Why Americans Should Care About NATO and Reject Isolationism

Why Americans Should Care About NATO and Reject Isolationism

With several international conflicts currently going strong — namely, the Russia-Ukraine War and the Israel-Hamas War — the question of American involvement has been catapulted to the forefront. Advocates of isolationism argue that the United States should not get entangled in global affairs, while proponents of interventionism claim that this type of involvement is beneficial for the US. 

As a global superpower and a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), America has implemented a foreign policy of interventionism since 1949. But Isolationist critics today are worried that the US is too involved in foreign affairs, which they see as a weakness and liability. What they do not understand, however, is that an interventionist policy keeps the US strong and protects American interests.

World War II Marked a Shift in American Foreign Policy

In the 1930s, America’s strong isolationist policies (driven by World War I and the Great Depression) gave way to a reluctant involvement in World War II, a war that even the winners lost (in terms of fatalities, money, and destruction). The sudden change in policy came with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. The US government was forced to recognize that World War II was not relegated to Europe and Asia, but affected America deeply as well. So it joined the fight.. 

After the war, FDR advanced the creation of the United Nations in 1945. In 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall launched the Marshall Plan, a recovery program for Europe. The US government at the time recognized that a strong, rebuilt Europe was crucial for preventing Russian expansionism. 

Continuing in the same vein, the US and 11 other countries formed NATO in 1949, the first peacetime military united front against the expansion of the Russian Empire post-WWII. Today, there are 31 members of NATO.

As American policy shifted from isolationism to interventionism, in 1950 when the Korean War broke out, the US was there even though NATO did not officially get involved. The same was true for Vietnam, even though the reasons for joining were slightly different. Fear of communism and a desire to prevent trade collapse were driving factors in America’s involvement in both wars. 

American involvement in the Vietnam War faced a great deal of backlash, and since then, US presidents have straddled a delicate line regarding the country’s involvement in international wars. Such policy varies based on the president in office.

For example, when Donald Trump was president, he repeatedly threatened to take the US out of NATO, but his advisors talked him out of it. On the other hand, President Joe Biden expressed his unequivocal support for NATO. He recognizes the many benefits of NATO membership: security, stability, counterterrorism, diplomatic relationships, and deterrence. Stability, or global order, is in the interest of every American (and indeed citizens of most nations).

Isolationism vs. Interventionism: Why Should Americans Care One Way or the Other?

The debate is not just theoretical; it has practical implications for every American. Interventionist policies often involve significant financial commitments, as seen in the U.S.’s involvement in recent international conflicts. These engagements, while costly, are often justified as necessary for maintaining global stability, protecting American interests, and ensuring the flow of international trade.

While it may make sense for the US as a whole to enact interventionist policies, how does it affect the average American? 

One of the most practical ways US foreign policy affects its citizens is the money it spends helping other countries. The US has already spent millions on the Russia-Ukraine War and Israel-Hamas War. The Russia-Ukraine War has disrupted the global supply chain, driving commodity prices up and making certain items hard to get. The Israel-Hamas War has amplified tensions between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine groups, with protests raging across America and a marked increase in antisemitism. It has led to the Houthis of Yemen targeting international shipping lanes, which disrupts trade and results in higher prices.

Isolationists use these examples as reasons for the US to stay out of international conflicts, but if anything is to be learned from history, it is that staunchly isolationist policies end up harming America. It was true in the 1930s, and it is even more true today when so many countries depend on each other for supplies and trade. 

Looking Ahead: The Path Forward for NATO

As America continues to grapple with these complex issues, it is clear that neither pure isolationism nor unchecked interventionism offers a silver bullet. Instead, the U.S. must carefully weigh its foreign policy decisions, considering both immediate impacts and long-term strategic interests. This means not only assessing the costs and benefits of involvement but also understanding the evolving global landscape in which these decisions are made.

While paying millions to help allies in different regions of the world may seem excessive, the current government recognizes that this is the price to pay for protecting Americans’ interests at home. It is also the price to pay for having international allies that will help America in her times of need. That is the value of a strong international military alliance.