There are many things wrong with this Economist editorial, but this struck me as one of its least defensible claims:
Each situation is different, but in the echo-chamber of global politics they reinforce each other. The Asians note that in 1994, in exchange for surrendering nuclear weapons, Ukraine received a guarantee from Russia, America and Britain that its borders were safe. The Baltic countries remember the red lines crossed in Syria. Arab princes and Chinese ambassadors count the Republican senators embracing isolationism.
Are any of these things happening? The editorial makes no attempt to demonstrate that they are. Perhaps Asian allied governments are taking note of the violated 1994 agreement with Ukraine, but it has nothing to do with U.S. treaty commitments to defend them against attack. The difference between a non-binding agreement and a formal defense treaty could not be greater or more obvious. If the U.S. isn’t rushing to fight for a country it isn’t obligated to defend, this is irrelevant to its readiness to fulfill its treaty obligations. The governments of the Baltic states are undoubtedly aware of the abortive intervention in Syria last year, but why should they care? If anything, allies in Europe and Asia should be pleased that the U.S. isn’t frittering away its resources and attention on yet another conflict in another region, which means that it would be better able to aid its allies if that were necessary. Washington’s readiness to attack another country doesn’t tell us anything about its readiness to defend treaty allies. It seems unlikely that Arab princes and Chinese ambassadors (or any other set of foreign officials) are following American politics as closely as the Economist editors imagine. It seems even more unlikely that they would attach much significance to the views of a few members of what is currently the minority party in the Senate.
We know that interventionists want everyone to believe that this is how the world works, but there is little reason to think that it does. Hawkish interventionists have been going out of their way in the last year to link the reliability of the U.S. as an ally to its response to crises that have nothing to do with America’s commitment to its allies. This has perversely done more to cast doubt on that commitment than anything the U.S. government has or hasn’t done.