The quote “Great power rivalries are first and foremost contests for allies” is from a book on alliances written by Weiss A. Mitchell, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and last year reviewed in the Wall Street Journal by General McMaster, current National Security Advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump. In a co-authored book, “The Unquiet Frontier: Rising Rivals, Vulnerable Allies and the Crisis of American Power,” Mitchell and Gyrgiel emphasized the significance of alliances in an age of transition in the international system. The authors are particularly critical about those who ignore geopolitical changes in the international system and failed to approach these transformations strategically. Accordingly, policymakers focus instead on short-term solutions and crisis management instead of trying to come up with a plan to deal with current challenges. Mitchell and Gyrgiel wrote that the alliance systems of the U.S. are in a state of crisis. For them, “Many U.S. allies believe that the United States, for reasons of either decline or disinterest, is in the process of pulling back from decades long commitments and inaugurating a multiregional diplomatic and military retrenchment.”
There are many apparent reasons to comprehend the isolation of the U.S. among its allies, but McMaster’s answer for this is really worth giving an ear to
The book was published during the time of former President Barack Obama, and retrenchment was considered one of the buzzwords in the U.S. foreign policy during those years. Inconsideration for the concerns of allies and the increasing distrust emerging among allies for U.S. commitments were constantly stated in this period as a problem that may have long-term ramifications. Allies were not only confused but also started to grow suspicion of this pattern of foreign policy behavior. The authors argue that this pattern has confirmed their suspicions in the last few years. And the increasing suspicion in the end could unravel the international system “through a combination of external pressure from opportunistic powers convinced that America is in decline, internal pressures of allies that are unconvinced America will still support them in a crisis, and the failure of U.S. statecraft to prove both views are wrong.” Moreover, they contend that policymakers in the U.S. failed to understand the seriousness of the situation. “This void in U.S. strategic thinking reflects a lack of understanding not only about the perceptions of America’s allies and the intentions of its rivals but also about how U.S. moves are interpreted competitively.”
Most analyses of the problem seem to reflect what is going on today in U.S. alliance relationships. Since the beginning of the Trump administration, the U.S. withdrew from the TPP and Paris Climate Accords and started to talk about renegotiating NAFTA. More significantly the unwillingness of President Trump to adhere to Article 5 of NATO and constant questioning of U.S. security commitments to the security of U.S. allies. The confusion seems to grow in U.S. allies in Asia and the Middle East as well.
The crisis in U.S. alliance relations with Turkey only deepened during this period. More than confusion, the U.S. partnership with a terrorist organization is generating almost an intentional destruction of the strategic alliance. It became a textbook case of how to destroy trust and try to lose an ally in the most unstable region in the world in a period of one of the most critical turning points in its history. And what happened in this strategic partnership will not stay only between Turkey and the U.S. The shortsightedness of U.S. foreign policy will have far reaching implications for future security commitments of the U.S. The change in the administration hasn’t amended much so far. And many have already started to see this as a new pattern in U.S foreign policy.Considering the positions of the author and reviewer of the book today, it would not be unrealistic to expect a change in the pattern of U.S. foreign policy. At least the expectation would be to understand that there is a problem in how the U.S. handles its alliances today and that there is an urgency to fix these problems. It was General McMaster who wrote in his review of the book that he considered alliances as inexpensive alternatives to more costly policies. However, so far, the U.S. is not giving a very good show of fine-tuning alliance networks and strengthening them to survive the challenges ahead. Mistrust is growing among allies, and there does not seem to be a plan to fix the situation.
This article was first published by Daily Sabah on February 5, 2018.