Lessons from FDR's Lend-Lease Program
This strategic approach requires substantial effort to reassure our allies. U.S. rapid reaction forces must be U.S. or sea based, and globally available to fall in on pre-positioned stocks of equipment designed to secure sea and air based lines of communication, with the geographic standoff and operational capacity to pass additional U.S. troops forward to join allies already in the fight. These forces must exercise frequently and in concert with the nations requiring reassurance, ideally in locations and with scenarios to effectively deter our adversaries. Commitment criteria must be periodically reviewed with our ally and be commensurate with their level of participation in their self-defense. America should never be more committed to a nation’s defense than it is itself.
Roosevelt’s administration recognized several pragmatic opportunities within the lend-lease program. Among these were boosts to lagging depression-era unemployment and industrial production rates, and technology-sharing agreements which brought radar and atomic weapon technology to America. Similar opportunities exist today.
Primary among these is the principle behind removing our troops from other nation’s borders: America should never tolerate having her troops act as a speed bump while an ambivalent ally finally gets its defensive act together. Task Force Smith is an unacceptable example of an American force left unsupported by the nation whose sovereignty it was sent to defend. Never again. The pragmatic advantages of withdrawing U.S. troops include the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual cost savings and the mitigation of risk to forward-stationed troops. This cost savings includes the reduction and potential divestment of the Department of Defense’s non-essential overseas infrastructure, the reduction in shipping costs to overseas commissaries, exchanges and logistics depots, and the elimination of the cost-of-living subsidies that overseas families currently enjoy.
Expansion of current subsidies for foreign acquisition programs would potentially mirror the provision of American-made goods and services distributed through lend-lease, providing a similar boost to American industrial employment and productivity. The long-term dependencies such an arrangement creates for system life-cycle replacement and maintenance represents an opportunity for sustained returns on the initial subsidy. Corresponding increases in industrial production employs Americans, keeps our defense industry warm, and generates revenue for continued research.
The technological advancements made by our allies’ robust defense industries, enabled by decades of American defense investment, would contribute to sustaining our own dominance of the military technology domain. Israel is a world leader in unmanned vehicle research and development, while the scale, sophistication and popularity of European defense exports suggests a multitude of opportunities to improve our own development.
The broad outlines of this strategic framework masks the admittedly complicated nature of this proposal. For example, Germany and other nations with robust defense industries would likely be less interested in acquisition subsidies than technology and intelligence sharing, while the frequency and depth of combined exercise programs motivate nations like Korea and Japan. Despite its complexity, this proposal represents a philosophical foundation upon which to bind an array of unique bilateral regimes of incentives and consequences, and more importantly, deliberate over the proper employment of our armed forces. It also presents an opportunity to reevaluate the utility, relevance and details of our overarching agreement frameworks such as the NATO charter, as well as our bilateral agreements such as our mutual defense treaty with the Philippines. Notwithstanding this seemingly herculean effort, we cannot continue to wallow in our current trough.
Subjecting American troops to the role of delaying an adversary on foreign soil must end. We must supplant the ideology that tolerated the launch of Task Force Smith into Korea with the strategic mindset that empowering our allies to defend themselves is in everyone’s best interest. It is high time we capture the opportunities afforded by a reexamination of the costs and benefits of decades-old security agreements. We must offer our servicemen and women our best strategic effort. They deserve no less.
Robert Murphy graduated from The Citadel with degrees in History and French. An Army veteran, he is a graduate of the U.S. Army’s Advanced Military Studies program, commanded an infantry company in combat, and served as the special assistant to the Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe. He is a professional strategist. The views represented here are his own and do not reflect those of the U.S. Government.
Image: A lend-lease aircraft at Nome, Alaska in 1943-44/USAAF -- This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division