September 09, 2004

What If Everybody Did It?

Back when the doctrine of preemption was first being introduced to the world, the chorus among doubters was the 'what if everybody did it' line of reasoning. At the time, it was purely speculative. Mainly because two world wars were fought last century to teach a lesson to countries who took it upon themselves to attack whoever they pleased, consequences be dashed. It's no longer speculative, and the mistakes made while following it ourselves are coming home to roost.

Now, after Beslan, it's Russia's turn to declare that they have the right to strike terrorists anywhere in the world:

...The Chief of the Russian General Staff, Colonel General Yuri Baluyevsky, said Wednesday the Kremlin will take steps to wipe out terrorist bases anywhere in the world.

...Britain called the Russian policy understandable and acceptable under international law. And a White House official told the French News Agency every country has a right to defend itself. ...

Let's just take the incident at Beslan as a start. It's alleged, and may very well be true but I don't know for sure, that some of the terrorists were from Arabic countries.

I can't think of a single Arabic country that, if Russia were to retaliate against it, would do nothing in response. Of course, Russia doesn't have over a hundred thousand troops in easy striking distance, stationed in a country that's growing increasingly lawless and hostile. So even barring an official response limited to diplomatic kibbitzing, U.S. troops would likely have yet another grudge unfairly pinned to them.

Then there's the Cold War question. That's supposed to be so twenty years ago by now, but there was a time when Russia's ambitions in the Middle East led America to sell the Shah of Iran weapons that we wouldn't even sell to allies like Israel and Great Britain. Their ambitions came to a messy eventual halt in Afghanistan, eventually leading to a massive release of -stans with the collapse of the USSR, but they definitely went in for being geographic kleptomaniacs. The territories they still have, such as Chechnya, they continue to hold onto for dear life.

It's impossible that Russian agression in the Middle East won't be seen as imperialist meddling and a possible prelude to invasion. It's bizarre that none of the Cold War recycles in the Bush administration seem alarmed by the possibility. Russia may be our new best friend, but this should be seen to a good extent as a function of poverty on their part, rather than the unalloyed discovery of a new soulmate.

Here's the next possible unfortunate consequence of letting preemption make the journey from epistemological think-tank wanking to the annals of official U.S. foreign policy. China gets to do it, too. As that link explains, China has been establishing the premises on which it can have a military presence in our hemisphere, including both the Caribbean and South America. China may get involved in Haiti, and they're getting close to Venezuela. They're quickly becoming the dominant Asian power, eclipsing our influence. They are also buying up our national debt, and I can't think that they mean entirely well by it. A concerned observer might conclude that they intend to beat the U.S. at its own game.

The only other counterbalance to China in Asia is India. India is not perhaps as grimly determined as China, but they are savvy competitors in the global marketplace whose Western raised expatriates are beginning to stream home to practice what they've learned. India may be more friendly to us than China, but they have significant interests in access to Iranian natural gas, and they know what we've been up to in Pakistan all these years. India may ally more closely with us for mutual leverage against China, but there are a wide range of other possibilities open to them that might not be in U.S. interests at all, at all.

Maybe I digress, but here's the point. Other countries want what we have, namely, the power to prevent anyone from knocking them around with impunity. That power takes both economic and military form, and we've been sucking up most of the oxygen for a long time now. This did not go unnoticed, and actors like China have been biding their time in preparation for the day when the 'indispensable nation' slipped up.

It seems to me that ambitious countries are probably considering three things: A doctrine of preemption raises the stakes of what it takes to be recognized as a Power That Will Not Be F***ed With. It puts people on notice that having taken such an aggressive posture, the U.S. is a direct threat to everyone it accuses of having bad intentions. Simultaneously, the likelihood of U.S. intervention for humanitarian reasons is by now virtually zero.

These create either more likelihood for disturbance in the vicinity of an ambitious country or a greater probability that they'll wind up someone's target, and a legitimate excuse for a weapons buildup on either count. If the country is lucky enough not to be Middle Eastern, they know they can get away with damn near anything right now, so it's time to make a break for it.

In the end, this doctrine is probably going to bring nothing short of a global renaissance for arms dealers, paranoia, and backstabbing. Which reminds me how happy I was when I realized for the first time that the world's richest man dealt in software.

It said something alarming to me in the 1980's that the richest people in the world sold weapons. I was only dimly aware of politics, mostly keying in to what I gathered of my parents' beliefs that nuclear annihilation was imminent, and that the Middle East was populated largely by terrorists. Fortunately, they were wrong on both counts. Still, it seemed entirely in keeping with the mood of the times that ammunition was *the* flagship industry world wide.

Then the 1990's came. Russia had proved that spending all your money on guns and neglecting the butter was a model doomed to failure. Not that arms dealers were going begging, but there was the very definite sense that more innocuous exchanges might pan out. The pre-eminence of an industry whose nastiest possible outlet was a protracted lawsuit, or a table thumping dispute over operating systems and standard protocols, seemed like a good sign for the times.

It's my hope the biotech industry will produce the next denizens of the higher food chains, but it's my fear that those honors might swing back to the Adnan Khashoggis of the world.

Posted by natasha at September 9, 2004 01:45 AM | International | Technorati links |