As the cynical Henry Kissinger so aptly noted, it’s often more dangerous being America’s ally than its enemy.
Once defeated, America’s enemies often get large amounts of money and easy access to North America’s vast market, assuring they will stay within the U.S. co-prosperity sphere. Just look, for good example, at postwar Germany, Japan, and formerly Japanese-ruled South Korea. Arabs are excepted from this golden rule.
On the other hand, consider such faithful former U.S. allies as South Vietnam, the anticommunist UNITA forces in Angola, former Zaire leader Mobutu Sese Seko, the late Shah of Iran, Egypt’s deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak, and Pakistan’s late president, Gen. Zia ul Haq.
Once no longer useful, these leaders were cast aside or allowed to be overthrown. Zia, who was well known to this writer, won the Afghan anti-Soviet War for the West. His reward was his C-130 aircraft exploding in midair.
Gen. Jonas Savimbi, the legendary Angolan anti-communist fighter was assassinated by an Israeli hit squad paid by Washington, according to a senior U.S. diplomat in Luanda, Angola. The U.S. had decided that the Angolan Communists in Luanda were a more promising supplier of oil than America’s formerly CIA-backed UNITA forces. So Savimbi, one of Africa’s better leaders and a faithful U.S. ally, was ambushed and riddled with bullets.
As Stalin used to quip, “no man, no problem.”
The United States has generally been fortunate in its choice of allies. Some, like Britain and France, are genuine allies sharing interests with Washington.
Others, like Germany and Japan, remain semi-occupied postwar states still steeped in the shame of defeat and generally accept Washington’s lead. They are more traditional satraps than full allies, called upon to obey the U.S.-led world order and supply military forces or money when necessary in a process that would have been perfectly familiar to the Persian Emperor Darius. Luckily for the U.S., all its major allies are very wealthy, though loath to spend heavily on their military forces.
But Washington also has some allies who are as much a danger as a boon, and who could even drag the U.S. into a war it does not seek.
We start with aforementioned Japan and South Korea. Japan is getting ever more deeply embroiled in the dangerous conflict with China over the South China Sea and attendant waters. Some barren rocks, devoid of resources or any interest—the Senkakus—have become a focus of Chinese-Japanese rivalry as warships and aircraft from both sides play chicken over these waters.
An accidental clash could happen any day, sparking a Sino-Japanese conflict whose extent cannot be predicted. China has recently declared its right to an air defense zone over parts of the South China Sea, a major escalation. Japan’s move to build offensive military forces is certain to raise Asian tensions.
In a careless act of past diplomacy that it now must regret, Washington became treaty-bound to defend the Senkakus as part of the comprehensive 1951 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.
It is not impossible to imagine a fracas between Chinese, Japanese, or Taiwanese fishing boats leading to a nuclear confrontation. China appears set to continue challenging the maritime status quo. This is part of her strategic effort to make Japan lose face—and thus influence—in the region.
The South Koreans, who detest the Japanese, are happy to see their former rulers humiliated by China. But China is not going to undermine North Korea, as Washington keeps demanding, until U.S. air, land, and sea forces withdraw from South Korea.
For its part, Japan has no serious defense against nuclear-armed North Korean missiles. South Korea’s obsession with the North, and the North’s occasional attacks on the South, could easily draw the rival Koreas into open conflict, dragging the U.S. into a bloody fight it does not want.
The U.S. has forged two other sets of alliances that present an equal danger of conflict. First, of course, is the U.S.-Israel entente. Washington has promised for decades to defend Israel against attacks by its Arab neighbors and Iran. But what about Israeli attacks?
Israel’s former defense minister Ehud Barak has revealed that the cabinet blocked plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Iran in 2010 and 2011. War between Israel and Iran would quickly have pulled in the U.S., though there was little desire in the Pentagon for another major Mideast conflict.
America’s generals and strategists were deeply concerned that Israel could force the U.S. into war against Iran against its will. Fortunately, Israel’s cautious military and security establishment has so far managed to block the warlike efforts of the right-wing coalition that rules Israel.
Hillary Clinton, who may become America’s next president, vowed to “totally obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel. In reality, militarily feeble Iran has very little offensive conventional capability and, according to U.S. intelligence, no nuclear arms. But Hillary was ready to go on the warpath.
Meanwhile, America’s growing alliance with India has so far failed to capture much attention in Washington or the media. While a hue and cry continues over Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons, India has been quietly building a powerful force of land- and now sea-launched nuclear-armed ICBMs.
The Bush administration sought to enlist India as an ally against its northern neighbor, China. In recent years, India has been building up strategic, air, ground, and naval forces to oppose China. Tensions between the two Asian giants are moderately high.
In my book War at the Top of the World I examined a possible India-China conflict on the Himalayan border and in Burma. This scenario is almost totally ignored in the West, as is a possible nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan over divided Kashmir.
The Indians are too clever by far to become strategic pawns of Washington but, at the same time, they appear set on drawing the U.S. into conflict with China, particularly in the Indian Ocean. Today, U.S.-China relations are so volatile that great care must be taken to avoid provoking Chinese fears of a strategic encirclement by Washington and New Delhi.
Finally, a close watch must be kept on the hot-headed American allies Ukraine and Poland. Their fear of Moscow is so deeply etched in their national psyches that care must be taken that they do not embroil the U.S. in a head-on military conflict with Russia, a threat that is already afoot and being cultivated by America’s neocons.
Eric S. Margolis is the author of War at the Top of the World and American Raj: Liberation or Domination? Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World.