Last week’s UN Security Council vote authorizing the imposition of a no-fly zone and other measures against Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya was something less than an emphatic mandate. A number of observers have noted the unusually high number of abstentions, and that all of them came from such major international players as Germany, Brazil, India, Russia, and China.
The votes by Brazil and India did not come as a great surprise. Both countries have long records of skepticism about military adventurism—even adventurism under the color of international authority. Germany’s abstention raised more than a few eyebrows, since it signaled a clear policy breach between Berlin and its traditional NATO allies (and European Union partners) Britain and France, as well as the United States.
But the most significant development was the decision of both Russia and China to abstain. Since they are among the five permanent members of the Council, a negative vote by either country would have vetoed the resolution. Given their repeated, vocal assertions about the importance of respecting national sovereignty, and their previous wariness about giving a UN imprimatur to military interventions, many experts in the weeks leading up to the vote expected one or both countries to cast a veto. After all, the United States and its allies bypassed the UN Security Council regarding both the Kosovo war and the Iraq war precisely because they knew that “no” votes from Russia and China were virtually certain.
Their decision to abstain on the Libya resolution begs the question of why they were so cooperative this time. And that leads to a subsidiary question relevant to all political outcomes, domestic or international: what concessions did the winning party (in this case, primarily the United States) have to make to gain its policy victory?
We may not be able to determine that answer with any certainty for months or years—or conceivably not for decades, when the pertinent documents are declassified. But there is little question that there had to be concessions. Neither Moscow nor Beijing regards foreign policy as an altruistic enterprise. The United States paid something to get them to abstain rather than cast a veto.
What Washington paid is, of course, pure speculation. But there are a number of probable candidates, and we should watch for indications over the coming months and years. For example, China has always wanted Washington to decrease and eventually eliminate its arms sales to Taiwan. Will the Obama administration be less receptive to Taipei’s future arms purchase requests? Beijing is increasingly unhappy about U.S. criticism of its policy in Tibet and general human rights policy. Do U.S. leaders now become much quieter about those controversial matters? Will Washington’s policy toward North Korea soften and correspond more closely to China’s preferences? Will allegations about Beijing’s currency manipulation or the PRC’s insufficient respect for intellectual property rights decrease in both frequency and intensity?
With respect to Russia, will we hear far fewer calls for further enlargement of NATO, including eventual membership for Ukraine and Georgia? Will the Obama administration mothball plans for even a limited missile defense system in Eastern Europe? Will Washington become more understanding of Russia’s annoyance at the discrimination against Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic republics? What about Russia’s ambitions to join the World Trade Organization?
There are no clear answers yet to any of these questions, but the questions deserve to be asked. It would be naïve in the extreme to assume that the United States secured its diplomatic victory in the Security Council without having to make some significant policy concessions to the two permanent members who reluctantly withheld their vetoes.
Jacob Heilbrunn has, as usual, stolen my thunder today (when does he wake up in the morning?). And Paul Pillar and my Cato colleagues—again, as usual—beat me to the punch last week concerning the Obama administration's decision to launch military strikes against Muammar Qaddafi's forces in Libya.
I'm left to ponder—now that Florida State has destroyed my March Madness bracket—several questions raised by the ongoing military operations, in no particular order:
Is the congressional control over the war powers dead? A smart aleck might say, when was it last alive? Congress hasn't formally declared war since World War II. True enough, but one might think that an emboldened and large class of Congressional Freshmen would be as willing to challenge the Obama administration in the conduct of foreign policy as they have been in domestic matters. It is doubly curious that this same Congress that opposes the president and modern liberals on Constitutional grounds has little appreciation for what James Madison declared the document's most important passage: the Legislature's control over the war power. There have been a few voices raised in dissent, including Indiana Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and House members John Larson (D-CT) and Dennis Kucinich (D–OH), but these objections are notable chiefly because there have been so few. (H/T Grover Cleveland at Pileus)
Does the pottery barn principle still apply? It is doubtful that Colin Powell ever actually said, "If you break it, you own it," but I have never heard Powell object to the concept that a country which engages in military operations against another country incurs some obligation to clean up after the fact. Many people now believe that to be true, not merely as it applies to Iraq and Afghanistan, but also to other U.S. operations, some of which occurred generations ago. Do we believe that Libya will be different? Is it plausible that someone else will be on the hook for cleaning up? And if the rebels who we now celebrate as heroic opponents of Qaddafi turn out to be big fans of someone else who we don't like very much, will we stand aside as that new person/group exacts revenge on one-time supporters of the regime? Will we look on impassively if they make common cause with our sworn enemies? Doubtful, on all fronts. The parallels to Iraq are obvious.
