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Should the United States Join an Alliance?

ISSUE:  Spring 1944

One of the most unfortunate ideas bred by this war is the idea that the United States should conclude an alliance with foreign powers. Clare Luce and Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York are among those who advocate an Anglo-American alliance. Earl Browder, the American Communist leader, and many others have urged the necessity of a post-war Anglo-Russian-American alliance. Walter Lippmann sees a quadrangular Russo-American-British-Chinese alliance as the perfect instrument for the maintenance of peace after victory. His proposal is widely supported.

These suggestions are harmful, for alliances would not help the world or the United States to stay out of war.

The American tradition is hostile to “entangling alliances.” The Founding Fathers counselled against them. The United States has always played an independent role in international affairs. We have collaborated with foreign nations when such action seemed desirable, but have consistently refused to bind ourselves in advance or to pledge our support to a country in any circumstances.

This policy is now under fire. Its critics contend that since we fought in the first world war and are fighting in the second world war, it is unwise not to collaborate between wars for the purpose of preventing wars. Our lone hand in peace time, it is said, undermines efforts to bolster the peace. Above all, it is claimed, neutrality gives the green light to aggressors. There is great force in this logic. The world would be a safer place if America co-operated with other peace-loving nations to banish war. We are the richest and mightiest country on the planet; without us, any machinery for peace-preservation is bound to creak.

But the question is whether an alliance with one or two or three foreign nations is a desirable form of American participation in war-prevention. The theory is that if the United States, Russia, Great Britain, and China organized an alliance after this war, no powerful nation would remain outside of it. The Big Four could therefore direct world affairs as they saw fit. That would supposedly safeguard the peace.

Would it?

The primary fallacy about alliances is that allies always have a common goal and common interests. On this assumption, they are expected to work together smoothly. But this assumption is demonstrably incorrect.

Homogeneity could not be an outstanding attribute of a modern alliance. With world conditions as they are today and as they are likely to be after this war, cross-currents would exist in every conceivable alliance. Thus, if the British government did not cede Hongkong to China and modify its policy in East Asia, China might feel considerable hostility towards England even though both joined a Four Power alliance.

Americans have often manifested strong anti-imperialist sentiments. Vice-President Wallace, Wendell Willkie, Sumner Welles, and many other Americans have stated publicly during this war that empires must go. Would the United States nevertheless support the imperialist policies of its allies? That might cost us the good will of hundreds of millions of people among the eastern races who still have faith in us. Members of an alliance are tarred with the same brush even when they are different, and the results can be disconcerting.

Russia has territorial claims. She wants the Baltic states, Eastern Poland, part of Rumania, and perhaps other areas. It might be embarrassing to Washington to back those claims. It could disrupt the alliance if we did not. Allies should back one another. In the economic field similar problems would arise. The United States might find more in common with France outside the alliance than with Russia in it.

In other words, affinity does not necessarily go hand in hand with bigness or power. And it is bigness and power which apparently constitute the sole membership requirements of the Big Four alliance.

As a matter of record, sharp differences on the Polish-Russian boundary dispute and on Hongkong have already developed among the powers. To build the peace on the expectation that America, China, Russia, and Great Britain will have the same post-war intentions is a perilous procedure.

Nor is there any guarantee that allied governments will act together out of national self-interest and thus keep the peace. This is exactly what they did not do between 1919 and 1939. In 1932, it would have served Britain’s interests to accept the American proposal of a common front against Japanese aggression in China. Instead, Britain refused. Suppose Britain and the United States had been allies. Britain could still have refused.

France was the ally of Czechoslovakia. France therefore had an obligation to defend Czechoslovakia against Hitler. Yet in September, 1938, France and England compelled Czechoslovakia to submit to Hitler. At that time, Poland was the ally of France. But Poland helped to destroy France’s ally, Czechoslovakia.

