The Slippery Slope of Isolationism: The Need for Allies in Military Operations


America has had allies since before the country was a legitimate, legally recognized nation. In nearly every major conflict the United States has undertaken, they have been joined alongside fellow nations and governments, holding similar views and desiring similar goals. Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, the U.S. has taken on a more internationalist role than ever before and become the prominent world power. With the 2016 Presidential election of Donald Trump, America’s internationalist stance has increased, becoming far more isolationist and seemingly abandoning our allies abroad, much to the worry of his own staff. America, especially now with threats from foreign terrorists, cybercriminals, and human security matters, is in dire need of allies and needs to have a strong coalition of countries that are each masters within their own domains and are capable of supporting the United States when it is necessary to the safety of the globe. Increased relationships with those who have only tangentially been our allies too, built upon making deals that are mutually beneficial and negotiating so that both nations get something in return, is immensely important to the conduct of an effective foreign policy and to becoming a strong nation.

To better illuminate my point, I will be exploring two conflicts in which a coalition force comprised of, in some cases delicately, assembled alliances significantly changed the outcome of a given situation, the American Revolutionary War against the British Empire from 1775 to 1783 and the Bosnian War from 1992 to 1995.

The American Revolution

The American Revolutionary War is a well-researched event in American history, arguably being the most significant military conflict in the history of the nation and one that the average American is most familiar with. While revolutionary sentiments within America were well-founded since the first English settlers arrived, the actual war began in response to, “colonial opposition to British attempts to impose greater control over the colonies and to make them repay the crown for its defense of them primarily during the French and Indian War”. This more overt control (coming in the form of tax acts, physical troop emplacements, etc.) by the British Empire eventually led to skirmishes with civilians and failed diplomatic efforts before escalating into full-scale war in April of 1775 at Lexington and Concord. Because the American rebels would be going up against the largest and, at the time, most advanced military force in the globe, they needed allies to support their overall combat and combat support units. In enemies of the British Empire, they found allies in the French and Spanish powers, longtime adversaries of the British.

In 1778, “the Treaty of Alliance and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce” resulted in a partnership between the United States and the French Republic and provided, “provisions the U.S. commissioners had originally requested [a full alliance], but also included a clause forbidding either country to make a separate peace with Britain, as well as a secret clause allowing for Spain, or other European powers, to enter into the alliance. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce promoted trade between the United States and France and recognized the United States as an independent nation,” along with, “provid[ing] supplies, arms and ammunition, uniforms, and, most importantly, troops and naval support to the beleaguered Continental Army”. These treaties, “greatly facilitated U.S. independence…The French fleet proceeded to challenge British control of North American waters and, together with troops and arms, proved an indispensable asset in the revolutionaries’ victory at the Siege of Yorktown, which ended the war”. By the war’s end in 1783, the French had provided the United States with over 1 billion livres (roughly $ 240 billion USD in 2020) in direct financial aid along with fighting on land and sea.

The French were not the only ones to provide aid and support to the United States in their time of need. The Spanish Empire provided aid to the U.S. in a very similar format to their French counterparts, doing so in conjunction with the French at certain points. In 1776, prior to a formal declaration of war against Great Britain in 1779, Spain sent, “one million livres tournois [through a] Franco-Spanish dummy corporation”. From 1776 to 1778, Spain again sent, “7,944,806 reales” to the United States as a form of financial aid. Spain’s Governor of Louisiana, Bernardo de Galvez, assisted in the fighting from a military standpoint, allowing, “shipments of weapons, medicine and fabric for military uniforms to be sent to the Continental Army via the Mississippi…[and attacking] British West Florida, winning it back for his king and indirectly benefiting the Americans by forcing the British to fight on two fronts”. Throughout the war, both in a covert and overt capacity, prior to a formal Spanish declaration of war against the British Empire, Galvez aided the Americans by providing arms, cloth, medicine, financial aid, and manpower to assist in gaining territories and assisting American forts and bases.