Is the English language, or merely basic common sense, dead? Justin Logan a few weeks ago commented on Barack Obama's problem with adjectives and nouns, but the point bears repeating: there is an urgent need for more clarity of expression, if not actual clear thinking, as it pertains to the Libyan case. For example, I seriously doubt that the president intends to create a universal principle out of the claim that U.S. "decisions have been driven by Gaddafi's refusal to respect the rights of his people and the potential for mass murder of innocent civilians." He might believe it in this particular case, but that doesn't explain why the United States has not acted in a similar fashion with respect to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan/Darfur, or the Ivory Coast. And then there is the troubling question of the actions of our ally in Bahrain, aided by other allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to put down a Shiite uprising in the home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Our obvious unwillingness to stop the violence (admittedly on a much smaller scale) in Manama demonstrates that the U.S. government does not apply a common standard when it comes to protecting civilians from their own governments.
Is the Petraeus question moot? In the earliest days of the Iraq War, Gen. David Petraeus is purported to have said to the reporter traveling with him: "Tell me how this ends." The line was good enough that Linda Robinson made it the title of her book on Petraeus. Notwithstanding the claims by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and JCS Chair Adm. Mike Mullen, I do not see a clearly defined mission, and therefore one that—once achieved—would signal a point at which U.S. military operations would come to an end. The mission of protecting civilians, for example, doesn't present such a clear end point, as the threat to civilians would persist even if Qaddafi and his sons and supporters leave the scene. It could come from 1) rogue elements operating within a chaotic state; 2) a deliberate campaign by rebel forces once they take power to exact revenge (see pottery barn point above); or 3) an act of aggression by a neighboring state. At what point does the United States obligation to defend Libyan civilians come to end?
I'm going to write more on this over at Cato-@-Liberty later today, but I wanted to get my initial thoughts into electrons this morning.
The UN Security Council has passed a resolution demanding a cease-fire and authorizing a No-Fly Zone over eastern Libya by a 10-0 vote with five abstentions all coming from relatively large, important countries (Russia, China, Germany, Brazil and India). The Libyan government, unsurprisingly, has immediately announced a cease-fire in acquiescence to the UNSC resolution. Equally unsurprisingly, the Libyan opposition has stated that the Qaddafi forces did not, in fact, cease firing.
We are now siding—to some degree—with the rebels. (Those skeptical on this point may wish to re-read their Richard Betts.) For all their chest-puffing and stern pronouncements, I doubt that David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, Amr Moussa, or Anders-Fogh Rasmussen is going to figure out what our ultimate military objective is, where our red lines are, and, most importantly, what sorts of outcomes we are willing to tolerate. If the country becomes de facto partitioned, will we (or NATO/the Arab League/the UN) in turn recognize two or three countries birthed from the former Libya? Do we have reason to believe that something resembling “stability” is going to follow whatever result emerges from the military action? If not, do we intend to engage in stability operations in Libya? If so, who pays and fights?
President Obama, in his speech today, says that the UN resolution centers on “an explicit commitment to pursue all necessary measures to stop the killing, to include the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya.” But then he also says that he wants “to be clear about what we will not be doing: the United States is not going to be deploying ground troops into Libya.” Logically, then, if the measures authorized by the UNSC resolution fail to stop the killing, what next? Either you’re moving away from your demand that the killing stop—imagine the Washington Post editorials!—or else you’re looking at introducing ground troops.
There are many more questions like this that could be asked. I certainly hope the administration and the Greek chorus of Beltway interventionists has thought a lot harder about these questions in this instance than they generally do. But I would not bet on it.
