The 2020 contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden has thrown into stark relief two distinct understandings of the United States’ relationship with its allies. Trump is famously said to view allies in transactional terms as partners of convenience that may need to be coerced or even cast aside. Biden and his team, in contrast, have been at pains to present the United States’ allies in personal terms—as what Biden calls the nation’s “friends.”
Biden and his advisers regularly equate alliances with friendships: Biden has promised to ”stand with our allies and friends,” accused Trump of “stiff-arming our friends” in Europe, and advocated “a united front of friends and partners” to challenge China. Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris uses similar language, calling for the United States “to be loyal to [its] friends. People who’ve stood with you, got to stand with them.”
Both of us support Biden and understand the need for appealing language amid a fraught campaign. Nonetheless, Biden and his team are wrong: A state’s allies are not its “friends and partners” like one has in personal and professional relationships. By presenting allies as “friends,” the Biden team does the U.S. public a disservice.
Amid the competitive world of international politics, even close allies have interests that diverge; even when they have common interests, they are not equally felt. Moreover, major powers like the United States often have multiple alliances, some of which conflict with one another. And because international conditions can change, allies often do need to be pressured and, sometimes, abandoned—just as today’s ally can become tomorrow’s enemy (and vice versa).
Read the full article in Politico.