2002 December 22 Sunday
Jim Hoagland on International Law, Preemption

Even some European thinkers see that international law in its current form is becoming obsolesced by the technological advances which are putting increasingly dangerous weapons into the hands of failed states and terrorists.

"A new set of rules governing the use of force" that "takes into account phenomena such as failed states" and the easy availability of highly destructive weapons must be devised, says Tomas Valasek, director of the Brussels office of the Center for Defense Information. The same basic thought was expressed the other day by a senior administration official in explaining the administration's recent, embarrassing climb-down on a shipment of North Korean Scud missiles to Yemen.

Hoagland goes on to briefly review just little help the US gets from Pakistan or Yemen in fighting Al Qaeda within their borders.

It also shows that the administration is vastly overpaying -- diplomatically, financially and politically -- for the limited cooperation it receives in fighting al Qaeda in Yemen and Pakistan. An inordinate fear that those two countries and others will swing over to supporting the extremists openly (instead of doing so covertly or through omission) drives the overcompensation as much as the practical necessities of the war on terror do. This is a misguided policy emphasis that is likely to be ineffective.

Both countries do have areas beyond the control of their central governments where Al Qaeda operatives can live and work. But it isn't clear here what Hoagland is suggesting. Is he saying we pay less to Yemen and Pakistan? If so then he's really just asserting that we are wasting our money. But if he's saying we should try to get more help from their governments I have to question whether that is possible. Musharraf can give us what help he provides in part because he's a dictator who can overrule the elected members of his government. The problem is that the public at large is really not keen on helping the US fight Al Qaeda and part of the public is actively supporting Al Qaeda (especially in the Northwest Frontier region). Democratically elected Islamic fundamentalists play a big role in the national government and Northwest Frontier regional government. So how can we expect to get much more help from Pakistan? The situation is so bad there that the FBI is hiring former Pakistani military officers to function as a parallel investigative effort against terrorists because the government's own intelligence and police agencies are dominated by Islamists and Al Qaeda supporters.

Yemen's national government similarly doesn't control all of its country and my impression of its regime is that it is more primitive as compared to Pakistan's government and controls a smaller fraction of its territory than the Pakistani central government controls in Pakistan. It also has a population that is not exactly enamored with the idea of helping the United States fight Al Qaeda. So what alternative option exists? Threaten military reprisals against Pakistan or Yemen if their central governments do not crack down harder on terrorists? Threaten an aid cut-off if more help isn't forthcoming? Would such tactics work?

One has to hope that there are better ways to bring the fight to the sanctuaries from which the terrorists now operate. Perhaps Mr. Hoagland will spell out in some future columns how the US can get more help from the governments of Pakistan and Yemen in the war against the terrorists. However it is hard to be optimistic on that score.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 December 22 02:59 AM  US Foreign Preemption, Deterrence, Containment


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