Wonks will only have to wait 14 more days until the publication of the much-anticipated book An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al-Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan, 1970-2010. Written by regional experts Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, the book reexamines the widespread belief that the Taliban and al Qaeda are objectively and ideologically synonymous. Drawing on years of field experience in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban’s heartland, and based on interviews with Taliban decision-makers, field commanders, and ordinary fighters, the authors reveal that the two militant groups diverge as much as they coalesce.
For years Western observers conflated bin Laden’s network—a transnational jihadist organization—with the Taliban—an indigenous Pashtun-dominated movement. This is one of many unshakable, yet spurious, beliefs that has compelled policymakers and pundits to advocate an indefinite, large-scale military presence in the region. The reality, however, as argued by another Afghan expert, Carnegie’s Gilles Dorronsoro, is that “The presence of foreign troops is the most important element driving the resurgence of the Taliban.” The defeat of al Qaeda does not depend upon the defeat of the Taliban, leaving aside whether “defeat” of either is realistically achievable. But more importantly, as Linschoten and Kuehn highlight in their book, their marriage of convenience is not unbreakable.
Some experts might use the empirical findings expounded in this book to argue for substantive steps to reintegrate the Taliban into a power-sharing government in Kabul. After all, one of the main obstacles to talking with the Taliban was Washington’s political rhetoric, demonizing the movement by claiming it was attached to bin Laden’s hip. Indeed, the authors themselves also explore why engaging the Taliban—sooner rather than later—would be more prudent than a prolonged campaign of night raids and decapitation strikes that pushes the groups to unite.
With the acknowledgment that parochial fighters with no global mission can be separated from those that attacked America on 9/11, it seems that the avenue to negotiations may have finally opened.
Diplomatic engagement with the Taliban would certainly be wise, but the mechanics of negotiation may run into problems.
The first obstacle is the structure of the Taliban itself. As Afghan expert Antonio Giustozzi writes in a recently released Century Foundation report “Negotiating with the Taliban: Issues and Prospects”:
The Taliban can be described as a decentralized organization (as opposed to a fragmented one). The predominant mode of organization used by the Taliban is personal networks, formed around charismatic leaders. At the lowest level, the networks consist of a local commander with a few fighters gathered around him, usually recruited personally by him on the basis of his reputation as a leader. A variable number of these small groups are networked together around a larger figure, for example a district-level Taliban leader. In turn, this network would be linked to a larger network through its leader, who would pay obedience to some greater figure, for example a province-level leader. The figures at the center of these larger networks might well be nationally renowned Taliban leaders; they might or might not be further networked around some of the top Taliban leaders.
The Taliban is fluid and decentralized, yet discernible and quite robust. Is the power of high-level militants adequately strong enough to enforce the terms of a negotiated settlement? Since the administration likes to say that we cannot fight our way out of this war, yet insist that we must weaken the insurgency’s momentum before we engage in negotiations, the question becomes: Can the coalition peel away enough low-level militants from the senior leadership to compel higher ups to negotiate? If we succeed in doing so, will the senior leadership still want to talk to us?
A second problem is that there is no way to prove that negotiations will resolve the complex blend of other intangible motives that spur many to fight. An issue rarely discussed is the extent to which factionalism, tribal vendettas, and group exclusion from power are powerful motivators for taking up arms. For example, in Helmand province, writes The Economist ‘s Afghanistan correspondent Tom Coghlan, President Karzai rewarded sub-tribes within his dominant Durrani Pashtun confederation (including Alokozai, Popalzai, and Barakzai) with district governor positions, police chief posts, and appointments in the intelligence service, and other critical government departments. Because of Kabul’s systematic exclusion of the Ishaqzai and some smaller tribes—who were influential during the Taliban period—much of the local conflict is driven by group disempowerment. In Kandahar, much like in neighboring Helmand, many fighters also come from communities systematically excluded from the Karzai-appointed local government. Would engaging fighters also involve changing the policies and structure of the very government we helped to create?
A third problem is that any steps toward a meaningful settlement must involve Pakistan, which raises its own set of issues too long to discuss in full here.
