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America’s Facebook Friend Allies

17 Aug 2018

Doug Bandow

Washington has been supremely embarrassed-by a nominal ally, as
usual. After the Trump administration insisted that its involvement
in Yemen helped reduce civilian casualties there, Saudi Arabia
promptly launched an air attack that slaughtered a bus full of
school children.

It was a demonstration of how America’s allies often cause
more trouble than her enemies do.

No country has more allies that the United States. The most
important ones are in Europe and Asia, though Washington also
designates favored nations as “Major Non-NATO Allies”
(MNNAs), which typically receive some mix of security guarantees
and financial support. Then there are a few informal allies, which
are security partners in all but name.

This list seems ever to increase. U.S. policymakers constantly
seek out more, rather like how many strive to increase their
Facebook friends. And indeed, many of America’s professed
friends have no more value than those on Facebook.

Washington should stop
automatically treating its allies’ enemies as its own
enemies.

There are 28 other NATO members, including such behemoths as
Albania, Montenegro, and Slovenia. Recently invited to join was
Macedonia. Presidents have designated 16 nations as MNNAs, which
includes Australia, Japan, and South Korea, along with Egypt,
Bahrain, Israel, Tunisia, Pakistan, and Argentina. Saudi Arabia and
Taiwan are de facto allies, with presumed but unclear security
guarantees.

That’s a lot of charges for America to keep track of.
Unfortunately, many of these allies haven’t been putting
their best faces forward lately, which has caused plenty of
headaches for Washington.

Germany. This enemy turned ally should be the
cornerstone of any continental defense alliance. The Federal
Republic has Europe’s largest economy and population. It also
has a history of military accomplishment (though Germans are
admittedly uncomfortable pointing that out). Yet Berlin treats
Germany’s and Europe’s defense as an afterthought. The
Merkel government has ramped up military spending slightly, though
to what effect is unclear: the Bundeswehr lacks even minimal
readiness and could not be deployed in any serious fight.

Turkey. Having morphed into the caliphate that
the Islamic State only claimed to be, Turkey is growing more
Islamist and authoritarian by the day. The new sultan, President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, still feels the need to hold elections. But
they are mere formalities, with Erdogan having seized control of
the media, imprisoned political opponents, punished critical
businessmen, and silenced academics. He’s also treated tens
of thousands of people as traitors, prosecuting some, firing
others, banning travel by many, and scaring private firms against
employing most of them. At the same time, Ankara has undermined
Washington’s security interests, purchasing Russian military
equipment, facilitating ISIS activity on Turkish territory,
targeting America’s Kurdish allies, threatening U.S. troops
stationed with Kurdish forces, and confronting NATO neighbor
Greece.

Saudi Arabia. Even after modestly loosening the
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s cultural strictures, the Saudi
government shares few interests and values with America.
Politically and religiously, Saudi is a totalitarian state. There
are no meaningful elections, no critical media, no opposition
activists, no public worship by non-Muslims, and no limits to the
abusive power of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud. Despite
his reputation as a reformer, MbS, as he is known, is unwilling to
accept the slightest criticism at home or abroad. Internationally
he is a reckless and bloody adventurer. He attacked Yemen to
restore a pliable leader to power, creating a humanitarian
catastrophe. He supported radical insurgents in Syria, contributing
to that nation’s violent implosion. He attempted to isolate
and apparently planned to invade Qatar with the intention of
turning it into a puppet state, until U.S. pressure and Turkish
troops prevented that. He kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister
and forced his resignation-which was immediately reversed when
Riyadh finally allowed its captive to leave.

Egypt. Pharaoh Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who
usually uses the title “president,” has created a
police state far more fearsome than anything deposed dictator Hosni
Mubarak ever ran. Cairo, dependent on Saudi subsidies, joined the
assault on Qatar. Washington, meanwhile, pays Egypt not to attack
Israel, even though the comfortable, well-paid, and influential
Egyptian military elite has no intention of risking the good life
with a foolish war. The money instead underwrites the imprisonment
of tens of thousands of Egyptians, who years hence likely will
remember who aided their oppressors.

