Pakistan Map

USA cancels $300 million of military aid to Pakistan – Smart or dumb?

The danger of unintended consequences.

Just over a month ago the dweller’s guide posted this:

“Imran Khan has campaigned against corruption (don’t they all?) and has benefitted from the support of Pakistan’s ubiquitous military, but it will be interesting to see how long he retains that support and whether he himself manages to serve a full term without legal challenge. Pakistan’s economy is spinning out of control. Its foreign currency reserves dwindling faster than a bodyline.  The rupee is devalued more often than an Aussie tampers with the ball, and he is going to need an IMF bail out before teatime.”

Now the Trump administration has bowled him a real Yorker

It has cancelled $300 million of military aid to Pakistan, just days before Secretary of State Pompeo’s visit. (Don’t expect much of a welcome, Mike!)

Everyone will, of course, blame everyone else – USA will say that Islamabad isn’t keeping its promise to deal with Afghan militants (which they probably aren’t.)

Imran Khan’s new government will blame US war on terror and drone strikes for actually encouraging extremism in Pakistan (which they probably are.)

And journalists everywhere will suggest it has something to do with Khan’s ostentatiously warm welcome of the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, as his first diplomatic guest and his statements of support for the nuclear deal that Trump recently cancelled (and they may have a point.)

As usual though, there are bigger questions lurking here:

  • Does Khan need USA support for a desperately needed IMF bail out more than Trump needs Khan’s support in Afghanistan?
  • How solid will the army’s support of Khan be if it costs them real money? The loss of funds will not hurt the army immediately, but might affect its ability to replace ageing equipment. Reuters also report that scores of army officials have also been cut from the highly prestigious (for the Pakistan army) training and educational programmes in the US. To switch metaphor briefly, has Khan just scored an own goal with his own military?

Maybe it will work out. The US won’t really want to risk destabilising Pakistan’s government, sitting with a fast growing stockpile of nuclear weapons, just waiting for chaos and terrorists to get hold of; China and others can’t realistically fill the gap in military spending that the cancellation of USA aid represents.

Also, it’s hard to put much of the blame on Khan’s government for this. Most of the money had already been stopped, before Pakistan’s election. The USA Coalition Support Fund was suspended in January after Trump tweeted that the US had received nothing but “lies and deceit” in return for $33bn (£25bn) of financial support to Pakistan since 2002.

But the biggest question of all, has to do with the USA’s use of power.

There are broadly 4 kinds of international power:

  1. Military (everyone’s had a go at this – it’s expensive and usually a disaster in the end)
  2. Soft (The USA, France and UK all have excelled at this mix of diplomacy, aid, cultural cross over)
  3. Criminal and terrorist (all the usual suspects, including ISIS (suicide bombers) and Russia (poisoning plus cyber interference) plus many others, depending on your point of view.
  4. Commercial/financial/trade

Until recently, commercial and financial power has hidden somewhat surreptitiously under the coat of Soft power, aid, diplomacy and ‘trade missions’. President Trump has changed that completely. Coming from a purely commercial background, commercial power is what he is most comfortable exercising. And he has a lot of it. It’s no secret that USA disproportionately funds the UN and NATO.

On average, the United States’ government has given approximately one percent of its federal budget — about $34 billion — each year over the past decade to countries in need of foreign aid. It is the single biggest donor country.

It is the second biggest exporting country in the world after China (the EU is a trading block not a country, so doesn’t count) and it is the world’s biggest importer (again, excluding the EU).

So, the aggressive use of sanctions and the cancellation of trade deals and aid programmes have become the US foreign policy tool of choice under Trump. No one else has ever really tried it in modern history and no one else currently could (though the EU is trying in a kind of mealy-mouthed way and China quite likes the look of it too.)

Will it work? 

Probably not, for the same reason that military power usually fails – you achieve your short term goals at the cost of alienating so many people against you that your longer term goals elude you forever. It’s different in commerce – you threaten people with takeovers and ruin in order to buy them on the cheap; in international relations the goal is to get them to play nice and help you.

Trade power is the new game in town, and the potential for unintended, and very bad consequences, is there for all to see.


WW1 – the world’s biggest ever unintended consequence. Let’s hope we’re not about to see another one.


If you want to know more about a place than it really wants you to know, read The Dweller’s Guide To The Planet



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