In 2011, then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned that “there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. . . . to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.” France in Mali is now a case in point; the Obama administration is providing only grudging assistance to an under-resourced French intervention. As the small upper right figure in today’s Geo-Graphic shows, France has very little of the vehicular equipment necessary to prosecute the Mali operation—less than 5% of what the U.S. has in stock.
French military spending, as shown in the large left-hand figure, has since 2001 exhibited a marked constancy—one which is inconsistent with the country’s newfound passion for military engagement. (Libya in March 2011 was another example of the French, as well as British, military biting off more than it could chew.) It also highlights the need for the Obama administration to address Gates’s prescient concern and to develop a clearer policy foundation for America’s global military “lender of last resort” role. At the very least, this should prod U.S. allies to match their military expenditures more closely with their ambitions, and to avoid miscalculating the level of tacit U.S. support that can be brought to bear at a moment’s notice.