Steven Den Beste has an excellent post about the nature and history of some American alliances, comparing and contrasting the US relationships with some nations during WWII, WWIII (the Cold War), and WWIV (the Global War on Terror). He points out that Japanese support for our efforts have largely been overlooked, that Australia has been the most steadfast supporter of our campaign in Iraq, and that the UK has committed the most of our allies even though support in Britain is contested strongly.
European involvement more broadly has always been complicated and conflicted and controversial, at least in “old” Europe. The struggle over how Europe should deal with the US and with the imminent invasion of Iraq became tied up with other issues, such as whether Europe should speak with one voice or many, and whether Europe should seek to become a counter-balance to American power. Many Europeans has “issues” that were triggered by it (such as nostalgia for past greatness, and resentment about declining power and influence in the world). So Europe ended up being something of a political battlefield in this war, with some leaders there being strong opponents and some being strong supporters.
On the other hand, “new” Europe has been much less confused about where their interests lie, and the Poles in particular have been among our strongest supporters.
I’ve mentioned before the not-so-curious fact that Eastern Europe has some recent history that probably makes them see things a bit more clearly than their neighbors to the west. I wrote in October:
And I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that so many of those nations on our side [in Iraq today] suffered under the USSR. They probably have an appreciation for things that France and Germany, along with others, take for granted. And they see who’s guns allowed France and Germany to get to the point where they could take things for granted.
I’m also a big fan of Poland’s participation in this campaign. They stand to gain a great deal, and they seem to know it. But that’s nothing new. SDB writes
The Japanese don’t have anything like the same kinds of “issues” about the US as “old” Europeans. There was never any question of Japan offering military support for the invasion, of course, but in all the ways that Japan could help, they have done so. On the level of diplomacy they’ve been strong and reliable supporters, and Japan has been extremely generous monetarily. And now the Japanese have taken the unprecedented step of sending troops to Iraq.
He points out that the deployment isn’t popular with everyone in Japan, and that the opposition is uneasy about sending troops to a combat zone for the first time since 1945, not uneasy about supporting the US-led mission in Iraq. Japan is situated on a square that is threatened by both China and North Korea. Who provides the bulk of the security against those threats? They know the answer.
This is yet another demonstration of the way that history seems to have a sense of humor and a strong sense of irony.
One of our two primary enemies in the Second World War is now strongly on our side. Despite the fact that we used weapons of mass destruction against their cities in 1945. Some of our allies in the same war are firmly opposed to our actions in the post-9/11 world. Despite the fact that our weapons of mass destruction, unused, protected them from enslavement for five decades.
In the last two years, France emerged as the European nation which has most strongly opposed us, and the French now view the Germans as their closest and most important ally in their struggle against the American hyperpuissance and against all anglophones everywhere. Germany, once the most martial of nations of Europe, and the most feared of the Axis nations we fought against in WWII, is now pacifist and has been following the French lead.
The USSR allied with us during WWII, but it was an enemy-of-my-enemy alliance of convenience and survival for both sides. The USSR opposed us during the Cold War. The USSR was a Russian empire (even though Stalin was actually Georgian), and it dissolved at the end of the Cold War. Russia now aligns with France and Germany against us.
Despite heated disagreement and moderately effective resistance by France, Germany, and Russia, we have gone about our business. It’s not any small point, either, that we are not at, or even considering, war with any of them over our differences. We have, more or less, agreed to disagree. There are consequences, to be sure, but nothing that is unacceptable to either party.
Now France is an enemy, for all intents and purposes.
I’m not sure that I believe this. I do believe that France and Germany are simply wrong, and that history will prove them so. But that’s their business, and their position may change in time. Especially if the Eiffel Tower is vaporized by someone who wants to wear a headband in school. But, while being far from allies (or even really ‘neutral’) in the current cause, I hesitate to call them our enemies. So far, anyway.
Alliance is always based either on deeply shared values or on mutual interest. Alliances last only as long as the factors which created the alliance last, and when they’re gone then the alliance is, too. In every true alliance there is a degree of competition and disagreement, but a greater degree of cooperation for mutual benefit.
Treaties and organizations do not create alliances; at best they recognize alliances that effectively already exist. And when conditions change so that one ally sees more value in the other ally being hurt than in cooperating with the other for mutual benefit, then treaties and organizations become useless and empty and may even become a liability.
This war, as has been pointed out many times by many people for many reasons, is far different than the previous world conflicts. There is no national organization or alliance of national organizations that threaten to overwhelm the free nations. Except for brief flares like the initial campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, the battles during the Fourth World War are going to be small, sporadic, and spread around the globe. As time passes, as fights are won and lost, and as strategies change, the alliances with our friends, as well as those of our enemies, will change.
During this war, one of the biggest criticisms leveled at the US was that it was relying on coalitions of the willing instead of on traditional allies. But all true alliances are coalitions of the willing; they always have been and always will be. Some members of the coalitions of the willing were traditional allies, and they were the ones with whom we continued to deeply share values or with whom we had mutual interests. When traditional allies were not included, it was because they had demonstrated that they were no longer really allies.
And that can work in both directions. Russia is currently opposed to most of what we’re doing, but that could all change rather quickly if al Qaeda ties to the Chechnyan separatists strengthen significantly and a major terror campaign is launched against the Russian nation. Tony Blair’s support, always fragile, could very possibly evaporate if the US prepares to move against Syria. Terrorists could attack Canada, or attack the US through Canada, and our neighbors to the north would be forced to face things they’re currently more comfortable watching from the sidelines.
Honestly, I think we need Canada. Maybe not militarily, although Canadian forces in Afghanistan continue to contribute significantly. But I belive that we need stronger ties to both Canada and Mexico, if only becasue we share this continent and because of our long borders with each.
Yesterday’s biggest enemy may be one of today’s biggest friends; yesterday’s friend may try to shove a knife in your back today. Some alliances last for decades; some evaporate in months. Thus has it always been and thus will it continue to be.
Not mentioned by SDB in his post is our relationship with Saddam’s Iraq. Our assistance to Iraq’s military during their long war with Iran wasn’t an alliance, of course, but many today try to tell the story that way.
There will be more changes in the line-ups and batting orders over the coming years. I think that history will prove us right more often than not, regardless of how many toes we step on today. France may well turn out to have been an enemy all along. Or they may end up being a staunch supporter before it’s all over. I imagine that our relationship with Saudi Arabia is going to look far different through the prism of history, as will our solid friendship with Israel and our differences with Germany.
We have to get to the future to look back at today with hindsight. I think we’re doing an acceptable job of it.