Observations of an ex pat: Alliance 101

The Western Alliance is in disarray.

Americans are sick of picking up the tab for protecting a rich Europe from a communist threat which no longer exists. Europe is terrified at being abruptly left in the lurch facing a corrupt, authoritarian Russian threat which has replaced the communist one.

In the meantime, Britain, the traditional number two in the Western Alliance, voted Brexit and pulled the rug out from under the EU–the political and economic arm of the alliance’s European end.

It is time for a refresher course in the Western, or Transatlantic, Alliance. It is time for a re-examination of the purpose of the alliance. So here goes, Alliance 101.

Franklin Roosevelt had a vision of a post-war world run through a United Nations headed by World War Two allies—America, Britain, China and Russia. France was a reluctant afterthought.

Each of the “great powers” was given a permanent seat in the newly-formed UN Security Council. With the seat came implied responsibility for a slice of the world—America was the Western Hemisphere; Britain (with French help) Western Europe, Africa and the Middle East; Russia Eastern Europe and Central Asia and China the Far East.
Unfortunately the dream was nothing more than that. A Britain prostate from two world wars still had to organise a peaceful retreat from empire. The French were in a mess. The Chinese were in a bigger mess and faced a civil war. Only the Russians and Americans emerged better off.

Wartime Britain pawned everything but the crown jewels to the US. America was amazingly generous with its repayment scheme but still ended the war with half of the world’s GDP and the only nuclear arsenal. The war cost Russia 20 million lives, but it was in control of Eastern Europe and a huge army poised to roll into a defenceless Western Europe.

Britain did its best to hold back the ideologically-driven Kremlin. It intervened in the Greek civil war and stopped Russian incursions into Turkey and Iran. But it needed help and turned to the wealthiest country in the world. America responded first with the Marshall Plan and then agreed to join in the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Four months later, in September 1949, the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb. They were quickly followed by the British in 1952 and the French in 1960. But as far as nuclear weapons were concerned, it quickly became apparent that that the only member of the Alliance that could compete with the Russian-controlled Soviet Union was the United States. And that applied to conventional forces as well.

So why did Washington abandon 150 years of isolationism to march to Europe’s rescue. There is the kith and kin argument. Most Americans came from somewhere in Europe and there is much talk about cultural, social, historical and philosophical links. There has also been—until recently—a perceived common liberal global goal of encouraging representative democracy, international cooperation through multinational organisations, free trade and the rule of law.

Of course there are other reasons. America needs European markets for its goods—worth $270.3 billion in 2016. And last—but certainly not least– it has been painfully proven that wars in Europe quickly escalate to a global dimension which cost American money and lives.

So, since 1947 America has extended its conventional and nuclear umbrella to Europe; encouraged European unity and worked with Europe at the United Nations and its international agencies. At the same time, both sides of the Atlantic have coordinated their policies to insure the biggest possible positive impact in every corner of the globe.

Overall, the result has been good. The Soviet Union collapsed and the world as a whole has seen the longest period of peace and prosperity since modern man emerged 35,000 years ago—especially in Europe. Things are so good that people have dared to forget history and dream of a post-conflict Europe. Such dreams are more dangerous than the Soviet threat.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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  • Steve Trevethan 24th Feb '17 - 11:34am

    “I will become the first president of the United States to serve full terms during a time of war”. (President Obama at MacDill Airforce Base, Florida 24/02/16)
    He does indeed hold that record of which he seems to be so proud.
    (Counterpunch (24/02/17) “The United States of Permanent War”)

  • Laurence Cox 24th Feb '17 - 11:45am

    I was nodding in agreement with this, until I reached the last paragraph. Has Tom Arms already forgotten the vicious wars that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia after the death of Tito? Does he not accept that the rise of Putin was a consequence of the period of mis-government under Yeltsin, where the oligarchs were allowed to asset-strip the remains of the Communist state to the detriment of the vast majority of the population and that this was supported by Western governments, particularly the US government, because they saw the end of communism as a way to get their companies into a country still rich in easily extractable natural resources?

  • Thank you Tom
    Shame this clear synopsis of history was not communicated better last year. But never too late to educate and make people think – what if……..

    101 approaches to communication on a whole range of issues are needed to increase the understanding of millions rather than thousands.
    I do believe it’s forgotten that most people who communicate on sites like this (and go into politics) are almost by definition in the top 5% of the population IQ wise.

    As an ex teacher myself, we forget that often the language we use and the level of detail at which we discuss the fine nuances of a subject, is simply impenetrable to the majority.
    At the same time dumbing down and soundbites simply come across as trite and points scoring.

    Despite the average reading age of the UK population, most can understand a clear simply given message and its implications if we are careful to pitch it at the right level and give just enough detail just to allow the message to hit home.
    Then its simply a case of consistent repetition and broadening out to cause and effect until you have the bones of a vision people can grasp.
    That’s a start anyhow.
    I accept Laurence’s points. However, it’s the overall message that’s important to get across to people to make them think how things are joined up and what the knock on effect may be. Most people are capable of doing this if presented in the right language.

    The challenge on sites like this is that people want to discuss fine detail to the n’th degree which isn’t particularly useful for coming up with a big picture and getting the the heart of a topic.
    It also then becomes circular and people get bored and drop out of engaging.
    Detail is important is fine policy tuning but not in big picture building which is the priority now I think.

  • Richard Underhill 24th Feb '17 - 8:23pm

    “A Britain prostate from two world wars still had to organise a peaceful retreat from empire.” Should this be prostrate?

  • @ Richard Underhill. “A Britain prostate………………”

    It all depends upon which part of the body politic you are referring to, Richard.

  • Simon Banks 25th Feb '17 - 9:36pm

    The word is expatriate (outside the fatherland) and hence expat. An ex pat is possibly someone who used to be Irish, or alternatively (and I hasten to add, the two interpretations are miles apart) the residue of a cowpat.

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