National Journal’s Paul Starobin asks at the National Security Experts blog “Are America’s Alliances Fraying?” Starobin notes that two normally reliable allies, Brazil and NATO member Turkey opposed an additional round of sanctions against Iran. Meanwhile, President Obama has failed to persuade Europeans to provide large numbers of troops to Afghanistan. “Is the ability of Washington to assemble coalitions on behalf of its global objectives starting to ebb?” Starobin asks. “Are our alliances fraying — and if so, why? Does this trend have to do with our flailing economy, with inept diplomacy, or with some other set of factors?”
Excerpts from my response:
It is hardly newsworthy when one of America’s allies bucks Uncle Sam. It has become an almost daily occurrence.
But just because the United States has had difficulty keeping its allies in line doesn’t mean that it can’t assemble a coalition to deal with common challenges. It all depends on whether the parties agree on the nature and severity of the threat, and on the best means for mitigating it. In this context, the multinational naval task force operating off the Horn of Africa has had great success beating back piracy in the region. The countries that choose to participate agree that piracy poses a threat to their commercial interests, and are willing to band together in a loose coalition — and not as part of a formal, permanent alliance — in order to deal with the challenge. Their contributions are generally consistent with their interests; the benefits seen as in line with the costs.
Alliances are no different, or, at least, they shouldn’t be. Alliances are supposed to be sustained by interests. (British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston’s observation that “nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests” has been repeated so many times that it has become cliched). And yet, the United States has maintained its commitment to NATO, South Korea and Japan in recent months, even as it is obvious that the parties do not share common interests. The alliances have become an end in and of themselves, instead of the means to an end.
When she presented the Obama administration’s national security strategy late last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that NATO was one of several global commitments that was “embedded in the DNA of American foreign policy.”
Hardly. While a bipartisan consensus in Washington is enamored of Europe’s dependence upon the United States, most Americans tire of defending our wealthy European allies who are eminently capable of defending themselves. The resentment has only grown as these same allies have shown precious little enthusiasm for supporting the United States in its hour of need in Afghanistan.
We have created a class of wealthy and secure allies who lack the capability, but most importantly the will, to act on their own behalf, let alone in the service of the world’s policeman.
Read the full response here.