Why target countries rather than ruling parties?

When the action of a foreign government annoys or disadvantages us, we immediately think in terms of damaging the country involved in retaliation, rather than trying to weaken or displace the particular group of politicians who made the decision, or the party in power. This seems to me an error.

In general, it ought to be easier and less costly (in terms of unwanted side-effects and backlash) for the US to damage the BJP rather than “India” in retaliation for having built a nuclear weapon, the RFR or the SPD rather than “France” or “Germany” in retaliation for dragging their heels on Iraq. In particular, the economic interests of the big contributors to those ruling parties shouldn’t be hard to identify, and in some cases to damage.

Obvious problems:

1. We’d be “interfering in the domestic politics” of the target countries. Right. But why not? If it’s legitimate to try to put French workers, many of whom didn’t vote Gaullist in the first place, out of work because we don’t like what Chirac did, why should it be illegitimate to try to put Chirac himself out of work? In each case, we’re trying to influence the behavior of the French government. Why is the crude, clumsy, unfair approach less offensive than the targeted approach? Perhaps some foreign leaders would wear US opposition as a badge of honor; if so, perhaps we should try to become less unpopular in those countries if we want to be able to influence their elections. If we’re popular, then “the Americans are trying to defeat me because I offended them” won’t be a winning campaign theme for our targets.

2. We’d have to know who pays for the RFR, what they own, and what actions we could take to damage those enterprises. If we can’t find that out, the CIA and the State Department really do need new management.

3. We’re afraid of retaliation.

Targeting the ruling circle rather than the country may be more of a new idea in theory than it is in practice. I’ve been told, by someone I think reliable, that the Kosovo bombing worked only when we identified factories owned by Milosovich’s major backers and started to bomb them selectively.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

One thought on “Why target countries rather than ruling parties?”

  1. The endorsement of death

    Mark Kleiman wondered a few days ago why countries don’t try to muck around with internal politics to pursue their preferred policies (except, of course, when they do—most notably, during the steel tarriffs flap, the European Union was on t…

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