Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Armchair Admiral and the Zen

The observations of galhran of Information Dissemination have graced this blog before and today is no exception. Joining in, is Mark of Zenpundit who offers a counter-point to Galrahn's post on Mexico.

First, in a followup to a post I wrote last week Naval Hearings, The Ships, The Crews and The Mission in The 21st Century comes this in depth review of the hearings written in a balanced tone that finds more in common among those testifying than previously mentioned.

Both Dr. Barnett and Dr. Thompson agreed on two interesting points. First, if we build an interoperable national fleet in the spirit of the Navy's maritime strategy we will get good results. Second, the fleet is not likely to get larger without smaller, cheaper warships. I enjoyed the way Dr. Barnett puts it in his written testimony:

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And then in his capacity as a guest blogger at for the United States Naval Institute Blog,

Galrahn adds his thoughts to the conversation began by Mark of Zenpundit about whether Mexico is a failed state or as Galrahn suggests a weak state.

Quoting DNI, Admiral Dennis Blair.

"Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state. [Let me] repeat that. Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state. The violence we see now is the result of Mexico taking action against the drug cartels."

The important observation by Galrahn addresses our COIN strategy and raises an interesting point with this statement.

My point would be this: there is no value in the cartels overthrowing the Mexican government because its existence helps them more than its absence helps them.

But this is my larger point. There are currently zero, none, nada 4GW/COIN/Whatever military solutions for failed states; our emerging 4GW/COIN/Whatever doctrines, strategies, and theories only apply for weak states that have legitimate governments that can be supported. Failed states are problems that can be handled, even in an ugly way, by conventional military forces. The danger to US strategic interests is not failed states, as is often claimed, rather the real danger to US strategic interests always comes from weak states.
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I agree with his final assessment that if the cartel's take out the legitimate government our options become certain. Currently, we have few options other than supporting the current Mexican government in their efforts to overcome the cartel's grip. The important issue is that another voice is added to the conversation, which is what Mark was attempting to do, by raising the question in the first place. It is better for us to prepare for every contingency by launching discussions that air the views of all who look south with concern for our neighbor. Mark, has responded with Galrahn's post this way.
I found Galrahn’s argument to be very intriguing. There’s the issue of Mexico specifically in his post and then Weak States being worse than Failed States as a general rule. First, Mexico:

The thought experiment I penned previously aside, Mexico is not yet a Failed State and I hope it does not become one - though I would not wager a mortgage payment on it staying away from catastrophic failure. Mexico is definitely, in my view, already a Weak State suddenly resisting the process of being “hollowed out”, slowly, by vicious drug cartels. I wish President Calderon well in his efforts to crush the narco networks, but just as America cannot avoid admitting that our drug laws are impacting Mexico severely, let’s not let the fact that Mexico’s ruling oligarchy has also brought this disaster on themselves with their self-aggrandizingly corrupt political economy escape comment.
Mark concludes by asking for input.
That brings us to the general question of, is a Failed State better or worse than a Weak State whose tattered shreds of international legitimacy prevent robust foreign intervention? I am going to “punt” by inclining toward judging on a case-by-case basis. “Failed State Botswana” is not likely to impact the world very much nor is “Functional State Congo” going to look very good next to anything except Congo as the Failed State that it is. Now “Failed State China” or “Failed State Russia”, that has consequences that are the stuff of nightmares.
What do you say? Which is worse: Weak State or Failed State?
Both men are carrying the ball forward and presenting forums to discuss the issues before they become a full blown crisis that catch America unprepared. One of the main examples carried forth by Thomas Barnett in Great Powers is for people to get involved and in effect create their own public policy. For Americans this means discussion between all those interested in their nation and a free society I invite everyone who reads this to take the time to consider this issue, read, join the discussion it's free and will be welcomed by all.

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