Israel. Politically inviolate in America,
Israel is a regional superpower that requires neither subsidy nor
guarantee for its security. Its only serious existential threat
comes from within, created by more than half a century of brutal
occupation over a large Palestinian population. Moreover, in coming
years that occupation could force Israel to choose between being
Jewish and democratic. And even worse, the Netanyahu government is
driving Washington towards war with Iran, a nation that poses no
threat to America and that can be contained by its neighbors.

Poland and the Baltic States. The reason
Germany and most other NATO members spend so little on their
militaries is because they don’t really fear Russia. An
attack by Moscow on Europe is only slightly more likely than a
Martian invasion. President Vladimir Putin is not pushing a global
ideology and would benefit little if his troops ended up occupying
a war-ravaged continent. Russia would also lose any full-scale war
with America and Europe. Poland and the Baltics seemingly do worry
more about Moscow’s ambitions, but they aren’t willing
to spend on their defense. These governments-other than
Estonia-have found it painful to hit even the alliance’s
recommended military spending level of 2 percent of GDP. Yet even
that is a pitiful amount for nations that claim to be at risk of a
Russian blitzkrieg. Instead of pouring resources into a tough
territorial defense, they want Washington to station U.S. forces on
their territory.

Argentina, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Philippines,
and Morocco.
Why are these considered allies? Argentina is
a nice place to visit, but it has little security relevance to the
United States: years ago, Washington chose the United Kingdom over
Argentina when those two states came to blows over the Falkland
Islands. Tunisia is the one success of the Arab Spring, but a
“major” ally? American forces should have come home
from Afghanistan years ago. Pakistan has continually undermined
America’s policy in neighboring Afghanistan. The Philippines
has a military even less fit for combat than Germany’s but
expects Washington to fight China to protect its contested
territorial claims. And although Morocco is a great tourist
destination, it occupies the Western Sahara against the wishes of
that region’s people.

Japan. Another enemy turned friend, Tokyo for
decades enthusiastically hid behind its U.S.-imposed constitution,
which technically forbids it to create a military. The Japanese
instead established a “Self-Defense Force” and greatly
limited its responsibilities. That made sense in the early years
after World War II, but certainly not today. Japan has the
capability to deter both North Korea and China and could contribute
significantly to Asian-Pacific security. Even once skeptical
nations such as the Philippines want their former occupier to do
more. So far, however, Japan prefers that U.S. policymakers risk
Los Angeles to protect Tokyo.

Montenegro. This micro-state entered NATO last
year, bringing with it a 2,000-man military. The country is best
known as the movie set for the James Bond film Casino
Royale
. As an international combatant, it compares poorly to
the imaginary Duchy of Grand Fenwick immortalized in the novel and
movie The Mouse that Roared. Likely next new member
Macedonia has a similar feel, though its military is bigger, about
8,000 men.

Facebook friends aren’t worth much, but at least they
normally don’t cost anything. Accepting an online friend does
not obligate one to pay his mortgage, gas up his car, and defend
him from local gangsters.

America’s allies are very different. They expect to be
paid for everything they do, don’t do, could have done, and
were willing to do if we’d thought to ask. They want security
guarantees, explicit and implicit. In the worst cases, they drag
America into stupid, needless, endless wars.

Alliances are not social clubs to which all countries should
belong. They are a means to an end, military organizations that
should enhance America’s security. Most of our allies today
fail that standard. Ending unnecessary alliances doesn’t mean
always going it alone. It means cooperating with countries towards
shared ends while maintaining the flexibility to assess the degree
of danger and proper response.

Thankfully, America faces few true existential threats.
Washington should stop automatically treating its allies’
enemies as its own enemies. Better to avoid unnecessary conflicts,
leave capable friendly states responsible for their own defense,
and encourage regional security cooperation.

If U.S. military action is necessary as a last resort, so be it.
But let that action reflect necessity on behalf of American
security, not misguided loyalty to a fake ally.

Doug Bandow is
a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special
assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Foreign
Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in CATO Journal