No More All You Can Eat Buffet: Coming to Terms with Defense Budget Limitations
In an era of expanded budget limitations and shifting priorities, a new way of doing things is required for the world's military powers. The US must pick and choose and sometimes even cooperate with other nations in the acquisition and production of the massively expensive military equipment required by the world's police force. It makes sense to do so under the auspices of an already established institutional structure, NATO.
Irrelevant is no longer a term thrown about in serious circles when discussing the NATO Alliance. The more contemporary issues with the institution are the antiquated and inefficient mechanisms through which it operates. These issues are recognized and discussed and deliberated till they are all but clichés. The discussion is not the issue, the underlying problem is that the solutions which have come out of such efforts are only scraping the surface of what truly needs fixing with the mother of all military alliances. NATO doesn't just need standardized protocols and equipment rules for so called ‘interoperability.' All member nations need to accept that they can no longer fund individual militaries that do everything, everywhere. By every nation, it can be assumed I mean it to read the United States. The F-35 debacle has taught us that we need serious acquisition reform, but it hasn't taught us, I think, that we need an equally as serious revaluation of our capabilities.
The NATO Alliance and its non-member partners need to develop a structure within which an overall security/acquisition strategy can be developed. Certain nations would specialize in certain capabilities, based on their strengths and specific interests. Trade of military equipment would not just be an important interest of some, but an integral goal of all parties involved. By pooling funds across the organization during the entirety of the acquisition process (from evaluation of need, to calls for bids, to contract awarding, etc.) immense amounts of money can be saved by all, and the issues of interoperability can be solved at the same time. No longer will NATO be an organization with several dozen types of rifle and an equally mind-boggling amount of fighter jets (most of which are antiquated or simply don't work).
The European Union has been toying with the idea of something similar…the infamous European Army. No it is not anything like the Star Wars Imperial Army that comes to mind for some Americans, but it is a revolution in terms of Grand Strategy. By doing what I just described but through the apparatus of the EU, nations like Germany and France can maintain and even increase their military capabilities while at the same time decreasing cost and inefficiency. The problem with an EU solution from a U.S. perspective, to put it bluntly, is that it doesn't include us. We are generally not huge fans of grand solutions that leave us out, and then that we can't have any control over. A way to illustrate this logic is seen whenever certain people argue for the US withdrawing from the UN. Beyond the lack of clear logic in the pro-arguments, there is an obvious naivety. If we withdraw from the UN, and equally if we allow a solution similar to the one previously mentioned to come about without us, then we don't have a say in how it is executed.
Like it or not, we are the world's police, and we cannot be effective as such if we don't accept certain realities. While the United States still has, without a doubt, the most powerful military, it does not have a federal purse similar to that of Mary Poppins. These aren't the days of Reagan during the Cold War, where no amount was too much to spend on the best and most advanced technology. We have to pick and choose and sometimes even - God Forbid - cooperate with other nations in the acquisition and production of the massively expensive military equipment required by the world's police force. It makes sense to do so under the auspices of an already established institutional structure, NATO.
Anthony Antonidis is currently pursuing a Master's degree in International Affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service (Texas A&M University).
This article has been submitted for category C "Getting Defense Planning on Track" of the competition "Shaping Our NATO: Young Voices on the NATO Summit". Comments are most appreciated. You can also read the other articles in this category. Learn more about this competition and how you can submit your own text or video for category D.
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