Manila’s military reflects this flawed foundation. One defense minister complained of a navy which couldn’t sail and an air force which couldn’t fly. Indeed, the navy’s flagship is an American cast-off. Yet the Philippines wants to challenge China over the Scarborough Shoal and other areas of the South China Sea.
More accurately, Manila wants the U.S. to do so. A couple decades after closing America’s major bases, and kicking the U.S. military out of the country, last year the Philippines negotiated a new status of forces agreement for visiting U.S. troops with the all-too-obvious desire of entangling the friendly superpower in the local maritime dispute—in which Washington has no interest. The U.S. would prefer that the region’s territorial squabbles be settled peacefully, but has no reason to step in between a country unwilling to do anything serious on its own behalf and a rising great power willing to do too much. Dear Manila, should run the letter written by President Barack Obama.
Technically Kiev is not a U.S. ally, but you wouldn’t know it from how the administration is treating Ukraine, and especially how the usual gaggle of neoconservative and hyper-nationalist hawks wants to treat Ukraine. Nor from how the government in Kiev wants to be treated by America.
Ukraine was dealt a tough hand by history and geography. It has long suffered under the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, with only brief moments of freedom, but has never mattered much to the U.S. While Ukraine was considered a “captive nation” during the Cold War, no American strategist ever argued that Moscow’s control over that land implicated serious let alone vital interests. So too after Kiev finally broke free nearly a quarter century ago.
The U.S. signed the 1994 Budapest Memorandum after Ukraine divested its nuclear weapons, but the agreement offered only platitudes—promising to go to the United Nations if another power threatened Kiev with the use of nuclear weapons, for instance. Washington’s meddling in 2004 and 2005 helped bring Viktor Yushchenko to power, but he proved to be erratic, incompetent, and out of touch with his own people. The current administration’s promotion of last year’s street putsch backfired even more disastrously on both America and Ukraine, leading Russia to sever Crimea and back separatists in the Donbas.
While one can understand why Ukrainians—like the Baltic peoples—want America to send in the cavalry, Washington has no reason to do so. The struggle is tragic, but complex, mixing civil war and foreign intervention. Everything the administration accuses Russia of doing America has done, including launch invasions, back insurgents, and destabilize governments. Ukraine is irrelevant to American security, certainly not important enough to warrant confrontation with a nuclear-armed power in its front yard. Ukraine always will matter much more to Russia, which will pay far higher costs and take far greater risks to prevail.
The U.S. should make clear that Kiev will never be in NATO, nor will there ever be American troops in Ukraine. Washington will not give weapons to Kiev. America’s economic, cultural, and humanitarian interests in Ukraine are real but limited. Whatever the bilateral relationship in the future, it will not be an alliance.
Since becoming convinced that it was the globe’s essential power, America has had trouble saying no. It doesn’t much matter who, but when Albania, Romania, Afghanistan, Montenegro, Georgia, and a long line of others come calling, Washington always says yes. Yes to aid. Yes to weapons. Yes to bases. Yes to commitments. Yes to treaties. Yes to alliances.
It’s not enough to start saying no. The U.S. should start pruning its dependents. After all, Facebook users routinely “unfriend” people with whom they’ve had a falling out. Washington should start dropping faux allies. Doing so is far more likely to increase American security than extending new commitments and guarantees to additional weak and unimportant states.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author and editor of several books, including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire (Xulon).