The cost of national security and defense policy are the focus of increasing and heated debate. Many argue that national security should be determined by the dollar amount and rather than deterring the threat’s goals and objectives. I believe that if we go back to a Reagan mantra of “peace through strength” we, with our allies, will be able to develop a defense structure that will enable us to create a global security environment more stable than the current state of chaos.
The responsibility of NATO members is frequently drawn into question. I am reminded of my first duty assignment in the U.S. Army as a young Second Lieutenant. From 1984-1987, my posting was in Vicenza, Italy with the 325th Airborne Battalion Combat Team (ABCT). We were the only airborne unit in Europe and our mission was distinct. We were part of what was known as the Allied Mobile Force (Land), AMF(L). This was a Brigade/Regiment size unit comprised of similar rapid-deployment, airborne units from several NATO member states. Our responsibility was to provide an immediate force structure to contingency areas within the NATO footprint and we trained for a variety of operations. Imagine a young fella from the inner city of Atlanta, Georgia learning to ski and conduct operations in high altitude, harsh winter environments using cross-country ski techniques.
We also deployed and conducted contingency operations, such as border patrols. One of our missions deployed to Turkey for almost 45 days, patrolling along the Bulgarian border. This was when the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc still existed. We worked with our NATO allied units and conducted various small unit exchanges, enabling team building.
Some question the validity of a NATO in these times. I say it is more needed than ever. However, what all the member nations must embrace is their sense of responsibility to this collective security organization. For so many years, the United States provided the security blanket for Europe while the preponderance of the European nations focused their economic resources on providing more social welfare programs. I believe that the greatest social welfare program that the state provides is a secure environment for its citizens.
Currently, there are only five NATO nations meeting the goal of 2% GDP commitment to defense: United States (3.6%), Greece (2.4%), United Kingdom (2.2%), Estonia (2.2%), and Poland (2%). France, Turkey, Norway, Lithuania, Romania, and Latvia follow, ranging from a 1.5-1.8% GDP contribution to defense. I find it interesting that the Baltic States are meeting the requirement, along with Poland and Romania. These are nations which truly do understand the cost of freedom at this critical point during the resurgence of Russian belligerence.
Some would say that we need not solidify NATO and welcome this expansion so as not to “poke the bear,” i.e., Russia. However, if we are to believe in that maxim of “peace through strength” then we are less of a beacon. Remember the words of Reagan when he challenged Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” inspiring a new birth of freedom for a generation that had never known it. We can be that beacon, as well as good stewards of our defense dollars while ensuring a proper return on investment for the American taxpayer. As guardians of the precious individual rights of freedom and liberty, we must never lean toward some fiscal litmus test to be supportive. Nevertheless, we should be working with allies to develop new security structures, goals, objectives, and a means by which all can contribute.
Here at home, we must repair our broken defense procurement and acquisition system where we waste countless amounts of taxpayer dollars. Our defense priorities must be driven by the threat, not by elected officials seeking to appease the national security lobby and defense contractors. We must learn how to cooperate with other NATO member nations and share systems technology that can be used across the board, as well as more commercial off-the-shelf systems.
We need to reduce the burdensome, top-heavy structure in our Department of Defense. The leadership of the AMF(L) rotated through member nations, and the staffing was part of a combined organization. We must end the ideal of seeing our defense department as a jobs program and reevaluate whether the respective civilian service secretariat offices are relevant. Any honest person will realize that these positions represent nothing more than bureaucratic political cronyism.
We can work with our NATO members to scale a force focused on combined operations capability that uses power projection, not forward deployment, as a model. We do not need the massive force of old Europe. However, with our NATO allies, we can enable a capability that creates task-organized deterrent capacity that projects our collective strength. That is the only quality that despots, dictators, and theocrats comprehend. Just as we once used the combined rapid deployment force in AMF(L), we can develop a combined mechanized force that is trained, equipped, and ready to proactively deter aggression with combined air and maritime forces.
The cost of freedom is not about populist soundbites nor the reticence and obfuscation of perceiving a world made up of unicorns and rainbows. Today we live in a world that closer resembles Machiavelli’s “The Prince” rather than Kant’s “Universal Cosmopolitan State.”
The cost of freedom is not just about numbers and dollars. It is about the sacrifices made to ensure future generations do not live under the dark specter of evil and tyranny. It is a cost that brave men paid many years ago on Lexington Green, and is still being paid today.
We now seek out leaders in western civilization who know history and are committed to ensuring that the light of liberty will not be replaced by a new dark age.