Unruly Clients: The Trouble with Allies

Unruly Clients: The Trouble with Allies - Dr. Steven Metz, World Affairs.

When Congress approved a massive, five-year assistance package for Pakistan in the fall of 2009, much of it earmarked for strengthening the country's military and security forces, Pakistani leaders reacted by immediately biting the hand that was trying to feed them. During a talk in Houston, former President Pervez Musharraf slammed the conditions in the bill, asserting that Pakistan knew better than the United States how to root out terrorists. General Ashfaq Kiyani, the Pakistani army chief, labeled the offer of support "insulting and unacceptable." Members of the Pakistani parliament called the $7.5 billion appropriation "peanuts." Some of this grumbling may have been for show, another example of Pakistan's finely honed skill at extracting more and more money from the United States, but it also reflected a cynicism and sense of estrangement on the part of the Pakistani elites. And in this regard the episode highlights a central flaw in American security strategy: reliance on allies whose perceptions, priorities, values, and objectives tend to be quite different from our own...

Much more at World Affairs.

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To try to state the case even more succinctly:

The requirement to re-engineer whole cultures is not, per se, based on the need to achieve a decisive victory over violent extremism.

Rather this requirement is based on the need to (1) avoid the dangers associated with complete and catastrophic great power failure in (2) the age of WMD.

(All great powers being vulnerable in this regard, due to the stresses being placed on the system by China, Russia and India's on-going transition to capitalism/markets/global trade.)

With this understanding of peril, to wit:

a. Not in isolation (violent extremism) but rather

b. In context (the potential for great power failure in the age of WMD)

What, then, are our decisions re: management, allies, etc?

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has had, in certain respects, 3+ billion new people to protect and the same number of new mouths to feed.

This is, roughly, half the world's population.

This stupendous new burden comes from the governments and populations of such nations as China, Russia and India, post-the Cold War, deciding to trust their fate to capitalism and markets.

The present configuration of "the rest of the world" (the global infrastructure so-to-speak) cannot provide for the massive new needs of these countries in their present outdated and highly inefficient state.

The only way to provide for the 3 billion plus new capitalists (and thereby avoid the possibility of catastrophic nuclear-armed great power failure and/or war) is to actively work to "transform" the "rest of the world" such that it might adequately meet the needs of this new world order.

Can this reasonably be done by a "management" approach -- which seems to allow that critical inefficiencies, roadblocks and highly disruptive and infectious elements are not adequately dealt with and/or eradicated?

Excellent article by Professor Metz and I for one very much agree with his premise. I do however, wish to raise two minor points.

I suggest Hamid Karzai did not necessarily seem the best option to balance US objectives and Afghan reality -- rather he was the most readily and rapidly obtainable option who would hopefully be satisfactory.

As has often been said, hope is not a plan. Regrettably our political system tends to point toward quick fixes so that given projects can be completed on one's 'watch.' This electoral cycle driven imperative often does us considerable harm...

Secondly, the article accurately notes US counterinsurgency 'doctrine' is rather foolishly based on western mores, functional design and desired reult -- terrible doctrinal flaws as Professor Metz notes. He correctly states "Ending corruption would be political suicide for Karzai or anyone who replaces him."

We are chided to not be unrealistic by many -- some of whom also want us to hew to western mores. We cannot have it both ways. Much of the world does not share American values and we should be mature enough to accept that -- and pragmatic enough to do what is in our best interest.

That generally will involve not trying to use proxies to do what we want. Better to get or allow them to do what they want, so long as that is not inimical to us.

"Eradicating violent extremism" would not seem to be the central focus of United States strategy and foreign policy today.

Rather, the focus of current American strategy would seem to be (1) ensuring China, Russia and India's capitalist/market-economy success by (2) cleaning-up, adapting and transforming certain areas of the world so as to achieve this end.

This "transformation problem areas of the world -- in the service of rising great powers" being considered necessary to ensure that these nuclear-armed nations do not fail or return to deviant state status.

This explanation, I believe, may better explain the United States' drive to "build stable, liberal systems" in certain regions of the world.

Thus, if "victory," as I have outlined it above, requires "transforming entire societies" (on a rather tight time-schedule), then can "management" really be considered a valid way to do this?


Ensuring you are culturally sensitive toward your erstwhile allies makes a *lot* of sense to me. :)


I was but a simple airman all those big sounding words scare me. The principal-agent problem is invariably political (no-body bags) and the usual 'shonk artists' (think SGT Bilko) who try and get as much as they can even though there is no need (eg. helicopter parts even though the nation doesn't employ helicopters in theatre) or using the host's logistics to supplement their lack of when arriving for operations (needing the full range of injections and a full company kit-out of load bearing equipment). :-(

Besides having large area in-country full of rear area security coalition forces were other agencies involvement (for example commercial television and United Nations).

The biggest thing I can say is when working with your 'erstwhile allies' obtain as many cultural specialists as you can find who come with no prejudices and accept their cultural sensitivites. Sending a female officer to work with Arab forces is not culturally sensitive as they may not want to discuss men's work with her.

I hope that makes some sense as it's 1.57 am in the morning (0157 in army speak).

GI Zhou:

I lack your pedigree and credentials. I do, however, hopefully have something to add, paltry as it may (or may not) be. When I was skimming through the Metz article, the phrase principal-agent problem - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principal_agent_problem - popped up. I wonder what, if any, ways to mitigate the problem suggested in (among other places) the Wikipedia entry might be used. How does one graft what have been largely solutions to political/bureaucratic and business/economic problems onto political/alliance problems, assuming it can be done at all?



Having been an international military liaison officer with elements from quite diverse nations, I believe the worst type of warfare is coalition.