Konyobama 2012: Part IV

(Continued from Part III)

In economics, there is an important concept called a negative externality. It occurs when a decision by one set of parties has a negative effect on others who did not have a choice and whose interests were not taken into account. What it means, practically, is that many decisions we all make can and do have unforeseen outcomes for others that we did not take into account. And no matter how well meaning the original intent, those outcomes can be bad.

In 2004, a massive tsunami wiped out major portions of the coastlines of Indonesia and Sri Lanka. In the aftermath, relief organizations came into one small community in Sri Lanka, called Arugam Bay, which had been literally wiped off the map. After the immediate needs had been met, they began to build replacement housing for the locals; sturdy, tsunami-resistant, concrete homes were built to replace the stick wood structures that had been predominant in the villages previously. They were furnished with air conditioning, running water and electric stoves to replace river wate,r and open cook fires. 

But there was a problem: the local villagers could not pay the electricity bills and so very soon nothing worked. Even worse, the concrete homes did not allow air to flow through, so the combination of stifling tropic heat and the need to cook on an open fire forced the villagers to break out the walls of the new homes or abandon them completely to suit their lifestyle. Negative externality, unforeseen consequences.

During the Clinton administration, the decision was made to rearrange U.S. intelligence-gathering services, taking the CIA out of the lead  role and instead putting the emphasis on the NSA. This seemed like a modern and cost effective way of approaching intelligence in a new and increasingly electronic world. The CIA’s emphasis is on human intelligence (people talking to people on the ground) and the NSA’s on electronic surveillance (giant supercomputers crunching data). 

As it turns out, organizations such as al Qaeda in countries such as Afghanistan do not create much electronic intelligence or electronic anything, for that matter. Subsequently, the 9/11 attacks were not only unforeseen but were very difficult to react to, as we had not maintained human intelligence relationships in these small, third world countries. Intelligence gaps were so bad, in fact, that the full extent of the organization of militant Islam across multiple continents was not understood fully for years and came as a big surprise. Negative externality, unforeseen consequences.

And so it is with Kinetic Military Action. Using our technological superiority exclusively to engage in armed conflict leaves a large hole in the battlefield. Whether in Libya with naval and air postures or sub-Saharan Africa and portions of the Middle East with drones, we are outsourcing a portion of the distasteful business of war. And like manufacturing, many countries use children to do the hard, dirty and dangerous work.  

It may be comforting to think that the war on terror is being conducted by young American soldiers piloting a drone from an air conditioned building here in the United States, but it is certainly not comforting to think who might be on the ground doing the body count.

KONY 2012. A quick check of the website shows that every action kit is sold out. And that is a testament to the American national consciousness--however, it must not be a salve. 

As the world’s battlefields become increasingly asymetric, the methods we use must be examined to ensure they are founded on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by a majority of Americans. The Nobel Peace Committee was certainly right on at least that point. But as our politicians and President line up for photo-ops with bright faced young American kids to look like they are responding to the humanitarian crisis, perhaps rather than ask them what they are going to do, we should ask them to undo what they have just done instead. 

We should understand who may be paying the price for our decisions, and the parents of 300,000 child soldiers are right to expect that all of us, as Americans, are going to take their interests into account.


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