Friday, October 11, 2013

Who Deserves Article V?

I had a fun exchange on twitter this morning about NATO and who is worthy of being defended by the rest.  It was partly driven by this post and partly by responses to a post that @natosource was retweeting (will link to storif-ed version once I get that together).
 The problem that Roberts is identifying is burden-sharing--that the US spends far more money on military capability than its allies so NATO countries end up having shortfalls.  The US then has to help so that the allies can perform on the battlefield.

Yep, this is certainly true, but there are so many problems with this kind of thinking, that I only addressed a few in the twitter exchange.   One thing that I omitted is that much of US defending spending has nothing to do with NATO--as it has military interests outside of the alliance.  So, if one wanted a fair spending metric, then the US budget would have to be adjusted to drop out the stuff that does not go to NATO-related efforts.

The bigger issue is that spending as % of GDP is one metric but not necessarily the most important one.  What does it measure?  Well, spending as a percentage of GDP so it is comparable, but some countries may spend less but better or spend more but inefficiently or might have a military that is larger than one would expect given their GDP.  Size of economy might say something about ability to pay but once you factor in all kinds of other things such as conscripts vs all volunteer force (the latter is more expensive), kinds of technologies, mix of services, and on and on, % of GDP is a limited measure.

This is similar to the metrics problem in Afghanistan--we had a lot of measures of stuff, but which ones mattered?  Who knows?  So, should it be that countries that deploy more forces to missions get more street cred?  Well, Germany and Italy sent more troops but heavily restricted them whereas Denmark sent a larger percentage of the troops they have and they bled at a higher rate, so ....?

I included this table in the twitter conversation:

A different way to think of this is: who needs NATO more?  Those at greatest risk those near the Big Bear (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Norway )or near the Mideast (Turkey)?  Or would that be the countries that keep getting NATO sucked into out of area operations--the US (Afghanistan, Bosnia) and the UK and France (Bosnia, Libya)?

Article V refers to the commitment to defend each member, as each country deems necessary (which means every country can do as little or as much as it wants).  But who is worthy of that commitment?  Well, obviously, those countries that the US wants to defend and is able to get other countries to commit to defend.  It is not about ability to pay but of political relevance and value.  Oh, and the reality that it is hard to exclude Luxembourg and other countries surrounded by NATO countries from the security that NATO provides (Switzerland is funky that way). 

This is why I get miffed whenever Georgia is brought into this stuff.  It is hard enough to believe that the US and much of NATO would show up to defend Latvia.... which is why NATO countries take turns flying over the Baltics--to remind the Baltics and Russia of the commitment represented by Article V of the NATO treaty.  We don't do the same with Poland or Hungary or Spain because the commitment is pretty credible without such stuff.  But Georgia? 

Anyhow, the NATO commitment should apply to those countries that are in NATO--which is obvious, of course, but that membership represents not those willing to pay but the list of countries that the US and its friends care enough about (in Europe) to make a credible, binding commitment. 

Free-riding, burden-sharing, and the like will always exist in any multilateral military endeavor.  So too will differential effort in wartime.  Civil-military relations does not stop when the firing starts, so caveats and the other restrictions I have been studying for the past few years will always exist.  The trick is in managing them.  Threatening expulsion or the erosion of the Article V commitment is not the way to handle such problems.  Instead, suffering through these issues, and figuring out selective incentives and political engagement are the ... dare I say it ... the way forward.

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