October 14, 2008

October 14, 2008 | Commentary on Economy

U.S. needs new 'special' friends

Since D-Day, when Americans and Britons stormed the Normandy beaches together, the United States and the United Kingdom have had a special relationship.

We share secrets. We come to each other's aid in time of great need. We enjoy a special bond of trust.

That is all well and good. But it's time for America to look around the world for additional "special" friends.

Why? Because some of our old friends are not acting like real friends any more - and some of our new friends are feeling neglected.

Take Poland, for example. Poland stepped up to the plate in Iraq alongside the U.K. and Australia during the major combat operations, and is increasingly doing so in Afghanistan - a vital NATO mission.

And yet we deny Warsaw the same visa waivers we give other NATO allies. We also tend to overlook some of their legitimate security concerns regarding Russia.

Another new friend, Georgia, really got the short end of the stick. It supplied troops to Iraq. But when the Russians invaded their territory, Georgians had to rely on the French, not us, to represent their interests in negotiations.

As for our "old" friends Germany and France, in addition to overtly opposing us on Iraq, they've also been acting as a drag on U.S. policy in other areas. On things that really count, like countering Russian aggression in Georgia or stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, they blunt what otherwise could be a united front exerting strong international pressure.

Just last week in St. Petersburg, with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at her side, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pronounced that the "time was not ripe" for NATO to give Georgia a road map to membership, something the U.S. had hoped NATO would consider.

Mr. Medvedev couldn't contain his glee, going so far as to boast that the age of U.S. economic leadership was coming to an end and that the current "global security system" was broken.

It's time to show Mr. Medvedev he's wrong. It's time the U.S. became more imaginative in cultivating special friends, finding new ones and integrating these new relationships into a new global strategy.

Let's start with Poland, the Baltic states and Georgia. In addition to liberalizing our visa-waiver policies toward Poland and other Central European allies, we should do more military contingency planning and military exercises with not only Poland, but the Baltic states.

The United States may need to give special security guarantees to Poland and the Baltic and other NATO states in the region, particularly if actions by the French and Germans appear to dilute the NATO commitment.

This may have to be done for Georgia as well, if Russia succeeds in blocking its membership in NATO.

Europe is not the only place where we should be cultivating new friends. Now that the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal is approved, we have an opportunity to develop a special relationship with India that brings the collective strength of the world's two largest democracies to bear on shared concerns.

We could do this, not only by increasing cooperation on counterterrorism, but also by reviving and elevating the Quadrilateral Initiative, a "strategic partnership" inaugurated by the U.S., Japan, Australia and India in 2007.

Just last year, it held great promise. There were even military exercises in the Indian Ocean. The current Australian government may need some convincing, but the idea of more closely coordinating our security interests with India is still very appealing.

India already has made major contributions to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan. The NATO-led coalition should welcome India's involvement and facilitate more of it.

India knows better than anyone else how to achieve democratic stability in a multiethnic, economically developing society. We would need to be careful how we go about doing this, however, so as not to increase Pakistani paranoia.

We could also do a better job strengthening our relationship with Japan, a key strategic ally. Reactivating the Quadrilateral Initiative will help, but we also can deepen cooperation on missile defense and show greater sympathy for its particular concerns regarding North Korean abductions

We could take similar special actions with respect to other friends and allies, like South Korea and Israel. And we could look at expanding our relationships with partners like Singapore.

The point is to be more aggressive in cultivating special relations with good old friends, while taking more risks in finding new ones. We need a new global network of special relationships - if for no other reason than to show that Mr. Medvedev is wrong.

America's days are not over. 

Kim Holmes is vice president for foreign policy at the Heritage Foundation (Heritage.org) and author of "Liberty's Best Hope: American Leadership for the 21st Century" (2008).

About the Author

Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D. Distinguished Fellow
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Related Issues: Economy

First appeared in the  Washington Times