December 01, 2006

Insert witty line about livestock in china shops here

Jacob Weisberg in Slate continues his fine tradition of coming up with good ideas long after the cut-off date:

"For the more intensely military phase, the only real option is NATO. A NATO-led deployment in Iraq could follow the model of Afghanistan, where a 32,000-person NATO-plus-11 force is controlling an insurgency, sustaining a weak but viable government, and preventing multiparty civil war. This is precisely what needs to happen in Iraq."

This was an excellent idea, around about November, 2003. It is now, however, purest fantasy. NATO is not only no longer capable of taking any new tasks, it appears to be at the point of breaking in twain should there be any downturn in the military situation in Afghanistan in 2007. The plausible worst-case situation now is that NATO's second war as an alliance (counting Bosnia-Kosovo as the first) will also be its last.

I didn't previously think it was possible for the American Iraq misadventure to sink support for both unilateral and multilateral forms of military intervention at the same time, but it's coming close to it. If Iraq fails, it will certainly hurt the U.S. internationally. But if Afghanistan should fail, it'd also put the kibosh on NATO-style ground force interventions overseas for decades, right or wrong, UN Security Council mandates or no.

Yglesias talks about the third method, good old UN-style military peacekeeping in the Congo. I really thinking he's missing the lesson of that intervention, though: the success in Congo has more to do with the current excellence of the Indian military that is conducting it (with Pakistani and Bangladeshi assistance) than anything else. The Indian peacekeeping tradition (as originally defined in the 1960 ONUC intervention, also in the Congo, and beautifully typified most recently in their nearly unilateral 2000 rescue of Indian soldiers that had been surrounded in Sierra Leone) is to put up with local non-cooperation until things get really violent, and then go at the bad guys, Kashmir-style: the residue of peacekeeping experience that Beinart attributes to the UN is mostly tied up in places like the Indian army staff college at Dehra Dun, not in New York. Because they operate at a higher level of general staff training than most armies (they have real corps and divisions, and still practice how to use them), and because unlike most more developed countries they have an army still built on a peacekeeping scale making their resources in a low-intensity situation effectively inexhaustible (1.3 million full-time troops), and because, also unlike the U.S., no one outside of South Asia ever successfully made their political point by killing an Indian corporal, they are the ne plus ultra of peacekeeping powers right now. Their capability for close military cooperation in overseas theatres with the other two major UN troop contributing countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh, stemming from common British military traditions as well as the linguistic commonalities, makes them even more formidable.

NOTE: For reference, currently, in addition to the four-battalion brigade with the mission in Congo, the Indians have two battalions on the Chapter VII UNMIS mission in South Sudan, and also a battalion on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border (UNMEE). Pakistan and Bangladesh are committed heavily alongside the Indians in Congo and Sudan, and have their own joint efforts in Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire, as well. The only other countries with large-sized UN deployments at present (over 1,000 troops) are: Brazil, Uruguay and Jordan in Haiti (MINUSTAH); Ethiopia and Nigeria in Liberia (UNMIL); France, Italy and Spain in Lebanon (UNIFIL); Jordan again in the Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI); and Nepal, Uruguay again, and South Africa in the Congo (MONUC).

Western countries, like Britain and France, can still do spot power projection (Afghanistan 2001, Sierra Leone again) better, but for anti-insurgency, you're never wrong betting on the Indians. It's fair to say the electoral successes of the Congo, such as they are, would never have occurred without their recent involvement.

UN-sponsored interventions seem to fail for one of two reasons: either the mandate is flawed (as with the current UNIFIL mission: that force's mandate clearly states it is there only to assist the Lebanese military in reoccupying South Lebanon and confronting Hezbollah, not do it themselves. Since the Lebanese military has had no interest in confronting Hezbollah, UNIFIL has had nothing to do) or because the countries that do know what they're doing and can ante up, such as India, aren't involved.

India is clearly looking past the Iraq situation, and the post-Iraq world order, and has decided that old-style UN military interventions, not formal alliances or "coalitions of the willing" are the best hope for helping failed states without eroding the international order still further, and so are investing their national capital as a rising world military power into bolstering the largest one. I wish them luck.

Posted by BruceR at 11:10 AM