchical states with their
laws and policemen east of the Mississippi, and of anarchical territories with
their county sheriffs and balances of power west of the Mississippi, there was a
beehive of economic activity in both halves.
There was, indeed, a huge spillover of investment across the river so
that much of the continental growth overall was pulled by this Westward
expansion. Huge infrastructure
investments flooded into the West: into the building of railroads, the opening
of gold and silver mines, and the laying down of a second string of coastal
gateway ports–this time to China and its open door to the millions of
oil-starved lamps. These
investments flowed into the West because, under the rubric of Manifest Destiny,
investor confidence in foreign sources of capital from Britain and Germany, as
well as from Chicago, New York, and Washington, ran high.
They ran high because the security achieved by these County Sheriffs
worked. These “cascading
interdependencies” among German steel manufacturers, British diamond investors
from India and South Africa, New York banks, Pennsylvania railroad companies,
and Irish immigrants would never have been possible without the calculations of
confidence made possible by the territorial balances of power nurtured and
maintained by these county sheriffs. This
security regime was the foundation of the bawdy prosperity of the Wild West.

A second and equally unnoticed fact behind these Wild West dramas was
that these favorable calculations of confidence in this territorial balance of
power system were based not just on the might of the sheriffs themselves, but on
their impressive back-up. It was
clear to the German and British investor and to the cattle rustler and village
hegemonic bully alike that these sheriffs were not alone.
In the feudal shadows of sovereignty West of the Mississippi, railroad
tracks were connecting ribbons of steel. As the critical lines of communication
to this territorial system, protecting the railroads was a federal matter, and
county sheriffs could call on federal marshals to bring in the army– those
dashing horse cavalrymen in blue pants who rode out of very romantic but
incredibly dreary places like Fort Laramie, Fort Kearney, Fort Carson, Camp
Snelling, and Sierra Vista, Arizona. Naturally,
what constituted the protection of the railroads could be broadly interpreted–
and was. As more and more lines of track spanned the West, the deterrent value
of this back-up force increased. In
brief, preponderances of power were available for local contingencies.

The Cold War

This geographical divide along the Mississippi River between Eastern
policemen and Western sheriffs during the nineteenth century can be compared to
the two contemporary eras of the Cold War of the Berlin Wall and the Post Cold
War era of dissolving power blocs. The
reference to the United States as a global policeman was explicit and frequent
in the Cold War. The current
categorization of an international American County Sheriff has not been as
widely heard. As the first postwar
President, Harry S. Truman called the four victorious allies over the Axis
Powers– the United States, the Soviet Union, the British Empire, and
Nationalist China– the Four Policemen who would serve as the foundation of the
hard-won peace. During the war,
President Franklin Roosevelt was determined to put a realist floor to the United
Nations by having the four great powers combine their forces into the new world
body to overcome the idealistic weakness of the interwar League of Nations.
He, too, called these powers the world’s policemen.

All analogies are imperfect. These
four powers, of course, were not imbued with any global sovereignty through
which they could use their own armed forces as a global police force enforcing
United Nations laws. But domestic
American critics, nevertheless, used this policeman image mercilessly to
denounce what they saw as an interventionist foreign policy.
There was more than an echo of truth to the “globo-cop” metaphor.
President Truman, in fact, called the Korean War (1950-1953) a “police
action.” If not enforcing the
law, the United States was certainly putting some constabulary teeth into the
“Uniting for Peace” General Assembly Resolution that authorized the U.N.
military action in Korea under American command.
Indeed, subsequently, the United States strung a necklace of alliances
around its “lawless,” “Godless,” Soviet adversary (who could be forgiven
for seeing this necklace as more like a hangman’s noose).
These alliance commitments all called for American guarantees to protect
the global neighborhoods covered by the alliances from this monolithic communist
outlaw — of NATO in Europe, CENTO and METO in the Middle East, SEATO in South
East Asia, ANZUS with Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific, and of bilateral
treaties with Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea in East Asia.

To support these commitments, four naval fleets, with accompanying air
force and army bases on either side of this liquid chain necklace, patrolled,
conducted maneuvers, and streaked over the skies along this vast geopolitical
beat. The ubiquity of this
vigilance could be measured by the hundreds of “serious warnings” angrily
issued by “Red China” to the metronome-like passage of task forces of the
Seventh Fleet through the Formosa Straits.
Supporting these fleets and air wings were over 300,000 American soldiers
in Europe and another 100,000 sailors and marines at sea; and, in Asia at least
during the Vietnam War (1960-1975), over 500,000 troops in Indochina and another
200,000 elsewhere on land and sea. In
fact, a bitter critic of American intervention, Richard Barnet, accused
Washington of maintaining over 2,000 overseas bases, and keeping half its
military forces deployed “forward” overseas.
It was true. 2.

