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  • Jonathan B Graves

America's Allies: A 21st Century Obligation

The United States needs the support of strong allies in global affairs to achieve legitimacy in its national interests and policy objectives that have become defined by multilateral cooperation since the end of World War II.

Allies are fundamentally important in securing support for war and peace or implementing economic sanctions on countries that rebuff international norms. In the 21st century, hard power projections of force have often failed to achieve their stated objectives whereas soft power diplomacy making use of allies has limited the effect and spread of war, nuclear proliferation, disease and environmental disasters.

Allies aid in search and rescue operations, tracking down financial fraud, tracking terrorist activity, and limiting access to dangerous materials for bomb making or airborne pathogens. Without allies, the power of the U.S. would be substantially weakened and so too would its legitimacy.


The most important component of politics and world governance that is sought by all countries to further their political, economic, social, and military objectives is legitimacy and the authority it legalises.

Principles of legitimacy are not nullified by acts of deviance but are reinforced and made stronger. Following WWII, International politics sought legitimacy in the United Nations whereby countries subscribed to negotiated social norms that gave authority and standards to the behaviour of nation states and regulated the implementation of political pressure to maintain peace and security throughout the world.

If one allies support gives a degree of credibility for policy objectives, then multiple allies give legitimacy through the power of numbers and a valid claim to the moral high ground which adheres to international norms such as human rights and territorial sovereignty.

America needs allies to provide legitimacy in a world obsessed with creating societal norms based on multilateral cooperation whose policy goals are to secure peace and prosperity in an anarchic world.

Legitimacy on the surface seems counterintuitive because it can limit a countries influence but in fact is highly effective; legitimacy serves powerful countries like the U.S. who use UN organisations like the WTO to further their interests with the support of allies.

Strength in Numbers

Legitimacy spreads the responsibility of action among many countries as was the case when George H. W. Bush built a coalition of 39 countries to repel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991. Bush needed the support of Western allies like Great Britain as well as Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to authorise and legitimise America’s invasion force in the eyes of the international community.

Multilateral cooperation is synonymous with legitimacy as it provides strength in numbers and as Clark states, in today's world of democracies, international legitimacy is both more important and more difficult to achieve than ever.

Without strong allies, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Shield would have cost the U.S. billions of dollars in equipment, logistics, and bombs. With the political and economic backing of major allies, the U.S. along with allies repelled Saddam’s army in 100 hours in one of the greatest multilateral cooperative efforts achieved in modern day international affairs.

Failure of Diplomacy Equals War

In the 1930’s, Japan, Germany and Italy's apathy toward the League of Nations and their aggressive actions to settle important matters by themselves, and the failure of the remaining states to take firm action against them, finally disbanded the entire organisation.

Unilateral action in the absence of an international 9-1-1 operator allowed aggressive countries to satiate their self-help desires of territorial acquisition leading to the rape of Nanking in China during WWII which was marked by Hitler’s Holocaust and 70 million deaths, and the intentional targeting of civilians capped off with nuclear warfare that changed world politics forever.

NATO and the UN have proven exceptionally useful for U.S. policy objectives and were only made possible through the support of allies like Britain, France and Russia who knew first hand the tragedies of war.

What arose from the failure of the League of Nations in the aftermath of WWII was the United Nations and its dedication to cooperation between countries both ally and foe.

Article I of the U.N. Charter aimed "to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace".

The lessons of WWI and WWII show the importance of allies and diplomatic cooperation between countries to secure long lasting peace with absolute perseverance to avoid war at all costs. Allies are not only the glue that holds together world peace and stability but allies are the voice of reason and the power behind moral righteousness that maintains good’s edge over evil.

Peace Not War

Peace is preferable to war and allies help ensure peace and stability by cooperating to resolve the world’s problems. UN secretary General Antoine Guterres advocates proactive measures to reduce global threats as opposed to reactive measures because millions of people in crisis look to the Council to preserve global stability and to protect them from harm which is best achieved through the cooperation of allies.

Shallow alliances sprang from a cult of the offensive mentality that countries operated on before WWI. With military commanders treated like celebrities, the cult of the offensive mindset did little to quell unrest and instigated conflict through the blind indifference of treaties that demanded loyalty in the form of military support.

Alliances in WWII evolved to counter threats from countries like Germany and Japan who took unilateral action to achieve policy objectives of expansion or projecting power on weaker countries like Czechoslovakia and China. The consequences of war should never be forgotten as George Santayana once said in 1905, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Peace will always be preferable to war and the role allies play in defeating evil dictators or securing consensus on the use of soft power diplomacy for peace is imperative.

Countering Global Threats

The scope of world problems is too much for the U.S. to unilaterally solve due to the high costs of logistic and economic support necessary for campaigns in distant lands that often last months, years, and even decades.

Terrorism is a global threat and one that is impossible to eradicate. Simply put, the U.S. cannot afford to overthrow every dictator, kill every terrorist with a gun, manage every disease epidemic, ship food to every country experiencing famine or arbitrate every international dispute or police the entirety of the oceans from pirates and nefarious activity.

More importantly, financial constraints will always limit world powers and their foreign policy because cost is a key factor in deciding what serves the national interest of a countries policy objectives. Allies can lessen the burden brought to bear on the U.S. economically which has been the only superpower and policemen of the world for decades.

In conflicts since WWII, namely the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the U.S. has independently and aggressively acted in its own self-interest and advocated regime change and or opposed ideologies like communism.

Furthermore, the U.S. has forcefully and single-handedly attacked Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), Panama (1989) and Afghanistan and Sudan (1998). In recent events, unilateral action in Iraq proved unsuccessful as did U.S. intervention once again in Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan.

Allies are not only obligatory in today’s fast paced modern lifestyle but acting without their support is political suicide that does irreversible damage to a countries international reputation.

Concluding Remarks

Strong allies enhance the function of multilateral organisations like the UN and benefit the U.S. through financial and military support which provides legitimacy for resolving problems, reducing costs related to peacekeeping, war and disaster relief, and relieving the U.S. from being solely responsible in resolving problems and conflicts.

Allies are essential to diplomacy for maintaining open lines of communication when tensions rise between countries to such an extent that all communication channels are shut down. Multilateralism is built on the agreement of countries to operate in a global system of laws to ensure peace, stability, and prosperity in maintaining the global order.

Allies are similarly used amongst countries bilaterally as well as multilaterally in global organisations for the achievement of amity or even trade agreements. The destruction of peace at the of behest of war’s self-help unilateralism sends shockwaves of violence around the world destabilising economies and plunging innocent people into suffering.

Not only are allies and alliances vital for peace, but allies are essential in the support for war and fighting terrorism. Allies provide legitimacy by voting to support U.S. national interests that might wage war, implement economic sanctions, and pressure foreign powers to act as well as reducing costs, providing weapons and manpower, and aiding in humanitarian and rescue operations.

The more interconnected countries are, the safer the world will be for every human being on the planet.

Author: Jonathan B Graves

Jonathan is Founder and President of the Confucius Global Institute, an international think tank that advocates for democracy, freedom, and human rights through harmony, humaneness, and morality.

©2018 by Foreign Policy Press