Lastly, in terms of a negotiated settlement, for the U.S. and NATO the red line is the Afghan constitution. Not only is this document the foundation of Afghanistan's democratic political institutions (wobbly and imperfect as they may be), but it also enshrines the legal and political rights of the Afghan people we ostensibly seek to protect. Peace talks will either not be all-inclusive (which we would have to be prepared to accept) or peace talks will implicitly demand a third-party with the wherewithal to enforce the terms of any power-sharing agreement—since there is no assurance that the Taliban will adhere to these new political and social conditions.
Indeed, for peace talks to be successful the residual presence of foreign troops long after America’s official date of withdrawal, 2014 would be necessary. Separate of this, the Taliban would have to acquiesce to the norms introduced since the 2001 invasion, otherwise there is little to stop them from committing actions in flagrant violation of any shared agreement. No agreement, law, treaty, or contract is self-reinforcing. And unless the United States is prepared to enforce the conditions of a power-sharing agreement, advocates of engaging the Taliban must also be prepared to renounce America’s commitment to spread the legal rights articulated in the Afghan constitution.
The news of the day from Libya is that Colonel Qaddafi’s counterattack is succeeding, and it may be too late to help the rebels overthrow him. The neocon commentariat is preparing the ground to accuse Obama of losing Libya. Besides the hubristic assumption that American presidents are responsible for all the global misery they do not rush to prevent, the trouble with this argument is that the most popular means of U.S. military intervention, a no-fly zone, probably would not make much difference, whether imposed by Navy ships or aircraft.
Given the spectrum of ways that the United States can help Libya’s rebels, it’s odd that debate here centers on a no-fly zone, a form of military intervention that shows support for rebels without much helping them. No-fly zones commit us to winning wars but demonstrate our limited will to win them. That is why they are bad public policy.
No-fly zones are best suited to helping ground forces that can defend themselves against an opponent once we suppress its airpower. Northern Iraq in the 1990s is arguably a successful example. But they do little to overthrow entrenched leaders or help lightly-armed rebels defeat heavier forces. They do even less to protect civilians against armies or militias.
That distinction tends to be lost on proponents of no-fly zones. In 2008, presidential candidates Clinton, Obama, and Biden advocated a no-fly zone over Darfur, where warring militias victimized civilians far more than Sudan’s rusty aircraft. But the candidates were courting advocates of humanitarian intervention, not Darfurians, and didn’t need to bother with practicalities. They dropped the proposal once they had more power to implement it.
Libya is a better candidate for a no-fly zone, but not a good one. Fighter aircraft and helicopters supporting the portion of Libya’s military still loyal to Qaddafi are hurting the rebels. But the anti-Qaddafi forces also suffer a deficit of artillery, armor, and well-trained personnel, which a no-fly zone cannot remedy. As long as the forces now loyal to Qaddafi stay in his camp, he is likely to prevail or at least confine the insurrection to the east. (Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was foolish to give an honest assessment about the rebel’s prospects before Congress the other day, leading Senator Lindsay Graham to call for his firing and the White House to disown his comments).
A no-fly zone over Libya would likely give our pilots a front row view of Qaddafi’s victory and possible brutal attacks on civilians that supported rebellion. Having acted to prevent that, our leaders will then feel pressure to escalate to air attacks on Qaddafi’s troops or Tripoli, as Paul Pillar notes. The same applies had we implemented a no-fly zone last week.
If we care enough for the fate of the Libyan revolution to kill for it, we should take decisive action in its favor, such as using airpower to attack pro-Qaddafi forces. If we are rooting for the rebels to win but do not care enough to kill Libyans directly or risk our pilots' lives, we should limit ourselves to providing them with intelligence (intercepts and surveillance primarily), advice, and maybe arms while sanctioning the regime and jamming its communications. If other nations want to intervene, we should offer them like support, including transport to the fight. If we limit ourselves to those actions, we should do so in recognition of two risks. First, we may simply prolong a war and increase civilian suffering (The same goes for no-fly zones, as Doug Bandow wrote yesterday). Second, our efforts are likely to fail. We may soon be dealing with a regime we tried to overthrow, one that may return to its outlaw habits. If we are unwilling chance that, we should sit on our hands and admit that politics requires tough choices. I lean toward the second course.
