America’s interest in 1982 was to help the UK resist Argentine aggression. America’s interest today is to leave Britain, Argentina, and Spain to peacefully resolve their differences. If the latter two nations engage in petty harassment and “insolent behavior,” it is unfortunate, but not a matter for the United States to resolve.
Indeed, the UK is not the only important ally who could make a claim for American support in complicated territorial disputes. Both Japan and South Korea are long-standing military allies. The United States rescued the latter from North Korean aggression, which provided combat troops in Vietnam as well as in Afghanistan and Iraq. Tokyo has island disputes with China and Russia, as well as with South Korea. The Philippines, a former colony rescued by Washington from Japanese aggression, also has confronted Beijing over conflicting island claims. Should America automatically stand by these allies?
Alliances should be a means to an end, not an end in themselves. As George Washington argued, the United States should avoid other nations’ quarrels without “adequate inducement or justification.” Instead, America should forge alliances only to advance those “eternal and perpetual” interests Viscount Palmerston spoke of. Accordingly, the Obama administration should stay out of the Falklands and Gibraltar disputes.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He is a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and the author of several books, including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.