July 05, 2011

Random Thoughts

CNAS is closed for the week, so I am at home catching up on my reading and workouts. A few random thoughts, though:

1. The Dutch are justifiably ashamed of what happened -- and what did not happen -- at Srebrenica, but someone explain to me how today's ruling is good for peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention. If you can be held responsible in a court of law for things you did or did not do in a peacekeeping operation, what incentive is there for top-flight military organizations such as those that belong to the NATO countries to participate in peacekeeping operations? Will you not be left with only those countries who need the money? I am not trying to say military organizations in peacekeeping operations should not be held accountable for their actions. I just see today's ruling unhelpful. When the United Nations next goes around looking for participants in peacekeeping operations, we might see fewer hands go up. Or rather, we might see fewer hands go up from among the better militaries.

2. 197 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan in the first six months of this year.* 195 were killed in the first six months of 2010. Does this mean anything? Well, not really. First off, let me start off by saying that those 197 men and women are "statistically significant" to the mothers, fathers, friends and other family they left behind in the United States. We Americans all mourn their passing and honor their sacrifice. But in terms of trying to wrap our heads around the conflict, an increase of two is statistically insignificant. Or maybe it is significant when you consider there were roughly 30,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan in the first six months of 2011 than there were in the first six months of 2010. So you have more troops in the country, contesting more areas, and the number of U.S. casualties more or less held steady. That might be good news, then? But we have a real problem with data in Afghanistan. Most of the data we do have actually tells us little about the direction of the conflict. And much of the data we want to have is uneven, unstandardized, and has massive gaps in it.

3. The security services of the Pakistani state are an annoyance to the United States. They are a hazard to the people of Afghanistan. And they are an absolute menace to the people of Pakistan itself.

*A number of readers pointed out that this figure is lower than the one tracked by iCasualties. That figure is 203, which I do not think changes anything. (Though, again, I realize every single one of these fallen soldiers is someone's son or daughter, so I am not trying to be insensitive here.)