What we should most avoid is confusing security and philanthropy. When leaders talk as if our intervention is protecting Americans but execute it as if they are doing charity work that merits little risk, they sow harmful confusion. Our potential allies may expect more than we are willing to give and take chances that they otherwise would not. The American public may come to support another dubious war based on threat exaggeration.
The leading example of this species of confusion is Anne Marie Slaughter’s op-ed in last Sunday’s New York Times arguing for a no-fly zone. Considering the complaint that we lack strong interests there, she argues:
Now we have a chance to support a real new beginning in the Muslim world — a new beginning of accountable governments that can provide services and opportunities for their citizens in ways that could dramatically decrease support for terrorist groups and violent extremism. It’s hard to imagine something more in our strategic interest.
Beyond the implausibility of the notion that a rebel victory in Libya will deliver that bounty, the trouble here is the mismatch of means and ends. If our interest in Libya is so large, why stop at a no-fly zone? Why not invade? Slaughter is either overstating the stakes or understating the means needed to succeed.
Maybe implementing a no-fly zone would demonstrate our commitment to oust Qaddafi, come what may, and thus cause greater defections among his loyalists or encourage him to bargain, as Slaughter hopes. That’s what political scientists call a costly signal. But because the other side’s stakes are life or death and the obvious attribute of a no-fly zone is its avoidance of costs, it’s unlikely to much change Qaddafi’s calculus.
For an argument in favor of U.S. intervention that avoids threat inflation, see Robert Pape’s latest op-ed.
Moammar Gadhafi’s forces appear to have gained the upper hand in the ongoing conflict in Libya. The Associated Press and New York Times report today that having consolidated control of the West, Gadhafi’s forces are turning east and concentrating heavy fire power on the town of Ajdabiya. Their push east is gaining steam after the fall of Ras Lanuf and the rebel’s apparent retreat from Brega.
The apparent ascent of the pro-government forces has coincided with an increase in calls for Western—specifically U.S.—intervention. While the Arab League has endorsed a no-fly zone, France and Britain can’t seem to gather enough support for a broad “coalition of the willing,” let alone bring a resolution on military action before the UN Security Council. A compromise appears to be in the works in the form of a UN resolution offering “support for the rebels.”
It appears the situation is still very fluid and changing constantly. Yes, the Arab League has called for a no-fly zone, but key powers—Russia, China, and Turkey—still remain skeptical. But this did not stop former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter from asserting in yesterday’s New York Times that the debate over the use of force in Libya is over; it is time to act. She claims that the main issues regarding the use of force have been answered. But as Justin Logan points out, the Dean of Liberal Interventionism did not answer these questions. In my latest Forbes.com column, I address these concerns in depth; chief among them, the claim that the conflict in Libya is somehow a threat to U.S. national security:
The Libyan crisis is a tragedy, but is important to America only in the usual Washington game of threat inflation. President Barack Obama claimed the Libyan imbroglio posed "an unusual threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States." The former is errant nonsense.
Libya always has been peripheral to American security, especially after the Gadhafi regime dropped its terrorist attacks and nuclear program. The latter is irrelevant-much of which goes on around the world conflicts with the "foreign policy of the United States." Neither is cause for war.
Tepid intervention like a no-fly zone might offer just enough aid to prolong a civil war, causing even more casualties and destruction. Then the U.S. would have to decide whether to double down, creating a "no-drive" zone for Gadhafi's tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery, arming the rebels, training insurgent forces, attacking Libyan airfields and air units, inserting Special Forces and/or sending in ground troops. In both the Balkans and Iraq, no-fly zones acted as steps to much more extensive military involvement.
How the Libyan people would respond to U.S. or Western intervention is not clear. Some want a no fly zone or even air strikes, though many insist on UN approval. Others reject any outside intervention, even suggesting that they would oppose foreign troops as well as Gadhafi's minions. American intervention would risk discrediting friendly forces in any succeeding power struggle.
We should wish the Libyan people well. But their war is not our war. And military intervention risks their future.
Click here to read the full column.
