"Just another tidbit of Easter European reaction to President Obama's missile defense decision, to drop Bush-era plans for a missile shield with radar based in the Czech Republic and missiles based in Poland: a news headline (not an op-ed) on page 1 of major Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes today read 'There Will Not Be Radar. Russia Won.'"
In our increasingly globalized world, extensive international alliances have become a common means of diplomacy as well as achieving strategic goals.
This web of alliances is particularly recognizable in international organizations like the UN and NATO, which, respectively, had 192 and 28 participant nations in 2012. These organizations have helped establish new and lasting ties between various nations. In turn, as was recently seen in Georgia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, an aggression against one nation often (in terms of the collective retaliatory measures) means aggression against its allies. On one hand, this can provide a deterrent for any preemptive war or international aggression. On the other hand, if an act of war or aggression does occur, the response and retaliation is inevitably stronger and usually longer lasting. It can also draw in allies on either side of a battlefield or issue who would not have independently committed to a course of action.
As one of the most powerful countries in the world, the United States has an established set of allies, some stronger and/or more reliable than others. But what nations can be called a true ally? Where do countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India and others fall? Who are America’s strongest allies? What does being such an ally entail?
In 1946, Churchill called the U.S.-U.K. alliance the "Special Relationship". In March of 2012, President Obama called this relationship "one of the greatest alliances the world has ever known." Prime Minister David Cameron followed Obama’s remarks by saying, "Whether it is defeating the Nazis, standing up to the Soviets, defending the Korean peninsula or hunting down al-Qaida in Afghanistan, there can be no more tangible illustration of our two nations defending our values and advancing our interests." The two leaders reaffirmed this "special relationship," a relationship that in many ways began as early as the aftermath of the War of 1812.
Moving beyond the U.K., the United States was instrumental in establishing an independent Israeli state over 60 years ago. As a result, Israel is another of America's strongest and most strategic allies, though no formal treaty has been signed that officially makes the two nations allies. Currently, American foreign policy and military efforts are helping Israel maintain itself as a sovereign state in the face of its many adversaries in the Middle East. In return for continued U.S. allegiance, Israel has provided manpower and regional support for America’s Global War on Terror.
Unlike the U.K., this alliance is much more controversial. Opponents of the alliance claim that this relationship is helping Israel become a repressive force within its own borders and beyond. They claim that Palestine has just as much right to exist as a sovereign nation as Israel does. Critics also point to Israel’s regionally superior military and weapons systems, arguing that the nation can defend itself without American military and financial aid. Many other Americans, though, believe that Israel is a crucial and unshakable U.S. ally. This contingent contends that an Israeli-U.S. alliance is key to keeping stability in the Middle East and even throughout the world. Some would also argue that the demise of a democratic Israel signals danger ahead for western democracies in general.
With respect to the current official position of the U.S. concerning Israel and Palestine, there remains controversy between the two allies. President Obama made official remarks in May 2011 that there should be two sovereign states, based on borders previous to the Six-Day War in 1967. The Israeli response to this suggestion was unfavorable: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said "a retreat to the 1967 borders would leave segments of Israel's population outside those lines, and 'indefensible.'"
Further possible strains in the relationship surround Iran's likely pursuit of nuclear weapons and the potential for Israel to take unilateral action against it. The leaders of Iran have stated on many occasions their desire to eliminate Israel. Recently, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei went so far as to say that Israel is a "cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut". If Israel takes unilateral action, the U.S.-Israeli relationship could be impacted negatively as the U.S. decides what actions it is willing to take.
While Israel was geographically advantageous against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the post-war negotiations with Eastern Europe have been more critical in weakening any lingering communist influences. Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, American diplomats were quick to seek new partnerships with the freed satellite states, hoping to spread democratic ideals and more economic freedom. With their proximity to a reconstituted Russia, these nations could provide a stabilizing buffer zone for the rest of Europe.
Poland and the Czech Republic have emerged as two of the most successful and stable former-Soviet client states, and have become some of America's closest allies. For instance, President Bush negotiated with both nations regarding the construction of missile defense systems in their territory in order to further nuclear deterrence from an increasingly aggressive Russia, or a potentially nuclear Iran or Syria. Although Russia was predictably unhappy over the decision, Poland and the Czech Republic had the assurance of a strong connection and allegiance with the U.S.
However, the close relationship between the U.S and Poland as well as the Czech Republic was damaged in 2009, when President Obama scrapped the missile defense program and signed the New START agreement following pressure from Moscow. In doing so, the two young allies were left in a precarious position. While some believe that President Obama's decision was critical in maintaining an international policy of nuclear peace and deterrence, others strongly chastised the President for abandoning the Czech Republic and Poland. Obama's critics claim that no matter the President's personal beliefs regarding the issue, America made a promise to its allies and that promise should have been fulfilled.
In Iraq some are also questioning America's abandoned promise. Becoming a strategic ally just several years after being one of America’s most serious enemies, the U.S.-Iraqi relationship is one of the most interesting and heavily debated. After capturing, jailing, and executing Iraq’s former-dictator, Saddam Hussein, U.S. troops remained in Iraq until December 2011 in order to help foster the development of a stable, pro-western, democratic Iraq. As concern over Iran looms, the American alliance with Iraq becomes increasingly strategic. Critics of continued U.S. involvement in Iraq, however, have said that the financial and military burden of the war on the United States must be the main concern. Therefore, they argue, the decision to pull out of Iraq was the right one. Others have claimed that the troop withdrawal was inopportune and leaves Iraq in a vulnerable position, while also compromising U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Lastly, for the purposes of this overview, are Taiwan and South Korea.
A nation founded by anti-communist, Chinese dissidents following Mao's political victory and the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the nature and extent of Taiwan's independence from China is still questioned. The United States has been a staunch ally of Taiwan, most notably by signing the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979. That act stipulates that the United States will, amongst other things, supply Taiwan with military equipment for self-defense, protect it against economic embargoes, and work to preserve its peaceful existence. As China's power continues to grow, some fear that it will attempt to reunify China by annexing Taiwan. Despite the threat, many in America believe that maintaining an alliance with an independent Taiwan is critical to both nation's diplomatic interests.
The small nation of South Korea, which lies between Japan and China on the Korean peninsula and borders North Korea, has been a strong American ally since the end of WWII when the U.S. came to the nation's defense following North Korea's invasion. In 1953, the Korean War ended in a stalemate after China intervened on the side of the Soviet-supported North Korea. Since then, America has maintained a significant military presence in South Korea, with nearly 30,000 troops stationed there in 2012. Much like the Iraq dilemma, there has been a lot of discussion over the extent of influence the U.S. should have in the country. Because of the ongoing threat from the volatile and strongly anti-American North Korea, some believe that the American presence in South Korea is the main factor deterring North Korean aggression. Due to diminishing South Korean support for U.S. military aid and a struggling American economy however, others have pushed for a full or partial troop withdrawal from the peninsula.
America's relationship with each of these allies is extremely nuanced. Moreover, the United States enjoys numerous other alliances across the globe, some of which will be discussed throughout this topic. While the world continues to grow smaller and more interdependent, international alliances will only become more complex and, perhaps, more confusing, and thus definitely a more critical factor in foreign policy. Having a background of our current relationships and our history with other nations is important in order to gain a greater, overall understanding of U.S. foreign affairs.
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