With this massive overseas presence, the United States was not shy about
exercising an “interventionist impulse” during the Cold War. 3.
In addition to fighting two major wars in Korea and Vietnam, Washington
launched timely military interventions to restabilize local disturbances of the
peace in Greece, Lebanon, Jordan, the Belgian Congo (now Zaire, now again
Congo), the Dominican Republic, Berlin, Cuba, India, Laos, the Philippines, the
Formosa Straits and the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu, Beirut, Grenada,
El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panama. During
the Cold War, of course, the international community was not subsumed under
anything approaching a single world government.
More like the territories West of the Mississippi (to somewhat confuse
our metaphors), a system of anarchic nation-states relied on their own self-help
to arrange world power into a bipolar strategic military standoff.
It is nevertheless forgivable, and even appropriate (given
the numbers and fire power of these forces); to view these ubiquitous American
deployments as something closely resembling a global police force in service of
at least an American imposed order. If
the United States was not a global sovereign, it certainly tried hard to act
like one.


With the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of
the Soviet Union in 1991, much of the rationale for this global policeman role
has eroded.
There is no longer a monolithic communist nuclear menace to
contain and deter. But the
structure of this former global police system remains.
Even though the American public initially clamored for a “peace
dividend,” defense spending is still at 80 percent of Cold War levels.
Despite these pacific desires, the Pentagon has managed to convince this
public that it is still a dangerous world out there, across the river, in Dodge

Thus, although the global containment necklace is broken and even gone
altogether for tens of degrees of longitude, with some of these neighborhoods
not having seen a police patrol in years, at least “over the horizon,” much
of this formidable security structure remains at solid, if diminished, levels.
The patrols are not as frequent and the numbers of deployed forces much
smaller. When Seventh Fleet task
forces approach Taiwan, it is no longer a routine event, but almost a crisis, at
least if the patrol coincides with local elections on the island that have
triggered Mainland Chinese missile tests. American
armed forces are half what they averaged in the Cold War, and, instead of these
forces being “forward deployed,” such a figure of overseas basing is now
less than a quarter of the total; more precisely, it is 238,000 out of 1.4
4. Foreign U.S.
military bases are now in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

Still, with this considerably reduced force, Washington operates under a
two-war strategy radiating from its two coasts (a basic strategy the United
States has had since building the Panama Canal).
Specifically, it is a called a “win-hold-win” game plan, which
amounts to maintaining a capability of fighting two major regional conflicts (MRCs)
equivalent to the Gulf War almost at once.
To provide a baseline force for at least a credible myth of two
simultaneous conflicts, the United States has 100,00 military forces stationed
both in Europe and in Asia. 5.

Unlike during the Cold War, when American forces were pre-eminent at the
strategic level and preponderant even at the theater level, today’s defense
posture at the theater level– or regional arena– would have to be termed as
something more like a “significant presence.”
In Europe, the United States has just one Army Corps instead of the Cold
War’s three, and, by itself, this force cannot overwhelm anyone.
Similarly, in Asia, the American ground, sea, and air forces do serve as
prescient reminders of Washington’s still formidable power, but China, North
Korea, and even Japan understand that, as currently configured, the United
States could not realistically contend locally with the full-fledged might of

What does give these American presences their significance, however, is
what they are tied to “over the horizon”: the still very overwhelming
strategic power of the American homeland. In
relatively short order, an expeditionary force of 400,00 could be assembled for
deployment to North Korea, as could one of an half million for Europe or the
Middle East, which, together with the forces of locally assembled allies, form a
posse more than sufficient to deflect or defeat the hostile intentions of any
conceivable adversary. In other
words, these Yankee presences operate today much more like county sheriffs than
the cops of yesterday’s Cold War. Unlike the policeman who can call on other
police from a ten block square precinct, this global County Sheriff must rely
on, and negotiate with, local forces first, and organize these posses only when
all other measures fail. A
neighborhood fracas can expect the cops to intervene as a matter of routine.
To salvage a badly frayed civil peace, a sheriff may saddle up a posse
once, but, if he has to do it again, the system has already failed.

