Wars Against Rogue States Create New Problems
John Robb has an interesting if depressing post on what he views as the failure of the “we fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here” grand strategy. He notes three major unintended consequences:
- Collapsing rogue states doesn’t reduce the threat, it does exactly the opposite: it creates ungoverned spaces and failed states where non-state groups thrive.
- Nation-building is impossible in this situation. The humpty-dumpty rule applies. All of the talk about mismanagement of Iraq is fruitless, counter-productive (and should be seen merely as a rationalization of failure as we saw in Vietnam and the Russians did in Afghanistan), and will only lead to disasters in the future if we try it again. Since the real threat is from non-state groups, pushing nation-states (even rogue ones) into failure only makes the situation worse. It catalyzes the development of non-state groups. As a result, rectification of the situation becomes impossible since these non-state groups, with newly developed organizational models and methods of attack (systems), can easily collapse our attempts to return cohesion to the nation-states we toppled.
- It seeds the global development of non-state groups. As we have seen in London, Madrid, Toronto, and increasingly in the US (Reuters), new opponents will spontaneously emerge from nascent primary loyalties in response to these attacks. The more pressure applied, the greater the number of threats we face in our own back yard. Further, these groups are learning the lessons of guerrillas in Iraq — the ultimate proving ground of advanced fourth generation warfare — to become global guerrillas. As they continue to evolve, the very oil supply we hoped to secure will be increasingly put at risk (as we have seen in Nigeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc.).
I dissent somewhat from the first of these but largely agree with the second and third. The problem, however, is that policy analysis can not be conducted in a vacuum; it must instead be balanced against the available alternatives.
My quibble with the idea that taking down rogue states increases the threat is that, given the proper timing, it is not necessarily so. Surely, taking out the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in, say, 1999 or even 2000 would have made 9/11 less likely. Or, throwing caution to the wind and risking the invocation of Godwin’s law, one would think removing Adolf Hitler and the Nazis from power in, say, the summer of 1939 would have been worthwhile.
Like Robb, I remain incredibly skeptical of our ability to conduct nation-building in states not previously experienced with modernity. (The last qualification removes the examples of post-WWII Germany and Japan, where nation-building was spectacularly sucessful.) Still, despite the fact of guerrilla groups re-inserting their power there, post-invasion Afghanistan is almost certainly less dangerous than the one that sheltered Osama bin Laden.
Further, while I grant that the events in London, Madrid, and Toronto are at least partly responses to toppling the regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, it doesn’t follow that things would be better had we not taken those actions. Surely, a non-response to the 9/11 attacks would have emboldened al Qaeda. Certainly, leaving the Taliban in place after Khobar Towers, the Cole attack, and various other al Qaeda actions in the 1990s didn’t prevent 9/11.