A Failed Policy
A New Framework
The Bush administration's "war on terrorism" reflects a major failure of leadership and makes Americans more vulnerable rather than more secure. The administration has chosen a path to combat terrorism that has weakened multilateral institutions and squandered international goodwill. Not only has Bush failed to support effective reconstruction in Afghanistan, but his war and occupation in Iraq have made the United States more vulnerable and have opened a new front and a recruiting tool for terrorists while diverting resources from essential homeland security efforts. In short, Washington's approach to homeland security fails to address key vulnerabilities, undermines civil liberties, and misallocates resources.
The administration has taken some successful steps to counter terrorism, such as improved airline and border security, a partial crackdown on terrorist financing, improved international cooperation in sharing intelligence, the arrest of several high-level al-Qaida figures, and the disruption of a number of planned attacks. But these successes are overwhelmed by policy choices that have made U.S. citizens more rather than less vulnerable. The Bush White House has undermined the very values it claims to be defending at home and abroad-democracy and human rights; both Washington's credibility and its efforts to combat terrorism are hampered when it aids repressive regimes. Furthermore, the administration has weakened the international legal framework essential to creating a global effort to counter terrorism, and it has failed to address the political contexts-failed states and repressive regimes-that enable and facilitate terrorism.
Six factors explain the failure of the Bush administration's approach:
A. Overemphasis on Military Responses: The Bush administration has used everyone's legitimate concerns about terrorism to justify a massive increase in military spending that has little or nothing to do with combating terrorism. According to the Center for Defense Information, only about one-third of the increase in the FY2003 Pentagon budget over pre-Sept. 11 budgets funds programs and activities closely related to homeland security or counterterrorism operations. In addition, by enshrining preventive war in the national security strategy both as a general policy doctrine and for countering terrorism in particular, the administration has further reduced everyone's security.
B. Failure in Intelligence Sharing: The White House has failed to develop better mechanisms to share critical information both among intelligence agencies and between federal and local agencies. The recently created Terrorist Threat Intelligence Center is unaccountable to Congress and fails to place the coordination of intelligence gathering in the hands of those who must act on the findings.
C. Undermining Democracy and Civil Liberties: The Bush administration has undermined democracy at home through increased government secrecy. On the civil liberties front, the USA PATRIOT Act imposes guilt by association on immigrants, expands the government's authority to conduct criminal searches and wiretaps, and undermines fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights-none of which have proved necessary or effective in tracking down terrorists.
D. Undermining Homeland Security: Bush's approach to homeland security has two key flaws. First, his administration has been far too laissez-faire in its approach to ensuring the security of the 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure owned or controlled by the private sector. Second, it has failed to meet the basic needs of emergency responders, has underfunded key national agencies like the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, and has created new unfunded mandates for local governments, forcing them to transfer scarce funds from social services and public safety to homeland security tasks.
E. Weakening International Institutions: The Bush administration has been hostile to a whole set of multilateral institutions that are central to enhancing international law and security, from the International Criminal Court to nearly all multilateral arms control and disarmament efforts, including the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions, the ABM Treaty, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
F. Failure to Attack Root Causes: The Bush White House has failed to address the root causes of international terrorism and the social and political contexts in which such terrorism thrives, including repressive regimes, failed states, and the way in which poverty and inequality can create conditions of support for terrorist acts. Addressing the basic causes and conditions that facilitate terrorism in no way implies appeasement. Rather, it reflects both a pragmatic commitment to diffuse terrorism's political roots and a normative commitment to respect the values the United States preaches. Yet, heedless to the time bomb of widening global wealth disparity, the Bush administration has taken advantage of the crisis surrounding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to justify its pursuit of an expanded trade and investment liberalization agenda. This agenda fails to address the central challenges of reducing poverty and inequality and of promoting sustainable growth in developing countries.
