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Everyone’s a US ‘ally’ these days – which shows just how little such alliances really mean

George Szamuely
George Szamuely

is a senior research fellow at Global Policy Institute (London) and author of Bombs for Peace: NATO's Humanitarian War on Yugoslavia. Follow him on Twitter @GeorgeSzamuely

is a senior research fellow at Global Policy Institute (London) and author of Bombs for Peace: NATO's Humanitarian War on Yugoslavia. Follow him on Twitter @GeorgeSzamuely

Everyone’s a US ‘ally’ these days – which shows just how little such alliances really mean
Few terms these days are as abused as the designation ‘Ally.’ Ukraine, we are assured, is a US ally. The Kurds, too, are supposedly US allies. And, of course, Israel is invariably called one of America’s greatest allies.

Yet there is something peculiar about this designation. According to Merriam-Webster, an ‘ally’ is a “sovereign or state associated with another by treaty or league.” The Cambridge Dictionary says something very similar: An ally is “a country that has agreed officially to give help and support to another one, especially during a war.” You get the picture. An ally is a state or country bound by treaty to come to your aid, and vice versa. Allies are bound together by mutual obligation to render assistance to one another.

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However, there exists no treaty that obligates the United States to come to the assistance of Ukraine, Israel or the Kurds. Take Ukraine first. In recent weeks, politicians, journalists, policymakers and pundits have repeatedly assured us that Ukraine is a US ally. Kicking off the Trump impeachment inquiry hearing earlier in the week, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), declared that “in 2014, Russia invaded a United States ally, Ukraine, to reverse that nation’s embrace of the West.” Earlier, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) announced “Trump clearly blocked $300 million that Congress had passed that would go to our ally, Ukraine, to fight Russian aggression.” Describing the first day of the open impeachment hearings, a Guardian editorial noted, “Two senior US diplomats…explained how regular US policy towards its ally Ukraine became entangled in 2019 with an ‘irregular channel.’” Fox News legal analyst ‘Judge’ Andrew Napolitano stated, “We know from those transcripts that Trump’s threat to hold up $391 million in military hardware and financial aid to our ally Ukraine –which is fighting a bloody war with Russia– until the Ukraine government gave him a ‘favor.’”

Such examples can, of course, be easily multiplied. At no point does anyone explain when it was that Ukraine became a US ally and what, exactly, this US-Ukraine alliance entails. Ukraine is not a member of NATO. It is a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. But then, so is Russia, and Serbia, and neither of those countries ever receives the designation of ‘US ally.’ To be sure, the Bush administration did try to sneak Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. However, other NATO members balked and, in the end, at its 2008 summit in Bucharest, NATO didn’t go beyond a vague promise of eventual NATO membership. So, Ukraine is not a NATO member-state; hence, its Article 5, “an attack against one [is] an attack against them all” provision doesn’t apply.

There also exists no bilateral military treaty binding Ukraine and the United States, or indeed Ukraine and anyone. If such a treaty were to be signed, of course, then the US Senate would have to have a say in the matter. There would have to be a national debate, and the public would have to be persuaded of the wisdom of getting militarily entangled in a possible conflict with Russia, which Kiev has unilaterally designated as an aggressor and an invading power. There is an additional issue that would have come up in a national debate on the advisability of forging an alliance with Ukraine. Ukraine is said to be one of the most corrupt places on the planet. How would the United States be able to guarantee that any military aid provided to the Ukraine government does not end up on the black market and in the hands of fascist militia such as the Azov battalion?

Let us take a look at the Kurds, also invariably lauded in the media as US allies. There is no nation-state incorporating Kurds; so, clearly, there can be no formal military alliance between the United States and any existing Kurdish state. The Kurds are an ethnic group and belong to states that do not identify themselves as Kurdish. Any formal military alliance with Kurds would violate the sovereignty of the states where the Kurds reside, and hence would violate international law. Moreover, the Kurds have been credibly accused of conducting ethnic cleansing campaigns in Syria against Arabs and Assyrians –using the military aid provided them by the United States– in order to carve out ethnically pure Kurdish states in other people’s countries. The same goes for the Kurds of Iraq. Any formal military alliance with Kurds would draw the United States into some form of conflict over the ethnic cleansing.

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Needless to say, this fervent talk of allies is not the result of careless slips of the tongue on the part of pundits and policymakers. The term ‘ally’ seeks to persuade the public that, in delivering military aid or providing military training to would-be ‘allies,’ the United States is fulfilling a legal obligation. And that, even if there were no legal obligation, the policymakers and pundits argue, there is a moral obligation. They are our allies, after all; helping friends in need is the right thing to do. What this does is short-circuit the process by which a formal alliance is made. An alliance requires a bilateral treaty; a bilateral treaty requires signature and ratification; signature and ratification require a public debate; a public debate requires the articulation of a justification for getting entangled in dangerous conflicts in which no clear US interests are at stake. Better, therefore, to pretend that a public debate has already taken place and a treaty has already been signed and ratified, and that all that is needed now is the dispatch of guns, Javelins and, of course, lots of money.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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