Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Modern Militaries and Free Riders

While, thanks to occasional editorial coverage, a small but presumably growing number of people are aware of developments in Darfur, the world still seems disinclined to act to stop the carnage. (Let's see... an tyrannical regime with a history of supporting terrorism, now engaged in the slaughter of its own people, and creating a refugee crisis which could destabilize the region? What were Bush's criteria for intervention, again?) The "big news" perhaps is that Sudan has permitted a 300-member "African Union protection force" into the region to, um... observe? As Paul Craddick recently noted,
The Economist finally alights on the idea of a force of African troops, "under the auspices of the AU [African Union]," acting in effect as proxies for "Western powers" (which ones?). The last sentence persists in its cosmopolitan assumptions by noting again that "the world has already dithered too long to save tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of lives." Indeed ... if anything is going to be done about Darfur, the U.S. and U.K. will lead the charge. I don't say this out of any kind of "patriotism" - it just seems obvious.
That comment brought to mind the cynical view of a friend of mine, about a proposed E.U. "rapid response force" which would ostensibly be able to respond to crises such as Darfur apart from NATO or the United States. He noted that it was highly unlikely that such a force could be "rapidly" deployed without the United States, as European nations lack the necessary fleet of high-capacity cargo planes and (in his opinion) were extremely unlikely to acquire such a fleet.

The U.S. has been critical of its allies for their comparatively low investment in their militaries. Yet even the United Kingdom seems inclined to reduce its military rather than maintaining its present capacity, and the rest of Europe (and Canada) seems disinclined to increase military spending. This seems to emerge both from domestic spending priorities, but also from a changing perception of the world and of the role of a military. Most developed nations seem content to have a basic defensive capacity, perhaps with the ability to lend soldiers to an international effort or peacekeeping force, but without the capacity to engage in any significant unilateral actions. They have also seemingly concluded, based on its actions, its conduct and voting record in the U.N. Security Council, and probably also its hostility to the notion of a European rapid response force, that while the U.S. claims it does not want to be an "international policeman" it does not want other nations to individually or collectively take that role. At least, not with regard to any situations it deems to be of geopolitical import.

Whatever the cause, most nations of the developed world have apparently decided that, to the extent that U.S.-style military might is required, they can ride on the coattails of the U.S. military. And they seem to have also determined that if a situation is not of sufficient geopolitical import for the U.S. itself to intervene, it probably is't a situation where they wish to commit their own troops.

1 comment:

  1. Aaron,

    Thanks very much for flagging my post on Sudan.

    I think you make a fair point that the U.S. has, at best, sent allies mixed messages about them having viable-effective militaries. Whether such caution on the part of American policymakers is justified or not is another (and interesting) question.

    Good pt, too, about the UK's military. I'm acquainted with a Captain in the Royal Service who told me that Britain is already "utterly dependent" on the American military for any "consequential" military engagment - especially for such things as triage.

    I take a keen interest in the UK for many reasons (not least 'cause my wife is English). Modern Britain is quite interesting because the Brits run a fairly large welfare state - yet maintain a semblance of a respectable military, manage to keep the highest income tax rate at about 40%, and have a strong and stable currency. It's not all rosy, obviously, but even a skeptic such as myself can find much to admire about it.

    A book which may be on the wrong side of the ideological divide for you, but which (I think) gives a sympathetic reading of the differences which animate American and European thinking on the use of military power is Robert Kagan's Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World OrderPaul