Tag: NATO

Is the War in Afghanistan Winnable?

The Economist is featuring an online debate this week around the proposition “This house believes that the war in Afghanistan is winnable.” John Nagl of the Center for a New American Security agrees. Peter Galbraith takes the opposing view.

The organizers of the event invited me to contribute my two cents. Excerpts of my essay (“Featured Guest,” on the right side of the page) are posted below:

The appropriate question is not whether the war is winnable. If we define victory narrowly, if we are willing to apply the resources necessary to have a reasonable chance of success, and if we have capable and credible partners, then of course the war is winnable. Any war is winnable under these conditions.

None of these conditions exist in Afghanistan, however. Our mission is too broadly construed. Our resources are constrained. The patience of the American people has worn thin. And our Afghan partners are unreliable and unpopular with their own people.

Given this, the better question is whether the resources that we have already ploughed into Afghanistan, and those that would be required in the medium to long term, could be better spent elsewhere. They most certainly could be.

[…]

America and its allies must narrow their focus in Afghanistan. Rather than asking if the war is winnable, we should ask instead if the war is worth winning. And we should look for alternative approaches that do not require us to transform what is a deeply divided, poverty stricken, tribal-based society into a self-sufficient, cohesive and stable electoral democracy.

If we start from the proposition that victory is all that matters, we are setting ourselves up for ruin. We can expect an endless series of calls to plough still more resources—more troops, more civilian experts and more money, much more money—into Afghanistan. Such demands demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of the public’s tolerance for an open-ended mission with ill-defined goals.

More importantly, a disdain for a focused strategy that balances ends, ways and means betrays an inability to think strategically about the range of challenges facing America today. After having already spent more than eight and a half years in Afghanistan, pursuing a win-at-all-costs strategy only weakens our ability to deal with other security challenges elsewhere in the world.

The other guest contributor is Bruce Riedel from Brookings. He had a hand in shaping the Obama administration’s strategy, and therefore is a reliable “yes” vote for continuing the war.

Sentiment so far has been running nearly three to one against the proposition. Most of the comments reject the premise, and a few doubt U.S./NATO’s intentions. Nagl has at least one more bite at the apple to turn things around, but the prospects don’t look good. The key weaknesses in the pro-war position are the lack of credible local partners in Afghanistan, and the uncooperative (and, often, counterproductive) role played by Pakistan. Nagl focuses chiefly on the former, and Riedel on the latter; they ultimately fail, however, to offer credible solutions to either problem.

We all hope that things turn around in Afghanistan, and soon. But, as Galbraith points out, hope is not a strategy. I’m among those actively searching for an alternative definition of ”winning” that does not envision tens of thousands of U.S. troops being in Afghanistan for another eight (or 80) years.

Senate Climate Bill Trade FAIL

The Kerry-Lieberman-Graham (is he still part of these efforts?) climate bill summary has been leaked. I’m sure my colleague Pat Michaels will weigh in on its contents soon, but in the meantime I thought I would comment on the trade-related aspects of the bill, or at least the summary that is now in the public domain.

As Scott Lincicome points out, the drafters have gone to great pains to emphasize that this bill is, like, totally about saving the environment.  (Which, by the way, is a bit of a turnaround). I’ve blogged before about why advocates of “border adjustment measures” need to be careful about the justification they offer.  In short, the World Trade Organization does not look too kindly upon disguised protectionism, and any legal challengers would probably use things like, say, press releases touting the (traditional) protective benefits of carbon tariffs as evidence of U.S. wrongdoing. The House bill fell short in that regard, with lots of talk about equalizing costs etc, and apparently the sponsors of the Senate bill have learned from warnings from trade experts. Not completely, though. Here’s Scott on their efforts to be more careful, and why they fall short:

The bill’s short summary (available here) also follows [a] new “green” road-map…:

In order to protect the environmental goals of the bill, we phase in a WTO-consistent border adjustment mechanism. In the event that no global agreement on climate change is reached, the bill requires imports from countries that have not taken action to limit emissions to pay a comparable amount at the border to avoid carbon leakage and ensure we are able to achieve our environmental objectives.

You couldn’t shoehorn more “environmental” references into this summary if you tried.  Only one small problem: this strictly “environmental” summary falls clearly under the main heading “Expanding America’s Manufacturing Base,” and the long summary of Sections 775-777 above comes under the main heading “Subtitle A - Protecting American Manufacturing Jobs and Preventing Carbon Leakage.”  So did the Senate drafters really just take all that time purging all of the scary “competitiveness” language from their new bill’s carbon tariffs provisions, only to keep them under a legislative subtitle that expressly denotes provisions dealing with domestic industrial competitiveness?

