Allies That Hurt America
Our so-called alliances with Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Turkey demand re-evaluation.
One of Washington’s many mantras is that allies are essential. Since America has more allies than any other country, the U.S. should be more secure than any other country. But Washington’s supposed friends increasingly prove to be both faithless and useless.
Alliances are intended to be a means, not an end. Their objective is to increase America’s security. Charity does exist in international relations: for instance, humanitarian aid in response to natural disasters. And a military alliance could be established for similar reasons. However, in practice, participants never justify them as such. NATO includes many members who are militarily useless—Luxembourg and Montenegro immediately come to mind—but neither alliance nor American officials ever admit the obvious. Rather, they pretend that all members magically enhance U.S. security, treating even the weakest like Facebook friends, the more the merrier irrespective of value.
Unfortunately, America’s power and wealth has made it the target of the international equivalent of gold-diggers. Governments around the world scheme and beg to be treated as an “ally” of the global superpower known to be a soft touch, willing to defend, apparently forever, countries no matter how irrelevant to U.S. security and how much their circumstances change over time. Indeed, scan the list of formal allies in Asia, Europe, and the Mideast. Even the best among them tend to be leeches, whiners, deadbeats, scammers, poseurs, and swindlers. Worse, most are military black holes, creating greater obligations than assets. Some are also ostentatiously faithless, trashing the U.S. while demanding ever greater protection.
Number one on the list is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), and especially its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS. The Kingdom is one of the few absolute monarchies left on earth. It is a human rights hell, dwelling in the bottom ten of more than two hundred countries and territories rated by the group Freedom House. While reducing totalitarian social strictures, the crown prince has greatly increased political repression.
MbS’s worst crime is the invasion of Yemen, in which some 400,000 civilians have been killed. Of course, in this the U.S. government has been a bloody accomplice, as Washington has supported the KSA as it committed multiple war crimes. The royal regime is best characterized by its sense of entitlement. Kings and princes get palaces and yachts. Expatriates do the dirty work. The regime expects American soldiers to act as princely bodyguards. Indeed, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates reported that the Saudis were upset when Washington did not go to war with Iran on command. Most recently, Riyadh humiliated the Biden administration, reducing oil production after the president humbled himself by going to the Kingdom and cravenly begging MbS to increase oil sales. The spectacle made one wonder which country was the superpower.
Also on the list is South Korea. At least Seoul has created a serious military, but it still underinvests in its defense, counting on America to bail it out if necessary, especially in the face of North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal. Indeed, the Republic of Korea’s sense of entitlement may be as great as in Saudi Arabia. The ROK’s economy is more than 50 times as large as that of North Korea; the South’s population is twice as large; Seoul is internationally active, with friends and partners around the globe. Why doesn’t the ROK protect itself? It doesn’t have to so long as Americans are willing to stand guard, while South Koreans focus on their economy.
Indeed, though ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol wants a closer alliance, he seems unimpressed by Washington’s provision of substantial U.S. defense subsidies for 72 years. He was quite unhappy after his short meet-and-greet with President Joe Biden last month at the United Nations. He was overheard calling U.S. congressmen “f***ers” or “idiots” (reports varied) and citing Biden’s “s**t-faced embarrassment.” Although South Korean gratitude isn’t necessary, such insults are quite annoying.
Finally, Turkey, which joined NATO during the Cold War and enjoyed protection from the Soviet Union, has become a fifth columnist in the alliance. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is merely a dictatorial wannabe compared to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. Still, the Turkish president has destroyed what once was a formally democratic system. Explained Freedom House:
Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has ruled Turkey since 2002. After initially passing some liberalizing reforms, the AKP government showed growing contempt for political rights and civil liberties and has pursued a wide-ranging crackdown on critics and opponents since 2016. Constitutional changes in 2017 concentrated power in the hands of the president, removing key checks and balances. While Erdogan continues to dominate Turkish politics, a deepening economic crisis and opportunities to further consolidate political power have given the government new incentives to suppress dissent and limit public discourse.
Erdogan has undermined U.S. international interests in multiple ways: allowing the Islamic State to operate in Syria, attacking Syrian Kurdish forces allied with America, purchasing Russian weapons systems, and intervening in Libya’s ongoing civil war. The dalliance with Moscow has been Washington’s most serious concern, at least until recently. Now Ankara is threatening war against fellow NATO member Greece.
Relations between the two have long been difficult. The governments nearly ended up at war in 1974, when Greece’s military regime fostered a coup in Cyprus, after which Turkey intervened militarily on behalf of the island’s ethnic Turkish minority, carving out a new state recognized only by Turkey. Since then, Ankara has regularly challenged Greek control over islands near Turkey’s coast. Now tensions are on the rise, with Erdogan playing the nationalism card by threatening war against Athens.
Explained the Naval Postgraduate School’s Ryan Gingeras: “A myriad of issues divide Athens and Ankara, but Erdogan has now focused his rage upon Greece’s militarization of its Aegean islands. While the Greek military presence there has remained largely consistent over the last several decades, Ankara insists that it is in violation of the 1923 and 1947 treaties that established Greece’s sovereignty over the islands.” Although no one quite believes the two NATO members will end up at war, Erdogan’s popularity has suffered from Turkey’s economic travails and presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for next year. A war might be his best hope for victory. Even if conflict is avoided, who believes that Ankara can be relied on in a crisis, most importantly a NATO war with Russia?
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America enjoys an extraordinarily favorable geographic position, so it little needs allies for its own defense. By long providing a military shield, Washington has enabled friendly states to develop economically. Now is the time to end needless allied dependence on the American people.
Foreign policy is uniquely practical and contingent, dependent on the state of world affairs. Washington should drop useless and faithless allies, especially when they shamelessly take advantage of America. Saudi Arabia has bought lots of U.S. weapons: the royals should be left to use these weapons to defend themselves. South Korea has vastly outstripped its potential antagonist: it should be encouraged to use its resources to build a military sufficient to deter, and if necessary, defeat North Korea. Turkey is more likely to attack America’s friends than adversaries: Ankara should be defenestrated from NATO and left to handle its own defense.
That should be just the start.