It’s Time To Stop Enabling Allied Dependence

When there is no danger that the U.S. will do less for them, allies have no incentive to do more.

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In a new paper for the Cato Institute, Justin Logan gets to the heart of why US allies don’t take on a larger share of the burden for their own security:

The only way to produce more equitable burdensharing is to make allies doubt the strength of the US commitment: the stronger the belief in the US commitment, the harder it is to get allies to defend themselves [bold mine-DL]. Unless policymakers fundamentally change their approach to alliances, there is little hope that defense burdens can be spread more equitably.

Reassurance kills burden-sharing. An ally that is fully confident that the US will bail it out is an ally that is not going to devote more resources to protecting itself. American politicians can whine about Germany as much as they want, as J.D. Vance was doing this week, but unless they are prepared to demand significantly lower military spending and US troop withdrawals from Europe they had better get used to allies that don’t do much more for their own security. You cannot enable security dependence for decades and then blame the dependents for the situation that your policies created. Allies aren’t going to “step up” if the US is always elbowing them out of the way to “lead.”

Our allies are responding rationally in the face of our irrational willingness to bear a large part of the costs of their defense. They free-ride or cheap-ride because Washington has proven that it will always foot the bill and fill the gap, and they are happy to get the benefits of having someone else subsidize their defense. If the price of this arrangement is periodic tongue-clucking from the Secretary of Defense, they are willing to endure these lectures because they know that there are no consequences to doing too little for their own defense. As Logan put it in an earlier piece for Responsible Statecraft last week:

Europe hasn’t heeded the warning, and Washington hasn’t put an “or else” at the end of the sentence.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

3 thoughts on “It’s Time To Stop Enabling Allied Dependence”

  1. We have all these “allies.” All we do is pay for their defense while their politicians rile up tensions with their adversaries and neighbors, sometimes leading to real war like in Ukraine. Our “allies” in places like NATO will be our downfall and drag the Empire down one day.

  2. The CATO’s latest “effort” shares that if we pay for it and are perceived as someone who always will pay for it, the recipient never wants to pay for it themselves…..
    No Schiff…..
    That’s a statement of the obvious, not anything profound but I’m sure the kids at the CATO institute are really proud of themselves for that report.

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