US to Allies: Just Do It, As Mutual Burdens Change

Common defense now means more than military money

Burden sharing, or greater international sharing of defense costs, has long been a key US foreign policy objective. Few foreign policy statements win more applause from the public, or from Congress, than a call for allies in Europe and Asia to contribute more to the common defense. But change has been coming.

During the cold war with the Soviet Union, Congress threatened action against allies that did not increase defense spending. Today threats to peace and security are no longer just military, and no longer come from just one source. Congress still presses its allies for help, but they respond in many ways in addition to defense spending: host-nation support for US forces, foreign aid, and participation in military and peacekeeping operations.

The need for burden sharing. Burden sharing still makes good sense: US defense spending exceeds the total of our NATO allies, Japan, and South Korea combined. We incur large costs for the forward deployment of US troops in Europe, Asia, and the Persian Gulf. We support military and peacekeeping operations far beyond our UN assessments, which are too high.

We cannot be the world's policeman, or bear those costs alone. We should always be pressing our partners for more help. To that end, the defense bill signed into law late last year called for US allies to make greater contributions in each of these areas, and authorized the president to take steps against those that don't improve their record. The aim is not to punish but to encourage them to do more.

Allied contributions. Even as we push for greater contributions, we should recognize positive trends in burden sharing. For example, Japan agreed in 1995 to a 70 percent increase in its support for US forces in Japan. By assuming $6 billion per year in labor and utility costs, Japan makes it cheaper for the United States to station troops there than at home. Japan has also surpassed the United States as the largest donor of foreign assistance. Yet Japan, the world's second- largest economy, contributes far less in defense spending, combat forces, or peacekeeping.

South Korea, another major US ally in Asia, agreed in 1995 to an annual 10 percent increase in cost sharing for US forces. Its support totaled $1.7 billion last year. South Korea and Japan are committed to finance the bulk of the $4.5 billion cost of nuclear power stations under the Framework Agreement that freezes North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

Germany finally sends troops

Germany, the world's third-largest economy, provides $1.6 billion in support for the 65,000 US troops based there. Since 1989 it has provided $70 billion in foreign assistance to new democracies in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. Germany's level of defense spending is lower than that of France or the United Kingdom. After many years of pressure, Germany is finally contributing to military missions outside its borders. It contributed 5,000 noncombat troops to the NATO mission in Bosnia, and will likely send combat troops to Bosnia this year.

The United Kingdom and France are the second- and third-largest contributors to the NATO mission in Bosnia (the United States is the largest), with 14,000 and 10,000 troops respectively. Both have made major contributions to recent UN peacekeeping operations, and both participate with the United States in enforcing the no-fly zones over Iraq. France has a foreign assistance program almost as large as our own.

Small countries, large grants

Smaller European countries do less but also contribute. Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands make the largest foreign aid grant contributions as a share of national income. The small armed forces of Belgium and Canada play leading roles in peacekeeping, in Croatia and Haiti respectively. Canada offered to lead a multinational force to help refugees from Rwanda.

Greece and Turkey spend large amounts on defense, and Portugal has the highest growth rate in defense spending. Italy is a staging area for US forces in Bosnia, and Spain has contributed to military missions in Bosnia since 1992. Non-NATO countries, including Poland and the Czech Republic, have also contributed forces in Bosnia.

In the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia provides large in-kind contributions to offset the costs of ongoing military operations, especially the enforcement of no-fly zones over Iraq. It is also paying to relocate US forces to more secure facilities in the aftermath of last June's terrorist bombing. Bahrain provides port facilities and headquarters for the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, and Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates provide access to port and airfield facilities, and defray the costs of prepositioned US military equipment.

US leadership. While each of these contributions by allies and friends is important, there is little doubt that the United States is the only power that can pull them together into an effective international effort. As the war in Bosnia shows, the global security system does not work very well without US leadership.

At the same time, Americans are far more willing to participate in solving international problems if friends and allies work side by side with us - whether it is in Haiti, Bosnia, or the Gulf. Not only does burden sharing spread costs - it also can help achieve a more successful foreign policy outcome.

There is no easy standard for calculating fairness in burden sharing. The consensus in Congress is that friends and allies need to contribute more beyond defense spending - through peacekeeping, foreign aid, and host-nation support for US forces. The United States should also lean on its friends and allies to pick up a greater share of the UN budget. Even as we recognize the important contributions that friends and allies make, it is in the US national interest to encourage them to do more.

*Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana is ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee.

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