Monday, May 08, 2017

The Decline of our Allies is, Perhaps, Greatly Exaggerated

Since the opening of this blog almost 13 year ago, I have been a firm advocate of the “2% of GDP” benchmark for not just NATO, but for all nations we have defense arrangements with.

Yes, we are the big kid in our club, but in such an alliance, big and small, strong and weak, everyone should make the best effort they can to contribute given their size.

As a measure of national wealth, % spending of GDP is as good as any measure to determine any nation’s relative, “Give a Damn Factor” when it comes in defending themselves.

Just as the good Lord helps those who help themselves, it is fair that Uncle Sam should help his friends who are making an honest effort to defend themselves.

To be a useful measure, this requires a mutual understanding and appreciation of the security environment. Some nations may have “national” security needs that are outside the alliance, or may not have those same needs that other nations have. The gift/curse of geography, demography, and historical baggage. As such, numbers can vary a bit, but shouldn’t too much over time as the world changes.

If we are pledging to defend each other, then we should be in rough alignment on what that threat is at any moment in time, and how our different democratic governments can deliver a response to it.

How do we measure it? Which nations “get it” with regards to the Long War focus since 2001 that replaced the Cold War focus that died about 25 years ago?

Here is one way to look at it. Let’s look at just those who were allied with us in the Cold War and today. What did they spend as a percentage of GDP on defense in the waning days of the Cold War, 1988, vs. what they are spending in the recent years of the Long War, 2015?

As this is USA-centric, let’s look at what we did. We went from 5.6% GDP to 3.3% GDP in that timeframe. In 2015, our % of GDP was 59% of that in 1988. That is our benchmark.

Let’s look at our European and Pacific allies through the same lens. If they decreased their defense outlays, “Cold War Retention,” to the same effort that we did – then from a defense needs point of view, we can consider our nations in rough alignment.

Let’s call the measure of that alignment the “Security Alignment Coefficient” (SAC). 1.0 is full alignment. More than 1.0 means you feel a need for greater investment in defense than we do relative to these two data points. Less than 1.0 means, notsomuch.

We have to allow for a little nation-state wiggle room, so I’m going to put ½ standard deviation from the average. Our allies, as a group, are not that bad. The average SAC is 1.04. With ½ standard deviation of 0.139, that means we can assume we are aligned in our defense world view with a SAC from 1.18 to 0.90.

We have a few over-performers; Japan, Australia, Portugal, Turkey & Greece.

We have some under-performers; Canada, United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, The Netherlands, & Belgium.

You can see some limitation of this method; money or alignment does not necessarily reflect will, capability, or deployability.

If we are going to argue who is, “paying their fair share” then we should be using a little better definition of “fair” when it comes time to twist elbows.

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