Most of America’s foreign and national security challenges today are global in nature.
Whether countering terrorism or nuclear proliferation, offering an alternative to radical Islamists, expanding free trade, or supporting free and democratic nations in danger such as Georgia and Taiwan, America must protect far-ranging interests that span the globe.
Yet our alliances and international institutions are ill-suited to these tasks.
Born some 60 years ago at the dawn of the Cold War, NATO, the United Nations and the international trade and financial institutions are out of date — invented for a world that no longer exists.
When I was assistant secretary of state for international organizations in the first Bush term, I saw firsthand how limited the United Nations was in tackling hard problems like Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
The U.N. could do some easy things where there was consensus, but it would break down in the hard cases. The U.N. has been more an impediment than a facilitator to ending the tragedy of Darfur, and its Human Rights Council is an outright embarrassment.
NATO is still an important alliance to America, but it’s a pale comparison to its former greatness. It played no role as an institution in Iraq. It is stumbling badly in Afghanistan. More and more it is the European Union — not NATO — that takes the diplomatic lead on behalf of the United States in crises, as is now being done with respect to Georgia.
The need for a new global security arrangement for truly free nations couldn’t be more obvious or timely. Free nations have far more in common than what divides them.
There can be power and unity in numbers, and yet many of America’s friends are institutionally strewn unconnected across the globe in disparate regional alliances or bilateral arrangements.
Desperate for international mechanisms to coordinate policy, Washington falls back on what exists. We try to funnel major policy initiatives through the European Union or the U.N., which more often than not bottles them up in endless debates and obfuscation.
The administration has been reduced to “wishing” (as the New York Times reported recently) that the EU had taken firmer action with regard to Georgia. We need something better than wishful thinking.
It’s time for America to find a better way. We need to start thinking about creating new alliances and international institutions for the 21st century that better advance American interests and the cause of freedom.
It’s time for a “Global Freedom Coalition,” a mechanism that would enable free nations to better coordinate their security policies.
It would consist of freedom-loving nations from all over the world who share the values, interests and capacities to defend liberty against terrorism and aggression.
It would be voluntary and with as little bureaucracy as possible.
It would be an association in which Poland or Estonia could sit across the table from Japan, Australia or even India to discuss global problems such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cybersecurity or whatever happens to be on the international security agenda at the time.
This coalition would be smaller and more focused than a community or league of democracies. One of the reasons why the Community of Democracies has been ineffective is because it is too large and its mission too unfocused.
A coalition of 20 to 30 free nations dedicated to solving specific security problems would be far more effective than a group of 100 or so countries talking nonstop about what divides rather than unites them.
While it would be important that members of the new coalition be free nations, it would be equally important that they have something to contribute to the common good.
There would be no point in creating a traditional global alliance that promises to solve every border dispute of its members. This would inevitably tear the coalition apart.
However, a loose association or coalition dedicated to solving common security problems could be very useful indeed.
Such a flexible, global approach could open all kinds of possibilities for U.S. diplomacy. Right now Washington depends too much on some Western European countries to carry its initiatives. It would be far better to empower other allies with a new institutional framework that gives them a louder voice.
As the saying goes, “if we build it, they will come.” There are countries around the world that desire a closer security relationship with America, yet find no way to make it a reality.
A Global Freedom Coalition, aimed at countering no specific country but which could be mobilized if any threat should arise, could be attractive to existing allies in Europe and Asia and potential allies as well.
It is time to think boldly about America’s future. Our alliances and international institutions are stuck in the past.
It’s time we think about creating ones more fitting to the 21st century than the late 1940s.
• Kim Holmes is vice president for foreign policy at the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org) and author of “Liberty’s Best Hope: American Leadership for the 21st Century” (2008).