TWQ: The Changing Nature of Military Alliances - Spring 2004
April 1, 2004
The increasingly apparent similarities between the global context in the early days of the post–September 11 world and that of the early Cold War era appear to lend some prescience to President George W. Bush’s choice of Dwight D. Eisenhower, when asked to pick the portrait of one of his predecessors to hang in the White House. History will mark both presidential administrations as the onset of new strategic eras in international relations, characterized by new predominant threats and global divisions. The two presidents pledged to intervene in the Middle East, defend Taiwan, reaffirm the religious background of the United States, and develop nuclear energy. And just as the creation of the system of U.S. military alliances was one of Eisenhower’s main legacies, so the reshuffling of world alliances may be one of the main geopolitical legacies of the Bush administration.
The threats of terrorism and proliferation have strengthened many old alliances and have fostered the creation of new alignments. At the same time, Washington’s policies have also put some long-standing U.S. alliances under strain. There are also deeper historical forces at work that are forcing permanent alliances increasingly to give way to ad hoc coalitions and multilateral alliances to give way to bilateral ones. Most importantly, the ever more complex nature of the strategic environment and the diversity of security arrangements devised by contemporary nations test the very notion of “alliance,” causing one to wonder if it even remains a useful strategic concept.