But even these systems of county sheriffs are expensive.
In 1972, in fact, the British decided that, stripped of their
empire, their global commitments of presence were beyond their economic
capacity, and Whitehall announced a dramatic pull-back “east of Suez.”
Essentially, this meant that the British were dropping their second MRC
and concentrating their forces in the one area of strategic importance to them,
Europe. This also meant, however,
that England was settling for a role of a regional rather than of a global

With some sectors of American opinion still clamoring for a much larger
“peace dividend” after the Cold War, the question immediately arises:
“Should the United States withdraw Ă«east of Suez’ as well?”
To do so, of course, would amount to abandoning one of the two MRCs to
the current national defense strategy. Plainly,
it would also mean the end of America’s role as a global power as it settles
into a distinctly more circumscribed regional role.
In such an eventuality, the region that would be most certainly dropped
is Asia.

This question today is as definitionally critical a moment for
America’s sense of its place in the world as it was for the British in 1972.
The best way to appreciate some of the important dimensions to an answer
entailing such a withdrawal is to see what would happen to the U.S. position,
and to the viability of the one regional alliance there, ASEAN, if the United
States decided once again to pull out from Southeast Asia.

Whither ASEAN?

At least formally, the United States intervened in Vietnam during the
Cold War to fulfill its commitments to the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO).
The treaty was signed in Bangkok in 1955 under the shadow of the French
catastrophe at Dienbienphu a year earlier.
But the Pentagon Papers also reveal a more economic purpose to SEATO.
With the collapse of nationalist China in 1949, one of the four global
policemen envisioned by both Presidents Roosevelt and Truman had been overthrown
by a communist outlaw. Washington
decided that Japan would have to be tutored to take the place of nationalist
China. Such a role would require an
economic power base for Japan, and the Eisenhower administration became
concerned about the importance of securing the market and resources of Southeast
Asia for the rebuilding of Japan. 6.
It is just a little ironic to note that the same concern crossed the
minds of the Japanese themselves in the 1930s.
They called this thought the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.
This co-prosperity sphere is the “action” that everyone is trying to
get a piece of today, but Westerners thought the Japanese might be trying to
exclude them from it in the 1930s, and went to war.

While all countries in the 1990s were building on this co-prosperity
wisdom of hindsight, in 1967 the foreign ministers of Southeast Asia met in
Manila to act on a common foresight. The
United States, then, was fully engaged in the Vietnam War with nearly one half
million troops deployed “in-country,” and was running a war machine of 100
capital ships, over 1,000 combat aircraft, and 6,000 helicopters. 7.
Japan, along with everyone else in Southeast Asia, was profiting
economically from the American war effort.
But even in 1967, and before the Tet Offensive of 1968, these foreign
ministers met in Manila because they were afraid that the United States would
ultimately withdraw from the region, if it were unable to enlarge its diplomatic
perspective to an appreciation of the strategic significance of the region as a
These foreign ministers reasoned that the best metaphor or
rubric that would capture this importance for the United States was an economic
one. Accordingly, in that year, the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations was formed.

Ostensibly, then, ASEAN was formed both to coordinate the economic
development plans of each member state and to develop larger economic plans and
projects for the region as a whole. With
regard to the latter, the foreign ministers realized that the World Bank, the
International Monetary Fund, and the other international lending agencies would
be more likely to fund regional rather than national proposals.
Indeed, the inspiration for this regional approach came most
vividly from President Lyndon Johnson’s proposal in 1965 for a region-wide
Mekong River Valley “TVA” project.
Strategically, the
founders of ASEAN hoped that these economic investments would trigger in
Washington an appreciation of the vital long-term interests Southeast Asia
represented for American foreign policy. Interestingly,
half a world away in Europe, regional planners for a European Union intended to
build a tighter and tighter web of economic interests that would eventually
“spill over” into political ones. 9.
In Southeast Asia, these political motives and strategic interests had
been present together from the beginning.

