Basic Foreign Policy: Friends and Allies Count

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The United States has unmatched power. As the president said, "America is the indispensable nation." Yet even the US needs friends and allies to achieve its foreign policy goals. We are more effective with international support than without it.

There are strong unilateral tendencies in US foreign policy today. We have failed to pay our UN dues or our contribution to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We sanction our friends and allies when we don't like their policies toward Cuba, Iran, or Libya - and when they don't support ours. Last year, we told our allies which countries were acceptable for NATO membership. This year, we told them we were ready to use force against Iraq, with or without their support.

Friends and allies generally support US foreign policy objectives, but they bristle at what they see as an overbearing - even domineering - style. While they sometimes differ with us, they want a US that is engaged, not withdrawn from the world. They see us as a critical actor on behalf of international peace and prosperity. They want us to lead - but they believe that we often do not consult enough, respect their opinions, or acknowledge their contributions. Nothing much of importance gets done around the world without US leadership, but success also depends on partnership. Witness these examples: * Progress in the Middle East peace process requires the US, yet we also have had important help. Ten countries join us in helping to monitor the Camp David Accords. Norway brokered the Oslo agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. The European Union provides the bulk of financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. * In 1994, the US replaced the military regime in Haiti and restored the elected president to office. We had the support of the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States. Police from Caribbean nations and a dozen other countries helped patrol the streets in Haiti, and Canadian and Pakistani troops provided security when US forces left. * The 1995 Mexican financial rescue package was put together by the US, and we had a lot of help. We pledged $20 billion, but the IMF, the World Bank, and European institutions pledged $29 billion more. * A freeze of North Korea's nuclear program was a product of US diplomacy. China lent a hand. A key incentive for the package was the promise of two light-water nuclear reactors, costing $5 billion, to be paid for primarily by South Korea and Japan. * The US put together the Dayton peace agreement for Bosnia and is essential to its success. Our NATO allies provide three-fourths of the troops in Bosnia and four-fifths of reconstruction funds. * US expertise is essential for the UN weapons inspection mission in Iraq. Yet we lots of help from others, including Russian inspectors, French scientists, and Chilean air units. …