It is an obvious truth that it is cheaper to be at peace than at war. Yet, it is equally challenging how expensive it has become to achieve that peace in every part of the world. Pakistan is at war. Its government has no plans for peace so far. For that, one requires leadership, which can assess the cost of war as being prohibitively expensive. That leadership then needs to take some strategic decisions as to how it will establish peace. It needs to assess the cost of achieving that sustained peace. And then, it needs to stick to its resolve of peace, however painful and unpopular the roll out might be. That is, of course, real leadership. Something the current federal government cannot execute through its three centres of power: the Presidency, Interior Ministry and Foreign Ministry.

Even the world global power is in a royal fix these days. The long-term goal of any great power in the 21st century is access, not conquest as compared to the opposite in the earlier centuries. That access is becoming cost prohibitive. Historic example of Britain comes to mind, which can be compared to the insolvency dilemma the US currently faces. In 1905, Great Britain was nearly over its imperial peak. Its economic prospects were diminishing, its treasury was not in tune with its global commitments, and regional challengers were crowding out its influence.

The US is in a similar position today, as far as the cost of peace and war is concerned. Its approach to defence strategy is fast becoming insolvent and unsustainable. This is the paradigm that will determine future foreign policy decisions of the US. Pakistani federal government officials, whom one hesitates to call leaders, are not seen to be preparing for this paradigm shift. They are so embroiled in their day to day reactions to actions that they cannot even see the bigger picture.

Everyone in Pakistan is talking about the 2014 Nato withdrawal. Everyone is stuck on how much of the 67,000 US troops will be withdrawn and what type of combat advising force will be left behind. And whether the special forces will be able to manage the continued insurgency after the withdrawal. But how many are looking at the dilemma, which is causing it? Are we aware of the retrenchment versus realignment debate going on in US politics in dollar terms to their economy and social polity? We must be clear that if the US continues to cling to the paradigm, which says that the global vision of the world order is dependent on it, the result will be an economic collapse of the US. Slowly we are seeing a crowding out of US credibility, diplomacy, and military operations. Today’s China versus US can be compared to the earlier Bismarck Germany versus Great Britain. Many other regional powers are taking over the space, which the US is fast losing.

Gone are the days of complete US military might. What we all need to realise is that America’s pioneering military systems are becoming expensive and unreliable. For example, the US has lost its near monopoly on precision-guided smart bombs. Now the older tactical strategies of deploying forces through ports and air bases are going to be short-circuited by other military systems, which are faster, more mobile and certainly less cost prohibitive. When China is developing missile systems designed to strike mobile targets and is pursuing anti-satellite and cyber warfare capabilities, the might of the US military information systems stand exposed. The current risks are from these anti-access/area-denial (A2/Ad) capabilities, including an attack on undersea capital assets.

Just like Britain faced too heavy commitments, depleted capabilities, extreme reluctance to relinquish the role of a ‘Great Power’ so is the US going through the same phase. Except, the pace of insolvency is faster today, due to the following factors: technological advancement, growth of non-state actors, the fiscal cliff, declining military predominance and reduced domestic appetite for global escapades.

The fiscal cliff is so real that debt estimates predict $146 billion of 2010 to grow to over $800 billion in 2020. The US Defence spends are over a 100 billion a year, which are crippling for the entire world and not just for the US. This obviously will lead to the downgrading of US credit ratings and threat to the dollar as a reserve currency. In fact, this process has already started. In such a situation, the US foreign policy paradigm will shift and we must start preparing for that shift. The US has tremendous challenges due to its bloating military pension programme, which will go from over $52 billion in 2011 to as much as $117 billion by 2035. This is definitely not in line with the newly projected vastly reduced US economic power.

Earlier, the US could have counted on the European big three, namely the UK, Germany and France. However, now it is clear where their strategy is going as well. Their spends on defence are less than half of what the US spends as a percentage of their GDPs, and in real dollars, they spend only one-quarter as much combined.

American politicians versus American leaders are not coming to terms with this new reality. And this short sightedness will cost the world populations and not just US populations. They seem to be stuck at the realignment false optics, which won’t be enough to save the US from future decline. They are finding it hard to come to terms with the new paradigm shift of recalibrating. They must do so very soon. The world can only move towards peace if the realisation sets in that the world cannot afford access games, which rely on expensive military might. Diplomacy of a sort not witnessed is the need of the hour from all powers: major, central and peripheral. Hectic diplomacy that resolves, resets and reinvigorates the prosperity debate and a willingness towards shared commons.

In line with the above stark realities at least the real leadership in Pakistan must review its options and steer the debate towards its own survival. Pakistan cannot afford war either. We have lost over 50,000 civilians and security forces in last few years alone. Every day our cities are bombed. Every day the enemies target kill. Our only salvation is in dignified and sustainable peace across all our borders. Those who believe that Pakistan has thankfully lost interest in having friendly neighbours and is content with peaceful neighbours are missing the point. One without the other is not possible. Pakistan must assess the impact of regional alliances its neighbours are having with each other. Encirclement is visible, which will cost Pakistan its peace dream.

For peace to prevail, Pakistan will have to mirror the US insolvency debate and substitute itself in that paradigm shift. We have a far more acute problem at hand if we don’t get peace fast. Our relevance to the regional debate must not be lost or else we will realise how expensive achieving peace is all about versus how cheap it is.

The writer is a former parliamentarian. Email: marvi.nmemon@gmail.com