Wednesday, October 22, 2003
I'm trying to figure out why this story is generally being spun as a "those bleeping Saudis" story instead of a "what are we going to do about Pakistan" story. I mean, the Pakistanis are the ones with the nukes.
We now know that, unlike in 1990, in 2003 Saddam was not particularly close to getting the bomb. Of course, had he remained in power, and sanctions been lifted (which certainly would have followed), he would have quickly restarted his nuclear program and would probably have had nukes within a couple of years.
Now he's gone, and we occupy the country. One problem solved, at a modest expense of $100 billion or so. But Pakistan already has the bomb! And, while currently ruled by a relatively reasonable fellow, the country has a history of political instability and an intelligence service full of radical Islamist sympathizers. The country has already cooperated with North Korea, sharing technology for nuclear weapons in exchange for missile technology. Now they are cooperating with Saudi Arabia (which makes sense, since Iran - another incipient nuclear power - is a traditional rival of both states).
We are on the verge of a nuclear arms-race in the most dangerous part of the world. These are countries that spend all that they have - and then some - on huge militaries that then go on to consistently lose wars. All these countries hate each other and have fought wars against each other at various points in the past. It makes perfect sense that all of these guys want nukes. Pakistan is surrounded by enemies: India, Iran and a newly India-friendly Afghanistan. Iran is making a bid for regional hegemony: it already has a satellite in Syria, wants to dominate Iraq and exert an influence over post-Soviet central Asia. Turkey has exactly the same plans, and is focused on the same countries. Then you've got Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Lybia. Not one of these countries is without nuclear ambitions, except for Turkey, and that's only because of the American nuclear umbrella. If the region starts to nuclearize, the world will face an unprecedented situation: a collection of mutually hostile, unstable nuclear powers. That is not a good world. Those who place blithe confidence in deterrence in these circumstances are whistling past a very populous potential graveyard.
South Korea, Taiwan, Japan: none of these countries has gone nuclear because of American security guarantees. So we have been spared a world where every Pacific country thinks it needs the bomb. Does anyone think the world is more dangerous because of this achievement, and would have been safer if the Pacific were thoroughly nuclearized? As it is, we are rightly worried about the whole business unravelling on account of North Korea's ambitions, and we could just barely take care of North Korea militarily without wrecking northeast Asia. What are we going to do about Pakistan?
Leave aside the entirely legitimate worries that a Saudi bomb - or, for that matter, the current Pakistani bomb - would eventually find its way into the hands of terrorists who would target the U.S. Leave it aside even though we know that these governments (or organs that should be controlled by them) already actively support terrorism (in Kashmir and India, in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, in Kossovo, in Israel, in Iraq, and in New York City), and even though we know that Pakistan's nuclear scientists include among their number sympathizers with al Qaeda and the Taliban. Even if these states did not share nukes with terrorist groups, the prospect of a thoroughly nuclearlized Middle East is terrifying enough. It's hard for me to believe these weapons would not be used in war. The humanitarian and environmental catastrophe that would ensue is horrible to contemplate. The likelihood that such wars would draw in other powers, including ourselves, is high, and the prospect for the use of such weapons against our own troops or on our soil is quite real.
What are we going to do about this? We do not have an adequate policy to deal with Pakistan. Part of the purpose of the Iraq war was to make clear the consequences of attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. Pakistan already has nuclear weapons, and we're very afraid of what is going to happen to them. We don't have an adequate response. North Korea either has them or is about to. We don't have an adequate response. When Iran acquires them, it seems clear to me we will not have an adequate response. The invasion of Iraq has made it all the more important to powers threatened by us to acquire some means of deterrence. We have got to change this dynamic, quickly.
But how? "Regime change" may be a reasonable policy for discrete situations, like Iraq or North Korea, where the trouble stems overwhelmingly from the character of the leader in question. But Iran is likely to want the bomb even if the current regime falls, for reasons of self-defense. The Pakistanis are not going to give up their bomb, and if we toppled that regime we'd get something worse. Ditto for the House of Saud. And the decapitation of Iraq didn't result in spontaneous democratization (not that this writer ever thought it would). We'll be in Iraq for a "long slog" - just like I thought we would. That's an expensive proposition. Pakistan is several times the size of Iraq, much poorer, and has no oil. Who's going to pay for nation-building there?
We cannot afford to topple and occupy a region of hundreds of millions of people, and no one is seriously suggesting that we do so. The Iraq war was supposed to provide us leverage, send a signal that would be understood around the region both that we mean business and that we mean well, and would provoke reforms that would end the basis for much of the region's conflict. Pakistan, above all other countries, is the testing ground for that theory. If we lose Pakistan, we've lost the war on terror. If the Iraq war makes it less likely that we lose Pakistan, that was reason enough to have fought it. If it makes it more likely, we have a very big problem.