Key point: With friends like these, who needs enemies?
An old truism recommends keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. But how to tell the two apart?
Alliances in international politics are at best a necessary evil, somewhat analogous to government in liberal political philosophy. For a regional hegemon with global interests, like the United States, allies are particularly indispensable, given Washington’s need to project power globally.
That fact is cold comfort for the diplomats and military officers tasked with maintaining them, as even the best allies are a never-ending source of migraines and anguish. Many would contend that America has no greater friend than Israel. And yet, Israel is a counterintelligence nightmare with a habit of announcing settlement expansions at particularly inopportune times for U.S. officials.
It is hardly an anomaly in this regard. France, America’s oldest ally, was constantly at odds with the United States during the Cold War, criticized America as a hyperpower in the decade after it and led global opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Similarly, the U.S.-Japanese alliance may be the foundation of America’s alliance system in Asia. Still, despite initially welcoming his election, U.S. officials have been dismayed by Japanese premier Shinzo Abe's historical analysis and field trips to the Yasukuni Shrine.
No U.S. ally is perfect. But five alliances of convenience in particular stand out. (Note: the list is not limited to formal treaty allies.)
1. Imperial Japan
As most Japanese celebrated the success of Pearl Harbor, the architect of the attack, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, reflected ominously, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."
If only U.S. officials had demonstrated such prescience nearly a century before when they sent Commodore Matthew Perry to forcibly open up the hyperisolationist country. Although Perry was successful in his immediate objective, the United States ultimately got more than it bargained for in the exchange.