Realigning American Dominance in Transatlantic Partnerships
The brash hardline approach that often characterizes American diplomacy is explained by this idea exactly: “How do we win new actors and allies?” While the process of recruiting new international alliances is often viewed as a win or loss, actors and allies should not be “won;” they should be cultivated, built on of a foundation of cooperation, mutual respect, the acknowledgement of individual concerns, and an unwavering effort towards common goals.
Traditionally American presence commands the international spotlight, and while this is arguably a legitimate privilege at times—with American dominance in GDP, military strength, and foreign aid donations—leaders expect their demands to be granted without compromise or appeasement.
The basis for building international partnerships has stemmed from economic incentives, assertions of political power, and promises of military reinforcement, in turn solidifying possibilities for international diplomatic, social, political, monetary, or military support. While this trend of transactional relationships is certainly popular throughout history, it raises the question of whether power—economic, social, political, or military—is truly the key to the building and maintaining of successful partnerships. Under either the threat of force and coercion, or the promise of protection, must the strongest powers monopolize international relations? Does power automatically assume equivocal status? Or, alternatively, can strategic partnerships be cultivated on a basis of multi-lateral cooperation and the acknowledgement of mutual interests?
American international predominance is often described by the strength and representativeness of their military—and the promise to protect partners in a moment of crisis. For decades, America has stood as a mentor of democracy for developing nations and as a beacon of security for those smaller and weaker. This brings great responsibility to America—a responsibility American leadership has discussed abandoning.
Maintaining international alliances requires a significant duty to lead in the interests of collectivity. The phrase “winning allies” is controversial in and of itself—“winning” is defined as “resulting in a victory,” while “ally” is defined as two or more things “connected by some mutual relationship,” often for “mutual benefit.” Continuing this logic, the act of “winning” allies inherently draws a zero-sum relationship; the partnership in question immediately becomes unequal and unbalanced, defying any “mutual” quality. When there is a “winner” and a “loser,” there must be a stronger man and a weaker man—one is responsible to lead first for the others to follow, which tempts the international community further towards the brink of hegemony. While America is traditionally viewed as one of the world’s superpowers, the “America-First” policy proposal currently characterizing the Trump Administration‘s foreign policy directly rejects such a responsibility to act on behalf of the global community’s interests.
There must be a change in the act of strategic partnership building: a realignment of national security and collective security. Stronger alliances lead to stronger stability; an international community characterized by alliances built on foundation of trust, integrity, and dignity, with a sense of commonality, cooperation, and a responsibility to work towards not just personal, but regional security and stability is the illustration of global success.
A people-first, not state-first, approach to international relations and alliance building forces us to restore the humanist perspective: we mourn, we celebrate, we all share the same burdens and achievements. This approach invites us to unite based on common interests, or better yet, unite based on our differences. Cultivating alliances on a basis of human interest and shared ideals, as compared to economic incentives and political coercion, allows for the creation of well-rounded, multi-lateral solutions—based on a robust comprehension of global issues—that hold the potential to bring positive and progressive change to all involved, not just the most armed, the wealthiest, or the most politically powerful.
Individually, states have much to learn and much to give. Establishing broad alliances with intentions of honest engagement and active effort allows for the full development of every partnership without strain and tension from economic ties and political obligations, or under the shadow of coercion.
Partnerships based on this people-first strategy not only provide international stability encouraged by common efforts and interests, but also a multifaceted tolerance, creating the foundation for an honest and inclusive effort towards international peace.