Even in military matters, neither the United Nations nor the fascist axis has functioned as an alliance in which all members fully collaborate. To speak of the Anglo-Russian-American-Chinese “four-power war alliance,” as Mr. Walter Lippmann does in the New York Herald Tribune, is not to describe a fact but to indulge in wishful thinking. The co-operation among the leading members of the United Nations is subject to numerous costly limitations.

Moreover, today, before the war is won, the candidates for the “Grand Quadruple Alliance” are planning to compete with one another in post-war power politics. Field Marshal Jan Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa, threw a bright light on this coming struggle for power in his significant London speech of November 25, 1943. He stated that after the war, Russia would be “the mistress of the Continent.” How was England to answer this challenge, he asked. “Many people,” Smuts replied, “look to a union, or a closer union, between the United States of America and Great Britain . . . as the new path to be followed in the future . . . I myself am doubtful about that . . . If you were to pit the British Commonwealth plus the United States against the rest of the world, it would be a very lop-sided world. You would stir up opposition and rouse other lions. . . . We shall have to stick to the trinity [Russia, England, and America] that I have referred to.” But Russia and America are strong, Smuts adds, and this trinity, accordingly, is “an unequal partnership, I am afraid.” To meet this difficulty, England must “strengthen her European position . . . by working closely together with those small democracies in Western Europe which are of our way of thinking.” He meant France, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Scandinavia. Smuts’ answer to the Russian sphere of influence in Central and Eastern Europe is a British sphere of influence in Western Europe.

When Smuts expresses British fear of “an unequal partnership,” he is advocating a balance of power among equals. What does that mean? It means that before the major nations entered an alliance, they would shop around for supporting countries to make them as strong as or stronger than their partners. They would continue this disturbing activity after the alliance was concluded. This process has in fact started in the midst of the present life-and-death struggle. The anti-Axis “Big Four” are now taking up positions from which to engage in post-war rivalries. That is the dark shape of the peace to come. It threatens to perpetuate the anarchy of the pre-1939 world.

The world went to war in 1914 despite the alliances that then existed, probably because of the alliances. Between 1919 and 1939, the anarchy pervading international relations had gone so far that no alliance or coalition of non-aggressor powers could be formed. Unless the roots of the international anarchy of our modern age are pulled up, no alliance can be effective. And if the anarchy disappeared, no alliance would be necessary.

The inevitable disparity of interests and principles in any two-power or three-power or four-power alliance of victors would prevent it from being a useful instrument for territorial adjustments, the redistribution of the world’s raw materials, or the regulation of world trade. The alliance would be at sixes and sevens on these issues. Nor could it venture to eradicate the causes of war; an alliance that undertook to eliminate the diseases from which dictatorships and then wars arise would be shot to pieces with internal dissension.

It follows that an alliance would be a contrivance to maintain the status quo, to sit on the lid, to smash any attempt at change except when all members agree—and such unanimity, in view of the divergent social, political, and economic characteristics of the allies, might be rare.

An alliance, accordingly, could be expected to serve only one major purpose: defense against attack. This is supremely important, and success might justify us in forgiving the alliance all its numerous shortcomings. But would the alliance succeed?

Presumably, an Anglo-Russian-Chinese-American foursome could stop war forever because it would have such preponderant military superiority that no nation could defy it. This, however, is the misconception that has stood at the cradle of all alliances in history. For unless the causes of war are destroyed—and the heterogeneous big-power alliance would not be equipped to do that—circumstances might easily weaken or disrupt the alliance.

A country may resign from an alliance. Who could promise that some future Administration would not take the United States out of the alliance? Nor could Russia or England or China be considered permanent members of the alliance. Their governments, too, might adopt new policies.

The relations between nations are notoriously unstable. Countries are fickle. In the first world war, Italy, ally of Kaiser Germany, betrayed Germany and switched to our side. Japan was also on our side. In this war, Italy and Japan have been our enemies.

Russia and Japan fought a war in 1904-5. They were allies in war from 1914 to 1917. They fought a war between 1918 and 1922. They fought major pitched battles in 1938 and 1939. Today they maintain friendly relations, though the war partners of each are at war with one another.

