My response:“I believe in relationships. I believe in partnerships. But alliances have not always worked out very well for us.” https://t.co/dV0JscgUZS— Ankit Panda (@nktpnd) April 2, 2017
Alliances have worked out great for US: allies did most of the fighting in WWI, Russians did most of it in WWII, NATO has kept peace. FFS https://t.co/HJm9GSCMp3— Steve Saideman (@smsaideman) April 2, 2017
This tweet got a heap of attention, with much support and a few history pedants (who remind me of a few negative teaching evals in a pile of positive ones--they stick out and itch). I challenged Trump to name examples where alliances did not work out for the US. To be clear, alliances can fail in three pretty important ways:
- the allies don't show up when expected or needed
- an ally sucks you into a war you didn't want to fight
- allies shirk much of the burden so that one is drained.
- The US won the American Revolution thanks to its alliance with France.
- The War of 1812 was one where the US opportunistically jumped into a war while Britain was fighting with France, but there was no expectation that the US would be operating as part of an alliance.
- No allies were expected or needed in the various wars of the 1800s that added territory (Mexican-American War, War against Spain).
- WWI? The US entered late, helping to tip the balance somewhat after the other countries did most of the heavy lifting of draining Germany and attrit-ing it to the edge of collapse.
- World War II? I got much pushback on my tweet since I didn't include the Pacific War, where the US did carry much of the fight, but even then the Aussies did a lot of fighting before the Americans arrived and then British/Indians stopped the Japanese in the west. Oh, and yes, the nuclear bombs mattered, but so did Soviet entry in August 1945. Turns out many Americans don't know that the Soviet armed forces bled the Germans far, far, far more than the Americans. And anyone mentioning D-Day forgets that 3/5s of the beaches were invaded by non-Americans (the Brits had two, the Canadians one, plus a smattering of French, Polish and others were mixed in).
- While the US was the key player in the cold war, alliances with European countries and Canada (NATO) and with Asian countries (Japan, South Korea, Philippines) played a major role in containing the Soviet Union. Allies did fight alongside the US in Korea.
- Vietnam is one of the few wars where our allies did not show up in a major way, and can you blame them? Not a wise war, and even then the Australians, South Koreans and some others showed up.
- The Gulf War of 1991 was a very multilateral effort even if the US had the preponderance of troops.
- Afghanistan? First and only time Article V of the NATO treaty was invoked--when the US was attacked on 9/11. All of NATO showed up in Afghanistan although unevenly.
- Iraq? Even this misguided war involved a number of allies--most prominently the UK at significant cost.
Burden-sharing? Yes, any alliance will have some burden-sharing problems, but as Trump forgets, when the US carries much of the burden, it also then has much of the leadership of the effort. And, at no point did the US engage in any effort that was made "unsustainable" due to allied shirking. Shirking has been a political, not a military, problem, as it can raise a sense of unfairness.
In sum, it is hard to think of an alliance that did not work out well for the US.... with one possible exception. The US did not get the peace it wanted after World War I because the allies, since they paid a far higher cost, demanded a higher price from Germany, which ultimately came back to haunt them. The key point here is that alliances have worked out very well for the US, yet Trump seems to want to shred them. For what reason? Because the US spends more on defense and others spend less? This might be a credible complaint if Trump were not so interested in increasing the US defense budget.
NATO and the other alliances have been key contributors to peace and prosperity for seventy plus years. They still serve vital purposes today in furthering American interests. Yet, Trump's deliberate ignorance may lead to policies that undo much of what has been done. And what Trump does now will be hard to undo. Sad.