Scott’s right, but I found the heading in the bill’s long summary even more blatant: Title IV, under which the international provisions are explained, is called “Job Protection and Growth”. Call me overly cautious, but I don’t think having the phrase “job protection” as the first words in the title on border measures is a good way to hide your intent from the WTO or, for that matter, your increasingly-fractious trade partners.

Europe’s Weakness: Feature or Bug?

The question at National Journal’s Security Experts blog concerning NATO and the future of Europe has stimulated quite a spirited debate. I decided to take another bite at the apple.

My response:

Gordon Adams objects to the framing of the question, arguing that Europe is more important than ever because European governments have chosen to invest in civilians, not men and women at arms. In this context, Europe’s military weakness is a feature, not a bug.

Dan Serwer agrees, saying that the “Europeans are on to something,” that their civilian capabilities are vast, that they’ve been deployed in 22 different operations, and are involved in a dozen currently.

But even if they have such capabilities, all the soft power in the world isn’t worth much without some military power to back it up. In many of the places where nation building might be called for, various thugs, murderers and warlords use weapons to steal food aid, intimidate local officials, and kidnap wealthy foreigners. Such situations cry out for hard power: people who pry the weapons from the cold dead hands of the warlords, and convince the warlords’ followers to get onboard or else meet a similar fate. The aftermath of this dynamic, played out dozens of times in the past several decades, is what allows the guys in wingtips and the gals in sensible pumps to do development assistance, legal reform, institution building, etc.

In this respect, I agree with Messrs. Killebrew and Carafano. Hard power still matters. Unlike them, however, I would much prefer that locals be responsible for adjudicating these internal disputes, and, failing that, that others beside the U.S. military be capable and willing to deliver that hard power.

Bob Killebrew, the most emphatic defender of NATO as a concept (even if he advocates some reforms at the margins) concludes with three different points:

1. “NATO makes highly unlikely the kinds of European arms races and alliances that led to war so many times in recent history.”

In other words, with respect to Gates’s contention that Europe’s military weakness is a problem (bug), Killebrew still thinks it a good thing (feature).

2. “Without NATO, the Greeks and Turks would have long had their war, and perhaps others as well.”

Ummmm, hello? One could argue that NATO prevents small disputes like the 35-plus year Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus from spiraling into a major European war, but that is not what Col. Killebrew wrote (and it would be a very difficult assertion to prove in any case because there are in fact many things to explain the absence of wars between traditional enemies).

3. Killebrew concludes that we are, in fact, subsidizing the defense of other, far more vulnerable, allies, and that we should continue to do so. “With NATO, the Poles and others feel less pressure to prepare for their defense. That can, and should, irritate U.S. policymakers, but it’s good for the U.S. in the end.”

Jim Carafano appears to reject the argument – he wants Europe to get serious about military power and “join the real world” – but he is especially dismissive of the claim that greater restraint by the United States will induce the Europeans to do more. “The less we spend,” he writes, “the less they spend.”

Evidence please.

To reiterate, the current U.S. posture toward Europe is based on precisely the opposite premise: many of the defenders of the NATO status quo believe that if we were to do less, the Europeans would do more – and that would be bad.

Our intentions are ultimately irrelevant here. In my previous post, I alluded to the literature showing that even if our policies in Europe were not intended to discourage other NATO members from spending more money on their militaries, they would still be disinclined from doing so simply because it makes sense for each of them to shelter behind the strongest member of the alliance.

One need not sift through dusty economics journals or boring white papers to understand that while we have done more, the Europeans have done less.

  • In 1999, NATO defense expenditures (not counting those of the United States) stood at 2.05 percent of GDP. Today, they spend 1.65 percent. (Table 15, IISS, The Military Balance 2010, p. 110).
  • Over that same time period, U.S. spending as a share of GDP grew from 3.15 percent to 4.88 percent. (Table 2, IISS, The Military Balance 2010, p. 22).

It is possible that if we do less, the Europeans will do less, on the grounds that they don’t see much need for military power of any kind. That is Gordon Adams’s contention. But if that is true, then why do Americans pay to discourage Europeans from doing what they are not inclined to do in the first place? If you think that European military weakness is a good thing, you shouldn’t much care why they’re spending less, only that they are. NATO’s defenders have an additional burden, however: they think 1) it a good thing that Europe is militarily weak, and 2) that NATO is instrumental to that state of affairs.