The British made an alliance with Japan in 1902. They kept it alive during the Russo-Japanese war, and then, in 1907, signed an additional alliance with Russia. The Bolshevik revolution broke Britain’s alliance with Russia, and in 1922 the United States forced Britain to break her alliance with Japan. But when Japan attacked our ancient friend, China, England helped Japan; so did we.

Great Britain and France bled together as brothers on a score of battlefields while fighting Germany between 1914 and 1918. Yet within a few years, British policy became more anti-French than anti-German.

Such instances could be multiplied endlessly. They are the normal manifestations of the anarchy of modern bal-ance-of-power politics. Alliances have been weighed in the balance-of-power and found wanting. History shows that every balance-of-power has inspired a counterbalance-of-power and ultimately a clash. In 1918, France and Britain were victorious and Germany was in a state of collapse. But the rivalries of Europe plus the emergence of the airplane as a decisive weapon of war gave Nazi Germany her chance to fight. In like manner, some new technical device or chemical substance may again alter the balance of war-making power, and then fears or hopes or jealousies can split an invincible-looking alliance until it becomes so weak as to encourage a nation or group of nations to take the war path.

“Every military alliance known to history,” writes Mr. Sumner Welles (in the New York Herald Tribune for January 5,1944), “has sooner or later broken down as the policies and ambitions of its individual members have changed.”

An alliance is, by its very nature, exclusive. It is therefore divisive. Those who are excluded are chagrined or frightened. They suspect the alliance. If the purpose of the alliance were pacific, they reason, its membership would not be limited. They accordingly conclude that the alliance aims to dominate. They look for the proof and find it. Suspecting the alliance, those barred from it may band together against it. What choice is left to the excluded nations but to organize their own counter-alliance? That is the beginning of trouble. Some day, a member of the Big Four alliance may decide to leave it and join the counter-alliance. That could be the beginning of a war.

Those who stress the desirability of an Anglo-American alliance are met with the objection that it would antagonize Russia. In most projected schemes, Russia is consequently admitted as a third ally. Still others, however, predict that China would resent being left out. That is the origin of the proposal for a four-power alliance.

But if this is how nations react, why exclude France? Or Czechoslovakia? Or Poland?

What would be the purpose of a post-war alliance? Primarily, to protect the peace. But would it not be more effective in achieving this end if it had more members? Why should any country be excluded from an organization that wishes to prevent wars? The more the better. As long as a country offers practical evidence of its readiness to contribute to world security, why should it be kept out of the anti-war unit?

The essential weakness of a policy of alliances, therefore, is not hard to prove. An alliance is deemed necessary in order to cope with a threat to peace. Who could threaten the peace after this war? Either the present Axis countries or a member of the four-power alliance. But if Germany or Japan can again threaten the peace of the world, that will show that there was something very wrong with the peace settlement. And if members of the alliance threaten the peace, what good is the alliance?

Mr. Walter Lippmann, for instance, writes in “U. S. Foreign Policy” that without a four-power alliance, “our commitment in the Philippines remains a salient, exceedingly difficult to defend against a resurgent Japan or against a combination of powers in Eastern Asia.” But the assumption of a United Nations victory is the defeat, occupation, and transformation through disarming of the Axis countries. A “resurgent” militaristic Japan that may again imperil American interests in the Pacific implies that the future peace settlement will accomplish nothing and that soon after the war we will be back once more where; we were before the war. This would be a sad reflection indeed on our national wisdom. Moreover, who would constitute the “combination of powers in Eastern Asia” which Lippmann envisages as an anti-American threat? Japan and China? Japan and Russia? Japan, Russia, and England? But China, Russia, and England are supposed to be our friends and partners in the proposed four-power alliance. Will they join us in an alliance and then break away to join Japan? Is that the sort of alliance it will be?

