Who can you trust?
Two news articles related to Pakistan are in the news. The first describes how Pakistan's AQ Khan recanted a "confession" that he participated in an underground nuclear arms market. The second is an NYT report on suspicions that Pakistan's Frontier Corps is refusing to fight the Taliban and may in fact be aiding them.
Here's the ABC article about AQ Khan's recantation.
The Pakistani scientist blamed for running a rogue network that sold nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya has recanted his confession, telling ABC News the Pakistani government and President Perez Musharraf forced him to be a "scapegoat" for the "national interest."
"I don't stand by that," Dr. A.Q. Khan told ABC News in a 35-minute phone interview from his home in Islamabad, where he has been detained since "confessing" that he ran the nuclear network on his own, without the knowledge of the Pakistani government.
Interestingly, Khan doesn't deny his actions so much as the allegation that they were unauthorized by the Pakistani government. That raises the question of exactly how reliable Pakistan is as an "ally" in the nonproliferation effort.
"Those people who were supposed to know knew it," Khan said about his activities. If true, it would mean Pakistan lied to the U.S. and the international community about its role in providing nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
"Those people who were suppose to know" would certainly include the very top of Pakistan's leadership. In particular, Khan cited a trip to North Korea. "Khan said the North Korean nuclear weapons program was 'well-advanced' before he arrived, as part of an officially sanctioned trip by his government."
In another news article, the NYT describes how a Pakistani counterterror group may be double-crossing the US. The NYT's source is "Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the U.S. Senate's committee on armed forces."
"If that's our intelligence assessment, then there's a real question as to whether or not we should be putting money into strengthening the Frontier Corps on the Pakistan side because if anything there's some evidence that the Pakistan army is providing support to the Taliban," Levin told reporters after visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan this week.
But why just the Frontier Corps? Is the problem limited to that unit? Both stories underscore the limits and difficulties inherent in containing nuclear proliferation and terrorism using proxies in general and Pakistan in particular. Treachery among allies has a long and sordid pedigree. Some years ago Bill Gertz wrote a book called Treachery, which essentially argued that terror groups are connected, in one way or the other, to America's "friends".
Nor is betrayal a recent phenomenon. At Yalta, near the end of the "Good War", the Allies, perhaps with the aid of sympathetic foreign office officials in the Churchill and Roosevelt governments, condemned Eastern Europe to Stalin's tyranny. Normally it is the powerless who are apt to be left holding the bag.
That is because the long term disincentive to betray is the prospect of eventual payback. In the classic case of the "Prisoner's Dilemma" the incentives to betrayal are eliminated if the game is played continuously. This is because the betrayed can get back at the betrayer. Judas gets his and that prospect, rather than conscience, makes cowards of double-crossers. This is why the powerless, as was the case of the Eastern Europeans, are most commonly sold down the river. They are incapable of imposing payback.
In the iterated prisoner's dilemma the game is played repeatedly. Thus each player has an opportunity to "punish" the other player for previous non-cooperative play. Cooperation may then arise as an equilibrium outcome. The incentive to defect is overcome by the threat of punishment, leading to the possibility of a cooperative outcome. So if the game is infinitely repeated, cooperation may be a subgame perfect Nash equilibrium although both players defecting always remains an equilibrium and there are many other equilibrium outcomes.
Great powers, like the United States, derive power from maintaining a consistent policy because consistency guarantees the eventual punishment of traitors. It would have been difficult to successfully prosecute the Cold War without a common policy among successive American Presidents.
One of the unintended consequences of a Barack Obama's avowed intention to repudiate his predecessor's policy is that it sends a signal to America's betrayers that there may be no consequences for their actions. And while there may be good reasons to change policy when it isn't working, one of the implicit costs of doing so is that it weakens the disincentives to betrayal.
Will Pakistan fear the wrath of Barack Obama? Maybe they already know.
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