, 18 tweets, 3 min read
Long thread: I see this 👇 line of argument often enough in public policy analysis that I think we should coin a phrase for it- “The Panacea Fallacy”. It is a flawed argument that argues against a policy action by pointing out the banal fact that it is not a panacea
We can do this with regard to ANY policy, even one that is very effective: “Have economic reforms ended poverty completely?”, “The US has the most powerful armed forces in the world, yet their people still die in armed conflict” etc. The value add of such an analysis is low.
The right way to evaluate a policy step is not to ask whether it is a panacea or not (newsflash- nothing is), but to ask - does it confer significant benefits, with limited costs as compared to the alternatives (which includes do nothing) and is it feasible to do politically
And does it help address the key root causes of the problem to a significant extent, and are short term and long term benefit/ cost trade offs all acceptable. This is the more pragmatic way of policy design- incrementally advancing, rather than the futile search for panaceas.
Specifically on Balakot, surgical strikes and 370, I think those are very sound moves even on the count of he long term effects on terrorism. By the way, the strategic evaluation of these has to be on a much larger framing than just terrorism, but let’s confine ourselves to that
My argument is this- Balakot and surgical strikes will deter terrorism *at the margin* (not eliminate it completely) by raising the costs for Pakistan; 370 does by reducing the benefits *at the margin*. The first affects costs, the second benefits for Pakistan from using terror
To see why consider this- Pakistan’s strategy is simple- it is a state that covets the territory of a larger, conventionally more powerful state. So it’s strategy is to use terrorism as a way to wrest territorial concessions from India that it cannot win through conventional war
But India can retaliate with conventional war? For that Pakistan has used the nuclear deterrent to prevent India from escalating to a full fledged war in response to a terror strike.
What Balakot and surgical strikes did is that it blew a hole through Pakistan’s threat of the so called single rung nuclear escalation ladder, by showing that there is space for a conventional retaliation that will not escalate to a nuclear war.
Hence any future Pakistani decision maker has to now consider this- if I sanction this terror strike, will PoK and Pakistan be attacked by India conventionally? And given India’s overall edge there, are the risks worth it?
Now will this mean terror goes to zero? Probably not. Specific terror strikes may still be something Pakistan gambles on, it is a somewhat risk acceptant actor. But it is NOT an irrational actor. So at the margin it will deter some, if not many terror attacks.
To put it in game theory terms- a stance of Assured Retaliation by India is a commitment move (a move that *reduces options* for India) but like all commitment moves in a game of chicken it helps India and affects Pakistan.
To put it in chess terms, a doctrine of Assured Retaliation by India makes even the first move (of sanctioning a terror strike) a zugzwang for Pakistan. That is if Pakistan moves, it is worse of than if it doesn’t, hence a zugzwang.
Now on 370. Recall that Pakistan’s strategy is bleed India so that it loses resolve and makes concessions on Kashmir that it otherwise would not have as a greater power. Again, what 370 does is a commitment move of sorts.
370 erosion raises the domestic political costs for any government in India from making even political concessions on Kashmir (not even territorial ones). In other words, the potential *benefits* for Pakistan from terror as a strategy are lowered.
With all this, will terrorism be eliminated? Unlikely in the short run. Commitment moves have been signalled, but Pakistan will probe to see if the commitment holds. But if India responds with resolve, beliefs will shift for Pakistan.
And eventually, over time, you may see a massive reduction in the use of terror as strategy by Pakistan. That doesn’t mean they leave their goals of anti India action, just the specific tactics and strategy.
But the larger point is- analyse the effects of public policies at the margin, not with respect to an impossible standard of whether they are panaceas. (End of thread).
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