The Decline of American Client States
By Max Fisher
Sep 27 2011, 7:00 AM ET
From Pakistan to Israel to Taiwan, Washington's dependent allies are causing
it some headaches
America's love affair with client states began not long after it and the
Soviet Union -- another master in the art of client-building -- pressured
the UK and France to leave Egypt, which they had invaded in 1956 to reclaim
control of the Suez canal. European colonialism, the U.S. and USSR argued at
the United Nations that year, was outdated, destabilizing, and had to end.
British and French forces withdrew from Egypt, and within about a decade
most of the British and French empires collapsed. Meanwhile, the U.S. and
Soviet Union had begun a different great geopolitical game -- the search for
client states -- one that Washington is still playing today.
The '56 Suez Crisis was a final act of the imperial age and one of the first
in a new era, where the major powers don't have colonies -- they have
clients. American and Soviet diplomats, spies, and generals spent the next
four decades racing from one capital to another, trying to buy, cajole, or
enforce the allegiance of smaller nations. Often, that meant tin-pot
dictators that would do the master state's bidding, either accelerating or
stopping the spread of communism, depending on who was paying better that
year. Egypt was one of dozens of countries that, not long after ending its
centuries under colonial rule, became an often willing pawn in the Cold
War's client game, first aligning itself with the Soviet Union and then with
the U.S., which offered it lots of money and military equipment as part of
the 1979 Camp David Peace accords. The U.S. found less use for client states
after the Soviet Union fell, but still maintains the practice today,
developing (mostly) subservient allies in hot spots across the world.
If Egypt's 1956 liberation from colonialism helped end the colonial era, the
country may now once again be signalling a change in the global system. When
protesters toppled Egyptian president and reliable U.S. client Hosni Mubarak
this February, they changed the terms of the U.S.-Egypt relationship.
Washington can send all the money and tanks it wants -- it won't be able to
dictate to a democratic Cairo any more than it can to, say, Ankara or Paris.
The fall of easily controlled dictators across the region (the U.S. has
st-saleh-has-american-idealism-finally-triumphed/236657/> given up on its
man in Yemen) comes at the same time as U.S.-allied democracies and
autocracies alike seem increasingly willing to buck Washington's wishes.
Last week alone, the U.S. clashed with some of its most important client
states. Maybe that's because of America's habit of picking the most troubled
states in the most troubled regions as clients (where they're perceived as
the most needed), maybe it's because democratic movements are pressuring
client states to follow popular domestic will rather than foreign guidance,
and maybe it's because the idea of clientalism was doomed from the start.
Democracy is on the march, and democratic governments make bad clients:
they're fickle; prone to change foreign policy as their domestic policy
shifts; and subject to the needs, desires, and whims of their voters.
Whatever the reasons, U.S. client states have been causing Washington more
headaches than normal this year, and particularly over the past week. Here
are ten of the most closely held U.S. clients, measured in part by foreign
assistance (scheduled for fiscal year 2012) and by number of U.S. troops
stationed there (according to Department of Defense statistics). Each is
labeled with the reason for their strategic importance and with a rough
gauge of how much trouble it's been causing the U.S., rated on a scale from
"Zero Problems" to "Migraines in Washington." The most extreme cases are
labeled "Client Relationship at Risk." Looking over the list of troubled
client relationships, it's easy to wonder if the entire Cold War-inspired
enterprise could be nearing its end. Maybe Egypt, just as it helped end the
centuries of European imperialism in 1956, could make 2011 the year that
began the end of clientalism.
Of course, what separates a client state from an ally is a subjective
matter. Japan and Germany, despite the thousands of U.S. troops stationed in
each, aren't listed -- the two are powerful, wealthy, and democratic enough
that the U.S. assumes they will go their own way, which they often do.
Israel is listed for its economic, military, and foreign policy reliance on
the U.S. Though the long-term U.S.-Israel alliance is built on much deeper
and more enduring cultural and ideological ties than any amount of money can
buy, the day-to-day is deeply informed by a client-like relationship.
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Received on Tue Sep 27 2011 - 07:16:41 EDT