Last week, at West Point, President Barack Obama sounded a familiar theme that all recent U.S. presidents have lamented, when he said, "The burdens of this century cannot fall on our soldiers alone. It also cannot fall on American shoulders alone." Obama also reiterated time-honored propositions in his promise to "be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well," and his desire "to build new partnerships, and shape stronger international standards and institutions." The just-released 2010 National Security Strategy of the United States continues this approach, declaring, "Alliances are force multipliers: through multinational cooperation and coordination, the sum of our actions is always greater than if we act alone."
But like Aesop's fable about the mice deciding to put a warning bell around the neck of the cat, the task is easier said than done.
America's existing alliances are the proverbial "old wineskins" into which it is proving extremely difficult to pour in the "new wine" represented by the 21st century's security challenges. The post-World War II alliances forged by the United States were designed to blunt and thwart the possible "outward thrusts" of a Eurasian superpower into Western Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. It was in order to meet a very specific and concrete threat that countries agreed to pool their security efforts -- and usually only in terms of specific geographic areas of responsibility.