Strong Allies Crucial to Winning the Great-Power Competition
In President Donald J. Trump’s National Security Strategy and its call for unilateral action against US adversaries, Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Benn Steil hears echoes of the Truman Administration. Steil, author of The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War (called “by far the best study yet” by the Wall Street Journal), writes in Foreign Affairs that “the strategies of Truman and Trump, however, could not be more different.” He observes, “The tragic irony is that just as the administration declares the start of a new age of great-power competition, it threatens to discard and disavow the tools that helped the United States win the last such struggle.”
“In the space of a few short years after World War II, the United States created the major institutions that still define the world order today. . . . But President Donald Trump thinks these institutions are threats to US sovereignty,” notes Steil.
Steil calls the architects of the order hard-nosed realists, who “were hardly sacrificing America’s treasure and sovereignty to abet foreign interests; they were engaged in an ambitious mission to found an American-led order based on the moral primacy of democratic government and free economic exchange.”
“To protect the United States’ vital interest in continued access to the world’s most important industrial markets, and to prevent Soviet control of vital sea lanes that could threaten US security, Washington made the creation of strong independent allies its primary foreign policy objective,” a goal advanced by the Marshall Plan.
“Contrary to Trump’s rendering of history, the blueprint for European economic union emerged from the State Department . . . . and not from Europeans looking to take advantage of the United States on trade. . . . The plan was wildly successful.”
Steil concludes, “The prevailing global order was built on the understanding that having allies—as opposed to colonies or tributaries—necessarily meant ongoing compromise with other sovereign wills. The United States must now decide whether such compromise is worthwhile to preserve that order. . . . Choosing wisely today means understanding how and why it chose as it did in the first place.”
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