Crazy COIN Strategy: US-Pakistani Nuclear Deal

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Our strategy in Afghanistan is pretty bad, but aside from the obvious broken logic of creating peace through war, I wouldn’t say it qualifies as “crazy”. Counterinsurgency is weird in its ability to co-opt humanitarian arguments about human rights and so forth, but it’s still somewhat rational considering the military is, after all, a war making institution.

But I nearly spit out coffee this morning reading through the new RAND report – “Counterinsurgency in Pakistan” by Seth G. Jones and C. Christine Fair.

Of course, it’s COIN, so I was prepared for most of the usual junk (“population-centric” bloody occupations, learn from Algeria or the Philippines or [insert incomparable favorite country from a bajillion years ago], etc). This report even had a lot of good stuff going for it, including a very honest assessment of Pakistan’s domestic unrest issues (disappearances, land ownership, foreign tariffs, etc) as well as thoughtful examinations of the history of US-Pakistan diplomatic “persuasion” techniques.

And then it got crazy fast:

The United States should consider more politically valuable initiatives, given the willingness and equities of other regional parties. While an effective U.S. role in reaching an Indo-Pakistani accommodation on Kashmir is unlikely, partly because of Indian opposition, there are at least two initiatives that could benefit Pakistan.

First is a criteria-based civilian nuclear deal for Pakistan. Pakistan complained about the exceptionalism of the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, in which India agreed to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and place its civil nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. In exchange, the United States agreed to work toward full civil nuclear cooperation with India. Pakistani officials argued that its sacrifices in cooperating with the United States should merit comparable consideration. Pakistan legitimately fears that the agreement may allow India to improve and expand its nuclear weapon arsenal. Pakistan sought to undermine the Indo-U.S. deal, arguing that it would spark an arms race on the subcontinent.

That’s right, in exchange for “doing more” against the militant elements in the region, the US should give Pakistan more nukes. The report is very honest about it: It’ll be just like the deal with India, in which the US basically subsidizes the civilian nuclear industry, and “inspects” it, while the military program remains completely separate and unaccountable. Better yet, the military no longer has to compete with the civilian power industry for materials, so they’re free to weaponize countless stockpiles of enriched uranium that we specifically agree to not inspect.

That’s happening in India right now. And this report says we should do that with Pakistan. For real. This is where I look around, wondering if that sounds as crazy to you as it does to me, because apparently the folks at RAND find nuclear proliferation to be totally normal.

Now before we go any further, I should offer a bit of a disclaimer. I’m not one of those liberal hawkish types who wants to scare the bejesus out of you with talk of loose nukes and blowing up American cities. If you want to worry about national security, you’re better off figuring out how to fix, say, California’s collapsing social programs before you figure out how to stop some Endtimer colonel in the Pakistani Army from going all Rogue Spear on you. And yes, just like anyone else, I think al-Qa’eda blowing up EMPs over New York City is super-duper scary, but so is Jurassic Park and the Terminator, they just don’t need to be at the very top of our national security priorities.

But there’s a difference between making nuclear non-proliferation a reasonable priority, you know, maybe creating jobs at home before signing a treaty with Russia, and flat-out causing proliferation to happen on purpose, in Pakistan of all places.

The Indo-US nuclear deal was a terrible idea by itself, for among other things unilaterally negating the IAEA’s global non-proliferation regime (India is not a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signatory), requiring no limits on the amount of nuclear material produced (power takes a little, weapons take a lot), and completely looking the other way from India’s now limitless nuclear weapons program. It is the opposite of nuclear non-proliferation.

But here’s why it’s especially crazy with Pakistan. It would do all of that above, in Pakistan where military control over the nuclear arsenal is often questioned, but it would do it with specific “safeguards”, like this:

In exchange for fundamental recognition of its nuclear status and civilian assistance, Pakistan would have to meet two criteria: It would have to provide the kind of access and cooperation on nuclear suppliers’ networks identified in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation. Pakistan would also have to demonstrate sustained and verifiable commitment in combating all terrorist groups on its soil. Such a civilian nuclear deal could achieve the goals that Kerry-Lugar-Berman could not because it would offer Pakistan benefits that it actually values and that only the United States can meaningfully confer.[…]

It is possible that even this deal may not provide Pakistan adequate incentives to eliminate terror groups or provide access to such individuals as A. Q. Khan.

It’s possible they won’t even get rid of militants, or give up their criminals who sell nuclear secrets to terrorist groups and rogue countries, but we should still totally legitimize and help to expand their nuclear weapons arsenal. Um…what?

Again, the report was totally honest. Pakistan complained the India deal would “spark an arms race on the subcontinent.” Well, now we have an arms race on the subcontinent, and this report says we should help the other side. Ostensibly it’s to fight militants, maybe get our hands on AQ Khan, but maybe not, we’re open. This is what we’re actually, seriously discussing for our Afghanistan strategy.

This would dramatically escalate the already raging nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan. At the most awful, worst-case scenario, we’re looking at a nuclear exchange between two massive countries, killing tens if not hundreds of millions of people and likely drawing in China, Russia, the United States and god knows who else. Nuclear World War III. For, you know, counterinsurgency.

What the hell happened to this?

We got attacked on 9/11 by al-Qa’eda, so now we have to clear Taliban strongholds and stand up the Afghan government because terrorists are a huge threat to the United States. That’s straight from President Obama himself. The non-sequiturs in his answer are bad enough, but now we’re considering expanding that to include flooding the terror-inflamed Asian subcontinent with unaccountable nuclear weapons and enabling the worst militarist psychoses in Pakistan and India’s leadership. Put bluntly, it’s putting forward all-out nuclear war as a safeguard against future 9/11 attacks.

Not for-sure nuclear war, mind you, just betting it all and rolling the dice on nuclear war. See why this is crazy? This is what COIN has come to, what our trillion dollar occupation has come to. Our longest war is now so utterly hopeless that we have nothing left but considering a nuclear war in Asia as a viable counter-terrorism policy. Yes, it’s really that bad.

It has to end now, before these ideas get any further than a think tank report. As if the eye-popping death toll of American troops, the seemingly endless suicides when they return, and the dizzying cost of the war weren’t enough, you can now add “gambling on nuclear proliferation” as one of the many, many reasons why the war in Afghanistan has to end.

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