Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Atul Mishra's comments on Pakistan and Syria

Atul Mishra, who teaches at Central University of Gujarat, (blogs here) responded by email to a couple of my essays in Economic Times which I had posted here.  [Full disclosure: We are academic collaborators and currently have a jointly-authored book manuscript under review].  With his permission, I am posting both his comments/questions and my responses.


About Pakistan. Don't our guys do the same thing across the LoC? They must be fools to not do it. And if they do, does it really matter whether our deterrence works or not? After all, we get our revenge. We can be seen to be doing more, having a strategy, but largely for domestic eyes; no? What is the point of going into PoK if not to recover it and cause Pakistan deep damage (read, break up)? 

Syria. Too complex a case and i feel one cannot say something without having a stake in the argument, and i don't have one. But if the proposed strikes were aimed at firming deterrence against future use of chemical weapons by Syria or any other country, who should have been hit? Not Assad and the regime because that would have meant regime change? Soldiers? To what effect? Weaken the regime and have Sunni radicals take over? Isn't Iran, for all its verbosity, a fairly safe, perhaps even ideal, enemy for the US? 

My Responses:

On Pakistan.  I think our guys do retaliate and we saw some of this last month.  But the problem with it is just what you mentioned: revenge.  The long term objective cannot be revenge but deterrence, to prevent them from doing this in the future.  In practical terms, revenge has to be proportional, but deterrence should be designed to be disproportionate because it is only that fear of punishment that can prevent such future behavior.  Going into PoK will do this, I think, without leading to a wider war and escalation.  I don't think Pakistan will fall apart simply because we take, say the Haji Pir Pass, or parts of the Karakoram Highway (this is quite deep in PoK, so much more difficult but it has the additional strategic advantage of cutting the Pakistan-China physical link).  The problem we face ( a real problem) is designing a punishment that will hurt the Pak army without necessarily leading to an escalation and I think some of these options (or other similar ones) will work.  

On Syria.  Since we have already destroyed all our chemical weapons, and nukes are not a credible retaliation for chemical attack (though that is what our doctrine states!), I would suggest that we do have an interest in ensuring that the norm against non-use of chemical weapons is maintained.  As far as US strategy goes, they have a difficult but doable task: punish Assad by degrading some of his military capability, thus weakening him (and also scaring him about what might happen if he does this again), but without doing so much that he loses the war.  This could be done by attacking some of his conventional military forces.  There are obviously some risks, both of doing too little and too much.  But these are risks I think the US will take.  As far as our position is concerned, I am not as disappointed by our policy as much as what I think was behind it, trying to take the easy, domestically satisfactory position of hiding behind the UN without considering the consequences. I would have liked someone to say why the UNSC is suddenly the font of all international law, considering we are still in violation of at least five UNSC resolutions including 1172 and several other UNSC resolutions on Kashmir, including re UNMOGIP!  Maybe there are good reasons for our policy, but I just haven't heard it yet. 

Meanwhile, I am still writing about the whole 'international legitimacy' and the UNSC issue but have not completed it yet. Hoping to do that by tomorrow.  

And in the meantime, I'll be happy to respond to more comments!

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