Saturday, April 30, 2011

The NSN, sticks and carrots.


In this section, we are introduced to alliteration. Four concepts loom large, each of which is instantiated in a word beginning with the letter “d”: deterrence, defense, diplomacy and development. Three of these will serve as a thematic coda through the balance of the document “development, diplomacy and defense”, (the 3d) while the other (deterrence) is best served through emphasis on these three. So the paper will argue.

Along the way, I think some broad brush claims are made that are probably false or misleading as to U.S. attitudes. This passage is the last of the general passages. We’ll move into some specifics (even if examples to chew on) in the next more lengthy section “A strategic ecology.”

As usual, the passage is just below, with commentary following:

Fair Competition and Deterrence

Competition is a powerful, and often misunderstood, concept. Fair competition – of ideas and enterprises, among individuals, organizations, and nations – is what has driven Americans to achieve greatness across the spectrum of human endeavor. And yet with globalization, we seem to have developed a strange apprehension about the efficacy of our ability to apply the innovation and hard work necessary to successfully compete in a complex security and economic environment. Further, we have misunderstood interdependence as a weakness rather than recognizing it as a strength. The key to sustaining our competitive edge, at home or on the world stage, is credibility – and credibility is a difficult capital to foster. It cannot be won through intimidation and threat, it cannot be sustained through protectionism or exclusion. Credibility requires engagement, strength, and reliability – imaginatively applied through the national tools of development, diplomacy, and defense.

In many ways, deterrence is closely linked to competition. Like competition, deterrence in the truest sense is built upon strength and credibility and cannot be achieved solely through intimidation and threat. For deterrence to be effective, it must leverage converging interests and interdependencies, while differentiating and addressing diverging and conflicting interests that represent potential threats. Like competition, deterrence requires a whole of nation effort, credible influence supported by actions that are consistent with our national interests and values.


When fair competition and positive influence through engagement – largely dependent on the tools of development and diplomacy – fail to dissuade the threat of destructive behavior, we will approach deterrence through a broad, interdisciplinary effort that combines development and diplomacy with defense.

In the first paragraph there is much to agree with, except that the characterization of the U.S. attitude toward fair competition is actually more accurate with regard to some of our global competitors, less accurate with regard to U.S. attitudes as they have evolved since the 1980s.

The case I have in mind when I read this opening paragraph is the unbalanced situation with regard to access to markets in Asia; more particularly, access to markets for sales of automobiles. Japanese and Chinese governments create environments that make it considerably more difficult for U.S. automakers to sell in their neck of the woods than it is for Japanese or Chinese firms to sell in our neck of the woods. If anything, in the U.S. the trend has been decidedly away from protectionism.

Now, can the same be said for other sectors of the U.S. economy? Clearly, not. Agriculture is a case in point. But, this, again, should be seen against the backdrop of the overall open-market trend since the 80s. To say otherwise is not fair to our own history.

I don’t understand what behavior the phrase “intimidation and threat” is referring to given recent U.S. history and in the overall context of the passage. That context makes it relatively clear that competition in the world economy is the issue.

Well, in regard to that competition, when, in recent history have we played the unprovoked bully? Surely, at times we have been provoked by exclusion from markets, and have responded with “intimidation and threat” but, so what? In the context of such a situation, these reactions can be warranted, both practically and morally. This serves to illustrate a problem with the paper I’ve noted before: We need illustrations here. In the balance of the paper, none are forthcoming.

We are told in the next paragraph that deterrence is best served by ‘strength and credibility,’ yet cannot be achieved solely by using the terrible twins introduced in paragraph one (intimidation and threat). Reading that last bit literally, it’s false. Intimidation and threat can be quite the deterrent. Ask any former Eastern bloc country. Reading more charitably, the authors probably mean a combination of sticks and carrots is better suited to change behavior, and better suited for creating longer periods of relative peace (sustainability). This is, no doubt true, and has been a part of U.S. policy for some time. Yet, it is also true that “strength” is analytically connected to the threat of exercise of power IF needed. You cannot have the one without the other. If you diminish the latter, you are no longer strong. You are also no longer credible, in the sense of that word that implies reliability or consistency.

