Saturday, June 18, 2011

Greece Isn't Pakistan

David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy points out that Greece is in a mess because it is not Pakistan:

The problem isn't the Greek finance ministry. The problem isn't the Greek legislature. The problem isn't the Europeans who are being dragged kicking and screaming toward helping Greece. The problem isn't even Goldman Sachs and the other banks who lent Greece more money than they could afford and even helped them hide a bunch of the financings off the books.

Nope, the problem is Greek nuclear scientists and radical terror groups affiliated with the Greek intelligence services -- or rather, the lack thereof.

Because if Greece had nuclear weapons and crazed terrorists hiding in every luxury housing development, you can bet we wouldn't be going through this long drawn-out process of figuring out whether the country was going to default or not.

We know this because of Pakistan. Pakistan is an absolute financial basket case. It is in many respects in as bad a shape as Greece -- and in some it is even much worse off. But do you hear anyone talking about Pakistan's financial problems? Heck no.

Of course, talking about Pakistan's financial problems is like talking about whether Anthony Weiner's socks match. It's not exactly the first issue that comes to mind. Having said that, the reason we are not sweating the meltdown of Pakistan's financial markets is that there is no way the United States or the world would let it happen. Because a financial collapse could trigger the kind of unrest that would put Pakistani nukes at risk, and that's just not tolerable. So the United States pumps billions into Pakistan knowing full well that it is this aid that helps keep the ship of state afloat. (And, money being fungible, if it also pays for expanding Pakistan's nuclear arsenal … well, apparently we're willing to look the other way. Again.)

Once again, one of the main messages of modern international affairs comes through loud and clear: Nukes pay. From Pyongyang to Tehran, enterprising leaders know that the easiest way to boost your country's profile, gain political leverage, and win cash and prizes is to toss a little enriched uranium in the old Cuisinart, let the satellites take a few snaps, and start rattling your radioactive saber.

The problem with Greece is that if the economy collapsed, if the government collapsed, if the country descended into chaos, no one is worried that a nuclear catastrophe would follow. An ouzo-induced hangover maybe -- which can be a pretty horrific thing -- but it's the specter of a mushroom cloud that really is the attention grabber.