Why medium-sized autocracies are projecting more hard power abroad

And why this is alarming

11/26/2021 8:49:00 AM

Some leaders, mostly autocrats, are venturing abroad to distract attention from their dire record at home

And why this is alarming

.Turkey has occupied a chunk of Syria, sent troops to Libya, helped Azerbaijan vanquish Armenia and dispatched its navy in support of dubious claims to Mediterranean waters. Iran backs militias that prop up Syria’s despot, have a chokehold on Lebanon and were accused this month of trying to murder Iraq’s prime minister with an explosives-laden drone. Pakistan helped a group of misogynistic jihadists take over Afghanistan. Belarus hijacked a plane and has been giving migrants bolt-cutters and ordering them to cut through Poland’s border fence. Cuba trains Venezuelan spooks. Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen.

Medium-sized menaces are on the march. They are making the world more confusing and more dangerous.The leaders of such countries do not all have a free hand. Belarus’s dictator has lately become a Russian puppet; Pakistan is hugely in debt to China; everyone is wary of direct military confrontation with America. But for the most part they are pursuing their own agendas, not those of a great-power sponsor. They are promoting what they see as their national interests or, in many cases, their own selfish ones.

Some have national-security concerns. Turkey wanted a buffer zone in Syria to stop Kurdish fighters setting up bases near its border. Pakistan was afraid of Indian influence in Afghanistan. Egypt is meddling in Libya because it wants to avoid chaos there. But other less respectable motives are also common. headtopics.com

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Some leaders, mostly autocrats, are venturing abroad to distract attention from their dire record at home. Turkey’s president has presided over economic blight and political repression, but Turks cheer his artfully televised military victories. Likewise, the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Pakistan all hide their failings behind a vigorously waved national flag.

Profit plays a role, too. Some leaders offer arms and loans to war-scorched countries on the understanding that their own firms will be first in line for contracts to rebuild them. The financial beneficiaries are often the leader’s cronies, not his people.

A final motive, and perhaps the most important, is that autocrats tend to support other autocrats. Cuba’s mambo-dancing Marxist rulers have little in common with Iran’s austere mullahs, but they all support Venezuela. Regimes under American sanctions trade with each other to survive. Despots swap tips on how to crush democrats and coup plots. Sometimes, all these motives are combined. An autocrat may send troops to help another autocrat, dress it up as a patriotic war, and win construction deals later that oil his patronage machine.

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The results have been catastrophic. In Venezuela medium-sized menaces have propped up a regime under President Nicolás Maduro so corrupt and inept that the economy has shrunk by 75%. In Ethiopia arms and cash from medium-sized meddlers gave its prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, the confidence to wage all-out war on domestic rebels, causing tens of thousands of deaths and forcing millions to flee their homes. All around the world, the fraying of American deterrence and the American security guarantee are prompting neighbours to look more fearfully at their traditional foes, and to re-arm. headtopics.com

None of this is good for global stability. The world would be safer if America were more engaged, not less. But that is for a different leader: this one is addressed to the medium-sized meddlers themselves. Each case is different, but most of these newly assertive countries will find that the costs of adventurism outweigh the benefits. Wielding hard power is expensive, and hard to do effectively.

Turkey has gained swagger and territory, but alienated nearly all its allies.. TheUAE’s missions failed not only in Yemen but in Libya, too. Pakistani colonels gloated over President Joe Biden’s hasty retreat from Afghanistan. The Taliban are friendly with Pakistan and hostile to India. But Kabul’s new rulers have no idea how to govern. Afghanistan is in economic meltdown and their ruthless, exclusive approach could provoke another war on Pakistan’s doorstep.

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The men who run all these countries no doubt see things differently. Autocrats love having an external enemy, and sometimes believe their own propaganda. So they will keep up their military meddling. But they will often blunder, as even great powers do, and in the end this may bring them down.

Read more: The Economist »

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