Monday, June 20, 2011

Security and Interests: The Situation

What is our role in the international arena? Secy. Robert Gates has stated that NATO is quickly becoming a relic of a time past because many of the member nations have lowered military spending to the point of near non-existence. Of the 15 European nations in NATO, only 5 are currently meeting the spending requirement of 2 percent or more (Albania is notably one of them). This leaves the majority of military spending to the United States. Regardless of one's position on military spending and how much of it we do (or should do), it is obvious that we have become—whether we like it or not—the world police force and overstretched on our obligations.

I think it is agreeable to most people in this country that in the ideal world we would not have to spend so much on our military, that the world would not need policing, and that we would have adequate resources to face any challenges that arose for this country—military or otherwise. With that being said, we can keep in mind that the ultimate goal of our national defense is really the continuation of our nation and its interests in a peaceful and prosperous manner. Now, re-examine how we go about doing that. Often it is in the form of many different programs and deployments of dubious success.

Take Pakistan. In this tumultuous nation, we have been operating in a not so clandestine manner to root out remaining Taliban and al-Qaida forces. Pakistan is officially an ally. With that in mind we have been using their land as a base of operations for attacks in Afghanistan, we ship supplies through their borders, and we have been working with their intelligence to capture or kill people of interest. But that's not all. Pakistan is politically quite unstable. The military largely calls the shots in the country and their loyalties sway based on prospective payout. That means they like to bet on winners and they bet on everyone. It is no secret that the military, and the government too, have been working with the Taliban as well as with the United States. The military is also in charge of a nuclear arsenal. This arsenal has been, admittedly by its own operatives, deemed insecure. This is a nation where extremists who do not pause at detonating a bomb strapped to their chests reside in a country where their allies could possibly give them access to long-range nuclear warheads.

Our Pakistani allies have also allowed for major breaches of their security that have threatened the entire world. A Q Khan, head Pakistani nuclear scientist, sold nuclear secrets to several rogue states. The attacks in the Mumbai hotels—a city in the world's most populous democracy—that left dozens dead originated in Pakistan and hatched their plot there—it is unclear how much knowledge or even support they had from the national government, but all evidence points to an excess of knowledge and blind-eye support.

Pakistan, in many respects, has gone rogue. And so we publicly call them our allies while operating within their borders as if the land were lawless. We use predator drones and attack in unsecured sectors of Pakistan's borders, we circumvent the government and military and kill Bin Laden, we put the country on a need-to-know basis. And this has strained the relationship significantly. Because they are allies, the country is entitled to aid. This aid money is supposed to be for the people, but in a country with such sticky hands on such slippery officials it has been estimated that only a fractional amount of every dollar actually goes to development. So Pakistan is an international policy sinkhole. America loses money, troops, and political clout in the area. It is the pinnacle of the complexities of being the sole country willing to get its hands dirty to secure the world and at the same time to have the resources to do so.

So, bring our troops home? Hell yes, of course we don't want to be stuck in a war where we keep losing young Americans to gunshots or PTSD. But is it realistic. Imagine the vacuum that occurs when a nation as unstable as Afghanistan resides next to a nation as nuclear as Pakistan and without any of the aid of America. What could possibly go wrong?

This is not an argument for the scaling up of our war machines, it is not even an argument for the maintenance of the status quo. That sucks. We have inconsistent results at far too high a price. We know that. This is a plea for a nuanced perspective and more expansive thinking about what our role is in this world and how we can maintain our interests and security at a lower cost.