Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be
Last week departing Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates blasted the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance members for their shorting of military spending in the Libyan campaign. He chastised NATO leaders and their governments for a general lack of collective will in Afghanistan as well. Do we need NATO? Emphatically yes. Not because they form a vital link in our own defense, or the defense of the free world. Their members make up one of the few economic growth opportunities that this nation possesses. Orders for ordinance help our economy. Death and destruction are the only major export we have left that has to be “Made in America.”
The Bush Administration’s misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan cost us trillions of dollars. They also expended more political capital than we possessed. We spread ourselves too thin in Europe, South Korea, in Asia, and other far-flung areas of conflict or concern, along with a pair of costly wars. The Bush tax cuts further robbed the US of capital to pay for our global entanglements. As a result we ramped up a sea of debt as a result that hamstrings our ability to be the world’s top-cop.
Along comes Libya. There is a humanitarian, as well as an anti-terror imperative in ridding the world of Col. Ghadhafi. He is the only sitting world leader that can be directly tied back to a specific act of terrorism: The Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.
In a country racked with high unemployment, and a black president vehemently opposed by an old-school white majority no matter what he does, there is not the coordinated leadership that normally is put behind military enforcement of moral police actions.
NATO was the Obama Administration’s answer to a long call by social liberals and fiscal libertarians to make the other countries of the world step-up to these moral imperatives and pay a bigger part of the way. It has been a spectacular failure, as all imaginary alignments that aren’t common to language and/or a currency usually are. The political agenda of each member state supersedes the needs of the collective. The United Nations is the one organization that has limped along badly over the years. Otherwise, almost every other political or military alliance has been minimally useful when needed.
Many of the European partners in NATO have been able to move ahead of the US economically because they have shed billions in military spending and reallocated the money for building up the infrastructure and social fabric that we find in tatters here. They assume that America will backstop, and pay for, all military campaigns.
Gates speech, which warned of “a dim if not dismal future” for NATO if its member countries did not step up arms procurement and political will to participate in places like Afghanistan as real partners. Even though our soldiers may not be the ones on the front lines in Libya, the U.S. has had to augment NATO stocks, at the cost of millions to the taxpayer, to keep NATO forces from running out of ordinance.
As we discussed last week in To Grow Green, Put Profit in Peace, defense weaponry and the spare parts needed to maintain the equipment that the United States sells remain our biggest export. Every time that a high-tech missile is launched, several million dollars of largely American labor, parts, and know-how are consumed by either our military, or by NATO countries.
The sad admission that we must make, though, is that the high standard of living which we enjoy is dependent upon our producing something that is not only of a high value to the rest of the world, but cannot be produced by cheap labor in less-developed countries.
Weapons are that thing. To keep that technology in our hands, and the hands of our “friends,” we only allow certain bits and pieces of it out anyway. Usually military hand-me-downs that our technological capacity to reign destruction down has risen above. Still, that keeps the work out of factories in Cambodia, and China, and India.
Until we can shift to the development of equally politically-sensitive products for powering up cars and households, with technologies so proprietary that American businesses are not willing to ship the construction of these items overseas for fear of them being duplicated en masse and being put out of their own business, defense products will be our only profit source of major note that affects our trade imbalances.
NATO committed to Libya and Afghanistan. They need to honor those commitments. They need to fund them as well. All of the NATO partners. Not just a handful.
Why do we keep NATO around? Aside from their political beard for actions that we can’t undertake any longer, they are also like a shopping club. A European-centric alliance might not be inclined to buy from our suppliers as much as EADS and other other European consortiums of weapons makers, even if they are possibly a generation back in the technology, but cheaper.
Gates speech may have been passed off as one of those nearly invisible knuckle-raps of international diplomacy, but, like all things that surround politics, at the bottom of it is the money. The speech was an ad for Northrop and Raytheon and Boeing. Follow the money and it leads to their front doors. Outside those doors are millions of jobs that are connected to supplying them, and taking care of their vast workforce that powers up our only real multi-trillion dollar business that is made in America.
It is time for our European allies to step up to the plate and spend some of their GDP on weapons. We have to spend our own on building up our infrastructure and our social fabric which need a fresh coat of paint, and some radical rethinking for the 21st century. Mr. Obama was right in putting the ball back into their court. Now we have to have the will to make them play, and pay, as we have, for the privilege to be an actor on the world stage.
My shiny two.