Friday, July 09, 2010

Reviving Lend-Lease

Time to bring back one of FDR's program, modified for 21st century conditions? My arguments in this week's WPR column.

UPDATE: Some of my Naval War College colleagues offer their responses over at

There are two problems with this idea.

The first is that countries receiving equipment need the will and human capacity to use it effectively. In the countries that most engage our security concern today, I see no prospect that a change to lend-lease would make the difference between that country meeting and not meeting its needs and our needs. If there is a question, it is whether countries that receive aid from us today without charge might use the aid more effectively if they had to pay for it. But the evidence is not encouraging.

The second reason is that what made lend-lease good for our defense industry was the nature of the Second World War, in which mass-produced equipment was destroyed on the battlefield so quickly and in such large quantities that U.S. assembly lines not only employed huge numbers of workers but could keep them employed for years. In the world of today, equipment we might produce to resupply ourselves (after giving our obsolete stuff to other countries) would have a much longer shelf life, and the employment effects at home would be much less noticeable.

As I look at Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and other places where private groups at war with the United States operate or find refuge, the adjustments being debated to U.S. policy seem to miss the difference between efficient action at a level of commitment chosen and the level chosen. If our partners are unable to do the job we are trying to help them do, then no matter how well we do our part we are just spinning our wheels. In another year or two we will have to decide whether to continue or reduce our military involvement in the Afghan war. It might be useful to discuss now what a reduction would incur.
Keep in mind that already US is spending more on Veterans' retirement benefits etc. than on the procurement of new weapons.
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