NATO has a weenie problem, I pushed back a bit. Why? Partly because of Dan Nexon's excellent post raising doubts about the survey--that if people were asked more directly whether they would want to help an ally if attacked by Russia, they might have answered differently. And partly because I have been thinking of the lessons of Afghanistan--that every NATO ally (and then some) showed up even though no one cared about the place and nearly all stuck around until 2013-14 (Canada and the Netherlands as notable exceptions).
What really got me going was Roland's assertion that public opinion and willingness to fight in Afghanistan were correlated. Really? Because I have been saying otherwise for years. I invoked both Sarah Krep's work and the Dave and Steve project plus this handy slide:
elite consensus kept the alliance together despite public opinion--that the elites of the various parties shared an interest in supporting NATO and were mutually implicated in the mission so that it could not be a campaign issue. My take (with Dave) is that institutions mediate this stuff, so that public opinion only matters indirectly. I also mentioned that countries actually became more willing to fight as time went on and as public support fell.
What does "more willing to fight" mean? In my view, it refers mostly to the restrictions/discretion granted to the troops. If troops could fight in the south or east, which were far more "kinetic" than north or west of Afghanistan, then their country is "more willing to fight." The other potential caveat we focus on in the article and book is offensive operations--some countries would not do such stuff, some did. Together, "loose" caveats, coded by willingness to fight in dangerous areas and by willingness to engage in offensive ops, is my quick and dirty way to code willingness to fight. Medium is a mix--Norway was based in the north but was more willing to engage in offensive operations and fudged the lines of its area of operations. Germany was always in the less violent north, but changed its rules to engage in offensive ops in 2009.
The basic pattern of the slide above is that there is no correlation between public support of the mission and what the troops were doing.
Roland pushed back with a few slides of his own:
|Troops as % of Active Military|
France is hinky in the chart, but let's focus on a few key things here. First, what drives this is mostly the denominator as most countries had roughly similar numbers of troops (500-3000) with Italy, Germany, and the UK being above that and the US way above that. Canada, the Dutch, the Danes, etc all have smaller militaries. So, any effort they commit will be a larger % of their capabilities. This speaks more to population size and % of GDP spent on defense. Public opinion is not correlated much with this as UK had roughly the same percentage of support as Italy and Germany. Moreover, the idea that size of contingent measures willingness to fight is strange in this case. For most countries, each sent as small a continent as possible (to save money) and then reinforced once they found that their zones were hotter than expected, especially those in the south and east. So, size of force is actually not just a function of will but of the risks chosen (that which shaped caveats also shapes size, more or less).
His next slide was of fatalities per population:
After I said that I had done some correlation tests and found none for caveats and public opinion, Roland's big move is to follow my instructions and build a two by two:
UK and Poland were outliers with low/low and high/high serving as the primary axis of the relationship. So, should I submit to Roland's argument? Nah, that would make for a boring post. I think there are a few key things to say about this two by two:
- I still have no idea what size of contingent/size of military says about willingness to fight.. Again, Italy and Germany and Spain did not need to reinforce and send more troops since they were not as pressured as other places. The first two still had the third and fourth largest contingents and agreed to lead 1/4 of the country each (RC-W and RC-N). They committed a whole lot despite weak support at home. The denominator may also be deceptive because size of military and what is actually deployable are two different things. Every country had to sustain their force, and a larger force would be harder to sustain. Italy and Germany stayed the entire time unlike the Canadians and Dutch who look good in these figures but left combat before everyone else. Finally, I am also not sure adding the two %'s make sense (reviewer #3 would hate it).
- Again, the basic reality was that most countries reduced their restrictions and became more willing to fight as the conflict continued and as public opinion went down. It is hard to square that dynamic reality with the idea that public opinion served as a major brake. France's willingness to fight changed dramatically in 2007 when a bitter Chirac (still miffed due to the US invasion of Iraq) was replaced by the NATO fan Sarkozy. So, I would code France differently depending on the time frame.
- Roland set high and low of public opinion at 40% which is a mighty low threshold for "high public support." Set it five points lower and nearly everyone is high. Set it five points higher, and Canada is in the wrong box. More importantly, what Roland considers to be high is actually mostly lower than the public opinion on the Pew survey that started this conversation. That is, using Roland's standards, the "weenies" include only one country below 40%: Germany. Which is a bit of a problem. Still, Germany's attitude about using force to defend an ally that is attacked (however it is worded) is actually pretty damn close to what its attitude was during the Afghanistan war--where the Germans remained even after nearly everyone has left.