NATO's lavish new headquarters is a danger sign

It is virtually an iron law that mature bureaucracies turn their focus from the ostensible mission to self-preservation and aggrandizement of the bureaucrats.

One side benefit of President Trump's attendance at the NATO Summit has been the opportunity to view the huge and lavish new headquarters building the organization proudly opened a couple of months ago.  John Roberts of Fox News tweeted out his reaction to the vast atrium-like lobby that the new building sports:

For its part, NATO has proudly published a series of photographs of the vast edifice, noting that it facilitates what all government bureaucracies do: consult with each other and hold meetings and produce endless papers and memos to be read by other bureaucrats, and then discussed in meetings:

It offers a venue for representatives and experts from all member countries to consult on a continuous basis, a key part of the Alliance’s consensual decision-making process, and to work with partner countries. ...

The Headquarters hosts roughly 6,000 meetings every year.

The building is vast:

A professional lifetime spent studying large-scale organizations has taught me to be cynical about the impulse to build impressive headquarters buildings.  When I began doing fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation, interviewing a couple of hundred Japanese executives and managers, one of the bits of Japanese business folk wisdom I heard more than once was that a lavish new headquarters was a danger sign for a corporation, a sign that taking care of itself had become the focus, as opposed to focus on the customer and on maintaining survivability.

When it comes to government organizations, the danger is even greater, for there is no bottom-line profit and loss discipline, and as every bureaucrat understands, the more people you have working for you, the more important you are, and the larger the salary and perks you are entitled to.  Simply put, bureaucracies metastasize whenever slack resources are available.

Now, in fairness, NATO has expanded its membership – owing to the fact that the original mission of defense against the USSR was more or less accomplished when the Soviet state fell apart and Eastern Europe was liberated.

I accept that it is true that NATO still has mission, and that it is valuable for the Western democracies to hang together and coordinate their militaries.  Nonetheless, money spent on overhead at the HQ is not going to the actual military operations.  And in fairness, the United States military sports the Pentagon and many other headquarters operations at subdivisions within the military, but this just illustrates that bureaucracies love to proliferate, as there are always new questions to be explored and always coordination issues in large organizations.

In an era that sees most NATO members not meeting the commitments for military spending, it is an utter shame to see the expenses at that organization's headquarters so well funded, while, for example, Germany reportedly has only four combat-ready Eurofighter jets out of a fleet of 128.

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