I don’t. It would be useful for the strongest power in the world to be able to depend upon regional powers to deal with local problems before they become global problems. It would be useful that other countries have both the capacity and the will to act independent of the United States. We have created a world in which they can’t and won’t.

I don’t fault European governments for preferring not to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on military hardware and personnel. I fault past American leaders and strategists (if they can be called that) for thinking it is a good thing that American taxpayers should pay so that others do not, and that our troops should answer every 911 call in the world. And I fault contemporary thinkers for suggesting that this pattern should persist for another 20 years.

Is Europe Irrelevant?

Paul Starobin at the National Journal’s Security Experts Blog has kicked off a spirited debate surrounding Europe’s military capabilities (or lack thereof). The jumping off point in the discussion is Robert Gates’s speech to NATO officers last month, in which Gates lamented that:

“The demilitarization of Europe – where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it – has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.” [Justin Logan blogged about this here.]

Starobin asks: “Can America Count On Europe Anymore?”

Is Gates right? What exactly does “the demilitarization of Europe” mean for U.S. national security interests? Should Americans care if Europe has to live in the shadow of a militarily superior post-Soviet Russia? Is NATO, alas, a lost cause?

[…]

In short, should the U.S. be planning for a post-Europe world? Does Europe still matter? Can we count on Europe any more?

My response:

It would be unwise for Americans to write off Europeans as a lost cause, congenitally dependent upon U.S. military power, and unable to contribute either to their own defense or to policing the global commons. We can’t count on Europe – right now – but that doesn’t mean we can never count on Europe in the future.

Americans who complain about Europe’s unwillingness to play a larger role in policing the globe, and who would like them to do more, should start by exploring the many reasons why Europe is so weak militarily.

Consider, for example, Europe’s half-hearted and inconsistent steps to establish a security capacity independent of NATO – and therefore independent of the United States – since the end of the Cold War. Such proposals have failed for many reasons, but we shouldn’t ignore the extent to which Uncle Sam has actively discouraged Europe from playing a more active role. Most recently, Hillary Clinton expressed the U.S. government’s position that political and economic integration would proceed under the EU, but security would continue to be provided by NATO. This echoes similar comments made by the first Bush and Clinton administrations with respect to European defense. (See, for example, Madeleine Albright’s comments regarding European Defence and Security Policy (EDSP) in 1998).

We can dismiss such comments as useful cover for Europeans who were looking for an excuse to cut military spending in the first place. The demographic pressures of an aging population consuming a larger share of public resources are being felt in many advanced economies, but are particularly acute in Europe.

But the problem goes well beyond the fiscal pressures associated with maintaining an adequate defense. Washington has been openly hostile to any resurgence of military power in European, no matter how unlikely that might be, on the basis of what political scientists call hegemonic stability theory. That theory holds that it is better for security to be provided by a single global power than by regional players dealing chiefly with security challenges in their respective neighborhoods. The argument is that such self-sufficiency is dangerous, that it can lead to arms races, regional instability, and even wars. One can think this a smart philosophy or a dumb one, but we can’t ignore that it has guided U.S. foreign policy at least since the end of the Cold War.

It could be argued that the costs to the United States of providing such services for the rest of the world are modest, but that is ultimately a judgment call. To be sure, the dollar costs will not bankrupt us as a nation, but Americans spend $2,700 per person on our military, while the average European spends less than $700. The bottom line is that Europeans have little incentive to spend more because they don’t feel particularly threatened, and they aren’t anxious to take on responsibilities that are ably handled by the United States. The advocates of hegemonic stability theory would declare that a feature, not a bug. Mission accomplished.

And that might be true, if the greatest threat to global security were a resurgence of conflict in Europe, and if it is truly in the U.S. interest to forever have allies with few capabilities and many liabilities. But that seems extremely shortsighted. The sweeping political and economic integration in Europe has dramatically reduced the likelihood of another European war. In the meantime, the fact that we have many allies with little to offer by way of military assets, and even less political will to actually use them, is forcing the U.S. military to bear the disproportionate share of the burdens of policing the planet. And in the medium- to long-term, while I doubt that we will be facing “a militarily superior, post-Soviet Russia,” allies with usable military power might ultimately serve a purpose if Moscow proves as aggressive (and capable) as the hawks claim.

