Multinational Military Intervention: NATO Policy, Strategy and Burden Sharing

  • Published

Multinational Military Intervention: NATO Policy, Strategy and Burden Sharing by Stephen J. Cimbala and Peter K. Forster. Ashgate, 2010, 245 pp.

Sharing the defense and security burden was a motive for the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty and the issue has held the attention of policymakers and scholars ever since. Burden sharing is particularly worthy of attention today. While the size of the coalition has varied, when the United States has used force in recent years it has done so with allies. Moreover, current and likely future defense spending cuts mean that the United States will have a greater need for allies to share military burdens in the future. As such, this recent monograph by Stephen Cimbala, Distinguished Professor at Pennsylvania State University-Brandywine and Peter Forster, Senior Lecturer at Pennsylvania State University, is of value because it addresses a highly relevant topic.

The authors have two general goals: to expand our thinking about what constitutes burden sharing and to analyze the impact of the end of the Cold War on burden sharing. While the most high profile literature on alliance burden sharing has looked at defense spending, Cimbala and Forster's book focuses on the United States’ and others states’ sharing of the burdens associated with the use of force. The authors explore their claims about burden sharing through chapter-long case studies of Multinational Force I & II in Lebanon, the Persian Gulf War, the Balkans in the 1990s, and the post-9/11 intervention in Afghanistan.

Cimbala and Forster define burden sharing as "the distribution of costs and risks" necessary to accomplish a common goal. The authors expand on the obvious focal points of financial support, base and over flight access, troops, and materiel to include the diplomatic efforts necessary to build and maintain a coalition or to bring warring parties to the negotiating table. By including risk alongside cost, Cimbala and Forster point out that providing leadership, for example, entails the risk that the use of force will not succeed and the U.S.--as leader--will suffer a loss in prestige. They also point out that in contributing troops governments share the domestic political risk of public opposition if casualties escalate. The authors further remind us that certain allies have a comparative advantage in an important asset (e.g., Italy's Carabinieri and their skill in training internal security forces). Finally, the book makes clear that stabilization and reconstruction activities are increasingly important parts of the burden allies share. Cimbala and Forster's expanded notion of burden sharing is the book's greatest strength. The expanded definition is novel to the book and it gives us a fuller picture of the burden the U.S. and its allies share when they use force.

The authors also set out to explore the impact of the end of the Cold War on burden sharing. Specifically, they argue the emergence of a multi-polar international system has had important ramifications for burden-sharing. First, they argue a country's contribution is proportionate to the threat it faces individually and this kind of threat has increased in the post-Cold War period. Second, they argue great power leadership is necessary for the success of military intervention and that this remains the case even as multipolarity has emerged. Finally, they argue European allies and international institutions have become increasingly important in multipolarity.

These arguments are all plausible and find some support in the book. There are at least four problems with the arguments, however. First, the authors never provide an operational definition of polarity and evidence that the current international system is multipolar. This is problematic because in 2010 the United States' nominal GDP was three times its closest peer competitor, China, and its defense spending was over six times China's. Second, while the authors provide some evidence that threat motivated some countries to contribute in some of the cases, they do not systematically and thoroughly assess and support this claim across the cases. In the Lebanon chapter, for example, there are only four endnotes with citations in the relevant section. The Afghanistan chapter provides no sustained discussion of the threat claim for any of the contributing countries. The lack of evidence is problematic because countries may have been motivated by other factors the authors recognize in certain cases but do not systematically assess across cases: for instance, prestige and value for their alliance with the United States. The fact that the authors do not cite literature that does engage in such systematic evaluation of burden sharing and the use of force (e.g., Bennett, Lepgold, and Unger's seminal 1994 article in International Organization) is especially problematic.

Third, while the case studies support the claim that U.S. leadership played an important role in the success of the studied operations, good research design to assess the leadership argument would entail studying multiple cases where there was no U.S. leadership role. Successful interventions without great power support in recent years include the 1999 Australian-led effort in East Timor, the British-led operation in Sierra Leone in 2000, and the 2007 French and Italian-led operation in Lebanon. Fourth, Cimbala and Forster do not provide systematic evidence to support their arguments about European allies and international institutions and some of the cases seem to contradict them. Of the cases the authors explore, the European allies’ contribution was greatest relative to the United States' in Lebanon--the book's only Cold War case. Furthermore, the United Nations did not grant its legitimacy to Operation Allied Force, yet U.S. allies contributed at a rate comparable to the other cases.

Overall this book is valuable because it addresses a highly relevant policy issue and because it expands our view of what burdens the United States and its allies share when they use force. Interested scholars and practitioners will find it a useful heuristic. The book would have been more effective, however, if the authors had systematically assessed their claims about the impact of the end of the Cold War on burden sharing.

Jason W. Davidson is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Mary Washington and is the author of America’s Allies and War: Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

Jason W. Davidson, PhD

University of Mary Washington

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."