During the Cold War, the United States subsidized its allies defense while they got rich. Instead of building up their own defenses to counter the Soviet Uniona much more likely threat to Europe and East Asia than to the United Statesthey were able to divert scarce resources into their civilian economies to compete with U.S. commercial industries. Despite the United States heavily subsidizing their security, many allies failed to fully open their markets to U.S. products. In some case, the United States had to accept allied protectionism as the price for stationing protection forces in allied nations! And all this sacrifice from American taxpayers to maintain the influence of the American foreign policy elite in allied countries. What exactly does this influence get the taxpayer? Not much, apparently.
If during the latter part of the Cold War, the then-rich allies could have done more for their own security, thus relieving some of the American burden, the burden sharing situation worsened as the security situation improved after the Cold War ended. With the collapse of the principle threatthe competing Warsaw Pact alliance and the Soviet UnionU.S. allies felt less insecure and thus able to take further advantage of the United States, which became more insecure about its loss of clout in Europe and East Asia.
Lord Ismay once perceptively said that the NATO alliance kept the Soviets out, the U.S. in, and the Germans down. The same could be said about the centerpiece of U.S. policy in East Asiathe U.S.-Japan security alliance. Because the Soviet Union is now in the dustbin of history and Russia is a pale threat replacement (China is rising but has much ground to cover to catch up to the Soviet threat), the latter two functions are all thats left. Some Europeans and Asians still remember World War II and have lingering fear of a resurgent Germany (especially since its reunification) and Japan, respectively. Yet these countries have been good, almost pacifist, members of their regional neighborhoods for almost 70 years. Thus, such fears are irrational, and the United States should say, get over it to these nations neighbors.
These obsolete and entangling alliances have indeed kept the United States in these regions with a significant military presence long after the Cold War ended. To maintain its clout within these areas, the U.S. needed to retain the alliances in a less threatening postCold War world. Thus, even after the Soviet Unions demise, the United States strengthened the U.S.-Japan alliance (doing so again recently) and expanded NATO in Europe both in function and to defend yet more countries.
These alliances not only suck up U.S. cash by keeping U.S. defense budgets excessively high to fund rich allies security, they provide no incentive to such countries to spend more on their own defensesa phenomenon called free riding. Even more important, these outdated alliances have become permanent and ends in themselvesany U.S. alliance should be temporary and serve U.S. security interests at the timeand impede U.S. flexibility in foreign policy in a changed era. Outdated alliances prior to World War I helped drag European countries, and eventually the United States, into a war nobody wanted and that led to a calamitous twentieth centuryultimately causing World War II and the Cold War.
Current U.S. alliance policy has gotten so ridiculous that America is now borrowing money from China to subsidize the defense of rich East Asian allies in their quest to militarily counter... well... China.
After the Cold War ended, the United States should have taken advantage of the more favorable security circumstances and abrogated these obsolete alliances. To avoid getting dragged into unneeded wars in the futurepotentially even with nuclear-armed powersthe United States should terminate such entangling alliances to increase its flexibility in an ever-changing world.
|Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.|