Economically, it has to be said that ASEAN has been a phenomenal success
story. The member states of
Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Brunei hold
immense natural resources, which they have exploited for a remarkable record of
economic growth. Southeast Asia has
some of the finest timber in the world and massive logging operations are common
throughout all of Southeast Asia. Indonesia,
Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam all have significant deposits of petroleum.
Most of the world’s natural rubber comes from Malaysia and the states
of the former Indochina.
Tin is abundant in Malaysia, Vietnam, and Laos.
Laos, in fact, has as much hydroelectric power potential as Switzerland.
Major copper deposits have turned Papua New Guinea into the Arizona of
Southeast Asia. Thailand and even
Vietnam are now huge rice exporters (and Myanmar should be).
These resources, and infrastructure investments in their exploitation,
have produced substantial and sustained economic growth in ASEAN countries.
Growth rates for all of them have ranged between five and ten percent per
year, and per capita GNP for all ASEAN countries is over $1,000 per year.
In Singapore, it is $16,500. 10.
The vast majority of the investment fueling this growth comes
from both Japan and the United States. Thus,
today, ASEAN’s success is enmeshed with the economies of the United States and

Military Foundation: The ASEAN
Regional Forum (ARF)

Another accomplishment of ASEAN was the successful termination of the
long and bloody civil war in Cambodia with national elections in 1993.
Under U.N. supervision, these elections finally ended a dominating
Vietnamese influence through the Hun Sen regime.
They produced a stabilizing balance of both domestic factions and foreign
patrons. The royalists, supported
by the United States, won an electoral plurality over Hun Sen and his Russian
and Vietnamese backers. The Khmer
Rouge, long allied with Beijing, opted to remain aloof from the balloting.
Nevertheless, the considerable military forces of the Khmer Rouge served
as an implicit counterweight to the national military controlled by Hun Sen in
the face of the militarily feeble royalists.
This stability took a tense six years to take hold.
A coup d’etat by Hun Sen in 1997 led to a withdrawal of
American-brokered aid packages and a suspension of Cambodia’s bid for
membership in ASEAN. Another round
of elections in 1998, and a new coalition government, resulted in Cambodia’s
final admission into ASEAN in 1999. In
this “domestication” of Cambodia, the orchestrations of Washington were
pivotal. 11.

From the beginning, ASEAN
recognized that the foundation of its prosperity would lie in the military
security of Southeast Asia. Achieving
this security, in turn, required the solution of two security dilemmas.
One was an internal one emanating from the threat posed to other
Southeast Asian countries by the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia in the 1980s.
The other is an external one of foreign patrons– the Chinese, Russians,
Americans, and even Japanese– being tempted to intervene directly in Southeast
Asia. In both cases, the
amelioration of these dilemmas lay and still lies with the United States.
Internally, Washington allayed regional fears of the 600,000
man North Vietnamese military with considerable and offsetting military
assistance to ASEAN countries, Thailand in particular.
Occasional visits by Aircraft Carrier Task Forces off the coast of
Thailand provided vivid reminders to the North Vietnamese of the prudence of
confining their military operations to Cambodia.
Externally, these same appearances offered preventive
deterrents to whatever temptations of intervention may have been entertained by
the Chinese, or perhaps even by the Russians with their patronage of the unified
Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Accordingly, in 1994, ASEAN set up the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) to
coordinate security planning among ASEAN members after the end of the Cambodian
civil war in 1993. Indeed, the Vietnamese were invited to attend the first ARF
meeting. The reason, of course, was
that with the internal threat on the way to being resolved, what remained was
the external one, traditionally and potentially from China.
In theoretical terms, the formation of ARF is an example of the region as
a whole, through ASEAN, choosing to collectively balance against a Chinese
threat rather than to bandwagon with it. 12.

The potential threat, quite simply, lies in the possibility of China
attempting to make good on its reiteration of its long-standing claim to the
entire South China Sea. Somewhat
reassuringly, Beijing has been more conciliatory in its more recent statements
on the island groups in this sea. 13.
Nevertheless, two central pillars to ASEAN prosperity are at risk by
these Chinese claims.
One is the vast resources of the South China Sea itself.
All of the oil of Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, and even much of Indonesian
oil lies offshore in these waters. The
other is strategic, and that is the access to these resources and to the
Southeast Asian continent itself. As
President Eisenhower first worried in the 1950s, many of the industrial
resources Japan depends on are in Southeast Asia; and, even more importantly,
the sea-lanes of communication through the South China Sea are vital to
Japan’s lifeline of trade.

By taking control of these waters and the Paracels, Spratleys, and other
island groups, the Chinese could charge tolls, licensing, and usage fees that
could be ruinous to the Japanese and countries of ASEAN.
If the Chinese proved unreasonable in negotiations with the Japanese and
ASEAN to desist from these measures, Tokyo might feel compelled to take naval
action. Faced with a similar
economic strangulation in 1941, Japan did take decisive military action with
nearly simultaneous attacks on Pearl Harbor, Manila, and Malaya.
In this light, it is interesting to note that the membership of ARF is
far broader than the member states of ASEAN.
The ARF includes the United States, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea.
The ARF also fully understands that the ultimate deterrent to this
scenario is the exclusive ability of the American Seventh Fleet to come between
these two potential antagonists and to preclude even the possibility of any
unilateral actions on China’s part.
It is this whispered, unstated fact that serves as the foundation to the
prosperity of ASEAN. It is also
why, with the closure of the US naval base at Subic Bay in 1992, that Indonesia,
Malayasia, and Singapore are quietly offering repair, docking, and other
logistical facilities to this somewhat orphaned fleet. 14.

Conclusion: A Half-Century’s

As the County Sheriff of these troubled waters, two factors compel the
United States to keep the “ASEAN territory” under the watch of an American
military posse. First,
economically, the United States almost has no choice.
The British could withdraw “East of Suez” in 1972 because her empire
was gone and her economy had shrunk down to a European core.
Parenthetically and conveniently, what remaining global
interests Great Britain had could be protected by the United States anyway.
Indeed, in terms of its own economic interests, Washington could
have withdrawn from the Vietnam War anytime without appreciable economic harm.
In fact, when Saigon did fall in 1975– as vividly traumatic as all the
film footage was– the loss was negligible to either the American economy or its
global position.

But today conditions are different.
The United States now trades more across the Pacific Ocean than it does
across the Atlantic. The heavy foot
of the American global orientation and patrolling emphasis has always been
“Europe First.” This, simply,
can no longer be the case. Our
economy and way of life has become inextricably intertwined with the economies
and societies of East and Southeast Asia. Most
of the growth in the global economic system, and of its individual national
market areas, are occurring in this “Asian Triangle.”
The opportunities for infrastructure investments are staggering, with
many projects running into the tens of billions of dollars.
Just as we could not have made the transition from the Hot War to the
Cold War at the end of World War II without both rebuilding Europe’s economy
and making a commitment through NATO to defend its borders, we similarly cannot
ride from the Cold War to Post-Cold War era without guaranteeing a military
floor to the thriving house of trade in Southeast Asia.
Any major regional conflict would destroy this hard-earned prosperity, as
it would also deliver sharp blows
to our own as well.

ASEAN needs a fully committed United States to the defense of its
territory. It alone can keep a
balance between Chinese territorial and maritime pressures and pervasive
Japanese economic investments and concomitant domination.
Whatever latitude the small shopkeepers of ASEAN can preserve can come
only from the restraining “cooperative threat reduction” orchestrated by the
United States. If there is anything
to the proposed dynamic of a future world divided into zones of peace and zones
of turmoil, 15. the only way
the zones of peace, with their orderly cops on patrol, can expand into and
absorb the zones of turmoil is for the United States, region-by-region, to
balance local forces through a network of County Sheriffs reassuring the little
people, while quietly reminding would-be bullies just what is supporting these
lonely sheriffs, “over the horizon.”

Second, somewhat more theoretically, County Sheriffs, in effect, are
maintaining “regimes “: “a
group of principles, norms, rules, and decision making procedures around which
actor’s expectations converge.”
As John Ruggie
has implied, regimes such as ASEAN are “half-way houses” to world government
in that they “represent a concrete manifestation of the internationalization
of political authority.” 17.
Yes, and as the
ever-expanding scale of the global economy requires more and more coordination
of decision making on a world-wide level, international regimes have come into
place to perform these tasks. ASEAN,
APEC, the EC, and NAFTA have all cropped up to manage them.
As global managers, these regimes can function reasonably
well, as long as the issues they handle are economic.
Once security issues arise– like the scepters of renewed
civil war in Cambodia, of a Chinese seizure of the Paracels and Spratley
islands, of a demand by the Chinese that all offshore oil platforms in the South
China Sea pay annual usage fees to Beijing or face expropriation by the Chinese
navy, or of a Japanese insistence that her navy be allowed to patrol the Straits
of Malacca to protect South Korean oil tankers from Kuwait– it is too easy to
see them erupting into disasters without dampening demonstrations from the
United States.

As global forums like the World Trade Organization and a revitalized
United Nations assume a more central place in international affairs, they will
never gain any authority without the globally perceived understanding that there
is an American security force of circuit riding County Sheriffs providing back
up to these regimes. The prosperity
these regimes produce may well be coordinated by such “committees on the
spot” as the ASEAN Regional Forum; but, this coordination, in turn, ultimately
will require some potent symbol of an enforcing power it can turn to when
challenges and crises arise. Tombstone
turned to Wyatt Earp and Dodge City to Wild Bill Hickock.
ASEAN, if it is to survive, must turn to an Uncle Sam with a silver badge
riding the twin horses of his two MRC strategy.
Or, in the words of Singapore’s Minister of Defense in
1996: “The stabilizing influence of the United States is especially important
at this time when new relationships are evolving.” 18.

To complete the main and final point of the County Sheriff analogy: in
the nineteenth century, these sheriffs of the Old West were beacons of full
continental sovereignty that came with the closing of the frontier in 1890.
For the first half of the twenty-first century, the United States, in the
role of this global sheriff, must serve as this transitional marshal to the
global sovereignty that is sure to come by mid-century.


1. With
respect to the Gulf War, Richard Haas has also drawn on the County Sheriff/Posse
analogy. He employs it to describe
one of several forms of multilateral intervention available to the United States
in the Post-Cold War world. He does
not use it as a larger metaphor for a new era in the sense that I do in this
article. See Richard N. Haas, Intervention:
The Use of Military Force in the Post-Cold War World
, rev. ed. (Washington,
DC: The Brookings Institution, 1999), pp. 142-147.

2. Richard J. Barnet, Roots
of War: The Men and Institutions Behind U.S. foreign Policy
(Harmondsworth, Engl.: Penguin Books, 1972), p. 30.

For a book-length accusation, see Michael T. Klare and Peter Kornbluh,
eds., Low Intensity Warfare: Counterinsurgency, Proinsurgency, and
Antiterrorism in the Eighties
(New York: Pantheon Books, 1988), esp. pp.

William J. Perry, Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to the
President and the Congress, March 1966
( Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government
Printing Office, 1996), p. C-2.

Ibid., p. 13.

One of the most explicit links made to Japan’s destiny with Vietnam
and Southeast Asia came from a memorandum by then Vice-President Lyndon Johnson.
See Neil Sheehan et al., The
Pentagon Papers as Published by the New York Times
(New York: Bantam Books,
1971), p. 128.

Timothy J. Lomperis, From People’s War to People’s Rule:
Insurgency, Intervention, and the Lessons of Vietnam
(Chapel, N.C.: The
University of North Carolina Press, 1996), pp. 101, 125.

George C. Herring, America’s Longest War: The United States and
Vietnam 1950-1975
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), pp. 134-135.

Amitai Etzioni, “The Dialectics of Supranational Integration,” American
Political Science Review
56 (1962): 931-932.

Dean W.
Collinwood, ed., Japan and the Pacific Rim, 3rd
ed. (Guilford,

Conn.: Dushkin Publishing Co., 1995), p. 86.

In order of discussion, Khatarya Um, “Cambodia in 1993: Year Zero

One,” Asian Survey 34, no. 1 (January, 1994):
72-82; Sorpong Peou, “Cambodia in 1998: From Despair to Hope?” Asian
39, no. 1 (January/February, 1999): 20-27; and Irene Langran,
“Cambodia in 1999: Year of Hope,” Asian Survey 40, no. 1
(January/February): 25-32.

Stephen M. Walt, The Origins of Alliances
(Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987), pp. 17-21, 26-33.

Richard J. Ellings and Sheldon W. Simon, eds., Southeast Asian
Security in the New Millenium
(Armonk, N.J.: M.E. Sharpe, 1996), pp. 113,

Ibid., pp. 76-78.

Max Singer and Aaron Wildavsky, The Real World Order: Zones of
Peace/ Zones of Turmoil
(Chatham, N.J.: Chatham House Publishers, 1993), pp.

Stephen D. Krasner, ed., International Regimes (Ithaca, N.Y.:
Cornell University Press, 1983), p. 2.

Ibid., p. 196.

Allen S. Whiting,
“ASEAN Eyes China Sea Policy,” Asian Survey 37, no. 4 (April, 1997):


For their comments and suggestions, I wish to thank BG Dan Kaufman, Lt.
Col. Jay Parker, Lt. Col. Cindy Jebb, Thom Sherlock, and other participants in a
recent West Point Senior Conference where I was invited to make an initial
presentation of this article.

© The Philadelphia Society 2021 | Webmaster Contact

The material on this website is for general education and information only. The views presented here are the responsibility of their authors and do not reflect endorsement or opposition by The Philadelphia Society. Please read our general disclaimer.