In a more rational world, any alliances the US made with anyone would be reciprocal and balanced in nature. We’d get something in return for our commitments, and that something would equal or exceed our efforts. For that reason, we’d be wary of getting in bed with hot-headed and geographically isolated nations like Georgia or Armenia or, for that matter, Taiwan.
This idea of reciprocity was the model of the old NATO partnership. The Western European countries had a common interest in allying against the Soviets, and they knew that together (along with the US) they were substantially more powerful than they were otherwise. It made sense to sign up smaller Western European countries, because the NATO nations’ collective power increased by using standardized weapons systems and other protocols. Every NATO nation was at risk, continguous, and perceived as a common bloc by the Soviet Union. If Belgium or the Netherlands did not join, they’d simply be “free riders.”
By contrast, today the model of NATO expansion and US security guarantees in general seems to be all about racking up numbers and looking for missions without regard to the risks that commitments to places like Lithuania or Georgia might entail. We’ve forgotten that foreign policy is ruled first and last by the law of the jungle. In post-modern fashion, we’re embracing alliances and adding people to NATO like we’re racking up connections on Facebook. The currency of international relations, however, is force. Just as you don’t befriend the “punk” in prison, you don’t stick your neck out for weak nations destined to be ruled by their neighbors.
Unfortunately for our new allies, we won’t realistically defend places like Georgia, Lithuania, or Moldova. Emboldened by an empty guarantee, they may bite off more than they can chew in a fit of pique, just as Saakashvili did earlier this month. Such nations’ gestures of alliance–sending a few thousand troops (highly dependent on US logistics) to Iraq–are sweet, but do not count for much. We’ve forgotten that alliances are not fundamentally acts of charity but are instead expressions of enlightened self-interest. Broken promises may do more to create enemies than anything else the United States does in the years ahead.
We have enough abuse of welfare at home; we don’t need to bring this dead-end to foreign policy, encouraging schemers and perrenial losers to suck dry the life blood of a great nation with entangling alliances.
Any security relationship is quite unlike networking, where the rule is “the more, the better.” Rather, because of our relative power, it is an instance of letting people into an exclusive and potentially expensive club: friends the US will go to war for. Without such parsimony, we’ll be misled by sycophants and needy hangers on. We are already weighted down by serious responsibilities in South Korea and Israel, persistent foreign wars such as we are fighting in Iraq, and the designs of self-interested charlatans like Ahmed Chalabi.
Pissing off the Russians for preserving the borders of a Caucasian County the size of Los Angeles in a small nation the size of South Carolina is the exact opposite of any self-interested concept of foreign policy. McCain’s ridiculous assertion that “We are all Georgians now,” only highlights his dangerousness and inability to make necessary distinctions in this arena.