A New Framework
A different approach would not fight a ?war on terrorism.? Rather, it would treat terrorism as an ongoing threat that needs to be tackled through a strong, coordinated strategy focused on strengthening civilian public sectors and enhancing the international cooperation necessary to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks. Although the military has a clear role to play, it is a supporting actor in the fight against terrorism and Washington must restructure the military in ways that enhance its capacities to respond to the threat posed by international terrorism. The safety challenge of terrorism exposes the weakness of Washington?s conventional ideas of national security and the folly of traditional responses?typically military?to threats against U.S. citizens.
America needs a new agenda for combating terrorism, one that secures citizens against attacks and that situates the use of force within an international legal and policy framework. This agenda must bring international terrorists to justice, debilitate their capacity to wage terrorism, and undermine the political credibility of terrorist networks by addressing related political grievances and injustices. Below, we outline a four-part framework for a new agenda to counter terrorism.
A. Strengthen Homeland Security
To do this, the emphasis needs to be on preventing terrorist attacks and mitigating the effects of terrorist violence. Specific initiatives should:
- Improve Intelligence Gathering and Oversight: The coordination of intelligence gathering related to domestic security should be based within the Department of Homeland Security, since this is the agency responsible for acting on the information. The CIA?current home of the Terrorist Threat Intelligence Center?has proven unable to coordinate well with other intelligence agencies. The key issue facing the improvement of domestic counterterrorism intelligence capabilities does not involve a choice of organizational form (i.e., boosting the FBI?s capabilities or creating a new domestic intelligence body) but rather an effort to reinstate civil liberties and reinforce judicial and congressional oversight of intelligence operations.
- Strengthen Border Security: Adequately fund key border security programs and agencies such as the Container Security Initiative, the Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.
- Protect Critical Infrastructure: It is essential that government step up security for critical infrastructure, especially regarding:
- Nuclear Power Plants: Spent reactor fuel pools at U.S. commercial nuclear power plants represent potentially the most consequential vulnerability to terrorist attacks. The most important step that can be taken to significantly reduce this vulnerability is to learn from several European nations that have placed all spent fuel older than five years into thick-walled, dry storage modes.
- The Chemical Industry: The Department of Homeland Security needs to establish and enforce minimum requirements for the improvement of security and the reduction of potential hazards at chemical plants and other industrial facilities that store large quantities of hazardous materials.
- Food and Agriculture Safety: There is a need for a comprehensive national plan both to defend against the intentional introduction of biological agents in an act of terror and to create a network of laboratories to coordinate the detection of bioterror agents in the event of an attack.
- Information Technology: There are numerous serious proposals to better secure information technology in virtually all of the nation?s critical infrastructure, from the air-traffic-control system to aircraft themselves, from the electric-power grid to financial and banking systems, and from the Internet to communication systems.
Support Emergency Responders: In addition to improving emergency preparedness plans, the administration needs to provide training, equipment, and increased support to all levels of government to strengthen emergency response capabilities by fire, police, and rescue departments as well as public health systems, all of which will be frontline emergency responders in case of a terrorist attack.
Prevent Terrorists from Obtaining Weapons: To prevent terrorists from obtaining conventional or other weapons of mass destruction, specific initiatives should:
Strengthen International Conventions: There is a need to fortify the conventions for the control, nonproliferation, and elimination of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.
End the National Missile Defense Program (also known as ?Star Wars?): The Sept. 11 attacks highlight how imminent security threats are posed not from missiles but from other types of delivery systems. Combined with concerns about the destabilizing effects of the missile defense system and the false promise of security it offers, the United States should end efforts to build a National Missile Defense system and redirect those monies toward arms control and disarmament efforts.
Control Weapons in Russia: There is a need for increased funding for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and other efforts to monitor and control weapons material in Russia and the former Soviet Union.
B. Strengthen International and National Legal Systems to Hold Terrorists Accountable
An effective response to terrorism requires bolstering the national and international legal infrastructure necessary to identify and prosecute the individuals and organizations that facilitate, finance, perpetrate, and profit from terrorism.
