Why America Will Not Accede To The Grand Alliance




Victoria J. Sanchez


September 2007




The United States has long enjoyed its days at the top of the global order. Yet, these days of dominance are rapidly coming to an end. The balance of power is changing. The US by itself is no longer large enough to singularly contain the problems that threaten the international system. The US is not as powerful as it once was, and it can not continue to behave as it has in the past. The Grand Alliance between the democracies of the world presents an interesting solution to the problems of global governance and stability. However, if the Grand Alliance is not realized, it will most likely be because the United States (whose participation is thoroughly imperative to the success of the Grand Alliance) does not join. Even though the long-term effects of the Grand Alliance would be highly advantageous for not only the United States, but also the rest of the world, there are a number of fundamental reasons as to why America will not accede to the Grand Alliance.

American participation in alliance structures has a fascinating history and can help to shed light on the framework and traditions that shape American political thought. The American doctrine of non-interventionism has deep roots in American foreign policy and can be traced back to the very foundation of the United States. First Thomas Paine in Common Sense and later George Washington in his famed farewell address both strongly called for avoidance of alliances with other states. By the time of the American Revolutionary War, the ideas of non-interventionism had taken such a strong hold in the US that the Continental Congress struggled arduously against forming an alliance with France and only agreed to do so when it became apparent that doing otherwise would cause them to lose the war. Later, President Thomas Jefferson would continue the tradition of American non-interventionism by famously advocating for "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none." Perhaps yet another early proponent of non-interventionism was President James Monroe with the Monroe Doctrine (articulating to Europe to stay out of Latin America), which has been interpreted as being a non-interventionist notion. For the remainder of the 19th century, the US kept a largely non-interventionist policy. It really was not until the United States entered World War I that this policy was broken with. And even at that time it was broken only for the few years that the US was involved in the war. Immediately after the war was over, the US returned straight away to its non-interventionism behavior, as manifested by the congressional rejection of both the treaty of Versailles and later the League of Nations. Non-interventionist sentiment remained strong in the US until the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, where it seems to have met the end of its popular support (at least up through to the current administration). Nevertheless, non-interventionist thought has permeated the political and foreign policy culture of the United States for so long that it can still be considered a relevant factor in the minds of the elites when shaping the opinions of American political thinking.

America’s non-interventionist attitudes towards alignment has also been shown in the US’s less than enthusiastic participation in multilateral alliance systems. American political culture is absorbed with the notion of an “American Supremacy?which makes the US superior to all other states. Because of this notion, American partnership with other states is likely only to occur when the US can be at the forefront of the alliance, where it can lead, direct, and dominate the pack. This is the star model with the United States at the core of the system. This system seems to be the alignment of choice for the US, if it agrees to align at all. Most recently, the US has outright revoked multilateral alignment in favor of a stark unilateralist policy. The US believes that it is still strong enough to singularly manage the conflicts that come its way, even though the truth of the matter is that the US is simply not strong enough alone. Still, this unilateralist notion will most likely continue to shape American foreign policy into the future, and will prevent American participation in the Grand Alliance as it need to be in order for the Alliance to be successful. America will not want any part of the Grand Alliance unless it can be in a leadership role, elevated in status above all the other members. This can not happen if the Grand Alliance is to function effectively.

If the US were to join the Grand Alliance under the conditions necessary for realization (with the US on an equal level with other members, and not at the center dominating), it would be a huge admission of downfall and defeat in American Hegemony. The United States? view of its own power has been dominated by the relative American hegemonic grip of global power since 1945. American foreign policy elites have been intrigued and confident in US hegemonic power for so long that they would not dream of giving it up any time soon and would fight to preserve it at all costs. They still generally view America as a hegemon, largely uncontested by most of the world (though this view is rapidly beginning to change with the emergence of China and India, and the recent resurgence of Russia) and able to handle the threats facing the US at present time. To join the Grand Alliance would be a rejection of that view. The US believes that it is still able to handle the conflicts of the international system, and in joining the Grand Alliance it would be admitting defeat and declaring that it is weak and its perception of its own power was not great enough.

Lying at the root of all the reasons as to why the US will not join the Grand Alliance is one overarching concept: sovereignty. The US has always tried resolutely to safe guard its sovereign right and authority. This is why the US has not been able to make a stable alliance. Because it has not been able to give up any of its sovereignty in alliance structures, the US has tried continuously to put itself at the head of an alignment system, and not on an even level with everyone else where it need to be in order for the Alliance to become stable. Unfortunately, America is not yet ready to give up any of its sovereignty. It still holds firm to its belief of superiority, be it economic, militarily, or morally. The US does not like being told what to do, especially not by someone it deems to be deficient to itself and it will fight arduously before seeing any bit of its sovereignty disappear. Because the Grand Alliance requires such complete and equal participation from all members, the US would not join over the sovereignty it would have to lose.

Without the United States?participation, the Grand Alliance is not feasible. The US has many prejudices that would keep it from forming the Grand Alliance. The US itself needs to overcome several significant barriers for the Grand Alliance to become a reality. One, it must accept that the benefits to be accrued from the Grand Alliance are for the greater good of everyone and that if this means giving up some sovereignty, then that is all a part of the sacrifice. Two, it must accept that the US has not had a true hegemony for some time and that joining the Grand Alliance will not make it weaker but stronger through the collective security attained in creating such an alliance. Three, it must over come the American traditions of non-interference and American supremacy through unilateralism in order to form a stable alliance. Four, it must take a sense of urgency at the threats being faced and swiftly take action. The US must fulfil all of these if it is to join the Grand Alliance. If the US decides not do these things, then there still might be one more way for the Grand Alliance to form: if all of the other members states created the Grand Alliance without the US and gave the US the options of “join or become isolated,?then the US would join. This way would not be recommended though because in the event the US was pressured into joining the Grand Alliance, rather than accepting it of its own accord (and in the process of doing so, overcoming its biases), the US would continue to try and make the Grand Alliance into its favorite alliance structure, with itself at the center leading everyone else. With the success of the Grand Alliance dependent on equality of members, this system would ultimately fail.

The Grand Alliance essentially represents a prisoner’s dilemma. If everyone cooperates, then the best possible outcome for everyone is attained. But if no one cooperates, then everyone is immensely worse off. In order for the Grand Alliance to become a reality, the US must join and be fully cooperative to the requirements needed for attainment. However, even though the long-term effects for stability and security would be greater for everyone, there are a number of key factors that hold the US back from making the Grand Alliance a reality. Firstly, the US has had a long tradition of non-interventionist policy that is still reflected in American political thought today. Secondly, the US has largely rejected multilateral affiliations in favor of a more unilateralist policy. Thirdly, America’s view of its own hegemonic power has lead the US to believe that it does not need anyone else and that by itself it can handle of the problems of the world on its own. And finally, sovereignty is an underlying concept to all the reasons of why the US will not accede to the Grand Alliance. If the US can overcome these reasons and understand that the Grand Alliance is not a bad notion and is instead for the greater good of the world, only then can the Grand Alliance can become a reality.