Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Am I missing something here? (More on development and security)

In an essay on Foreign Policy's AfPak Channel, Nancy Birdsall and two colleagues from the Center for Global Development argue for a new American approach to Pakistan assistance. They argue that a focus on security, failure to articulate clear objectives, and lack of transparency about how money is being spent have doomed the U.S. aid program there to failure. Indonesia is held out as an example of what Pakistan might become with more effective U.S. engagement.
Now, that nation is mentioned in the same breath as Brazil and India as an emerging power on the world stage and a force for regional security. Fundamentally, few threats to American interests and American lives now emanate from Indonesia. That is the hope and the promise of development in Pakistan, a promise the United States has a role to play in fulfilling. [emphasis added]
To which I can only respond: uh, what? Surely Birdsall and her colleagues are familiar with Jemaah Islamiyah, right?

Development and democracy haven't solved the problem of extremist violence in Indonesia, and it seems unlikely they'll do so in Pakistan. But viewing these two countries solely through the lens of terrorism misses the point. Birdsall et al are correct to write that "Pakistan's stability and prosperity are intertwined with the United States' own," and to note that this linkage is tighter than that with other countries. This isn't about terrorism, though -- it's about Pakistan's status as a nuclear weapons state, a seriously flawed democracy, and a nexus of fundamentally revisionist (that is, anti-status quo) Islamic extremism.

Pakistan can pose a threat to the U.S. both by being too strong and too weak, something that doesn't hold for Indonesia. It's not clear that state weakness is the cause of the "threats to American interests and American lives [that] now emanate from" Pakistan; policymakers should be cognizant of that reality before they spend money trying to replicate the Indonesian model (which, lest we forget, was achieved with minimal U.S. assistance).

This is yet another example of the sort of absurdities we're driven to by the insensate state-strength-as-security paradigm: the goofy quasi-assertion that with just a bit of well-targeted aid, we can make Pakistan as unthreatening to American interests as Indonesia.


  1. Gulliver:

    "(which, lest we forget, was achieved with minimal U.S. assistance)"

    What's your measure for that? My admittedly anecdotal understanding - from Dana Priest's "The Mission" and the November 18, 2005, WP, "Foreign Network at Front of CIA's Terror Fight; Joint Facilities in Two Dozen Countries Account for Bulk of Agency's Post-9/11 Successes" - runs a bit to the contrary.

    That factual inquiry notwithstanding, I agree with nearly all of your post.


  2. ADTS -- When I say "minimal U.S. assistance," I'm using an abbreviated form of foreign assistance; that is, development aid, security assistance, economic support funds, and the like. Intelligence cooperation is a whole other kettle of fish, and one that I'm not really in a position to talk about.

    I also should have been more clear and said "comparatively little U.S. assistance," since very, very few countries are getting (or have gotten) anything like the sums and attention that have been lavished on Pakistan.

    Yeah, Indonesia has gotten quite a bit of disaster relief money and a not-insignificant amount of security assistance since it was re-authorized in 2005. (The country is actually considered a reasonably strong partner for the U.S. military in the PACOM AOR.) But again, to come back to the main point: most of the security gains that have been made in that country aren't a result of broad-based positive change in society as a product of targeted U.S. assistance, but rather the fortunate confluence of democratic trends and an increase in security force will and capacity.

    (See pages 18-21 of this PDF for some numbers, though they're from 2008. Just got this with a quick Google; there's surely something more current out there.)

  3. Gulliver:

    Thanks both for the reply and the PDF.

    And by the way, just for what little it's worth, I realized after posting, "The Mission" isn't very on-point in many respects (at least, I don't think so - it's sitting in a box somewhere).


  4. Indonesia got substantial international assistance during the Asian financial crisis 1997-1998. US engagement with Indonesia is orders of magnitude larger than US engagement in Pakistan. Always has been and remains the case. Look at trade and investment flows.

    East Timur [and Sergei's peacekeeping force] was forced on Indonesia as a price for continuing international assistance to Indonesia during the financial crisis.

    Indonesian extremism is negligible compared to Pakistani and Saudi extremism. The Indonesian state has had considerable success against Jemaah Islamiyah and other AQ linked groups [much of which were linked to parts of the Pakistani state, you can read Dr Rohan Gunaratna ]

    For decades, many have been trying to hold Indonesia up as a model of what Pakistan might become. The problem is that many Pakistani extremists don't consider Indonesians to be real muslims or respect Indonesia.

  5. The largest single way to weaken the global extremist movement would be if the US, China, India, EU, Japan, South Korea, Asean [Indonesia/Malaysia/Thailand/Singapore/Vietnam/Australia], Russia, Central Asia, passed free trade/free investment/work visa agreements with Pakistan.

    However, the US congress strongly opposes this idea. The Pakistani government is also afraid to push these ideas. Many Indian proposals with respect to this have been rejected.

    US aid is widely seen as insignificant by Pakistanis, and many Pakistanis support Pakistan unilaterally refusing all further US aid. The US gives Pakistan about $2-$3 per Pakistani per year in economic aid. The US has never attempted to give Pakistan meaningful economic aid, and there remains strong opposition among Democrats and Republicans to start giving Pakistan significant economic aid in the foreseeable future.

    To significantly impact the Pakistani economy over time, the international community would have to give Pakistan more than $60 billion in predictable economic aid over 20 years. The US currently gives Pakistan $0.5 billion in economic grants per year, much of which might be phased out.

  6. Surely the problem is "what do you mean by aid?"

    Military aid - mostly used to stockpile air and armour assets for an eventual war with India, to enrich the military caste, and as far as it can be skimmed off, to fund the nuclear industry and the ISI's unaccounted funds. Budgetary aid - very lossy again and (like military aid) helps to feed the inflation.

    There's a great film by Bruce Robinson called How to Get Ahead in Advertising in which the hero grows a second head that embodies the lack of a conscience he needs to really succeed in advertising. Eventually he gets a surgeon to try to remove it, but as they wheel him into the operating theatre, he realises that they're going to remove the wrong head.

    Are you sure you're not feeding the parasite, rather than the patient?