Specific initiatives should:
- Expand international police cooperation;
- Adopt the Princeton Principles on Universal Jurisdiction for prosecutions of crimes against humanity;
- Strengthen the institutions of international law by supporting the creation of a specialized tribunal for judging international terrorists; and,
- Provide technical assistance to countries to implement all the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force with respect to money laundering and terrorist financing.
In those instances where military force is necessary to combat nonstate actors like al-Qaida, working through international institutions is justified on both normative and pragmatic grounds. The use of force should require specific authorization from the United Nations Security Council that includes specific goals and a time line, and military operations would preferably be under U.N. control. In any event, the exercise of such force should adhere to international humanitarian law and the principles of the ?just war? tradition.
C. Defend and Promote Democracy at Home and Abroad
Antiterrorist efforts should not sacrifice the very values that Americans are trying to defend. Washington must listen closely to the mounting concerns of civil libertarians and constitutional rights groups who caution that the new counterterrorism campaign may lead to a garrison state that undermines all that America stands for while doing little to protect citizens against unconventional threats. The USA PATRIOT Act is perhaps the greatest threat to civil liberties in the country today, and we applaud the numerous states, cities, towns, and counties that have passed resolutions demanding that local law enforcement not implement the provisions of those regulations that infringe on basic rights.
In forging international coalitions against terrorism, the administration should strengthen restrictions on the provision of military aid, weapons, and training to regimes that systematically violate human rights. Proactively, the White House and Congress should more rigorously condition such programs on adherence to internationally recognized human rights standards. In addition, the United States should support efforts to strengthen international legal and human rights norms, conventions, and organizations and should evaluate its own foreign policies in light of those norms.
D. Attack Root Causes
Combating terrorism requires looking beyond any one terrorist event?horrific as it may be?to address the broader socioeconomic, political, and military contexts from which international terrorism emerges. Because terrorism is a particular kind of violent act aimed at achieving a political objective, a preventive strategy must address its political roots.
U.S. policy must recognize a distinction between international terrorism in general and the specific threat posed by al-Qaida and other extremist Islamist movements, so as not to be perceived as waging a war on Islam. The 9/11 Commission Report, for example, is careful to make such a distinction. This requires that U.S. policymakers learn to distinguish between illegitimate demands and legitimate demands pursued through illegitimate means. The anti-democratic and jihadist character of al-Qaida?s ideology suggests that even if the United States were to pursue the kinds of alternative policies outlined here, Americans would still be the target of attacks by committed members of al-Qaida and similar groups. Addressing root causes is one way of insuring that terrorist group efforts to mobilize support meet as inhospitable a social, economic, and political climate as possible.
The success of these policies will only be fully realized when there are no more breeding grounds for terrorist politics. These political contexts include: repressive political regimes, which spawn terrorism; failed and failing states, which can provide terrorists with arenas for operations; poverty and inequality, which can enhance support for terrorist acts and provide a source of recruits, even though poverty itself does not cause terrorism; and efforts by the United States to institutionalize its positions of global dominance, including through alliances with repressive regimes.
Specific initiatives should:
Strengthen and Democratize International Bodies for Effective Global Governance: By proclaiming global dominance as its overarching strategic objective, the United States has made itself a target. Bush?s pursuit of the preventive war doctrine as the foundation of such dominance?embodied in the invasion and occupation of Iraq?can be used to justify the argument that the current ?war on terrorism? is in fact a war on Islam. And Washington?s current foreign policy has further reinforced the beliefs of those who argue that the United States is an imperial power intent on holding itself above the law.
In addition to strengthening the U.N. and other multilateral institutions, the United States must reconfigure its approach to security. We suggest a dual focus: on the cooperative arrangements necessary to insure our protection in an era of international terrorist networks with global reach, and on deterrence against possible threats from state antagonists. Such efforts require a vibrant network of global, regional, and bilateral alliances whereby the security of the world strengthens the security of America.
