America’s Future—Foreign Policy Principles, Part II

In an earlier post, I wrote about the necessity of redefining the basic principles of American foreign policy in order to have a successful future.  In that post, I also expanded on one of them, the need for American national interests to come ahead of all other considerations in our global relations.  In this post, I’d like to talk about another of those principles, the need to support our friends and allies.

It is possible, though enormously expensive, for us, among a very few nations, to satisfy our national needs unilaterally—that is, we do what we need to do without regard to the imperatives of any other nation.  Even for us, however, it’s also possible only for a short period of time, before both we run out of funding and resources and enough of the rest of the world joins together to overwhelm us.  Thus, while it is imperative that we retain the ability and the will to act alone when necessary, it will be more efficient and cheaper to work with other nations, informally, via a specific treaty, and/or via alliance to achieve our ends.

When it comes to supporting our friends and allies, though, we need to answer some additional questions, for these answers must shape the nature of our relationships.  These questions are first, why should we support our friends (or, why not leave them to their own devices?), followed by understanding who are our friends and why are they our friends, as well as who our enemies are, and why they are so.

Why, indeed, should we support our friends?  The simple utilitarian view is that it’s more efficient to support friends because then they will support us.  Most actions on the global stage are done more cost effectively if done with the assistance of others than if done by us alone, bearing all the costs, even if we then retain all the benefit.  The benefits are greater from the greater joint effort because the mutual support magnifies the benefit/cost ratio.

More importantly than a pecuniary reason, though, it’s our moral duty to support our friends.  The protection and enforcement of the natural rights of all men, rights we acknowledge explicitly in our Declaration of Independence, require that each of us act to support our fellows when those rights are threatened.  Such an obligation, further, is made explicit by the social compact that free men form when we create our nations.  So it is among these free nations.  When a nation that is a friend of the United States is threatened, it is our duty as fellow men to aid the men of that nation, and to do so explicitly in our common cause.

To do this effectively, though, we must know and be willing publicly to acknowledge who our friends and our enemies are.

I suggest that there are two types of friends and two types of enemies.  Of those who are friends, some are so because of our shared heritage and our common interests.  Others are so through our common objectives and/or the threats we both face.  This is not a symmetrical relationship, though; commonality is not a guarantor of a relationship; it only makes such types of relationship more likely.

While not everyone with whom we have some commonality will be our friend, most of them can be, and few of them will be hostile.  One example is Great Britain.  We were colonized primarily by Great Britain; although a significant minority of our forebears came from continental Europe.  We fought a number of wars, both shooting and economic, over the several decades surrounding our breakaway.  We’ve since stood shoulder to shoulder when one or the other of us needed support, even when we disagreed with the means used to answer the crisis.  This friendship is greatly facilitated by our common heritage and by our common interests: respect for the individual liberties of all men, respect for the power of a sound, free economy in supporting and enhancing that freedom.

Commonality of objectives or threats contributes to a measure of friendship; although the ties are not necessarily as strong.  Japan is an example of this.  Even though in the aftermath of WWII, the Japanese government was replaced with a Western-style democracy, Japanese culture remained largely intact and is only slowly—and in accordance with Japanese needs—moving closer to a Western nature: it remains Japanese in its essentials.  Nevertheless, we face together powerful foes in the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, as well as the destabilizing risk of an irrational, nuclear-armed northern Korea.  Aside from the common objective of facing down these threats, we have other common objectives that tie us together: an interest in free trade, the economic welfare of our citizenry, the rights of our citizenry to have a powerful voice in our respective governments, peaceful, profitable relations with our neighbors.  Working together in supporting these objectives has created a strong association between the two of us.

Of those who are our enemies, some are so because their cultural imperatives drive them to open hostility toward any culture different from their own.  Others are so through political or economic philosophical competition and/or through competition for the same critical resources.

Iran is an example of an enemy from its cultural imperatives.  Iran’s political culture drives it toward the bigotry of considering it appropriate to exterminate whole peoples solely because those peoples worship differently than the ayatollahs.  Iran’s historical culture drives it to attempt to control its neighbors simply because Iran needs the control; it cannot bring itself to trust to the peaceful intentions of those neighbors.  These are antithetical to everything for which the United States stands, and so Iran has concluded that we must be its enemy as well as the nations of its immediate region.  We must clash because Iran is intent on destroying a close ally, Israel.  We must clash because Iran is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons and then delivering them to terrorists for their use.

The People’s Republic of China is an example of a nation whose enmity toward us flows from its competition for resources (oil and innovation talent) and for political thought (the sovereignty of the people vs. the sovereignty of the government).  As long as these competitions exist—especially the political-philosophical competition—the PRC will remain hostile to us.  We must clash because the PRC feels itself threatened by the competition over political ideas.  We must clash because the United States supports the right of a people to determine for themselves their future and their government, which puts our two nations specifically at loggerheads over the future of the Republic of China.  We must clash because the United States, as most Western nations, insists on protecting the intellectual and inventive products of its citizens, while the PRC freely seeks to acquire that output through any means possible.  We must clash because we insist on the right of all nations to have access to the resources on sea floors beneath international waters.

In another post on this subject, I’ll expand on the matter of identifying who our friends and enemies are, and why they are our friends or enemies.

2 thoughts on “America’s Future—Foreign Policy Principles, Part II

  1. I drew the distinction the way I did for this reason. A coincidence of objectives and threats has some durability and friends can share these more so than mere allies. France and Germany are friends in this way. The Soviet Union was an ally in WWII; it can never have been a friend: the objectives were too narrow and short-lived; the areas of conflicts too broad and long-lived.

    I’ll try to make this distinction clearer in a later post on foreign policy and another on defense policy.

  2. “Of those who are friends, some are so because of our shared heritage and our common interests. Others are so through our common objectives and/or the threats we both face.”

    I would call the first friends. The second are allies. The first is a deeper and longer lasting relationship, proactive in its fundamental nature. The second is temporary and reactive, driven by the external factor of the common interest created by the actions of others.

    I would further suggest that we must clash with China over the freedom of the seas – where the PRC seeks to extend its territorial waters over a broad swath of the sea which includes LOCs and littorals important to multi-country commerce.

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