Beware the Easy Answer of Just Arming Others

Beware the Easy Answer of Just Arming Others

Posted on April 5th, 2012 in Blog, Company, News, Services, Top Picks

It is perhaps not a surprise that the strategy for conflict management coming from the war-weary US has been trending towards a transfer of responsibility to foreign partners. Indeed, President Obama’s May 2010 National Security Plan outlines four initiatives for ensuring international order:

  • Ensure Strong Allies,
  • Build Cooperation with Other Centers of Influence,
  • Strengthen Institutions, and
  • Sustain Cooperation on Global Challenges.

 This kind of language sets the stage for reduced U.S. military posture and, frankly, is understandable under the circumstances – to wit, the economic and political costs of securing the world’s commons and lanes of trade have become prohibitive for a country that is struggling mightily with its ability to get its own economic house in order.

Still, even if Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey recently backtracked on his statement that the result of sequestration would be that the US “would no longer be a global power,” it is true that, regardless of additional budget cuts, the US will be a reduced global power. So the question that remains unanswered is: what are the operational effects of the US transition to reduced spending and outsourced global security?

First, the US will not be able to respond to global events as quickly or effectively as it has in the past. Since fewer assets are pre-positioned around the world our response timelines will be longer and the costs significantly higher, which demands that decision makers adhere to a more disciplined analysis of what is really in our “national interest”. Previously, financial solvency and military reach permitted the US the luxury of debating whether or not to intervene in humanitarian crises which bore no direct benefit to the homeland – and often the answer was still no. Economic conditions and military conditions have changed the very nature of this debate. That may have benefits such as limiting military adventurism and forcing policymakers to focus on what really matters to the core US national interests. The danger is that the same folks demanding cuts to DoD will be the ones emotionally clamoring for intervention the next time a warlord starves a population. You can’t have it both ways – either prepare for and conduct these non-essential missions or don’t prepare but don’t conduct them!

Second, the US cannot both outsource global security to others and then still expect to have its way in every decision.  Delegation of duties requires compromise and cooperation.  And, of course, anything that makes a foreign country relatively stronger on the world stage makes the US relatively weaker, both militarily and diplomatically. Handing over power and responsibility to foreign nations reduces not only US capability but also US voice. The US will still be the biggest gorilla in the room, but by a much narrower margin and for how long? We should get used to more situations like Syria, where despite clear preferences on the outcome we aren’t willing to engage, and fewer like Libya, where we engaged and got relatively lucky (so far – but that’s another story).

Third, it is important to realize that since foreign military sales have been an integral part of the outsourcing of security roles and missions it is only a matter of time (years, not decades) before some of those weapons are pointed back at our own people, military and civilian. Echoes of arming the Afghan mujahedeen, anyone?  Yet it is becoming apparent that the US has fallen back into a mind-set that ignores potential second- and third-order effects of our current policy.  

In the end, it may seem like a better deal to arm others and then have them do today’s fighting and dying, but it doesn’t come without risks – risks that are spread far and wide across security, diplomatic, and economic realms.