The enticing idea of a balanced force, and the tunnel vision on national defence

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.



  1. What I find interesting is that the money that an alliance comprising two thirds of the worlds total military budget is referred to as defence spending.

  2. The balanced force has some merit, but not at the cost of winning force.
    As you say, the second world war German Surface fleet was little more than a vast drain of resources, built around the idea of a Naval engagement, rather than the far more realistic piracy mission, or far more pragmatic Baltic Flotilla.

    However, the alliance argument is far less clear cut.
    Allies frequently find reasons to stay home or provide only the most token assistance.
    If you have a "balanced" army and airforce, it can be relied upon to fight.
    If you have armed forces that comprise only of Self Propelled Artillery, Tanker aircraft and Mine Hunters, you might be a key part of an alliance, but you stand no chance, not even that, you are literally unable to fight at all, once your allies start murmuring about the exact definition of the clauses.

  3. @Ael:
    I'm not concerned about the spending efficiency of the surplus military strength because I think it shouldn't exist anyway.

    Your own example shows that Poland's balanced force was no more able to help its country to survive than a focused force would have had. The same applies to my Belgium example. Belgian's two frigates, four dozen obsolete strike fighters and the "special forces" are irrelevant to NATO and Belgian national security,while at least one proper mechanised brigade drilled for quick deployment to Warsaw would be noticeable.
    And they could even save money if they limited themselves to a mechanised brigade and a minehunter flotilla.

  4. To be fair, Hitlers grand plan was to be a pole in the world order opposed to the anglo-saxons. The surface fleet takes the longest to build, and Germany was falling behind technologically since 1919.

    As such, from a very long point of view, it makes completely sense to build a balanced fleet.

    It wasn't like the Nazis planned to wage a two front war.