Global Troop Shortage

One of the reasons a significant number of American and British roadblocks to EU defense have been cleared in recent years is that, quite simply, there are more crisis zones than troops to go around. And since an EU defense force is more palatable, politically speaking, than a French force in both Africa and Lebanon, the peacekeeping missions deployed to Chad and Lebanon came under the EU flag.

But the story behind those deployments wasn’t only about who didn’t oppose them. It had a lot to do with who supported them as well. Ireland’s participation in Chad was notable because of that country’s traditional skepticism, bordering on outright hostility, to EU defense. (Irish concerns about protecting its neutrality played a big role in the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty last year.) Poland’s participation in both Chad and Lebanon set a very interesting precedent of Eastern European involvement as a full partner in EU defense.

Now comes word (via DefenseNews) that Poland is considering cutting back its role in both missions as a cost-cutting measure in the face of the financial crisis. That might seem inconsequential. But remember that in an environment where France’s military is straining under budget constraints, Germany’s military is straining against popular opinion, and Britain’s military is just flat-out straining, 900 Polish troops in Chad and Lebanon suddenly make a difference.

The Chad mission is due to be relieved by a U.N./A.U. misison in March. But the A.U. isn’t exactly teeming with peacekeeping troops either, and the same logic applies: the more A.U. troops go to Chad, the fewer go elsewhere. And it’s hard to see who could possibly replace the Polish troops in Lebanon other than France, meaning any possibility that Nicolas Sarkozy might pull a rabbit out of his hat at the April NATO summit and deliver a token getsure of support to President Barack Obama in Afghanistan just got even slimmer.

There are just more holes in the global dike than the West has got thumbs to plug.