This piece appeared in the german magazine Der Spiegel on February 17, 2017.
We Must Take Steps Now to Preserve Our International Alliances
Lessons of the Past Warn Us to Stand Tall Against Those Seeking to Unravel a Global Security Framework That Has Kept Us Safe Since World War II.
The United States and our international allies, which for so long has been the centerpiece of what is rightly called “The Free World,” are facing the greatest threat to global stability since the end of World War II. Security arrangements, like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which for more than seven decades have kept us safe from yet another global conflict, are quickly coming unraveled. These are the deep concerns I am bringing to the Munich Security Conference 2017.
Here in America, I see the erosion of our alliances caused by growing tensions across the world and fed by angry voices at home. These forces threaten the future of an international security framework that has long ensured the United States and its partner nations of a stable world and the free flow of ideas and trade. Hearing those voices, many here are second-guessing the alliances and relationships that have served us so well in the post-war era. Too many of my countrymen prefer that we stay at home instead of supporting our longstanding allies. And in many of those allied nations, similar doubts are taking root.
Why am I alarmed, as an American state governor who is otherwise focused on domestic policies and the delivery of public services to 11.7 million Ohioans? It is because my state has been restoring our economy and creating jobs for Ohio workers by keeping pace with the demands and rewards of a global economy. A secure and stable world order, open to the free exchange of goods and technology, is essential to my state’s well-being.
These are not new concerns for me, having served nine terms as a member of Congress, including 18 years on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee. From those perspectives I have feared this unraveling for some time, but my concerns are redoubled by the most recent threats to our alliances, both here and abroad.
Why are these alliances essential for Ohio and for all of America? It’s more than a matter of protecting our own borders and preserving our national identity, important as those goals may be. It’s also about protecting the collective human values that have for so long sustained the United States – values such as freedom of speech, universal respect for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, and a world open to free enterprise, travel and trade. These are the shared values that we and our allied nations believe in; the same values others scorn and deny to those they rule.
Through seven stressful decades since the end of World War II, these values and the moral standards they embrace have been the foundation of an international security framework, including NATO, which has helped us avoid global war and provided its partners widespread economic opportunity with free trade. The world has been down this road before, and it didn’t end well. Twice before, on the eve of World War I and again in the dark days before World War II, we witnessed regional instability that quickly led to global conflict – leaving tens of millions dead and large swaths of the world in ruin.
Now history threatens to repeat itself and we can see some of the same erosive forces at work: a weakening NATO and growing conflict in regions such as Georgia, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Perennial tensions and bloody conflict in the Middle East are joined by gathering storm clouds in North Korea and the South China Sea – and overhanging it all, international terrorism. Calls for disengagement, isolation and shuttered trade add to the sense that our world is coming undone.
Each of our allied nations is safer when freedom, democracy and the rule of law are embraced around the world. In places like Ukraine, there is a deep yearning for these values and we must encourage that desire, not dismiss it. The notion that it somehow makes Americans safer at home to sacrifice support for a free Ukraine in exchange for a better relationship with Russia – which continues to deny its unacceptable interference in our presidential election – is wrong and naïve. It’s inconsistent with our shared ideals and leads other allies to doubt American resolve. Putin only respects strength, which is one reason why I support tougher sanctions against Russia and Putin’s inner circle.
A further cause for concern, our once-vigilant alliances have failed to deal with the most urgent issues facing them, challenges such as the refugee crisis, secure borders, cybersecurity and intelligence sharing in the face of terrorism. We need to fix those weaknesses, but in ways that help our alliances evolve, not throwing away the underlying values that have held us together and kept the peace for so many decades.
Rather than allowing history to replay its sad lessons, now is the time for us to rediscover the spirit of unity and social solidarity we need to restore the functioning of our own democracies. We must also find in ourselves once again the courage to stand up for our values internationally – the values on which our shared system of security was built and that have become too easy for us to take for granted.
History teaches that it takes courageous resolve to preserve the values-based alliances that have kept us safe for seven decades. Without a shared commitment to freedom, how can expect it to survive? That is why we must reassure the Baltics and Ukraine – who live in the very shadow of Russia – that the United States will be there for them if trouble arises. Russian intimidation of our NATO allies or other free nations cannot be tolerated
Instead of listening to the siren song of false prophets, we must relearn to work together with respect for opposing points of views in a search for the common ground and a recommitment to shared values that will help us together reaffirm our common humanity. The Munich Security Conference 2017 gives leaders of our partner nations an exceptional opportunity to work toward strengthening our alliances and rededicating ourselves to the values on which those bonds of trust are built.
Unless we can find the courage and unity to defend our values, we will not succeed. And succeed we must.
You can read the original op-ed here.