The era of reliable allies is over

April 24, 1995|By Williamson Murray

MORE THAN the end of the war in Europe, V-E Day also marked the beginning of the end of an era of reliance.

In September 1939, as well as in August 1914, Britain had gone to war to meet what it correctly felt to be a threat to world peace.

Its declaration of war on Germany had been followed almost immediately by like declarations by Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, whose attitudes were best summed up by the slogan, "If the Crown's at war, we're at war."

Americans had been able to place a similar reliance on our allies when we led the way to war against communist invaders in Korea.

Even in Southeast Asia, that dubious and badly thought-out effort to prevent the reunification of Vietnam, we received the support, albeit with no enthusiasm, of South Korea, Australia, Thailand and a few others.

In the Persian Gulf, we received substantial military help from our allies, not to mention enormous financial help from Germany and Japan.

But the gulf war and the support we received may well have represented the last gasp of a dying era.

The past half century probably represents a bad guide to the next century.

From 1935 to the late 1980s, the United States has existed in an environment where at least one power (Nazi Germany through 1945 and the Soviet Union from 1945) represented a clear and present danger not only to the security but to the moral and political values for which America has stood.

Those two powers also threatened almost everyone else they had not yet subdued.

That troubling state focused American attention on world affairs and created a situation where we had allies ready to support policies that seemed in the best interest of the alliance.

But, in a world where there is not one unifying clear and present danger, we would be foolish to count on "our allies" to provide us with any consistent or coherent support.

The actions of the French over recent months suggest the extent of the problems we are going to have with our allies.

On one hand, the French have eagerly approached American policy makers for military support should the looming crackup in Algeria occur.

The collapse of the military regime in Algiers would probably precipitate a mass evacuation of Europeans and others to escape the ensuing blood bath.

Our military aid could be critical in helping the French extricate some of those threatened by the collapse.

On the other hand, the French have been doing everything within their power to end the sanctions on Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime.

Their rationale seems to be a belief that the foreign exchange the Iraqis could then earn from their sales of oil would allow Iraq to purchase French goods (including French weapons).

Given the aims of the present regime in Baghdad -- against which we have just fought a war with the French as our allies and in which French soldiers died -- such French policy seems insane.

Do we want to recreate a nuclear-armed and heavily equipped Iraqi military no matter how inept it appeared on the battlefields of the gulf war?

One might think not.

The crucial point is that for the most part we can no longer count on our allies acting in a fashion that contributes to the larger goals of the U.S. alliance system.

Instead, we are going to live in a world where our allies will pursue parochial, small-minded and often contradictory goals.

The United States must keep a larger picture in view: But our allies are not going to stand behind us on many international issues.

As a result, the United States may well have to pursue unilateral courses of action in the future.

We are, thus, more than just 50 years distant from V-E Day.

We are far from an era where we could count without hesitation on the support of allies.

Williamson Murray is professor of European military history at Ohio State University and editor of "The Making of Strategy."

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