Socking It to U.S. Taxpayers in the Persian Gulf

By Chris Kapsaroff

Clearly, the lifting of sanctions against Iraq would benefit influential constituencies within Coalition partners in the near term. Those French, German, and Russian companies with large government contracts lying fallow in Baghdad need the earnings. However—and this is the key point concerning the international equation—the coalition partners can be secure in the knowledge that no matter how they behave , the U.S. military will step in as soon as Iraq threatens to burst out of its box. Their governments therefore have little incentive to act militarily in their own interests when the United States is doing that for them.

The United States, however, is more than just the enforcer of convenience. It is the only nation actually capable of enforcing sanctions against Iraq, a fact that makes U.S. willingness to underwrite the international resolution to maintain the status quo the critical success factor in any effort to contain Iraq. And that is a domestic issue.

More to the point, it is a question of asset allocations.

The U.S. public has a pool of capital that it invests each year for its own security. A decision to invest in building a military capable of defeating Iraq today is a decision not to invest in building a military capable of defeating potential peer military competitors 20 years from now. The real question is: which investment yields the greatest returns at the lowest risk to the U.S. public?

Somewhere along the line, in the absence of any thoroughgoing debate, containing Iraq became one of the pillars of U.S. security strategy. That was a mistake. Our foes in the Persian Gulf may be creative, but they do not possess the kind of military that can pose an immediate threat to the well being of the U.S. public. If there is one thing that is certain in the international system, it is that in 2020 Iraq will not be a superpower. The advent of revolutionary changes in technology, however, make today's investment decisions of historic importance: they will play a large part in determining whether the world will be witnessing another superpower conflict in 2020.

The coalition partners should, therefore, start covering the tab for the operating expenses in the Persian Gulf. It was easy enough to justify the U.S. military presence in the region during the Cold War, when there was always the strategic issue of access to petroleum, and in the early 1990s, when Iraqi aggression so threatened the well being of many coalition partners that they were willing to outsource the security of their sea lanes to the U.S. military—actually subsidizing the containment effort at times. But that is no longer the case. Today, many of the coalition partners again are benefiting from a system of international security to whose maintenance they contribute very little.

The first priority of the U.S. government must be the investment of U.S. capital in the ventures that yield the greatest return for U.S. citizens. In an era of military technical revolution, that means directing resources toward programs that drive the frontiers of technology to maintain a lead over those potential rivals that in fact could threaten the existence of the United States at some point. This may well require a reduction in the levels of spending on operational deployments today. If the coalition partners want the United States to maintain a military capable of containing Iraq, they should provide fair compensation for the expenses the United States incurs on their behalf.

Mr. Kapsaroff is a manager at KPMG in New York and an adjunct Professor of Maritime History at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He served as a Surface Warfare Officer with cruiser-destroyer forces while on active duty 1987-1994.

 

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