1.On May 13, Lexington Institute sponsored a luncheon meeting of a dozen experts to discuss the future of alliances. Without trying to characterize the content of the whole meeting, I would like to note three interesting issues that arose. Because these topics often don’t get an airing in seminars on alliance structures and relationships, I thought they were worth committing to paper for circulation and preservation.
2.First of all, U.S. domestic political culture seems to have polarized into two distinct camps concerning foreign policy, with each camp closely aligned to one of the major political parties. Republicans increasingly favor the American exceptionalism so common in U.S. foreign policy before World War Two. This mindset is rooted in a peculiar mix of cultural insularity, sense of mission, and willingness to go it alone — values strikingly captured in last year’s rewrite of the National Security Strategy. Democrats, on the other hand, have stuck with a Cold-War framework that favors multilateralism even at the expense of national interest — a model that is congenial to European elites but rather passive in coping with emerging threats. It is hard to see how the U.S. can sustain any articulated alliance structure if control of foreign policy is to periodically shift back and forth between parties with such different worldviews.
3.The centrifugal forces unraveling the Atlantic Alliance are to some degree driven by the nationalistic (or unilateral) approach of the Bush Administration — an approach that received a popular mandate from the 9-11 attacks. However, the unraveling is also driven by a waning of any transatlantic sense of shared adversity concerning future dangers. Many of the issues that most concern European electorates have marginal political salience in America and vice versa, while the absence of an overarching threat such as fascism or communism has eroded the sense of urgency about arresting the alliance’s decline. In this regard, the members of NATO seem rather like the citizens of a recently decolonized country, who having ejected their common oppressor discover they actually don’t have much else in common.
4.The difficulty of assembling a collective-security framework in which all the member-states have the same enduring interests suggests that ad hoc coalitions are the wave of the future. As new crises arise, the U.S. will undoubtedly search the world for countries that share its values and interests — but who also have something tangible in the way of military or economic power to bring to bear in whatever contingency has arisen. Only a few countries, such as Australia and the U.K., will meet U.S. needs. Among all the prospective candidates, India looks to be a very promising long-term partner because of its special combination of democratic government, demographic mass, economic progress and geopolitical circumstance. Perhaps that is the reason the new National Security Strategy singles out India for a long-overdue “transformation” of diplomatic relations with Washington.
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