“The U.S. is an ‘ally-rich’ country while countries, such as Russia, China, and North Korea, are ‘ally-poor.’”
The above sentence caught my attention from the statement by U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan during the confirmation hearing for David Norquist, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Defense, in July. I’ve heard terms like a resource-rich country or an energy-rich country, but never an ally-rich country.
“If negotiations fail and the U.S. Army is pulled out, wouldn’t it benefit Russia, China, and North Korea?” asked the Republican senator on the topic of negotiations regarding the sharing of military defense costs between the U.S. and South Korea, as well as between the U.S. and Japan. “Yes, it would,” Norquist answered. “What the U.S. has, but those countries don’t, is partnership with allies,” he added. Sullivan’s following request to find ways to strengthen and expand alliance to Norquist conveyed the U.S.’ sense of confidence from having strong partnership with its allies like the Avengers.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, there are approximately 70 countries in alliance or partnership with the country via mutual defense treaties or international treaties. They are the friendly force that will work with the U.S. against challenges faced by the world, from nuclear weapon development and threats of war to environment, energy, and poverty-related issues. The U.S. is involved in a host of international issues to maintain its global influence as the country with the most power in the world. Yet, there are many problems that U.S. alone cannot address.
The unfamiliar term “ally-rich country” came to my mind again in light of U.S. President Donald Trump’s a series of comments disparaging the country’s allies. “Allies use us more,” “Allies are worse,” etc. – his attack on allies is becoming more frequent and harsher. This is why there is a growing concern over the pressure on South Korea to take five times more of its previous share of bilateral military defense costs and the possibility of a permanent suspension of joint military drills, which were dubbed as “complete waste of money” by the president during a negotiation with North Korea. This is hardly an attitude of a country that values its allies as key resources for diplomacy and security.
What’s relieving is that there have been consistent voices of criticism against the president’s behavior in the U.S. Congress and political circles. The Trump administration’s working-level officials also join in such criticism. “There’s no need to worry that what President Trump says will directly lead to policies. Things are quite different at the working level,” said an official in charge of diplomacy and security in a private discussion. “You can see the level of importance South Korea holds as an ally to the U.S. from daily communication between the two countries on military issues.” Such officials are also concerned about the conflicts between South Korea and Japan, the U.S.’ two key allies in Northeast Asia. Such sentiment was shown in the question asked by Senator Robert Menendez – “Shouldn’t the U.S. be more proactive to improve the relations between South Korea and Japan in order to address threats from China?” – to David Stilwell, the U.S. State Department's top official for East Asia, during the last week’s confirmation hearing of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
The summit meetings to be organized by the U.S. in light of the United Nations General Assembly starting this week are important opportunities for the allies of the U.S. to gauge the perspectives and directions of the Trump administration. The summit between South Korea and the U.S., which includes sensitive alliance issues as agenda, may deliver a message with impact on other countries. If the results that disappoint its allies repeat, the U.S. may become an “ally-poor” country after all.