Look! Up in the Sky!

This post at Murdoc Online reports that the Philippines have retired the last of their fighter aircraft. As of October 1st, the Philippines are without any dedicated air defense planes. Some trainer aircraft have been modified to act as makeshift fighters, but I donít think anyone expects them to do any good if a shooting war starts.

But the prospects of actual combat are very remote, and the reasons for that have much to do with the defense umbrella provided by the United States and Australia. Any foreign power looking to make war on the Philippines would essentially have to get permission from the Anglosphere, and I just donít see that happening in the foreseeable future.

The stated reason for the decision to junk their fighters was economics. The Philippine government has to concern itself with two serious internal threats: Communist guerrillas in the back country and Islamic terrorists in the South. In both cases the enemy is dispersed, desperate to avoid a direct battle, and difficult to eradicate. Fighter aircraft are of little use in this sort of conflict, and the limited defense budget could be better spent on forces that are better suited to dealing with insurgents.

This decision by the Philippine government isnít unprecedented. New Zealand decided in 2001 to disband their own air combat wing, and their reasons for doing so are also economic in nature. But, unlike the Philippines, New Zealand doesnít face any internal threats. They wanted to use the cash to fund social welfare programs.

Canada has been reducing their own military over the past few decades, again as a way to pay for their own pet Socialist agendas. Their air force and navy has suffered serious cuts, although they still retain some lurching semblance of an effective force. Instead of completely eradicating their combat air wings, the Canadians have decided that they donít need main battle tanks. This decision has turned their once superb army into a static defensive force with no tactical mobility to speak of. Itís obvious that our brethren to the north have decided to focus on peacekeeping missions and garrison duty while trusting others to provide for their security, most notably the United States.

Nothing that Iíve written up to now is news to those of us who follow defense issues. Most decisions concerning a countryís armed forces are made years in advance, and the reasons are usually stated up front and easy to understand. What is less clear is what benefit is realized by the countries which take up regional defense burdens.

Both the United States and Australia are democracies which rely on trade for economic growth. The internal threats faced by the Philippine government, a Maoist insurgency and Islamic terrorist groups, are both openly hostile to both democracy and free trade. It is within the best interests of both Anglo countries to allow the administration of President Macapagal-Arroyo the resources to deal with these threats, not least because any government that replaced the current one would most probably become a threat to US and Australian interests.

NZ and Canada are going to be protected because they are very close to the nations providing for their defense, both culturally and geographically. Of the two, I would have to say that the cultural ties are most important. Judging by an informal poll that I conducted over the past few days most of the people in the US would volunteer for military service if a country seriously threatened Canada, let alone launched an attack against her. The government in Ottawa knows that they have nothing to fear as long as the US is willing to take on all comers on their behalf, and Iím sure that they would completely disband their military if not for national prestige and continued voter confidence.

Contrary to many claims from the Left, the actions by these countries gives credence to the assertion that the ability by the US to project military power the world over is a force for stability and peace. That stability is one of the benefits we have come to rely on, and itís something that weíre trying to foster in the rest of the world. Ask anyone who is currently serving in the US Navy today and theyíll say that their core mission is to protect American interests abroad. If itís in the best interests of the US to have peace, and a strong military is the best deterrent to war, then theyíre certainly doing their job.

11 thoughts on “Look! Up in the Sky!”

  1. Canada has actually spent most of its history as a defense free-rider. It has tended to ramp-up in a hurry for major wars, and with the exception of World War I, to perform poorly. Hart’s Clash of Arms describes this well. The Canadian soldiers were committed to battle with inadequate equipment and training in World War II. The period between the world wars was one of severe budget droughts for defense, much worse even than in the USA. This is actually rational. Canada could not be attacked without any enemy getting past both Britain and the USA. New Zealand has long had a martial tradition. But an air arm these days is monumentally expensive. Even if NZ was being serious about military power, which it is not these days, an air arm might not make sense. The USA and Australia would have to both be out of the way before NZ was threatened. In that kind of apocalyptic scenario, having a few of your own aircraft wouldn’t matter. Similarly, the Phillipines have serious defense concerns and they are very poor. Modern fighter aircraft are a relative waste of money for them.

  2. “Similarly, the Phillipines have serious defense concerns and they are very poor. Modern fighter aircraft are a relative waste of money for them.”

    Cheap surplus A-10 “Warthog” fixed wing ground support aircraft, on the other hand; with the anti-tank cannon used in a “bunker buster” sort of role, might be a fairly good investment.