The beginning of the post-war settlement will be the destruction of the military power of Japan and Germany. In actual fact, most of this destruction will have been achieved before victory is attained. Then what end would be served by a mighty military alliance after the war? What is needed more than an alliance is an organization to correct the evils of the world and to change our life and politics so that a third world war will not result from quarrels among the victors or from colonial rivalries and revolts. What is needed is not an alliance to guard over the status quo, but an international body to cure the causes of war.

The agitation for alliances is an indication that many persons are still thinking in terms of nineteenth-century power politics. It is an indication that they expect the peace settlement to collapse soon after it is made.

To.prevent such a contingency they wish to create an alliance. This is an advance admission that we are going to draft an unsatisfactory peace. Instead of already planning an alliance to hold the peace together when it begins to crumble, would it not be better to plan a peace that is not so likely to crumble?

The Old World—Europe and Asia—is rich in skeptics whose skepticism has thrived on numerous broken friendships and broken promises. This mood will be an important psychological factor, and therefore political factor, in the post-war period. Alliances will only fortify the mood. Europe has had much experience with alliances throughout the bloody centuries. Europeans know that alliances have produced wars. The United States has never been in an alliance and therefore alliances do not automatically conjure up bitter memories and disappointed hopes. In Europe and Asia they do. The people of the Old World will not be fooled by assurances that an alliance is a simple, facile way of administering a peace treaty. They can, without effort, recall numerous instances when this was not so.

Europe has suffered unspeakable tortures in this war and in previous wars. If the Continent has learned the lessons implicit in this suffering, the truly creative ideas of the next peace may originate in that area. In any case, he who believes that an Anglo-Russian alliance, even if supported by the United States, would give Europe freedom from fear just does not know Europe. It would create fear. France, Germany, Poland, Italy, and the smaller nations of Central and South-Eastern Europe would be alarmed by an alliance which raised the spectre of Russian or British, or Russian and British, spheres of dominant influence on the Continent. Europe’s sense of security would vanish.

Winston Churchill’s “we mean to hold our own” declaration and Russia’s open demand for new territories would be regarded by Asia and Europe as the goals of a post-war Anglo-Russian alliance. If America associated itself with such an alliance, these suspicions would not be dissipated. They would only be extended to include America as well.

Without Russia and England, Europe has a population of approximately 350,000,000. Among these folk, Russia and Britain are often looked upon as outsiders whose record inside Europe has been far from satisfactory. Any idea that these two powers and their overseas allies wish to dominate Europe or dictate the composition of European governments might unite the Continent against the alliance. Count Coudenhove-Kalergi has long nursed the plan of a “Pan-Europe” without Russia or England. This is the type of response that may be provoked by a small club of great powers. It would not fortify the peace.

The fears of Europe and Asia will not be dispelled by the suggestion that the Grand Quadruple Alliance would merely form a nucleus to which other nations could later attach themselves. Why do it that way? everybody would ask.

In 1928, the signing of the Kellogg Pact to outlaw war provoked endless bickering because fifteen countries signed first at a ceremony in Paris and then, much later, there was a long string of also-signed. Nobody wanted to be among the second-class nations. Yet the pact had no practical value and most statesmen knew it at the time. An alliance, on the other hand, would exercise real power, and countries invited by the two or three or four initiating nations to join later would suspect that they were being used to cover up secret understandings between the big charter members.

The birth of a limited, exclusive alliance would not be met with the faith, prayers, and good wishes of the entire world. To inspire justifiable hopes, and to be successful, an organization for peace needs the devotion and assistance of a maximum number of nations and individuals. The larger the number of countries that pool their strength against a potential aggressor, the smaller the chances of war.