Having allies in this instance allowed the United States the support it needed (militarily, economically, politically) to overcome the British. Had the French not utilized their own navies to fight against the British, then the United States would never have truly been able to attack the British in a naval capacity. Had the Spanish not engaged the British in the Caribbean with their naval power or assisted in rooting the British out of Florida, then America would have had to deal with another front which would have extended supply lines and forced the Americans to overcome the treacherous swamps of Florida. As well, the financial aid the French and Spanish provided to the U.S. was undeniably beneficial in that America could utilize weaponry on par with British armaments and engage the British on more familiar fronts and leave more difficult campaigns (that of Florida and naval campaigns) to their allies. America’s allies of British and Spain greatly assisted in the gaining of American independence and, without their assistance, it is debatable if America would have been able to attain their independence from the Empire.

The Bosnian War

Examining a more recent conflict, the Bosnian War of 1992 to 1995 is a prime example of how allied power can change the outcome of a conflict and is an essential part of a successful military campaign.

The Bosnian War began over decades old animosities dating back to the First World War, animosities built upon ethnocentrism and Islamophobia (for the most part, these were ideas promulgated by domestic leaders with Yugoslav countries). These were exacerbated in the 1940s by Soviet style economic, social, and political developments (which included the initial abolition of Muslim traditions before the government became more accepting of these traditions and ethnicity as a whole in the 1960s) and these tensions continued with “escalating political and economic crises,” which in turn powered nationalistic tendencies which divided themselves along ethnic lines, the Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs. Due to the aforementioned developments and tensions, domestic political leaders who desired to become more influential in their respective districts, states, and countries and hold more overall power, “endorsed a Serbian nationalist agenda…[exploiting] a growing wave of Serbian nationalism in order to strengthen centralized rule in the SFRY [Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia]”. The end result of this tension resulted in the Serbs breaking away from the Croats and Muslims within Bosnia-Herzegovina who desired to split away from Yugoslavia and form their own country; atrocities became commonplace and war crimes were committed by both regular army units under control of the government and paramilitary, militia-type forces. It was obvious that something needed to be done to halt these abhorrent criminal actions.

Despite the fact that U.S. and the UN took an obscenely long time to react to such atrocities, “NATO [under U.S. command] intervened in August and September 1995 with air strikes against Bosnian Serb targets, while allied Bosniak and Croat forces launched a simultaneous offensive in western Bosnia”. This aerial bombardment effectively brought the bloodshed to an end and, while Bosnia is still a country with sharp divides and is not the most stable politically, the loss of more Muslim and Bosnian Croat life was prevented.

The usage of an alliance in this instance, a coalition via NATO of countries like the U.S., Germany, Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, France and various other countries from Europe and Asia, did force the genocide, atrocities, and the war itself to a halt. Without a robust force comprised of like-minded nations, had the force calling for such a bombardment been a single lone country (say the United States), then it would have been easy to ignore. However, due to the United States’ persistence in gathering a coalition force and in response to massacres like Srebrenica which could not be ignored, the war was brought to an end solely due to the fact that a coalition force had been created under the banner of an international organization. Having allies can change the outcome of a situation and, in this instance, the United States was right to intervene with a coalition force and prevent bloodshed, instead of doing so purely with their own land and air forces as it would raise questions about the intentions of the operation.


The United States of America, quite simply, does still need allies, especially in this current era. Allies are a beneficial tool in fostering domestic support as the public at large can view the inclusion of nations (like Germany, the United Kingdom, France, etc.) in a task force or military endeavor as a sign that other countries agree with the consensus that the goal of an operation is an essential one that will bring about conditions in line with America’s stated goals.

In an article for The National Interest, the Latvian Ambassador to the United States voices his opinion on the War in Afghanistan, citing that alliances are essential to succeeding in the nation. He writes, “it is smart to invest in NATO members participating in the Afghan War. All NATO member states, including Latvia, are real contributors to the Afghan effort…It goes without saying that NATO is the most trusted, well-tested instrument of the transatlantic partnership. Today there is a broad consensus in Washington that the United States needs allies and partners abroad…I am confident that mutual support is the only credible political option for defence of our homelands, values and vital interests”.

The Ambassador’s mentioning of a “broad consensus in Washington” is also correct.

DefenseOne reported in the fall of last year that, “69 percent of Americans support an active role for the United States. It is among the largest percentages recorded since polling began in 1974. Close to two thirds of Americans — including Republicans and Democrats — disagree with the direction of U.S. foreign policy… Three-quarters of all Americans, or 74 percent, believe that preserving U.S. military alliances with other countries helps make the U.S. safer… all-time-high percentages of Democrats (86%) and Republicans (62%) say NATO remains essential to U.S. security. Nearly eight in ten Americans (78%) believe that Washington should maintain or increase its commitment to the transatlantic alliance”.

The article continues to note that most in the American public believe that the strategic alliances the U.S. has made with countries like South Korea, Germany, and Japan are important to protecting U.S. national security interests. Most Americans understand that alliances are beneficial to protecting our own national security, improving our defenses, allowing the ability for more intelligence to be gathered, for more diplomatic avenues to be opened, for interventions in foreign countries to be made easier, and for less home troops on the ground to be involved in combat activities.

Some of this was covered and expanded upon in an article from The Hill written by Joseph Collins, a former U.S. Army Colonel and the Director of the Center for Complex Operations of the National Defense University. He writes, “First, allies add to U.S. power…our NATO allies and partners provided 44 percent of the coalition troops in Afghanistan… Second, allies add to the legitimacy of U.S. policy. When the United States is backed by over 50 nations, it creates a critical mass for security decisions and coalitions in international organizations… Third, allies and coalition partners contribute a rarely noted asset to U.S. operations: geography. In any conflict in the world, the United States normally has open access to the territory, harbors, airfields, bases and material assistance of more than 50 countries… Fourth, the global nature of U.S. alliances and partnerships presents our major adversaries with a problem…Our committed allies number in the many dozens and theirs are as rare as hen’s teeth… This basic fact enhances deterrence, especially when day-to-day defense and diplomatic relations enhance the credibility of the implicit threat from existing forces. Finally, alliances accelerate information and intelligence sharing… Alliances help to tear down firewalls between nations as well as between the bureaucracies inside of them”.

America having allies has worked well for the country in the past. During our own revolution, military, financial, and physical aid from France and Spain both allowed the revolution to succeed and for the nation itself to be created. American support in the Bosnian War allowed more atrocities to be averted and for the U.S. to stand on solid ground in an unequivocal stance by having the backing of multiple allied countries. There is an abundance of other examples in which allies with America have played a role in changing the outcome of a conflict or outright resolving conflicts; another example of this was the almost global backing of the United States in their decision to invade Iraq during the First Gulf War was an extreme show of force and a clear sign that this aggression would not be tolerated (though actual, physical combat was not dissuaded due to Saddam’s intentions). America’s alliances allow the U.S. to have a much stronger position to negotiate and maneuver from, to gain access to more information, the ability to negotiate from a larger diplomatic standing, and have broad support to pressure countries into diplomatic methods without physical violence.

To quote former Marine Corps General and Secretary of Defense James Mattis from an article in DefenseOne, “Nations with allies thrive, and nations without them die”.

Alan Cunningham
Alan Cunningham
Alan Cunningham is a graduate of Norwich University's Master of Arts in International Relations program. He is currently working as an AP U.S. History Teacher in San Antonio, but intends to join the U.S. Navy as an Officer in the Summer of 2022. He has been accepted to a PhD in History program with the University of Birmingham in the UK. He has been published in the Jurist, the U.S. Army War College's War Room, Security Magazine, and the Asia-Pacific Security Magazine, in addition to many others.


The role of Artificial Intelligence in Modern Warfare: Case of Southern Asia

With the advancement in land warfare and geopolitical complexities,...

UK drops plans to hand Chagos Islands back to Mauritius

Britain will drop plans to hand the Chagos Islands...

Will Congress vote massive aid to Ukraine?

There will be no additional funding for Ukraine without...