  3. During WWII HMNZS Kiwi, a corvette, surprised Japanese submarine I1 on the surface. The sub was actually bigger than the corvette, but the commander of Kiwi (along with sister ship HMNZS Moa) instantly attacked with all weapons, none of which were very large. He also rang up full speed, and rammed the sub.

    Kiwi pulled back, rammed it again, pulled back and rammed it a third time, by which point the hull of the sub was no longer pressure-worthy. Moa then finished it off with gunfire.

    HMNZS Kiwi was ordered back to New Zealand for decorations and leave for the crew — and when it arrived the entire crew immediately deserted.

    This page tells the story, except for that last part, which I got from one of Jim Dunnigan’s books.

  4. SDB, thanks for the reminder of when the NZs were a race of warriors. They still have an SAS which is respected. They may yet make a contribution, though their days of operating very expensive equipment in any quantity may be over.

  5. Given the negative effects being a military free-rider seem to have had on Europe, I’m not so sure it’s a great idea. This leaves me with an uneasy feeling I guess you could say. Especially moreso hearing about New Zealand.

  6. In the wake of the Persian Wars, the Greek city-states founded what came to be known as the Delian League. Member states had the choice of contributing military forces directly or of paying into the league treasury, from which Athens then paid for part of its military expenses. Over time, more and more states opted to pay. They got weak. Athens got strong. Eventually Athens removed the choice.

    There are many reasons that the U.S. listens to the U.K. and respects their opinions more than those of, say, France. But among them are respect. I for one put a lot more store in the words of a warrior than a weakling.

  7. Bringing military power to the table is something a state really needs to do if it wants to be taken seriously. Now, that does not necessarily mean that even a small state like New Zealand needs the full suite of capabilities. It is an economic impossibility, anyway. But a serious commitment can take other forms, and NZ and Canada seem not be serious about defense at all, just cutting spending.

    The Australians are a counter-example. They have a medium-sized country that has made a serious commitment to its own defense. Singapore is literally a city-state, but it has a superb military. Of course, both of them face a looming and permanent threat from Indonesia, either that Indonesia will make a move against them, or more likely and worse, that Indonesia will disintegrate and present them with a snakepit full of security threats of many different kinds.

    As SDB says, defense free-riding looks good up front, but options are denied to you when you have no guns to bring to the gunfight. Jon’s historical point is a good one. One problem the USA has is that it is possibly too trusted. The New Zealanders know we are not going to invade them and loot and pillage and subjugate them. So, they get to sit things out, relying on the US Navy to keep their arteries of commerce secure. All in all, it is better to be trusted in this way, even if it is expensive. Best of all would be allies who saw that they have a stake in an orderly world, and created and funded capabilities that helped to preserve it. Also, they’d get listened to more often if they did.

  8. I don’t know about anyone else, but what really peeves me about defense free-riders is when they portray their free-riding as a sign of their moral superiority. After all, they’re above such things as armed conflict, they’re more moral and virtuous than we are, since we keep spending money on the military which makes it possible for them to free-ride.

    I’ll grant that proves that we’re suckers, but I’m not sure it proves they’re virtuous.

  9. SDB: I’m not sure it proves we are suckers. We get something out of a secure New Zealand, and the incremental cost of providing that benefit is small or zero when we are securing large parts of the world as a general matter for our own benefit. The moral posturing is irritating, but it is non-substantive. And, as you pointed out, there are back-loaded costs to playing those games, such as finding that you have no say in major events that have an impact on your country.

    I remember there was a long article in the WSJ about the Belgian Army, which is unionized, expensive, full of militarily useless personnel like hairdressers, etc. For the exact same amount of money the Belgians — about $4 billion a year — they could put together something much smaller but that would pack a whallop. I think that the President would be more willing to listen to the Belgians if they had, say, half a dozen well-trained and well-equipped air-mobile infantry battalions and a few companies of SOF troops. That would be, for a country that size, a meaningful military, and it would get them invited to the party when something important was happening. But the status quo is carved in stone. So, they get a virtually useless military, which is expensive, and does nothing for them in terms of national defense or international political clout. They are paying the back-end costs as a result.

  10. My concern has more to do with how some Europeans seem to have forgotten the why of a military or the need for self-defense. It’s the attitude and beliefs being a free-rider generates, and yes, the moral superiority thing is a symptom of the disease.

    What’s that quote from John Stuart Mill (I think)?

    “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

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