Monday, August 22, 2011

New Patterns in NATO Burden-Sharing

From the Atlantic Council:

NATO discloses each day the total number of collective sorties flown in the previous 24 hours and the total of all sorties since the start of OUP, but it does not break it down into national contributions. Such national details can only be found sporadically and from different sources.  National levels of strike sorties flown have fluctuated since NATO took over military operations in Libya on March 31, 2011. The following information matches each country’s most recent number of strike sorties to the number of total strike sorties by that date.
France:  33%, approximately 2,225 strike sorties (out of 6,745 total sorties by August 4)
US:  16%, 801 strike sorties, (out of 5,005 strike sorties by June 30)
Denmark:  11%, dropped 705 bombs (out of the 7,079 missions by August 11)
Britain:  10%, 700 strike sorties (out of 7,223 total sorties by August 15)
Canada:  10%, approximately 324 strike sorties (based on 3,175 NATO strike sorties by May 25)
Italy:  10% (Not applicable until April 27 when Italy committed 4 Tornados for strike sorties)
Norway:  10%, 596 strike sorties (out of the 6,125 missions by August 1, no longer active)
Belgium:  8th ally participating in combat missions, no public data available on number of strike sorties.

So, the US provided about half as many strike sorties as France.  Wow!  This makes France a more energetic, enthusiastic, committed NATO member than any other!  Sacre bleu!  The US figures are deceptive both because they are old and because the US has provided heaps of assistance besides the occasional strike.  The rest are pretty close to each other.  Belgium has shown that it can be more aggressive when it is sans government.  Norway had to duck out towards the end due to the strain on its air force. 

What this pattern does demonstrate is that NATO, like in Afghanistan and elsewhere, is a coalition of the willing.  All countries may sign up for a mission, and all must at least grant consent for any mission to take place BUT there are no requirements for any country to contribute.  And contributing equally?  Nope.  What is striking about the stats above is actually how even the contributions are among the countries willing to strike.  France is, well, exceptional, but the rest range between eight and sixteen percent.  Drop the US and the range is from eight to eleven percent. 

Of course, notable are those countries not listed.  Not just Germany but also Poland, Spain, the rest of the East Europeans, Greece, and Turkey.  Some of these countries have enough aircraft that they could have played as much of a role as those that did.  So, a few bore the strain while the others watched.  This is not a new story to NATO or to international relations.  NATO being NATO, it tends to make us expect equality, but does not reach it.

Still, NATO made a difference here as an institution, doing heaps of coordination and logistics that made the mission possible.  Lots of planes in the air, coordinating with ships at sea, random special forces guys (Brits, French, who knows who else), and so on.  Very complex stuff, but handled well given NATO has much practice at interoperability even if the politics make the realities of inter-operating a bit more difficult.

We need to be careful not to give too much credit to NATO, as the rebels on the ground bore nearly all of the risks and paid all of the costs.  Victory only is certain when one looks back, so these folks risked their lives for an uncertain outcome.  Qaddafi made their decisions easier by being capricious.  Perhaps the lesson here is for dictators to discriminate more carefully?  But that is a post for another day--how to advise the princes of the 21st century.

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