Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Too nucleur to fail?

Mathew Yglesias points up the idea of "strategic rents" as a key to understanding the US-Pakistan relationship. The essence of the idea is a variation on the classic conservative criticism of aid and welfare generally - that if you're giving people resources because they have a problem, you are in some sense paying them to have problems.

Pakistan is a country that for about the last 30 years has built itself round military aid, and the military is correspondingly powerful. The big solution was meant to be getting the military out of government, but that doesn't seem to be working so well. The suggestion is that the Pakistan military it knows that if things get bad enough, the US will have no choice but to re-install it, which might expalin why it's so happy to sit most of its forces on the Indian border, domestic chaos notwithstanding:

The army still insists that India remains the major threat, so 80% of its forces are still aligned on the Indian border instead of defending the country against Taleban expansion.

The army has also refused to respond to US and Nato demands to oust the Afghan Taleban leadership living on its soil.

So what do you do about this in the long term? Yglesias thinks the US needs to have a credible threat of just walking away, but that's a lot trickier than it sounds - can the US really claim that it'll walk away from a nuclear power on the brink of collapse with the Taleban hoping to fill the breach? The odds of that hapening are probably pretty small - the Pakistan military, after all, doesn't want the Taleban in any more than the rest of us. Then again, the US doesn't want to be seen to be throwing in th towell in the one place where their stated enemies identifiably are.


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