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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchHow to Tell if You’re in a Good Alliance

How to Tell if You’re in a Good Alliance

Author: Stephen Walt

Affiliation: Professor of International Affairs, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Policy 

Date/Place: Oct. 28, 2019, U.S.

Type of literature: Policy Analysis

Word Count: 2593


Keywords: Alliances, Vital National Interests, The US commitments, Neoclassical Realism.


The author questioned the claims that Trump has done great harm to the set of alliances that had been woven by the U.S. across the world since the end of World War II, and thus has harmed the U.S. global interests. He states that such claims rarely examine the following assumptions: Do the current commitments carried out by the U.S. serve vital U.S. interests? Are all its present partners equally deserving of a steadfast U.S. support? Should the major powers have many allies in order to realize their interests? Finally, what are the qualities that make a foreign power an especially valuable partner and therefore justifies a U.S. security commitment? By examining such questions, Walt concludes by rejecting the argument of many U.S. foreign policymakers that any retreat Washington may show toward its present alliances will negatively affect US global influence. Therefore, the author argues that the current approach adopted by the U.S. in choosing its allies or maintaining the continuity of its existing commitments is the costly and wrong approach, and must be re-examined, since  many of Washington’s current allies do not meet the realist conditions for the good ally. After Walt identifies a set of conditions that make a foreign partner a good ally worthy of American blood and money, he argues that US partners in the Middle East are the most problematic ones, especially with regrad to Israel. According to the article, since the end of the Cold War, Israel’s strategic value for the United States has declined and has even become a burden. Israel has repeatedly tried to drag Washington into a military confrontation with Tehran and is conducting large-scale espionage activities within the United States. Moreover, its unjust practices against the Palestinians are inconsistent with the democratic values promoted by Washington. The same goes for Saudi Arabia. There is no doubt that its oil is vital to Washington, but its value is declining as the world is developing alternative energy sources, in addition to Saudi Arabia spending huge sums of money to exert pressure on politicians within the United States, while conducting brutal actions in Yemen, and a dangerous Middle East policy contrary to U.S. national interests like its siege and boycott of Qatar. Such actions raise important questions on the feasibility of Washington’s alliance with Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the U.S. should adopt a more restrained approach toward its current partners, particularly in the Middle East, as none of its current allies are worthy of Washington’s unconditional support.


By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA  Senior Research Associate




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