In addition to planes and people, there are substantial operations and maintenance costs. Here again, the U.S. global transport capability rests on decades of multi-billion dollar investments in military training exercises, operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and continuous maintenance for its aircraft. The C-17 costs roughly $12,000 per hour to fly, and U.S. airmen have logged many millions of miles, particularly over the past 12 years of war. These expenditures, combined with the procurement of people and machines, are necessary investments for any country if it wants to have the ability to move men and materiel around the world on a moment's notice, as the United States has done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Korea, and countless other locations in the past decade.
For years, Republicans and Democrats alike have asked our allies (particularly those in NATO) to shoulder more of the cost for providing security in our interconnected world. To their credit, many allies -- including the French, Germans, British, Italians, Canadians, Australians, and Poles -- maintain robust ground forces and have provided significant numbers of troops in Afghanistan. However, these same countries have largely refrained from the types of long-term investment in their defense capabilities necessary to secure their interests (and ours) in places like Mali, Libya, or Syria. And, for better or worse, the United States enables this behavior by continuing to backstop these missions, whether with precision-guided munitions for the Libya campaign, or strategic airlift for the Mali offensive.
This tradeoff may be worthwhile in the short term. French forces are, after all, bravely sallying forth into the heart of northern Mali, where they are fighting Islamic militants who may, one day, seek to export violence to the West. This serves our interests as well as those of the French. And it may be the case, as Kori Schake writes, that denying such support now would merely antagonize our allies, and do nothing to force the French (or other allies) to pay for more of their foreign policy.
However, in an age of fiscal austerity and declining defense budgets, we cannot afford this arrangement indefinitely, or justify such expenditures for future conflicts where we have a tangential interest at best. At some point the United States must force this issue with its allies, lest we create a moral hazard by allowing France and other friends to construct a foreign policy that's built on a foundation of U.S. military capability and funded by U.S. taxpayers. We need a new business model for NATO, one in which our allies share their security burdens more smartly, with greater complementarity and collaboration between allies than we have today. To date our allies have resisted this model, largely because they think it will diminish their sovereignty. This must change, and only a "tough love" policy, such as the one being pushed by the White House on France now, will incentivize our allies to shoulder their share of the task, whether in Mali or the next place where we act in the world.