Despite the repeated denials by officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations, it is increasingly apparent that nation-building aspirations are a major component of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Any lingering doubt on that score should disappear after the revelations in a recent edition of the Washington Post. Last year, the U.S. Agency for International Development tried to establish some rigorous standards for firms that wished to bid on land reform projects in Afghanistan. The principal requirement was that the winning bid had to incorporate specific benchmarks for the promotion of greater gender equality in that society. Those benchmarks included a 50 percent increase in the number of deeds granting women title to land, assuring “regular media coverage” regarding women’s land rights, and the provision of teaching materials to schools that would include significant sections on women’s rights.
Similar requirements existed in the program to improve municipal governments. Bids needed to have measures to develop a “gender strategy that supports the inclusion of women in municipal governance,” a commitment to “implement gender awareness courses,” and establish “leadership training for women” in municipal governance. The key goal was to have women constitute 30 percent of the work force in such governments.
This isn’t merely nation building. It’s not even merely nation building on steroids. It is nation building on crack. America’s social engineering bureaucrats actually seem to think they can impose 21st century Western standards of gender equality on a pre-industrial, tribal society based on a highly patriarchal religion. Not surprisingly, USAID has had to greatly dilute its standards for bidding on Afghan contracts, since it soon became clear that there was no chance of any firm achieving such ambitious goals. That tactical shift, in turn, has led to allegations that the Obama administration is abandoning its commitment to Afghan women.
Afghanistan would certainly be a much better place if women there enjoyed equal rights instead of occupying, as they do today, a status midpoint between male children and family pets. But it is not a proper function of U.S. foreign policy to risk the lives of military personnel and spend hundreds of billions of tax dollars in a quixotic crusade to transform other societies.
The ostensible motive for our intervention in Afghanistan was to destroy al Qaeda because of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. It is bad enough that such a limited, punitive expedition was gradually transformed—through a “bait and switch” maneuver—into a much larger intervention on behalf of Hamid Karzai’s regime in its civil war against the Taliban. But now we’re involved in an ambitious social engineering project that has almost no chance of success. Such a utopian goal has no relevance to the genuine security interests of the American people.
The Afghanistan mission is a textbook example of how badly Washington’s approach to national security has gotten off track. It underscores the need for a new, sober debate about the proper objectives of foreign policy—and especially security policy—in a constitutional republic.
I am continually amazed by the shenanigans people get away with in the think tank community. Take, as one recent case, a sentence from the recent “Defending Defense” report on China’s military buildup:
If one uses the purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rate, which accounts for [differences between personnel and manufacturing costs in China and the United States], the Chinese core military budget may well approach $300 billion, making it the second largest in the world. (emphasis mine)
That sentence is tied to an endnote which reads, “Calculating defense purchase power is inherently an imprecise science. The $300 billion figure represents the conclusion of no one study, but rather a rough average of several, including those sponsored by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.”
Wednesday afternoon, I emailed the only person whose name was listed on the report, Richard Cleary, an AEI research assistant, asking which studies the authors used to arrive at this figure, because it is wildly out of step with every serious estimate of Chinese military spending I have ever seen. I have received no response from Cleary.
I am forced to conclude that Defending Defense has chosen not to defend the $300 billion figure because they know it is indefensible.
I have dealt with wild claims about Chinese military spending before. In 2007, John J. Tkacik, Jr., then a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and Heritage President Ed Feulner both alleged that Chinese spending amounted to roughly $450 billion. (Heritage appears to have reorganized their website, so the link to Tkacik in my original piece goes to a different article. Another version of Tkacik making the claim is here.)
The problem with what Tkacik and Feulner were doing is that they were using extremely high-end estimates of Chinese military expenditures at market exchange rates (MER) and then blanketing that total figure with the PPP deflator, yielding a figure around $450 billion US. As I noted at the time, you can’t do that. I realize that defense economics is boring, but this stuff is important. To make a complex story simpler, you use PPP for defense expenditures that are indigenously produced (labor, for instance) and MER for goods and services that touch world markets.
