The United States Should Choose Allies That Benefit America

If America ends up at war, it almost certainly will be on behalf of an ally. Washington collects allies like most people collect Facebook “friends.” The vast majority of U.S. allies are security liabilities, as potential tripwires for conflict and war.

Yet American officials constantly abase themselves to reassure the very countries that the United States is defending at great cost and risk. For instance, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) recently worried:  “What ally around the world can feel safe in their alliance with us?” The right question is with what ally can America feel safe?

Instead of relentlessly collecting more international dependents, Washington policymakers should drop Allies In Name Only (AINOs).

Contra the scare-mongering of hawkish politicians, the strategic environment today is remarkably benign for the United States.  The world is messy, to be sure, but the number of big conflicts is down. More important, America faces no hegemonic threat or peer competitor and is allied with every major industrialized state other than China and Russia.

All of Washington’s recent wars have been—from America’s standpoint—iver unimportant, indeed, sometimes frivolous stakes.

Terrorism remains a genuine threat, but falls far short of the sort of existential danger posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Worse, terrorism typically is a response to foreign intervention and occupation. Washington has inadvertently encouraged terrorism by backing authoritarian regimes, joining foreign conflicts, and creating enemies overseas.

Adding unnecessary allies makes this problem worse. In Ukraine, for instance, the Obama administration is under pressure to treat a non-ally as an ally—arming and/or defending Kiev—thereby confronting Russia, a nuclear-armed state which considers border security a vital interest.

Bringing Ukraine (and Georgia) into NATO would be even more dangerous, inviting a geopolitical game of chicken over minimal stakes. Neither country has ever been considered even a marginal security concern of America.

Of course, both nations have been treated badly by Moscow. But that doesn’t justify a military alliance, which should be based on interest, not charity. Adding troubled states with limited military capabilities and unresolved conflicts turns the purpose of alliances on their head.

The U.S. long-eschewed “foreign entanglements,” against which George Washington inveighed. Extraordinary circumstances during World War II and the Cold War justified temporary alliances.

But as I wrote for Forbes, “it makes no sense for Washington to retain responsibility for defending Europe, with a larger economy and population than America. Or for protecting prosperous Japan and South Korea.”

The problem is not just wasted resources, but tripwires for war. Alliances deter, but they also ensure involvement if deterrence fails, as it often does.

Moreover, lending smaller states a superpower’s military changes their behavior, causing them to be more confrontational, even reckless. In fact, most prospective conflicts for which Washington plans involve allies, not America directly.

The United States should start defenestrating AINOs. Most of these nations would remain close friends. In some cases, military coordination might be called for, when the United States and other nations shared vital objectives.

However, Washington should stop defending South Korea, which has an overwhelming resource advantage over the North. The United States should end its European defense dole.

Moreover, the United States should not turn conflict-prone nations like Georgia and Ukraine into allies. Washington should be particularly wary about treating less-important and less-democratic states as allies. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are, at best, “frenemies.”

Washington still has an interest in preventing a hostile, hegemonic power from dominating Eurasia. But that possibility isn’t likely for decades to come.

America has benefitted much from its relative geographical isolation. It rarely needed allies in the past. It requires even fewer allies today. Washington should create alliances to deter and win wars, not go to war to promote and preserve alliances.

Geopolitics is not a grand version of Facebook, with the objective of amassing as many “friends” as possible. Since most of Washington’s military pacts endanger the United States, America should be dropping, not adding, allies.