A post-war union for peace will face a second task even more perplexing than war-prevention,—the task of war-cure. After this war, while all nations are still exhausted by their war effort, a brief opportunity of perhaps five to ten years may be granted to mankind to eradicate the diseases which have brought on wars in the past. In this period of peace through exhaustion, mankind will be offered a unique opportunity to eradicate the causes of war. But these war-causing diseases are world-wide and the cure must be world-wide. The four great allied powers, however, are not the world. They control vast areas, it is true. Their influence and pressure can be enormous. But the rest of the world would resent the pressure; they might interpret the alliance’s efforts as arrogant and dictatorial; they might consequently resist the cure. The cure will be a gigantic and difficult undertaking in any case. It would be better to enlist everybody as voluntary collaborators rather than corral them as reluctant patients.

The best alternative to an exclusive alliance is an inclusive, open-door international organization offering membership to any country which subscribes to its program of peace. The big powers would join it and the little powers would join it. These two groups would be much more effective together than separate, much better as partners in the cause of saving humanity than as superiors and inferiors.

It will be contended that this principle of internationalism was embodied in the League of Nations and that it did not work. No, it did not work—because nobody tried to make it work. When Japan snatched large slices of China, no one interfered and no one helped China; in fact, we helped Japan. Italy was allowed to seize Ethiopia in defiance of international law when, as we now know, she could easily have been stopped then at the beginning of her robber career; instead, the supineness of the democracies encouraged Mussolini to defy the world again. With Germany, he accordingly intervened in Spain. Germany, thus taught to hold the League and the powers in contempt, raided Czechoslovakia. The democracies not only refrained from any attempt at stemming aggression; they appeased the aggressors. So collective security was never tried—until this war. This second world war is the first real experiment in collective security. Victory over the Axis will prove that aggressive nations, no matter how well prepared, can be defeated by an international combination of anti-aggressor nations. This is the principle of peace through international action.

Internationalism does not subtract from nationalism. It adds together many nationalisms. It multiplies their strength by eliminating their divisions.

Internationalism would not menace nationalism. Nationalism has been a creative force. But on occasions it has also been a destructive force. Internationalism is a safeguard against destructive nationalism of the kind that developed in Germany and Japan.

Just as individuals cannot live safely in a community unless they co-operate for mutual health, education, and security, so nations nowadays hang together or hang separately. Hitler always protested against internationalism because he wanted to knock the nations out one by one. Many European nations served Hitler’s purposes by heeding his protests; they stood alone or signed bilateral treaties with Germany which Hitler broke the moment it suited his purpose. Europe is today a cemetery of nations that foolishly refused to defend themselves through collective effort.

Each nation must be independent. But nations have begun to realize that they may lose their independence if they do not recognize their interdependence. The events leading up to this war have showed that America and Czechoslovakia are interdependent just as Russia and North Africa, England and Spain, China and France are interdependent. Free countries are more likely to remain free through co-operation than through solitary singularity.

In the job of keeping the peace and building a safer and more prosperous post-war world, Sweden, Holland, Turkey, and Spain may be as important as South Africa and China. An international organization would embrace them and mobilize their resources and talents. A four-power alliance would leave Sweden, Holland, Turkey, and Spain outside while admitting South Africa and China. This is neither logical nor useful.

By a very strong effort of the imagination one can see a United States dominated by New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois in league with California and Texas. The manpower and wealth of these six states might well enable them to rule the country and reduce the other forty-two to second and third rank. But it would be a sadder, poorer, and more strife-ridden America. Today, each state retains its individuality. It surrenders something to the federal union, but gains much more than it surrenders. What state is so displeased with this arrangement that it would want to secede?

Internationalism is very different from an alliance. In an international federation or union, the member states regulate their common political and economic affairs. An alliance is an arrangement whereby several states undertake to regulate the affairs of others. Thus, an Anglo-American alliance or an Anglo-Russian-American or Anglo-Russian-American-Chinese alliance would attempt to enforce world peace. It would accordingly be compelled to bring non-member nations into line with its policy, and this might produce friction and clashes.

There can, of course, be no objection to an agreement, for instance, between the United States and Great Britain for political and economic collaboration. But these two nations would soon find that to prolong world peace and promote world prosperity they would need the assistance of thirty or forty-five other nations. Then why not have them in the organization?

