May 2008

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Of course in theory you are right supposing that natural allies should be drawn together in peace. But what is missing in all this is a word or concept that you repeatedly mention, leader. The world is bereft of charismatic, natural leaders that could make it a reality.

Very rarely does an individual arise from the masses to reach a position of respect, collective wisdom, intelligence, or have the energy and ability to rise to the top. The leaders we have today are self-serving political career hacks. Their intelligence is used to serve their own interest.

Even if they want to do the greater good they are thwarted by those that wield the real corrupted power. Our founding fathers set the standard and it has been degrading ever since. Law makers today are afraid to make decisions, only propose initiatives for the people to vote on.

The poll chasers dance to the tune of the money classes and the perceived wants of their constituents. Just listen to the current crop of Presidential candidates change their tune as they march through the primary states pandering their political agenda according to what they think the populous wants to hear.

Pushing ethanol in the Corn Belt and war industries in the defense manufacturing states is political expediency, not showing leadership. The selfish interest of each culture, country, and religion create insurmountable barriers from true peace evolving on a global scale. It needs unprecedented leadership to make it happen.

When a true or even a possible leader emerges we kill them, like thinning out the heard to stop any real change from happening. So praying for peace is fine but we need to pray even harder for leaders to emerge that will make it happen. Then try not to shoot or blow them up.

Stephen W. Stanton

Many policy mistakes are made when we anthropomorphize countries.

As a nation, Russia stands to gain a lot from a more amicable relationship with the US. However as a person, Putin stands to gain quite a bit from posturing, strongarming, and scapegoating.

Similarly, there are piles of bad domestic policies that make no sense for the US as a nation. However, these policies provided significant advantages for Bush, Clinton, Nixon, Roosevelt, etc...

The real trick is to design governments that provide checks and balances against abuse of power, thereby keeping the interests of the nation aligned with the interests of the people in power. This was the real genius of the US Constitution.

Unfortunately, the US constitution has been seriously watered down over the past 200+ years, most notably under Wilson, FDR, LBJ, and Nixon.

Now US policy is more hostile to trade, immigration, and diplomacy than it should be.

Are some countries "natural allies"? Sort of. I would say that most nations should be natural allies... The biggest obstacle is government design that incentivizes leaders to do bad things. Throw in culture, religion, ethnic pride, excess nationalism, economic ignorance, and long histories full of gripes... We should be thrilled things aren't worse than they are.

Peace is the exception in human society. Violence and war is the norm, at the national and tribal levels. Capitalism is one of the few forces that encourage cooperation with strangers.


sort of implies that Switzerland and Tonga Island might qualify as natural allies.
Provided both countries are aware of the existence of the other, which might add as a further requirement.

D. Mented

I know the holes in my head get bigger every year, but I distinctly remember at least one more post after natural allies...I don't even think it was a controversial one.
Are you just looking for more input on this one?
D. Mented


I think you are using the wrong criteria

1 Cui bono?

2 Corporations have more clout than most nation states

3 Who gets what; is also divide by race, class & gender

Politics creates strange bedfellows.

George Bush's natural allies on global birth control policies are the Vatican & Islamic states.

David Jongen

I looked and looked but I couldn't find anyone pointing out that Russia and the USA do share a common border across the Bering Sea.

This goes to my other theory. The more oil and coal the US burns the warmer the planet gets and the quicker the US can access all that oil in Alaska and Siberia. Suits both nations.

Fake God Almighty

pay attention writes ... "Until Islam becomes a modern, as opposed to a 6th century religion, we will never be "natural allies," though we may at times have common interests."

What pray tell is your definition of a modern religion? I am chortling very loudly.


I like the idea. I think we could all be natural allies. Especially, if we all got to win the game. If life was a video game, we all could win. But since people sometimes need others to fail in order for them to feel like they win, Humanity is going to be in a constant state of struggle until we evolve further. It might be quicker if we wait for a message from God. Since he is our Ace in the hole if this whole evolution thing doesn't pan out.

Adrian Rodriguez

I like the idea of natural allies only if I was the president of the US and had to give a quick explanation about a coalition/alliance with Russia, but it's only a label as you said, it has several problems at the lowest levels...

1. Share the border. Canada and the US are sons of the same mother, and share the largest border in the entire world, so, I'm not buying it...

2. Control same resources. Well, tell me one, only one limited natural resource that the US is not trying to have complete control, let's drop a name: Oil, so, I'm not buying it...

3. Trade potential. If you don't have Trade potential you're not a Superpower, and you don't want to be an allie of a Fifth World Country, so, I'm not buying it...

4. Philosophy that Promotes Conquest. Are you kidding me? even the Ancient Aztecs, the old Spartans, the far East realms promotes conquest, every single Empire, Kingdom of the History of the World has promoted Conquest (I don't think you believe yourself and what you just posted), so, I'm not buying it...

5. Stable World Order. Another fancy label, so ambiguous and misleading, do you mean an Almighty Nation isn't it? let's talk clear: All the World under the US domination (I know, I know, it's not politically correct but is the true), so, I'm not buying it...

Sorry Scott, Nice try. But I'm not buying it...


