Since World War II, the worldwide presence of the United States has been reinforced by the allied military network it maintains. As a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the same can be said of U.S. security partners. In “A Hard Look at Hard Power,” thirteen U.S. Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) expert contributors address the question: “is that bargain unraveling?”
This essay collection examines the “economy of force” and “collective security” that key allies bring to the American geopolitical board game. Coalition members provide “hard power” capabilities and share the burden of reduced military spending. A multilateral cooperative of “like-minded liberal governments confers a degree of legitimacy on such operations that unilateral action is short of.” But as the essayists point out, this defense arrangement is enfeebled.
Much of the analysis points to shrinking defense forces and budgets in countries like Italy, Australia, Germany, and Great Britain. Country-specific chapters show public support for increased social spending. Maintaining modern military readiness just doesn’t receive the same backing. Much of Europe and elsewhere seems in a state of “strategic ambivalence.” Soft power is the force majeure. Hard power is softening.
The book details examples of other allies who are experiencing war power evolution and shifting power balances. Poland is boosting its regional defense capabilities. South Korea faces the advancing North Korean threat at its doorstep. Taiwan postures itself in the direction of China. Japan is undertaking ambitious military reforms for a greater strategic role. All the while, the NATO alliance force-structure is evolving.
Editor Gary J. Schmitt frames the challenge as “the absence of military capabilities or the strategy to deploy them effectively [that] can create regional dynamics that invite instability.” For the U.S. to understand allied military capability, there must be a frank discussion about what must be done to get the right resources on the table and the right forces at the table. Hard power shortcomings are everywhere. The U.S. multilateral defense network needs its friends now more than ever.
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