For the first time since World War II, the American people seem prepared to reconsider both the size of its military and the role it plays globally. We’re beginning to realize that it’s no longer realistic for the United States to spend as much on its military as the rest of the planet combined, because the overwhelming economic dominance that once sustained that arrangement has disappeared and will not return.
Such a change will have important implications for our allies, many of whom have very prosperous, Western, high-tech economies much like our own. But for the last 60 years, they’ve been able to hide in our shadow, spending very little in relative terms on their own defense because the good ol’ Americans were always so eager to step in and handle that responsibility for them.
The consequences of that arrangement have become apparent in Libya, where U.S. planes led the initial assault on Moammar Ghadafy’s air defense systems and then largely withdrew, clearing the way for France and Great Britain to carry out sustained aerial attacks on his armor and massed forces.
But as the Washington Post reports, they’re already running out of precision bombs, “highlighting the limitations of Britain, France and other European countries in sustaining even a relatively small military action over an extended period of time, according to senior NATO and U.S. officials.”
Libya “has not been a very big war. If [the Europeans] would run out of these munitions this early in such a small operation, you have to wonder what kind of war they were planning on fighting,” said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense think tank. “Maybe they were just planning on using their air force for air shows.”
Actually, they were. Our allies — at our encouragement and at times even insistence — have long assumed that we Americans would do any real fighting that came along. They sustained just enough of a modern military to let them pretend they had a modern military, while the U.S. taxpayer spent trillions of dollars on the real thing.
As a result, we can sit here mildly amused by the fact that they’re already running up against their limitations in Libya, a task they insisted they could handle. But it raises the question: Who’s been getting the better of the deal for all these years?
– Jay Bookman