Some more departures into the unthinkable
If their mandate is to think the unthinkable, then Frederick Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon are making a good job of it over at the Brookings Institution. In November last year, they wrote an op-ed in the New York Times outlining how the United States might have to confiscate Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and fly them to New Mexico. And now, in a policy brief arguing for the US to increase the size of its armed forces, they construct a scenario wherein American troops may have to enter Kashmir.
Responding to War over Kashmir What if war breaks out between Pakistan and India over Kashmir? U.S. interests in Kashmir are not great enough to justify armed intervention on one side in such a war, and no formal alliance commits us to step in. There are other ways in which foreign forces might become involved, however. If India and Pakistan came close to using, or actually used, nuclear weapons, they might consider what was previously unthinkable (to New Delhi in particular)—pleading to the international community for help. For example, they might ask the international community to run Kashmir for a period of years in order to prevent a nuclear war that would kill tens of millions, shatter the tradition of nuclear non-use so essential to global stability, and make Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal vulnerable to extremists.
What might a stabilization mission in Kashmir entail? The region has about half of Iraq’s population and area. That suggests initial stabilization forces of about 100,000, with a U.S. contribution of 30,000 to 50,000. The mission would make sense only if India and Pakistan blessed it, so there would be little point in deploying a force large enough to defeat one of those countries. But, robust monitoring of border regions, as well as counter-insurgent and counter-terrorist strike forces, would be necessary. [Brookings]
Now, Kagan and O’Hanlon are entitled to think of far out challenges, even if they are too far out and contain too many leaps of logic. But it is remarkable that they should think that a force of just 100,000 troops is sufficient for stabilisation, even of the ‘initial’ kind. There are far more than that number today just on India’s side of the Line of Control. And what about troop levels after the initial period? They don’t say. Perhaps that’s because doing so will not fit their conclusion—that the US needs at least another 100,000 active duty soldiers and marines. Indeed, that’s the greatest weakness in their analysis: for the kind of global policing role they envisage for the US, they grossly underestimate the numbers of troops required. For all the advances in military technology, the business of holding territory is a numbers game. To acquire the capability to match its intentions, the US needs to put many times more than number in uniform.
The irony is if Kagan and O’Hanlon were to argue for, say, 300,000 more troops, no one will take them seriously. For that is truly unthinkable in America.