Unless two or more countries wish to band together for aggrandizement or the exploitation of weaker nations, they can only gain if their society is enriched by the largest possible number of members. The fruits of internationalism should be rich enough to satisfy all.

Internationalism is already an important fact. The International Postal Union, the International Labor Office which used to function from Geneva, the International Bank, and the numerous international conventions for air travel, shipping, etcetera, are a few notable examples. When this war is over, increased international tie-ups will be inevitable because of expanded air passenger and freight traffic, because the descent into this war demonstrated the need of a more equitable distribution of the world’s raw materials and markets, and finally, because in the absence of internationalism, the world saw Cain nations kill Abel nations with impunity until the whole human family was rent with strife. Through the blood of millions of its finest young men, mankind is discovering that a nation is, unfortunately, its brother’s keeper.

When these lessons are learned, the resistance to international associations for peace and security will gradually grow weaker and finally disappear.

It must be kept in mind, however,—and this is the essence of the whole problem of post-war world affairs—that an international organization for peace will fail, as the League of Nations failed, as any alliance would fail, unless the nations included in the organization undergo considerable change at home. “We have lived and we are living,” Mr. Sumner Welles said in New York on October 16, 1943, “in a rotten world.” The rottenness lies within each nation. That is why nations do not co-operate and cannot co-operate for peace.

The Moscow Declaration of November, 1943, calling for an international effort to organize peace and the subsequent United States Senate resolution in favor of America’s participation in that effort are far from enough. The spirit of those decisions has already been honored in the breach.

Between 1919 and 1939 there was a plethora of schemes for world organization. Now too we have seen plans for international and regional federations, world government, union now, et cetera. All these proposals remind me of an experience I had as a boy of fifteen in my native city of Philadelphia. I was taking woodwork in manual training and learned to turn wood on an electric lathe. I first made a round peg and then the round leg of a chair. Presently, I lost the black bishop of my chess set and got the instructor’s permission to make a replica. Very cautiously and loyally, I copied from a companion piece and made an exact likeness of the lost bishop. With great pride I showed the new bishop to the instructor. The moment he took it in his fingers he did something which I had not done—he put it on a table to see whether it would stand up. That taught me a profound lesson. Most of the plans for world organization will not stand up, not only because of the way they are constructed, but because there is no table on which to stand them. There is only the rotten world of which Mr. Sumner Welles speaks, and on that foundation no peace organization will remain erect.

A general—and very natural—tendency exists to make peace-making easy for oneself by assuming that everything will be all right if the other fellow, the defeated enemy, is forced to do all the changing. But this world is at war because it was sick, and the sickness was universal. We must change ourselves too.

There will be no peace unless the peace settlement is seen as a process in political change, economic reform, social progress, spiritual regeneration, and re-education within the victorious countries. Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese militarists may have made this war, but our whole civilization made them. We could defeat Hitler and get a worse Hitler unless we destroy the rottenness of democracy out of which Hitlers have grown.

Concretely, the democracies must achieve economic and social security at home without infringing on freedom; they must abolish their empires and set up an international trusteeship for backward colonies; they must abandon or drastically reduce tariffs and then plan international trade; they must eliminate racial discrimination and religious intolerance within their own countries. These would be the first indispensable steps toward that internationalism without which there can be no peace.

We will not introduce these changes in a day„ But we will make them earlier if we realize that they are needed for world peace. Alliances, on the other hand, would militate against change by creating the illusion that peace can be maintained indefinitely by imposing punitive measures on the vanquished enemy countries.

One reason why tories like to think of the peace settlement as exclusively punitive is that a curative approach to peace problems would require them to change.

Suppose we get a four-power alliance after this war. Suppose we get ten years of peace through exhaustion after this war. Many persons will then argue that all is right with the world. But below the surface, much will be just as it was in 1939 and 1914.

Alliances would stabilize the evil of the rotten world. An international organization for peace will be called upon to destroy the evil that produces wars.


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