Vital Signs

Are Allies Necessary?

The United States today has numerous allies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East whom Americans are committed to defend. Despite the end of the Cold War, Americans are regaled at home and abroad with rationales for reinvigorating alliances that skeptics question in the new era. In essence, we are admonished by advocates of the alliances to shun "isolationism" and strengthen international ties that will preserve peace. This message seems reassuring, but on closer analysis there is a major flaw—why do Americans need allies if we have no credible enemy?

If the post-Cold War era has any defining characteristic for the United States, it is the clear lack of an adversary capable of a major, sustained assault on the country. We are not in danger of being overrun by a foreign enemy. Nor is one of that magnitude likely to emerge any time soon. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union might have been able to inflict such an attack. Hence, it made sense for Americans to form alliances with an array of countries. They were unlikely to help defend the United States from a direct attack, but their shared vulnerability to assault by the Soviet Union, or by a proxy state, provided a sense of unity in a common mission that helped to preserve American security by diffusing the threat.

Today, however, that linkage has completely dissipated. America's current alliances with other countries arc intended totally to deter attacks...

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