Monday, March 07, 2005

In Praise of Thomas Friedman

Like a lot of people, I "discovered" Thomas Friedman after 9/11, and he was for many months thereafter the most lucid voice anywhere on the subject of the terrorist threat and how the world had changed. I still keep Longitudes and Attitudes handy in case I want to read any of his excellent columns from that period.

He has another good one in the New York Times yesterday, "Arms Sales Begin at Home." The column begins:

For the life of me, I simply do not understand why President Bush is objecting to the European Union's selling arms to China, ending a 16-year embargo. I mean, what's the problem?

There is an obvious compromise that Mr. Bush could put on the table that would defuse this whole issue. Mr. Bush should simply say to France, Germany and their E.U. partners that America has absolutely no objection to Europeans' selling arms to China - on one condition: that they sell arms to themselves first. That's right, the U.S. should support the export to China of any defense system that the Europeans buy for their own armies first. Buy one, sell one.

But what the U.S. should not countenance is that at a time when the Europeans are spending peanuts on their own defense, making themselves into paper tigers and free riders on America for global policing, that they start exporting arms to a growing tiger - China.
I'm an economist. I'm wired to think the free-rider problem is pervasive and to look for external solutions to the problem. But I'd take issue with any plan to have individual European nations arm themselves. History suggests that Europeans have a propensity to use their armaments on ... each other. But Friedman has other concerns:
But what really concerns me is Europe. Europe's armies were designed for static defense against the Soviet Union. But the primary security challenges to Europe today come from the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. If you put all the E.U. armies together, they total around two million soldiers in uniform - almost the same size as the U.S. armed forces. But there is one huge difference - only about 5 percent of the European troops have the training, weaponry, logistical and intelligence support and airlift capability to fight a modern, hot war outside of Europe. (In the U.S. it is 70 percent in crucial units.)

The rest of the European troops - some of whom are unionized! - do not have the training or tools to fight alongside America in a hot war. They might be good for peacekeeping, but not for winning a war against a conventional foe. God save the Europeans if they ever felt the need to confront a nuclear-armed Iran. U.S. defense spending will be over $400 billion in 2005. I wish it could be less, but one reason it can't is that the United States of Europe is spending less than half of what we are. And the U.S. and E.U. really are the pillars of global stability.
Okay, I'd say he's made his "paper tiger" point stick. And he closes very well:
If Europe wants to go pacifist, that's fine. But there is nothing worse than a pacifist that sells arms - especially in a way that increases the burden on its U.S. ally and protector.
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Anonymous said...

I missed that column, thanks.

(Actually, I put the Week in Review someplace special so I would not lose it, and could read it later. Any day now, I expect to find it again...)

Tom Maguire

Anonymous said...

wow! i can imagine Iran's army roaring thru the Fulda gap!!! europe will have to confront Iran the same way america and europe confronted the USSR. The same way we will have to confront China, North Korea, Pakistan, Great Britain, France and who ever else thinks that having Nukes is important.
I suggest that Busy Busy Busy is the best way to absorb friedman.
back to economics!

Anonymous said...

Two million troops constitutes pacifism?

I think not.

And only about 100,000 troops are capable of fighting a war somewhere else? Admitedly not enough to invade Iran, but that is a good thing.

It sounds to me like Europe is being reasonable and supports a military that is first and foremost for defending Europe. Seems like a good idea to me.

And it seems to me that any suggestions by Europe that the US defense industry limit selling arms would be met with derision.

Seeling arms to China is a problem, but Friedman's analysis is all wet, as usual.

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