Is Pakistan an Ally or an Enemy? How about “neither”?

Daniel Larison at the American Conservative objects to attacks on Pakistan’s loyalty as an ally, noting (correctly) that allies don’t always agree. Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic also sticks up for Pakistan as an ally.

I think we’re getting to the point where these terms don’t make much sense as regards Pakistan. There are countries and non-state actors out there that are US allies, and there are countries and non-state-actors that are US enemies. And you know what? There are countries and non-state actors out there that are neither one.

Let’s make the hardly-bulletproof-but-still-reasonable assumption that most nations follow what they perceive to be their interests, whether that is some sort of overarching “national interest” or the collection of interests of individuals and groups within those societies. Those nations whose interests very strongly dovetail with the United States we will call “allies”, and those whose interests are rarely aligned with the United States we can call “enemies.”

Where is Pakistan? It is in neither of these camps. It has no use for Al Qaeda, but probably welcomes Taliban rule in Afghanistan because the Taliban will never ally with India. It probably doesn’t want nuclear proliferation, but isn’t averse to selling some secrets to get foreign exchange. It certainly doesn’t want a nuclear war, but it does want Kashmir, and isn’t averse to having groups of terrorists attack India if for other reason than domestic political consumption.

The Cold War is over. We are in a very complicated multipolar world with far more powers than even Europe in the 19th century. Most nations will be neither our allies or our adversaries. We should be getting used to it by now.

This is so obvious I’m not even sure why I had to write it, but several years of “you’re either with us or against us” has obviously taken its intellectual toll.

[Cross-posted at Same Facts]

Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff is a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles.