[Editor's note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Policy.]
By John Hendrickson
Real Clear Policy
In a vote of 95-1, the United States Senate approved the expansion of NATO (North American Treaty Organization) by allowing membership to two new nations Sweden and Finland. The only Senator to vote “no” was Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO). Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) voted “present.” In his floor speech before the vote Sen. Hawley made a powerful argument that expanding NATO is not in America’s national interest. Whether in foreign policy, trade policy and trying to resurrect manufacturing, fighting against the radical woke social agenda, defending our borders, or defending the Constitution, Sen. Josh Hawley is demonstrating that he is not only a conservative leader, but is truly fighting to place America First and protect our nation’s sovereignty.
“Our foreign policy should be about protecting the United States, our freedom, our people, and our way of life, and expanding NATO, I believe, would not do that,” stated Sen. Hawley. Further, Hawley stated that what he is “arguing for is the return to a classic nationalist approach to foreign policy [...] grounded in our nation's interests and in the reality of the world as it is, not as we wish it was.” Senator Hawley is advocating for the actual conservative approach to foreign policy.
The idea of a conservative “America First” policy is based in realism of not pursuing ideological Wilsonian-style goals of attempting to transplant democracy across the globe or to enter into so-called free-trade treaties that result in not only loss of national sovereignty, but also massive trade deficits and the loss of manufacturing.
Those in support of expanding NATO argued that this is a decision that will advance American security interests as well as send a message to both China and Russia. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) argued that “the addition of Finland and Sweden will not only grow NATO’s military capabilities, it will strengthen America’s capacity to defend the homeland.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed that expanding NATO was in the national interest and he wished “good luck” to anyone who was trying to find a “defensible” excuse for being opposed.
The debate over expanding NATO is just one of the many issues that are starting to create divisions within the Republican Party and what truly constitutes America First policies. President Donald Trump in 2016 made America First a priority, which centered on a foreign policy based upon the national interest, addressing the failed free trade policies that have resulted in massive trade deficits and the loss of manufacturing, and bring control and security to our borders by restricting immigration. President Trump was even criticized for his views on NATO because he demanded that partners start increasing their defense contributions.
As a result of the popularity of President Trump and the America First agenda many politicians are claiming to be supporters of “America First.” Sen. Hawley is proving to be a true leader for America First policies.
During the debate Sen. Hawley argued that Sweden and Finland want to join NATO because it is in their national interest, but it is not necessarily in the interest of the United States. It can be argued that by joining NATO both countries may be at greater risk from Russian aggression.
Senator Hawley asked the question that all conservatives should be asking. "The question that should properly be before us, however, is: is it in the United States' interest to do so? Because that is what American foreign policy is supposed to be about, I thought,” stated Sen. Hawley.
The focus, Sen. Hawley argued should be on what is in the best interest for the United States. "It's about American security, protecting American workers, defending American jobs, securing American prosperity,” said Sen. Hawley. Further, Sen. Hawley noted that he fears that “some in this town have lost sight of that. They think American foreign policy is about creating a liberal world order or nation building overseas. With all due respect, they're wrong.”
Sen. Hawley is correct that America’s main national security concern is not over in Europe, but with communist China. Further, he argues correctly that Europe needs to do more to protect and defend itself and adding more NATO members will only result in the United States spending more money to support Europe.
Also, Article 5 of the NATO charter states that an attack on one member is an attack on all members. With Sweden and Finland joining NATO it means that the United States is obligated to go to war in their defense. Sen. Paul tried to offer an amendment that would state that Article 5 would not supersede the constitutional power of Congress to declare war. This amendment failed.
It can also be argued that the expansion of NATO helped lead to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine is also interested in becoming a member of NATO. The original purpose of NATO was to defend western Europe against the Soviet Union and their satellite states that made up the Warsaw Pact. After the Cold War the NATO alliance started to expand closer to the Russian border. As a result, it has created instability and pushed Russia and China into a closer alliance.
Sen. Hawley’s vote does not mean he wants to “abandon” NATO, but rather he is arguing that the nation should start preparing to address the growing threat of China. “Russia is still a threat, but the Chinese Communist Party is a far greater one. And a truly strategic American foreign policy—one that looks to this nation’s strategic interests now, rather than the world of years ago—must embrace this reality, and prepare for it,” stated Sen. Hawley.
China is growing more aggressive militarily and they are attempting to control resources across the globe, including the United States. China is also taking advantage of the United States in terms of trade. The United States is running over $350 billion trade deficit with China. Overall, in 2021 the United States ran a $1 trillion trade deficit.
Sen. Hawley is also leading on reforming trade policy to better benefit American workers and manufacturing. Decades of so-called free trade policy has not only decimated manufacturing but led to the decline of the middle-class and many communities across the nation.
“Between 2000 and 2007 alone, the United States hemorrhaged 3.4 million manufacturing jobs, about 20 percent of its total. It lost a further 1.5 million manufacturing jobs between 2007 and 2016,” wrote Joel Kotkin, a Washington Fellow at the Claremont Institute.
The United States has also become dangerously dependent upon foreign nations, such as China, for necessities. Whether it is semiconductors, manufactured goods, high tech equipment, defense related supplies, pharmaceuticals, among others, the United States has grown too dependent on overseas powers for necessities.
Finally, Sen. Hawley is also trying to restore order and security to our nation’s borders. President Biden’s administration and even policymakers in both political parties in Congress seem to be more concerned with Ukraine’s borders than those of the United States.
Sen. Hawley is displaying true leadership when it comes to fighting for America First policies. America First is not just “window-dressing” for Sen. Hawley. Sen. Hawley is a reminder of an older conservative tradition that is often forgotten. Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge not only fought for limited government, but a restrained foreign policy that protected America’s sovereignty. In addition, they supported protective tariffs to benefit America’s economy and workers and they placed limits on immigration.
Further, Senator Robert A. Taft, who voted against the creation of NATO, warned that this alliance would undermine American sovereignty by obligating the nation’s foreign policy to member nations. In other words, the Article 5 provision, goes against the Constitution. Sen. Taft was even prophetic about what might happen because of the NATO alliance. As Sen. Taft stated:
There is another consideration. If we undertake to arm all the nations around Russia from Norway on the north to Turkey on the south, and Russia sees itself ringed about gradually by so-called defensive arms from Norway and. Denmark to Turkey and Greece, it may form a different opinion. It may decide that the arming of western Europe, regardless of its present purpose, looks to an attack upon Russia. Its view may be unreasonable, and I think it is. But from the Russian standpoint it may not seem unreasonable. They may well decide that if war is the certain result, that war might better occur now rather than after the arming of Europe is completed…
Further, Sen. Taft asked, “How would we feel if Russia undertook to arm a country on our border; Mexico, for instance?” China is already making inroads into our hemisphere in areas such as the Panama Canal.
Sen. Hawley is a conservative who is truly fighting for America First policies, and he is correct, there are too many policymakers who have lost sight and are more concerned with advancing the liberal ideologies of democracy and globalization. Sen. Hawley should be commended as a steadfast defender of America First.
John Hendrickson serves as policy director for Iowans for Tax Relief Foundation.
[Editor's note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Policy.]