In the next sentence a linkage is claimed between deterrence and the “whole nation” global war on poverty, illiteracy, & etc., that was introduced back in the ‘investment priorities’ section. More on this expansive vision is forthcoming in the next section, i.e., some illustrations. This linkage, in concert with the discussion of ‘strength’s connection with ‘threat’ just above does raise the worry that increased emphasis on this 3d approach will in fact make deterrence more difficult to attain in the short run, given the necessity the paper argues, for fundamental reorientation of spending priorities AWAY from defense.

But, the passage ends with a sentence that, quite frankly puzzles me as to its meaning. This post will end with that puzzlement. Take a look at the sentence again:


When fair competition and positive influence through engagement – largely dependent on the tools of development and diplomacy – fail to dissuade the threat of destructive behavior, we will approach deterrence through a broad, interdisciplinary effort that combines development and diplomacy with defense.”


It seems to be considering the natural question: “What should we do if we engage in the 3d efforts proposed by Mr. Y, and some country or entity in some part of the world that is being engaged in this manner nevertheless acts belligerently or threatens belligerent behavior toward us, or toward a partner? What should we do, pray tell?”

Well, it looks to all appearances, like the answer is to engage in redoubled 3d, throwing in some of the fourth d. How is this any different than what we already do? Do we not aid volatile regions, while engaging in diplomacy? Do we not resort to military action if needs be? The approach has had mixed success. How is the NSN a departure? I think it thinks things would be different under its vision. The NSN envisions a massive global 3d spending spree that will put volatile regions in the role of mid 20th century Japan and Germany vis the 21st century U.S., a grateful global community undergoing fundamental change in values in part due to natural gratitude they would feel. Is this naïve? (Note, Japan and Germany were reduced first.) In any case, is this affordable given present conditions in the U.S.?



I would suggest that the key to affecting genuine change in cases where we find ourselves Sisyphus repeatedly cycling through 3d to 4d back to 3d ‘engagement’, is to do as Natan Sharansky suggests: A substantive policy of “linkage.” 'Nudging' with muscle.

Utilize and carry through with genuine threats to discontinue 3d, based upon genuinely demanding behavioral yardsticks, that is, demanding conditions of continued market access, developmental aid or diplomatic connection. If countries fail to meet those yardsticks, cut them off.

Simple as that.

We don’t presently do this, and often whistle past the graveyard, continuing aid in the face of obvious bad behavior. Cases in point: Saudi Arabia the PA and Pakistan. We put up with too much, and should not put precious treasure into these snake pits without imposition of strict conditions. I scarcely need to rehearse the double dealing of the Saudis, their Wahhabist propagandizing in schools across our nation, nor the ongoing bad behavior of the allegedly moderate PA, now that they have made peace with Hamas. There is no good reason to continue to give these regimes U.S. dollars. Ditto with the Pakistani ISI. We have, for far too long tolerated its Janus faced behavior, and continued to aid its home government, for fear Pak nukes will fall into the wrong hands, or we’ll lose valuable intelligence. Yet, surely the perception the Pakistanis have, is that of a U.S. that will, in the end, swallow that behavior, and take the intel morsels they offer. This incentivizes continuation of that behavior.

To use a psychobabble term of art, we enable the very thing that threatens us. So, we should try something new. Would the Pakistani government be comfortable in its prospects of continued domestic hegemony if we were to remove support? I suspect they would blink first. And would apocalypse ensue if we do lose them? We would adjust. We lost the Iranians. We adjusted. We have since gained Iraq. Hopefully we will gain Afghanistan as well. I suspect the nuke threat is there regardless, what with the Russian materials unaccounted for.

Much the same is now being said about the PA, an entity that for too long has been the beneficiary of the western world’s wishful thinking and projection. There is now serious talk in Congress of cutting them off. That is precisely morally correct. Multiple administrations have tolerated obvious duplicity. This is not wise, and, to use the terminology of the NSN, it does not build our credibility, nor is it consistent with our small “L” liberal values.

Next time, the lengthier section entitled “A Strategic Ecology” wherein we are treated to some examples of problems that must be addressed via the 3d centric strategy of NSN.