The value of prestige and other intangible benefits

They perceive their courage exploited, their lives risked, merely so that Britain can 'show willing' to the Americans.

This made me think once again about all that "relations" and "prestige" stuff in politics.
How much blood and (real) treasure is it worth? What's an acceptable exchange rate between blood and prestige? Do the relevant decision makers think about this?

Germany attempted to get a permanent seat in the UNSC (and since gave up on the idea as far as I know). Our politicians told us that Germany must accept international "responsibilities" to show itself worthy of such a seat (and to 'buy' it).

Well, we sent thousands of troops to Bosnia, thousands to Kosovo, thousands to Afghanistan, hundreds into several other place ... the list is long, yet the supposed deal was no deal. The argument that playing on the international stage with military force would give us benefits seemed to be a false one.
We actually just had expenses, killed troops, injured troops, spent billions of € and got much of our red light districts taken over by refugees from nations where our soldiers were supposed to help.

I'm quite sure that the public would not have tolerated these missions if it had known the effects in advance, yet we continue to run these missions; that's the power of inertia and habituation.

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The British, Australians and Canadians have a similar situation in my opinion. Their intent was no UNSC seat (Britain got one anyway) - it was rather a "good relationship" with the USA.
Blair repeated several times that Britain needs to fight along the Americans to have any influence on their actions.

Well, I'd say Blair was an extremely poor strategist if he had influence on GWB's foreign policy.
He was also an extremely poor strategist if he had none despite the disadvantages for Britain that he accepted. In short: His foreign policy looks like a huge failure to me.
The wisdom of sacrificing troops on the altar of American favour is increasingly being questioned in the UK as far as I know. Here's another example, one that focuses on whether this strategy can succeed at all because of the UK's limitations.

The Australians and Canadians most likely suffered more dead by their participation in American wars than they would have suffered otherwise. This makes me think that their national security policy was a failure as well.

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Some German rulers of the 18th century sold their troops to England for fighting American insurgents. They got "subsidies" (gold) for it. This policy was very despised even at the time, but perhaps even smarter than the present German and British policy.
Well, at least they got something for it.

Let's look at the official German post Cold-War missions in foreign countries:
(excluding disaster relief and similar actions)

90/91 MCM ships to Med and Persian Gulf
1991 Alpha Jets to Turkey (gesture)
92-96 enforcement of naval arms embargo on Yugoslavia
93-94 army troops to Northern Somalia
95-today troops in Bosnia
1999 Kosovo Air War
99-today troops in Kosovo
01-03 troops in Macedonia
02-03 NBC troops in Kuweit
2006 troops guard elections in Kongo
01 -today ships in Med
02-today troops, aircraft and ships in/next to Eastern Africa (OEF)
02-today troops in Afghanistan (ISAF)
06-today naval arms embargo on Hezbollah
08-today anti-piracy force near Somalia

Present German out-of-area missions

The Bosnia mission was a mixed success and an end is in sight. Bosnia was certainly close enough to us to be of national interest.

The Macedonia mission was a success and still not far away.

The Kosovo missions were terrible in my opinion, but that's a topic in its own right.

I don't see noteworthy, tangible benefits of any other mission. Some missions were even running counter to official German foreign policy by freeing American resources for the war of aggression against Iraq in 2003. Several missions (like the naval embargoes and anti-piracy patrols) were inherently incapable of achieving the purpose of their mission.

All of these missions were at least in part justified by a supposed need to bear a share of the burden, to be recognized as an important nation in international affairs.

The relationship with the U.S. certainly didn't look like rewarding the OEF and ISAF missions. The GWB administration sabotaged our Eastern Europe policy and disregarded German interests whenever they had different interests.
GWB is gone, but the attitude seems to still go strong. It's a kind of "Give him an inch and he will take a mile" behaviour. We supplied thousands of auxiliary troops (contrary to German public opinion) and what did we get?

* No noteworthy rewards or advantages.
* Requests for ever more troops.
* Some German bashing from non-officials for not completely giving up our new sovereignty and accept a status as auxiliary troops pool for U.S. presidential adventures.

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The insatiable thirst of U.S. presidents for auxiliary troops is actually not the topic,. It's just a highly visible, related symptom that serves as an example. This is about intangible rewards for military action, and their real value.

It seems to me as if government foreign politicians have a strange set of preferences and are under influence of group think. They seem to value things like "prestige", "symbolic actions" and "good relations" (meant to be bought by political bribing) much higher than many (most?) of their nation's citizens.
Or at least they seem to pretend to care that much about it.

I personally don't rate such supposedly good relations as very valuable. I prefer good relations based on actual friendliness and satisfactory win-win agreements, not on transfers.

There's also the question of durability. How long does any "prestige" or "good will" last? Does it last only till the next government? Does it decay once policy changes? It certainly seems so.

Prestige seems to be grossly over-valued in modern foreign politics, especially if it's based on loss of life, health and treasure.

Sven Ortmann

P.S.: I expect that most readers simply think "article 5" all the time. My answers:

* Article 5 is not applicable to Australia.
* Was sticking to NATO a good choice for effectively non-threatened Canada post-1990? They were and are free to leave, and alliances were always in history just temporary. There's no indebtedness because of having been allied in the past. And even if it was - wouldn't the other members owe more to Canada than Canada to them?
* And finally; Article 5 is about defence. The enemy was long chased from power, no alliance ever required or requires to defend by chasing the enemy to the last man. ISAF is not about article 5.


  1. I know how you feel on this one Sven.

    we (Ireland) pretty much gave away out neutrality in 2002 when we let American Air Force planes land in Shannon Airport in Dublin on their way to Afghanistan!

    and for what?

  2. "we let American Air Force planes land in Shannon Airport in Dublin"

    That comment is typical of the SFB people that read this blog.

    The last time I landed at Shannon Airport, it was almost 200 km southwest of Dublin. In fact, it's on the other side of the country, the Atlantic Ocean/Shannon River side on the west as opposed to the Irish Sea side in the East.

    Other than that, everything else he wrote is even more ridiculous.

    I'm one of those ignorant US Americans and I knew that, I guess you sophisticated, intelligent, condescending Europeans need to learn how to read a map. Or wait till your Galileo system works.

  3. @Mercator: I published your comment after making sure Paul Iddon wouldn't be offended and because you provided a minimum of information.

    It's futile to hope for getting more such aggressive comments passed, though.

    Btw, what's "SFB"?

  4. SFB is a common American acronym for "Sophisticated Foreign Born".