February 27, 2006

More Carrot Than Stick 

In my other post I state, maybe implicitely, that it's better and wise for the USA and the West in general to have allies among Arab and Muslim countries, even if these allies do not exactly meet the highest standards.

Here I want to explain why. It's because this situation requires more carrots thank sticks.

This conflict, the War against Islamism is an atypical one, because the doctrine employed is to win hearts and minds - in other words, to persuade the non-committed, and even the less radical enemies to change their minds and appreciate some of our values - those that make a society prosper. And this is better obtained with a carefully calibrated application of force complemented by a rather liberal distribution of rewards.

This has not always been the case. Actually, such approach is very rare in history. The last worldwide conflict was resolved with ruthless brute force; Germany, Japan and also Italy were mercilessely pounded until their capacity to wage war was almost zero, and the will of their people had been generally broken. It was necessary considered the ideological nature of the Axis powers, but no one in their right mind can say it was nice. And many other wars of the past were resolved with genocide or other very brutal means.

So what is different now?

One difference is a cultural shift. Whether we like it or not, this world is more post-modern and sensitive than it was even just sixty years ago. This is often taken to idiotic extremes losing all sense of history and proportions. From certain accounts, one would not understand if the incident being discussed is the Battle of Fallujah or the Rape of Nanking - or the massacre at My Lai for that matter. However - starting from different bases than the postmodernists - I think that we the West, the bearers of the ideas of individual rights and freedom against barbarism and tiranny, have the moral obligation to wage this war causing as little death, destruction and sufference as it is necessry to win.

Another important difference is very practical. Now we can, using precision ammunitions and advanced weapons, destroy tactical and strategic targets while minimizing collateral damage. During WWII this was not possible for technological limitations, so the moral argument was moot: there is no choice when you have only one option. But now we have more options, and I think we also have to use them.

The third factor is the mere scale of the problem, and I think this is more important than commonly acknowledged. There are about 1.3 billion Muslims on this world - several million in Europe and America - and Islamic countries occupy a huge territory, a belt from Morocco to Sudan, through the Arabian Peninsula to the borders of China to end just north of Australia with Indonesia. And this area also contains the largest oil reserves. I don't have the data handy, but I think that even at their highest point the Axis powers had and subjected maybe 200 - 300 million people* on a much less vast territory. The scale of today's problem is much bigger.

An all-out war with the whole of Muslims would require the most immense army ever seen - and thus a solid coalition comprising at least China or India alongside the USA, Europe, Russia and Australia (and no major player opposing it). The operations in Iraq used roughly one soldier for 160 - 170 people, and this number is/has been barely enough (some think it was definitely insufficient). Using the same metric, an invasion of the whole Muslim territory would require at least 10 million soldiers in the theatre, that means a 50 million strong army (for rotation and replacement purposes) plus an incredibly vast production, industrial and logistic apparatus to sustain it. Definitely not feasible in any realistic short or medium-term scenario (in other words, don't even think about it).

The extensive use of nuclear weapons certainly does not require all that, but it does not come for free either: its side effects would be the destruction of the oil infrastructure and facilities with a consequent oil shortage; widespread radioactive contamination even outside of the bombed zones; possibly, modifications of the Earth climate. And Russia and China may get, you know, somewhat upset about it.

But apart from practical considerations, do you really want to kill hundreds of millions of people and ravage one third of the globe without first trying a different approach when the option is available? Look inside your soul, and tell me.

* I'd appreciate if some reader could provide more accurate figures - but nitpicking on that would be pretty pointless.

Update 28/02: My population/soldiers ratio for Iraq was calculated counting only the American troops; considering the whole Coalition it would be closer to one soldier for 150 people.


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