When Sir Winston Churchill wrote his epic four-volume book, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, he attempted to chart the divisions embedded within the English-speaking countries of the world. This work represents Churchill’s abiding commitment to enhancing the affinities among people who, though separated by geography and national borders, share a common culture and language. In many respects, this was the basis of the “Special Relationship” that has continued to define the British and American alliance since World War II.
It was with this in mind that I listened to British Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech in Philadelphia. In her speech, the PM outlined the key driver of conflict today: the worldwide wave of popular, anti-globalization nationalism. In the West, this has empowered the rise of right-wing populist movements. Indeed, both Prime Minister May and President Trump rode this wave to power.
Building on this theme, May identified the need for countries to empower themselves by respecting national sovereignty. To May and Trump, national sovereignty is an absolute requirement for effective governance. Over the last three decades, national sovereignty has been under assault by globalization. These leaders have a shared interest in reasserting their national boundaries to shore up their sovereignty.
Yet, the May also underscored her country’s continued commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO was a vital component in defeating the Soviet Union during the Cold War. A collective security agreement formed in 1949, NATO bound the United States (and Canada) to Western Europe militarily. The agreement was predicated on the concept that an attack by the Soviet Union on one member of the alliance was an attack on all (this is known as Article V in the NATO charter).
For nearly five decades, NATO kept the peace. After the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, however, NATO continued on. Or, rather, the U.S. burden for carrying NATO continued while the rest of Europe passed into its post-historical malaise.
By the time of the 9/11 attacks, the United States was prepared to defend itself whereas many of its European allies (other than Britain) were feckless and weak. While NATO invoked Article V and went into Afghanistan alongside the United States, overall European commitment to the War on Terrorism was tepid at best. Even in Afghanistan, most NATO countries were too restrictive with their rules of engagement. Many of them simply couldn’t accomplish vital missions. In the case of Iraq in 2003, NATO partners such as France and Germany were actually diplomatic enemies that insisted on harming U.S. war efforts at all costs. (Regardless of one’s opinion of the war, the way that the French and Germans opposed America was unacceptable for supposed “allies”).
Allies Remain Essential
The world has changed fundamentally in 25 years. No longer can we rely on global solutions to save us. There are simply too many competing interests now. As we have recently seen, international organizations are not only anti-American, but they are totally ineffective at serving American interests.
Prime Minister May is correct: no country can simply go it alone on the world stage. Allies are essential. As such, in this time of constrained budgets, the Trump Administration must follow through on its campaign promises and seriously reassess America’s commitment to costly globalist endeavors, such as the United Nations and NATO.
America cannot—should not—retreat from the world stage. At the same time, however, the United States cannot continue doing business as usual. It must accept that the world has entered into a quasi-tripolar dynamic among the United States, China, and Russia. That means America should be far more judicious, not only how it involves itself globally but also how it forges alliances (and with whom).
A good place to start would be to simply look at the cultures and capabilities of potential allies.
New International Deals
It’s telling that the first foreign leader to visit with President Trump following his inauguration was Theresa May. It is also worth noting that both Trump and May are in favor of a new trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom. Despite what his detractors have said, Trump is not opposed to international trade agreements. He simply favors shorter-term, bilateral deals where the United States can actually benefit (as opposed to a handful of special interests benefiting).
When she was still prime minister, Margaret Thatcher was a consistent critic of Britain’s greater political union with Europe. Instead, she favored the UK becoming integrated with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Obviously, expanding NAFTA is not an option today, since the United States is looking to renegotiate the agreement or perhaps pull out entirely. However, a bilateral trade agreement between the United States, the largest economy in the world, and Britain, the fifth largest economy in the world, is a brilliant idea.
Further, increased bilateral military ties are essential for securing America’s global interests. But, there’s more. The Trump Administration’s interest in greater bilateral ties with other states, coupled with its commitment to securing Western Civilization from external threat, should compel the United States to seek greater alliances with likeminded states around the world.
Why We Need a New Institution
The United States must take a more active role in using nation-to-nation relations to increase its own standing throughout the world. Gone are the days of international institutions like the United Nations being anything more than a sop for anti-American illiberalism. An Anglo-American bilateral trade and military alliance is the vital next step. From there, the United States can link up its alliance system with fellow like minded states. It should start with uniting the English-speaking peoples, which share a common culture and political system.
Then, the United States should move out toward creating intensive bilateral alliances with fellow democratic countries. Imagine a U.S.-led alliance consisting of the UK, India, Japan, Australia, and several other Westernized, democratic states. Together, this “league of democracies” would be far more beneficial to maintaining global stability. This league would stand together against the agitations of China in Asia, the aggression of Russia in Europe, and jihadist violence in the Middle East. It would do far more to protect American national interests than either the NATO alliance or the United Nations in today’s world order.
At the same time, the United States would need to foster healthier relations with great, rival powers, such as Russia. But, these relationships must be based on mutual respect and strength of resolve.
In the past, the United States could depend on the strength of its alliances to buttress its dealings with Moscow and other hostile regimes. Now, however, the limitations of these age-old alliances have been laid bare. NATO has been consistently underfunded for years, leading to the formation of gaps in its capabilities.
The United States is usually the only NATO partner that takes up the slack. Yet, the slack becomes greater with each passing year, with no reprieve in sight. Besides, Putin has taken great relish in testing the limits of NATO and seeing its members equivocate and compromise with each one of his aggressions.
The line must be drawn. A new Age of Nationalism is upon us. The period of globalization officially has ended. The world is built not on Wilsonian concepts of liberal internationalism and collective security. Rather, the world is predicated on the nation-state system that the Treaty of Westphalia created in 1648. This system remains the dominant international model today.
The Character of Nations
America is a Judeo-Christian state. It is a republic. As such, the United States is beset by jealous, illiberal powers seeking to do America harm. These powers will not stop in their pursuit of ways to weaken and isolate the United States. Their goals are to untether America’s allies, to stunt the allure of America’s economy, and to deny America its security by destroying the alliances that the United States has come to depend upon.
Why play their game?
We live in a world of choices. Creating an informal alliance system of likeminded democracies would play to our strengths and respect the sovereignty of each one of those states. In peacetime, such an alliance would prevent revanchist powers from acting too boldly on the world stage. In wartime, it would bring to bear the wealthiest states with the most advanced militaries in the world.
After all, not only would we share a government structure and cultural worldview, but we would also be under threat from the same regimes. As such, rather than having to battle through endless mounds of bureaucracy (as we do in the U.N.), or trying to convince fickle allies (as we do in NATO), whenever a threat cropped up in the world, the United States could cherry-pick which fellow democracies it could rely on. This would not only cut down on costs, but it would also increase efficiency. America needs to build a League of Democracies today. It is the only cost-effective way for the United States to secure its interests abroad.