End Support for Repressive Regimes: The United States must, in both word and deed, make a clean break with its history of support for repressive regimes throughout the world. Such a move would entail curbing military aid, expanding human rights and democracy, and reducing the dependence of the United States and its allies on oil imports from repressive regimes. Additional steps would include: (1) withholding military aid and opposing weapons sales to countries that systematically violate basic human rights, and (2) increasing support for human rights and democracy in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Colombia, and elsewhere through bilateral and multilateral initiatives.
Deal with Failed States: The Afghanistan situation, and the broader reality that weak and failing states can provide enabling conditions for the operations of terrorist networks, has highlighted the need for increasing the U.N.?s capacity to engage in peace enforcement, peacekeeping, and other ?nation-building? activities.
Reorient U.S Policy in the Middle East and Central Asia: A broader U.S. policy along the lines of respecting basic human rights and democratic freedoms in the Middle East and elsewhere could still contribute to easing?though not eradicating?the conditions associated with terrorism. Such efforts would involve eliminating weapons of mass destruction and addressing the political grievances behind continuing unrest in the region. This includes opposing the bigotry embodied in both al-Qaida?s and other extremist groups? opposition to Israel?s existence. The United States should continue its strategic and moral commitment to Israeli sovereignty, but there is a distinction between Israel?s right to exist and support for the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. Washington?s tacit approval of the occupation plays a major role in fueling anti-American extremism, sentiments that al-Qaida has opportunistically used to its own advantage. Specific initiatives should:
- End U.S. financial and military backing for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza;
- Advocate Palestinian self-determination and a negotiated settlement as outlined in U.N. Security Council resolutions;
- Promote efforts to create a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East;
- Strengthen the multilateral forces involved in Afghanistan to provide the security necessary for reconstruction and development; and
- Set an immediate timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and channel support primarily through the United Nations to promote reconstruction and development.
Address Poverty and Inequality: An expansion of broad-based development can, under certain conditions, weaken local support for terrorist activities and discourage terrorist recruits. Since approval of some organizations engaged in terrorist acts is due in part to the social services and financial incentives that those organizations provide, an expansion of economic opportunities can decrease direct participation in those organizations or dampen enthusiasm for their activities.
Development policies that weaken states? capacities to insure access to, or provision of, basic services can create conditions in which terrorist groups can more easily mobilize support. At the global level, the Bush administration should end its promotion of trade and investment agreements that reinforce the discredited policies of the Washington Consensus. Instead, the United States should reorient discussions at bilateral, regional, and global economic organizations and meetings toward creating a multilateral framework more conducive to the development of poor countries. Washington should also reduce the debt owed to it by developing countries, champion debt reduction efforts at the international financial institutions, and seek an end to structural adjustment lending by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Promote Clean Energy: The United States should pursue an energy policy at home and abroad that emphasizes conservation, energy efficiency, and renewables and that makes itself and its allies less reliant on imported oil supplies.
No single component of this framework is an adequate response to terrorism. Only by joining all four strategies pursuing prevention and preparedness, strengthening the international framework for multilateral action, defending and promoting civil rights, and addressing root causes?will the U.S. government be able to truthfully tell the American people that it is doing all that it can to prevent future terrorist attacks. Our proposed security strategy would be more effective at making the U.S. a safer place for all its citizens. It would also have the added advantages of improving the nation?s quality of life by improving public safety, health care, and air quality.
The 9/11 Commission has accomplished a great deal by placing this debate at the forefront of policy debates. But its recommendations focus somewhat narrowly on intelligence operations and congressional oversight without addressing the broader foreign policy, military, and homeland security issues that are equally important to constructing an effective response to terrorism. Its contribution, while important, remains inadequate to forging the comprehensive strategy necessary to effectively combat terrorism.
The challenge is to construct a national security policy that demonstrates America's new commitment to protecting U.S. citizens by incorporating effective counterterror measures into the national security strategy. At the same time, American citizens must demand and U.S. foreign policy must assert a renewed commitment to constructing an international framework of peace, justice, and security that locks terrorists out in the cold?with no home, no supporters, no money, and no rallying cry. With that response, the events of September 11, 2001, will indeed have changed America and the world.