I was working on a draft about NATO's weak spots during the Cold War, and it reminded me once again on two related problems:
(1) The enticing idea of a balanced (mini) force
It's striking how even small countries maintain an army, a navy and an air force - even while being in the most powerful alliance in human history with no intent to leave or risk of getting kicked out.
The German naval growth during the 1930's was all about a "balanced" navy as well - ships of just about every kind were built. Battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, minelayers, minesweepers and (too) late also aircraft carriers. The surface fleet stood no chance of having any important influence in a war against the then anticipated opponents Poland and France. Yet the urge to build a balanced fleet was strong, so the critical mass was lacking in all categories but minesweeping.
Modern armies often tend to have armoured troops, light infantry, mountain infantry, airborne infantry - even if the latter is but a battalion as in the East German army of the 1980's!
Air forces tend to insist on having air combat, ground attack and reconnaissance capabilities; even the Belgian air component (air force) with its 48 old F-16s does so, despite the country having severe fiscal troubles.
No country seems to be able to resist this urge to have well-rounded rather than economies of scale-optimised armed forces. This seems fiscally wasteful.
(2) The tunnel vision on national defence
It's not only true that the members of an alliance don't shed tiny parts in order to achieve better economies of scale with emphasized components; they also don't seem to do build their force structure or to choose their hardware primarily on the criteria of strengthening the alliance's deterrence.
The usual debate on military strategy reviews, major procurement projects et cetera is about the national armed forces, though their relevance for alliance defence depends on the greater alliance picture.
I have yet to see anyone asking a question such as "How many area air defence batteries will NATO be lacking in Europe?", but I've seen people mention that "the German Patriot batteries need replacement!".
This tunnel vision on the national level is entirely inappropriate and wasteful in the context of a large defensive alliance. (I understand it's being used in regard to intervention capabilities, but it's not confined to those.)
It leads at times to capability gaps of the national armed services getting plugged, while no such capability gap existed in the alliance - the entire effort is wasted because the decision-makers and their advisers lacked the intellectual self-discipline to focus on the correct level.
This text is totally lacking polish, but I suppose the central idea was conveyed nevertheless:
We should focus with great self-discipline on the relevant instead of always the national level and we should optimise the cost/benefit ratio in order to avoid waste of taxpayer money and waste of parts of the workforce.
I don't see much of this in the outcomes or debates.