In short, Secretary Gates’s comments last month suggest that he has stumbled upon the realization that being the world’s sole superpower has its disadvantages. This by itself would be a significant shift of U.S. policy, and therefore drew favorable comments by others who welcome such a change. (See, for example, Logan, Steve Walt, and Sean Kay.)

Getting Europeans to take a more active role – even in their own backyard – will be difficult, but not impossible. It starts with blunt talk about the need to take responsibility and to assume a fair share of the burdens of policing the global commons. But we’ve heard such comments before. What is also needed is greater restraint by Washington, behavior that over time will force the Europeans to play a more active role.

What Do You Do Once You Get the Fight Out of Europe?

Yesterday Defense Secretary Bob Gates complained that European defense spending is too low:

The demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.

If Gates is really upset about this, he should blame his predecessors.  The United States has played an active role in stifling European defense, and is now reaping what it has sown.  As Alex Massie points out, American opposition to anything that would “duplicate, decouple from, or discriminate against” NATO meant that anything the Europeans decided to do would have to be kept within the context of NATO and the “transatlantic alliance.”  For more on this phenomenon, see this paper by Cato research fellow Chris Layne, and pages 105-117 of Layne’s excellent and very provocative book The Peace of Illusions.

As we know in the context of public goods and alliance behavior, the bigger countries are forced to carry disproportionately big loads.  By extension, when there is one super-giant country in the alliance, the only reason smaller countries would contribute would be if it were outside of the alliance context, which we have just seen the U.S. opposes.  Accordingly, the European abrogation of its own defense has only gotten more pronounced since the end of the cold war, because Uncle Sucker has insisted on picking up the tab.  Call your Congressman.

And we have recent evidence of U.S. opposition to increased European efforts: on a trip to Europe last month, Secretary of State Clinton was asked about the prospect of an independent European defense force.  Her answer, in full:

Well, again, this is a European matter. It certainly is a French and German matter. And I respect the decision making of allies like France and Germany, so it is really within those two countries’ sphere of authority.

I think the U.S. view is that we would not want to see anything supplant NATO. If it were able to supplement NATO, that would be different. But given the strains that already exist on NATO’s budget and military expenditures in our countries, we think it’s smarter to figure out how to use the resources we have more effectively, use the alliance that we’re members of in a more strategic way. But again, that is ultimately a decision of the French and the German people.

What America is asking is for European countries to refuse transfer payments from U.S. taxpayers who are currently paying for their defense.  Not likely to happen.

Bonus question of interest to theory hounds: What does American opposition to the formation of an autonomous European security and defense policy tell us about IR theory?  Given that the countries in question definitely qualify as democracies, wouldn’t liberalism tell us that the United States should be encouraging, rather than stifling, an autonomous European defense?

Wednesday Links

  • Things you might not want to know: Have you ever thought about how dirty the money in your wallet might be?
  • The case for dropping out of NATO.
  • Gene Healy on the “arrogance of power” involved in running for president these days: “What sort of person wants the job badly enough to spend years living out of a suitcase, begging for cash, glad-handing through primary states, and saying things that no intelligent person could possibly believe?”
  • Doug Bandow: “The fall of the Wall, and the evil system behind it, deserves to be celebrated. Not just on Nov. 9. But every day.”

German Masochists

A handful of guilt-ridden wealthy Germans are asking to pay more tax according to a BBC report. They could just give their money to the state, of course, but they want to impose their self-loathing policies on all successful Germans. The amusing part of the story is that these dilettantes were puzzled that so few people showed up to their protest. Maybe next time they could do some real redistribution and announce that they will be tossing real banknotes in the air:

A group of rich Germans has launched a petition calling for the government to make wealthy people pay higher taxes. The group say they have more money than they need, and the extra revenue could fund economic and social programmes…

Simply donating money to deal with the problems is not enough, they want a change in the whole approach.

…The man behind the petition, Dieter Lehmkuhl, told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel that there were 2.2 million people in Germany with a fortune of more than 500,000 euros. If they all paid the tax for two years, Germany could raise 100bn euros to fund ecological programmes, education and social projects, said the retired doctor and heir to a brewery. Signatory Peter Vollmer told AFP news agency he was supporting the proposal because he had inherited “a lot of money I do not need”. He said the tax would be “a viable and socially acceptable way out of the flagrant budget crisis”. The group held a demonstration in Berlin on Wednesday to draw attention to their plans, throwing fake banknotes into the air. Mr Vollmer said it was “really strange that so few people came”.

But not all tormented rich people live in Germany. A few months ago, I had a chance to debate an American version of this strange subspecies.