When one or more countries ally with one another, they can agree to act as economic and/or military partner, ensuring mutual benefit to all involved. However, when a superpower such as the United States agrees to ally with a developing state or another state that is not of the same power caliber, the U.S. may choose to do so to promote peace in the region or to defend a weaker nation against a rival military actor. For example, U.S. occupation of the Philippines during World War II lead to an alliance with the newly independent nation that has benefited both actors as recent conflict with China regarding the South China Sea has threatened the Philippines.
During the 2016 Republican National Convention, Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump made a statement that the U.S. would not defend NATO countries unless it was guaranteed that the U.S. would be properly reimbursed for defense costs. The Republican nominee believes most countries to be wealthy enough on their own to fund their defense programs and continued alliances will further the U.S. trade deficit.
While establishment Republicans typically advocate trade alliances as measures of promoting American political and free market ideals, Trump cites North Korea as an example of the failure of American alliances. In a transcript from an RNC interview with David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman of NYT, Trump claimed:
“There’s no guarantee that we’ll have peace in Korea…So we’ve kept peace, but in the meantime we’ve let North Korea get stronger and stronger and more nuclear and more nuclear…And we’ve got our soldiers sitting there watching missiles go up.”
The Republican nominee continues to separate himself from establishment party politics, but Trump is not alone in his distrust and doubt of American strength and influence as a result of numerous international alliances.
Two of America’s Founding Fathers warned against the dangers of alliances. In his Farewell Address, President George Washington asserted that “it is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world.” Thomas Jefferson echoed this warning in his Inauguration, affirming that “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations—entangling alliances with none” would be the pattern of diplomacy and international relations for the young country. Fresh from the bondage of colonialism, these men were skeptical of partnership with a greater power as the U.S. began developing itself as a sovereign, independent country. For them, alliances would hinder the nation from achieving its greatness.
International alliances became more widely accepted following World War II and the establishment of the United Nations in 1945. Following the World War I and the failure of President Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations, his vision for international cooperation, peace, and security prevailed with the UN.
51 nations signed the original UN Charter, and today, there are almost 200 member nations. The UN is not only an international alliance, but it is also an organization that has participated in wars, alleviated poverty in developing countries, and advocated for human rights for women and children. Despite warnings against entangling alliances, it can be argued that they are a necessity as a voice for the powerless.
Today, international alliances and trade agreements are nothing short of a normal part of world politics. Despite the Founding Fathers’ warning, the U.S. partook in multiple alliances following World War II, believing this was the way to lasting peace. At the 2016 NATO Summit, President Obama’s speech before leaders of member nations focused on the diversity of challenges throughout the U.S. and Europe. In challenging times, President Obama claimed that U.S. commitment to NATO and European security “will never change” as it is vital for “common defense.”
If Trump is the next President of the United States, unwavering U.S. NATO commitment is threatened, despite what President Obama has promised. Though Trump’s skepticism of alliances shares some context with that of the Founding Fathers, is it safe for diplomacy to back out of longstanding alliances? As the strongest military and economic influence in the world, a decision to no longer promise defense to allies will greatly affect international stability.
BBC News, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-13748349
Foreign Affairs, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/1970-07-01/entangling-alliances
The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/22/us/politics/donald-trump-foreign-policy-interview.html
The White House, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/07/09/press-conference-president-obama-after-nato-summit