This Week at War: Moral Hazard at NATO

Entry Excerpt:

Europe may not be able to rely on America's free security guarantee forever.

Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) In blasting NATO, Gates explains what moral hazard feels like

2) The U.S. government sends its civilians to fight in Yemen

In blasting NATO, Gates explains what moral hazard feels like

In what he termed his "last policy speech as U.S. defense secretary," Robert Gates ripped into his policymaking peers at NATO headquarters in Brussels last week for allowing "significant shortcomings in NATO in military capabilities, and in political will" to occur. Gates noted that although the non-U.S. alliance members have more than 2 million troops in uniform, these countries struggle to deploy 40,000 soldiers into an effective military campaign. Gates also pointed to NATO's embarrassing performance in Libya, noting that European members, despite having a multitude of officers collecting paychecks at frivolous staff billets, have failed to generate the intelligence support and command capabilities needed to wage an effective air campaign. Gates warned of a "dismal future for the transatlantic alliance."

Gates's frustration was no doubt sparked by the realization that his department has become the victim of moral hazard. The United States provides a free security guarantee to Europe. Europeans, meanwhile, have responded in an economically rational way by taking greater risk with their external defense. With the collapse of the Soviet Union removing the last plausible military threat, it was logical for European policymakers to avoid spending on expensive space, communications, and intelligence systems that the United States was largely providing for free. Gates and many other U.S. policymakers see an alliance with too many free riders; Gates noted that only five of the 28 allies spend more than the agreed target of 2 percent of GDP on defense.

In the short term, Gates fears that the United States will have to bail out the Libya operation. This week, Adm. Mark Stanhope, Britain's top naval officer, warned that budget limits and unit rotation requirements could force NATO combatants over Libya to soon have to choose between Libya and Afghanistan. Should a shortfall of European forces in either campaign result, Gates undoubtedly fears that the United States will have to make up the gap.

Over the longer term, the moral hazard issue extends beyond NATO into the Western Pacific, the South China Sea, and soon the Persian Gulf.

Click below to read more ...

Read the full post and make any comments at the SWJ Blog.
This forum is a feed only and is closed to user comments.