I have long considered the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance to be the lodestar for working on this problem. As they have long made clear, and as they note in their current report,
No specific PPP rate exists for the military sector, and its use for this purpose should be treated with caution. Furthermore, there is no definitive guide as to which elements of military spending should be calculated using the limited PPP rates available. The figures presented here are only intended to illustrate a range of possible outcomes depending on which input variables are used.
This is a very conscientious attitude toward a very tricky problem. The current IISS estimate places Chinese expenditures at approximately $166 billion, using what they view as an appropriate mixture of PPP and MER for calculations. (The latest IISS figure that was available when the Defending Defense report was being prepared was $114 billion.)
It is entirely possible that the IISS researchers are wrong, but are they wrong by a factor of two? And if Defending Defense wishes to allege that they are, shouldn’t someone be willing to make the argument why? If Defending Defense wants a reputation for producing good scholarship, rather than being an advocacy group, someone needs to step up and defend their numbers.
Until and unless that happens, I simply note that people would not be allowed to get away with this sort of thing in the academy, and we should not allow it in think tanks, either.
During his recent summit meeting in Washington with President Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderon again pressed the United States to tighten its restrictions on firearms. It has become an article of faith in Mexico—and among many pundits in this country—that lax U.S. gun laws are responsible for the carnage perpetrated by the Mexican drug cartels. Calderon has asserted: “If you look carefully, you will notice that the violence in Mexico started to grow a couple of years before I took office in 2006. This coincides, at least, with the lifting of the assault weapons ban in 2004.”
Mexican officials repeatedly insist that 90 percent of the weapons captured from drug gangs originate in the United States. And either explicitly or implicitly, those officials contend that the illicit weapons come from gun shops or gun shows, primarily in the southwestern states. Such allegations oversimplify a complex situation and serve as a scapegoat for the Mexican government’s own failure to stem the tide of killings in that country’s drug wars.
Even the 90 percent figure is highly dubious. Statistics from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives cast doubt on the statistic—or anything close to the 90 percent level. For example, the Mexican government submitted 21,726 requests in 2009 to trace weapons that authorities had captured. According to a report issued by the inspector general of the U.S. Justice Department, in only 31 percent of those cases could any source for the firearm, defined as the dealer who originally sold the gun, be identified—much less prove that it was a U.S. dealer.
Moreover, the term “originate” in the United States is both nebulous and misleading. Although some of the weapons the drug cartels use do have their origins in the United States, the sources are not sporting goods stores or gun shows. Many of those weapons come from military depots that the United States government helped fill for friendly Central American regimes during the Cold War. Washington was so concerned about Soviet penetration of that region during the 1980s that it sent shipment after shipment of high-powered weapons to the governments of such countries as El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to use against left-wing insurgents. Records indicate that in addition to rifles, at least 300,000 grenades were sent to the region during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Many of those grenades found their way to the drug cartels through a lucrative black market. Tighter U.S. firearms laws have no relevance to that problem.
The mythology put forth by the Mexican government may be good propaganda to placate domestic critics, and gun control advocates in the United States eagerly exploit that mythology for their own purposes. But lax gun laws north of the border are not a major factor in the bloody turmoil now afflicting Mexico. Both the Calderon and Obama administrations need to avoid the temptation to find a convenient scapegoat for that tragic situation.
It should come as no surprise to anyone following U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan that a Pakistani general recently praised the U.S.-led program. After all, the drones take off from military bases inside Pakistan, so it’s likely that at least some people in the Pakistani government and military endorse the program.
Georgetown Assistant Professor C. Christine Fair, whom I greatly admire and respect, has conducted extensive research throughout Pakistan and found that drones have been effective and are even quite popular in the tribal areas.
Point taken. My concern, however, is that there has been little evidence to suggest that drones—a piecemeal, tactical effort—will alter the Pakistani security establishment's support for Islamist proxies. After all, whether the Pakistanis like drone strikes or not, they continue to support militants killing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
In short, massive aerial bombings did not win the war in Vietnam, and it's not going to change the bigger picture in South Asia. Drone strikes certainly have crippled al Qaeda “central’s” global capabilities. But bombing terrorist sanctuaries does not tell us what course of action is most prudent for eradicating the underlying motivations for harboring terrorists.