Maybe I take a dim view of humanity, but the "natural ally" framework that appears to work best is as follows:
1) Ally A can physically or metaphorically kick the crap out of Ally B; and
2) Ally B is aware of this fact

In a perfect world, other things would work (and may work on a limited, local basis in this imperfect world--see Wendell Berry).
But in reality, where EVERYONE is competing for the same finite resources (money, oil, timber, scores of heavenly afterlife virgins, votes, etc.), peace requires an alpha male or some representation thereof.
This is why classrooms have teachers and jobs have bosses and churches have pastors and teams have coaches. In fact, there's the most obvious argument against your "natural allies" theory...(of course, I'm a coach, so I'm biased)...who is a more "natural ally" than two teammates--and yet how rarely do we see a group of teammates so naturally allied that they need no coach?


Are there any substantial countries NOT trying to control the same limited resources? ...Except for the few that have decided it was beneficial to work together in order to control those resources and/or prevent others from doing so...

As for borders, that seems insignificant unless the resource they most needed could be found just across the border, and/or offers potential to be taken by force from said bordering nation.

John McNelly

According to Thomas Friedman, "no two countries that both had McDonald's had ever fought a war against each other since they each got their McDonald's."


Good work.


BTW, Scott, someone from an economics background should really appreciate Democratic Peace Theory (that liberal democracies are natural allies) at a deep level. If not, I would suggest reading Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose" and Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom," two texts from economists that made the point quite well.


"Take Iran and the United States, for example. I would argue that the two countries meet the criteria for being natural allies. Despite all the bad history and differences, both countries have more to gain from cooperation than dispute. The problem is that a leader in either country could not remain in power if he or she promoted suddenly being nice to the other. The citizens wouldn’t allow it"

I should point out too that this betrays your ignorance of Iranians: most of them LOVE American culture and would like nothing better than closer relations with the U.S. (in fact in the Kurdish north (as in Iraq) Iranians wave U.S. flags at rallies). It is not their citizens that are preventing this, it is the theocrats, whose whole governing philosphy is based on the notion that the West is evil and decadent.

Keep in mind, the problems with Iran stem from their illiberalism. They still execute gays for the crime of sodomy, they hang 14-year-old girls who are molested by their uncles for the crime of being "unchaste," they jail, torture and murder journalists who criticize the regime -- they are abhorrent from the perspective of a liberal democratic society, which is why they are NOT natural allies to any liberal democracy.


"The idea is to come up with a set of criteria that reliably predicts whether two countries are natural allies."

The answer is really very simple, and this is supported by a couple hundred years of history: two countries are natural allies are when they are both liberal democracies. Liberal democracies almost never war with each other.

This is why, for instance, tiny Israel, which is a huge liability to the United States as its very existence infuriates the far larger oil-rich Arab states around it, is nevertheless a natural ally of the United States and to a lesser extent all other liberal democracies.

This is why Taiwan, which again is a tiny, resource-poor country, is our ally despite the fact this makes the far larger and more important People's Republic of China angry with us -- and also why, as the PRC liberalizes and democratizes (they now hold many local elections and have greatly expanded individual rights) they become more and more friendly.


Don't forget about the profit potential of "instability." Based on current events I'd say that trumps common sense rules like yours any time.


[@Chevalier's comment asserting US has a political philosophy that promotes conquest and seeks an unstable world order]

You, sir, are ignorant.

Rex Little

As others have noted, the sharing-a-border thing doesn't seem to be all that important. The U.S. hasn't had a war with a country on its border since the 1850's (or 1860's if you agree that the Confederate States were a country). In that time, how many countries halfway around the world has it fought in?


Don't the US and Russia share a border, somewhere on the edge of Alaska.

Next, world peace thru hot babes. When James Bond gets it on with a hot Iraqi babe, the rest all falls into place. He did the Ruskie chicks and, boom, perestroika. Not sure the new Bond can pull it off the way Connery, Moore or Brosnan could've.

Rikki Tikki Tavi

India and Russia would make natural allies. Reasons: Long standing mutual friendship, India's historical inclinations towards socialism, non-interest in aggression and all the other points mentioned in the article are valid for these two countries.


I like your idea of natural allies, but I don't agree with you about the problem being with the citizens not allowing a government to start playing nice with another one that is allegedly the "enemy."

The stumbling blocks are the politicos and the extremists. How do you sell an allied position to the nutjobs who fear losing power through an alliance? The citizens would be all for it, I'd bet. It's the wackos that wouldn't be.


This is the second time you have written this post.

And you are clearly still under the delusion -- or perhaps it is a willful mistatement -- that Iran "has an interest in a stable world order."

Right. I'm sure they hate inflated oil prices. They are probably running out of room to store the cash. Perhaps that is why they export so many weapons to terrorist groups worldwide -- more closet space for the cash?


It all depends on the term "ally".

I think for US leaders (of any tint, hue, shade or saturation) an "ally" is someone who does as instructed.

And that goes for any nation with overwhelming power.

For nations with little muscle, the term "ally" is more in line with the "common interests" angle.


This is a refreshingly fun and optimistic post, but there's also something in it that might rile up the rowdier folks around here. I'm glad to see that you're still blogging and having fun, pissing people off and allegedly losing readership.

I don't believe that anyone would want to read less from you after reading your blog posts. They might say that, but have no fear! I'm sure your hit counter shows this, too.

Happy holidays to you, Scott. Your blog posts are every day a smile for me.

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