The Myth of U.S. Isolation: Why America Is Not Alone in the War onTerror

Report Europe

The Myth of U.S. Isolation: Why America Is Not Alone in the War onTerror

September 7, 2004 5 min read
Nile Gardiner
Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow
Nile Gardiner is director of The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow.

The issue of international alliances and America's image abroad has become a major topic of debate in this year's presidential election. Great emphasis has been placed in political speeches upon the need to "rebuild our alliances," and restore America's "credibility" in the world. Relatively little has been said about the 30-nation U.S.-British led coalition in Iraq or the 35-country security force in Afghanistan, reinforcing the myth that America is isolated and hated on the world stage. Faced with a barrage of misleading rhetoric, the American public could be forgiven for thinking that the transatlantic alliance no longer exists.


The reality is very different. The United States retains the political support of many key allies, from Tokyo to Warsaw. In fighting the war on terror, the United States has assembled one of the greatest international coalitions the world has seen. Managing such a huge global coalition is of course an extremely difficult task. It requires skillful leadership, and its strength is limited by a lack of military capability, technology, and manpower on the part of coalition members. By any historical measure, the U.S.-led coalition is an extraordinarily successful alliance.


Nor has U.S. foreign policy been driven in recent years by unbridled unilateralism, as critics have suggested. There exists broad political support internationally for U.S. aims and objectives in Iraq, as displayed by the unanimously passed UN Security Council Resolution 1546.[1] The United States has spearheaded a huge international effort to reconstruct Iraq and negotiate forgiveness of the country's massive debts. The decision to go to war against Iraq was undertaken only after years of tortuous negotiation at the UN Security Council and no less than 17 UN resolutions.


The Anglo-U.S. Alliance

The U.S.-British alliance continues to operate as a strikingly successful partnership of two great nations built on the solid foundations of a common heritage, culture, and vision. The fact that the UK, the world's second most powerful military and diplomatic power, and the globe's fourth biggest economy, stands shoulder to shoulder with America in the war on terror explodes the notion that the U.S. is a lonely, friendless superpower.


Britain played a major role in the war to remove Saddam Hussein from power, deploying 45,000 combat troops to the Gulf. It was Britain's largest military deployment since the Second World War, representing over a third of the nation's armed forces. Over 8,000 British troops remain in Iraq, and the British currently administer the southern region of the country, including the city of Basra. Sixty British servicemen have been killed in Iraq, including 22 in combat.


The International Coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan

There are over 145,000 Coalition personnel from over 30 nations serving in Iraq (see Table 1 below), including 23,000 non-U.S. military personnel. Several thousand more Allied soldiers are currently en route to Iraq, including 3,000 from South Korea. In addition, there are now 229,000 Iraqis in the country's new security force.[2]


The Coalition includes 21 nations from Europe, and nine from Asia and Australasia. Twelve of the 25 members of the European Union are represented, as are 16 of the 26 NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) member states. The opposition of French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq should not be perceived as representative of Europe as a whole-indeed, a majority of European governments backed the U.S. decision to liberate the Iraqi people.


NATO, despite initial opposition from France, has agreed to assist in the training of Iraqi security forces. An advance NATO team will be heading shortly to Baghdad. In addition, NATO has already provided training and logistical support to the Polish-led Multinational Division in Central-South Iraq. Discussions are now also underway between the United States, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia to establish an additional security force in the country drawn from Muslim nations.


In Afghanistan, NATO is responsible for the command and coordination of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). There are currently 6,400 NATO forces from 25 NATO members, nine NATO partner nations[3] (Albania, Austria, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Finland, Ireland, Macedonia, Sweden and Switzerland), and one non-NATO/ EAPC country (New Zealand) serving in ISAF (see Table 2 below). In addition, there are 18,000 U.S. troops and 2,000 Coalition forces conducting combat operations in Afghanistan.[4]



As the November election approaches, it is important that political candidates accurately convey the reality of U.S.-led international coalition efforts. A failure to do so strengthens anti-Americanism abroad and devalues the sacrifices of America's allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The United States is by no means alone as it fights the war on terror on several fronts. In Iraq it retains the support of many of its traditional allies, including the UK, Italy, Australia, and Japan, and has generated almost universal backing from the nations of 'New Europe,' including Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, helping shift the balance of power in Europe away from Paris and Berlin. In Afghanistan, the entire membership of NATO is engaged in the International Security Assistance Force.


It will be the goal of Al Qaeda and the terrorist groups operating in Iraq to weaken the international coalition, and the success of terrorists in intimidating Spain and the Philippines into withdrawing their forces from Iraq has set a dangerous precedent. The White House should make the consolidation and strengthening of the existing international alliance a top foreign policy priority and hold a summit of allies to discuss the future of Iraq. At the same time, the United States can and must do more to improve its efforts at public diplomacy in Europe, Asia, and the Arab world.


Table 1




Nile Gardiner Ph.D. is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy at the Heritage Foundation.

[1] United Nations, "Security Council Endorses Formation of Sovereign Interim Government in Iraq; Welcomes End of Occupation by 30 June, Democratic Elections by January 2005; Resolution 1546 (2004) Adopted Unanimously," June 8, 2004, at

[2] The figure for Iraqi personnel is based on Pentagon estimates.

[3] Members of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC).

[4] Pentagon figure.


Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow