Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Token Allies? What Counts as Sincere Contribution

I have been having a series of conversations with another scholar working on NATO and Afghanistan, and the topic of what is a real versus token contribution came up.  There are lots of different ways to think about this:
  • Size of the country's military contribution.*  The contingents by NATO members (other countries also contribute from Australia's robust 1,550 to Austria's 3) range from the US extreme of 46k to Greece at 15 soldiers/sailors/marines/whatevers.  The contributions tend to come in several sizes:
    • over 2k (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands [if one rounds up from 1950], Poland [ditto], UK, and the US); 
    • around 500-1k (Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Norway, Romania);
    • between 100-300 (Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovakia)
      • Portugal's contribution (105) is pretty small compared to its population.  New Zealand contributes  2.5 times more with half the population base.  Other European countries with similar population sizes give 2 to 5 times as much.
    • the really small (Greece with 15,  Iceland with 4, Luxembourg with 9, and Slovenia with 70).  
      • Greece really looks bad, given that it has a large population base and a significant military history.  Iceland and Luxembourg have populations that are smaller than Vermont, so they simply do have anything to give to the cause.  Slovenia is lame when compared to the other former Eastern bloc countries. As I put it in an email to the aforementioned political scientist, "What is a token contribution?  Less than one hundred.  If you are doing less than a Baltic country (155-175), you are lame." 
  • Where They Are Based/What They Are Willing to Do.**  Caveats take all forms but the easiest one to observe and the one that has obvious consequences are geographic ones.  Some forces are limited to a particular part of Afghanistan-within one NATO sector, within one city, or just one part of one city (the Belgians were limited to the airport early on).
    • South/East--where the danger is.  Most of the countries with contingents in these areas are more willing to do get in harm's way and end up being more useful to NATO commanders: Canada, Danes, Dutch, Romanians, Aussies, Brits, Americans, French, Poles.  New Zealand and Turkey have some forces in the East but in quieter districts, I think.
    • North/West/Kabul--safer but not safe.  Countries with other restrictions tend to hang out in places where these restrictions are less likely to come into play.  Italy, Spain, Croatia (don't know about its other restrictions, but based in RC-West), Germany, Norway, Sweden.
  • The Price Paid in Terms of Lives Lost.*** Bold indicates higher than average
    • The countries that stand out for paying a high price in terms of raw numbers are: Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, UK and the US.  Only Canada, the UK and the US have lost more than one hundred soldiers to enemy action.
    • In terms of casualties relative to the size of the force,  Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, and Great Britain stand out. 
    • Operating in Afghanistan is dangerous no matter where a country is operating, and even one life lost is a serious price, but there is serious variation as well.  Some notably restrained countries (Germany, Spain) have paid serious prices despite reputations for letting others do the heavy lifting.  However, these numbers are a bit distorted since they are still so small (compared to an average day during World War II) that a single bus bombing can make a country appear to more active than it is.
    • And the cost here is dramatically underestimated as the number of severely wounded relative to lives lost is much higher than it once was due to improvements in medical technology, better personal armor, quick evacuations, and policies that reduce deaths (operating close to bases) that may not reduce injuries., No
 The second and third categories are obviously related.  There are also the monetary costs and the number of civilians deployed as well, but I am too lazy to seek out that data at the moment.  More importantly, the politics of the missions hang not money or civvies but on the number guys in uniform in harm's way.  I think one could reasonable combine these three categories to figure out those countries that are providing entirely token forces (Greece, Portugal, Slovenia, perhaps Italy and Belgium) to those that are a meaningful but limited contribution (Germany, Norway, Sweden) to those that are stunningly disproportionate (and politically dangerous) commitments (Australia, UK, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland, Romania).  France has moved from Germany's category to the latter over the past couple of years.

Obviously, the mission is controversial and success is hardly assured.  But most of these stats are similar to what they were two years ago when the mission was not seen as being in trouble.  There are good reasons to not be there, but being a good ally is meaningful and requires a meaningful contribution.  No surprise that most of those NATO countries closest to NATO's traditional adversary (that would be Russia) are in the meaningful category and the more token contributions come from countries that are further away.  Still, I must be clear (as the Steve and Dave project asserts), most of the variation is not due to external threat but due to the domestic politics of countries--how institutions mediate public opinion and shape civil-military relations.

    *All size stats are from NATO's placemat which is updated on a regular basis.
    ** Geographic restrictions (and other limitations based on my work with David Auerswald)


    Vladimir said...

    Denmark is making a contribution which has totally been missed by news media and academics. 750 troops, 30+ casualites (more than the netherlands) and been active in some capacity since 2002. Indeed their entire defence policy is counter to what we think about "nordic" countries.

    Steve Saideman said...

    Sure. The more I hear about Denmark's effort, the more I think I need to go to Copenhagen to figure it out.