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Neglect of Allies Could Cause US Foreign Policy Failures

Ukraine. Credit: David Peinado, Pexels, April 6, 2022.
Ukraine. Credit: David Peinado, Pexels, April 6, 2022.

A lack of full-throttle support for Ukraine by the United States and Europe facilitated the bloody Russian invasion, which could have been prevented if action had been taken earlier.

Under the Obama Administration, Kyiv’s pleas for modern weapons were ignored. However, if Ukraine had been treated like a strategic ally before the invasion, and Russia could have anticipated its military losses, perhaps the current violence could have been averted. Or, possibly, building up Ukraine’s military and economy earlier could have at least made the catastrophic Russian attack even less successful.

The Ukraine war demonstrates why US policymakers should increase the ties with strategic allies that can maintain regional stability as the United States seeks to withdraw forces worldwide and focus on the China threat in Asia. In that respect, Ukraine is a distraction for the US. Washington would have much preferred if all the heavy lifting in Europe were done by Germany, France, and UK. Alas, it is not the case.

Neglecting longtime relationships can have cascading adverse effects on US foreign policy.

American withdrawal can trigger aggression, as we see in Eastern Europe. Therefore, strategic partners – even if some of them are not perfect democracies – are vital for US interests. Moreover, the United States has allies in critical regions that can serve as hubs of stability and cooperation in military and economic fields. They cannot be ignored.

For example, allies such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Israel can serve as key allies to maintain stability in the Middle East and counteract revolutionary Islamist forces such as ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, and its proxies.

In Eastern Europe, countries such as Ukraine, Romania, and Poland can serve as a buffer against Russia.

And in Central Europe, Kazakhstan can serve a similar role, while India and Japan can be strategic allies in Asia against China, supported by Vietnam, the Philippines, Korea, and Australia.

Nurturing these alliances can prevent war. American absenteeism can also invite aggression, as we see playing out in Eastern Europe.

Now is the time for the US to double down on its alliance network and reinforce the bonds established after the end of the Cold War. These alliances can play a crucial role in conflict mediation and prevention if nurtured.

Specifically, for almost 30 years, Kazakhstan, led by its first President Nursultan Nazarbayev, pursued multilateralism, good ties with Moscow, Washington, and Beijing, and is a world leader in nuclear disarmament multi-vector policy, and foreign investment. It is an example of a country that can be allied with the West.

Kazakhstan’s multi-vector policy is demonstrated by its ability to balance its diplomacy with major powers such as the United States, Russia, China, and Europe. That is why it stayed out of the recent war in Ukraine, abstained in the UN vote on Russia, sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and was able to maintain open lines of communication with both Russia and the West.

Moreover, its geopolitical location makes it important for the delicate balance of power in the heart of Eurasia, just as Israel and the UAE are essential to balancing off belligerent Iran.

In Eastern Europe, Ukraine serves a similar role as it has had to balance between Russia and the West.

Therefore, as it scales down its military presence in various theaters, such as Afghanistan and the Middle East, the United States should maintain alliances with key countries to maintain its influence and reach without sacrificing the lives of its soldiers.

One such sign of withdrawal came when US-led forces ended their combat mission in Iraq on December 9, 2021, and transferred all remaining troops into a training and advising role. In addition, a report in The Wall Street Journal last summer quoted Biden administration officials as saying that Washington plans on reducing the number of antimissile systems in the Middle East and shifting focus to challenges from China and Russia.

This came after the Trump administration withdrew US forces from northern Syria in 2019.

Under such conditions, US military and economic cooperation are critical to giving its regional allies leverage as it seeks to reduce its military footprint. Furthermore, such cooperation may convince these allies to favor the United States over other powers like Russia, China, and Iran.

Saudi Arabia began talks with Iran primarily because of the perception that the Biden administration was withdrawing from the Middle East and was looking to appease Iran in a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal. Skeptical about support from the United States, Riyadh hedged its position by seeking a compromise with Iran.

Suppose the United States does not shore up its alliances. It thus risks having other allies fall to attacks by powerful rivals, such as was witnessed in Afghanistan and Ukraine.

So far, Ukraine has impressively held on, but imagine how effective it could have been with better armaments and economic cooperation before the war. It is easier to maintain the global US-centric structure than spend billions to put out fires.

Ariel Ben Solomon is a Middle East expert, the Managing Editor at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, and a Ph.D. candidate at Bar-Ilan University. 

About the Author
Ariel Ben Solomon is a Middle East expert, the Managing Editor at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, and a Ph.D. candidate at Bar-Ilan University. He also runs an e-commerce consulting business.
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