European Affairs

U.S. and Europe Must Change Security Policies     Print Email
Jack Spencer

President George Bush's new National Security Strategy is intended to develop a cohesive policy for advancing America's security based on the primary threats to its national interest. The strategy addresses many issues, including trade, aid and the role of multilateral institutions. But the aspect that has attracted the most criticism, especially in Europe, is its espousal of the preemptive use of U.S. military force, unilaterally if necessary.

This criticism is unwarranted, for two main reasons. Firstly, the strategy's central tenet - that U.S. interests are best served by promoting freedom around the world and defeating tyranny - holds as true for European security as it does for American.


Dictators and terrorists target democratic societies because they represent freedom. Dictators understand that the principal threat to their power is the emergence of liberty within their borders; while terrorists seek to deprive others of political choices by violently asserting their own agendas.

Secondly, the nature of threats facing the United States and Europe has changed drastically in the past decade. Acts of political violence require fewer resources, can be committed with greater anonymity, and will in future possibly involve weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

To address these threats, both the United States and Europe must change the ways in which they approach security. Part of that transformation must be to develop policies that enable them to prevent a weapon of mass destruction from detonating on American or European soil. Reserving the right to use military force preemptively is an important element of such policies.

To fail to counter a threat of imminent attack would be to ignore the lessons of September 11. Before those attacks, American and European authorities were aware of Osama bin Laden, his resources, and his hatred for the West. They knew that he was a terrorist and that he had previously attacked America, via its assets abroad.

They were also aware that he was running terrorist training camps in Afghanistan with the blessing of the Taliban regime. Despite this information, however, neither the United States nor the international community took decisive action to thwart bin Laden's imminent further aggression.

In the post-September 11 world, such complacency is no longer acceptable. Five lessons of the September 11 attacks, and of the initial prosecution of the war on terrorism, show why preemption is a necessary component of future national security strategies for both the United States and Europe.

First, deterrence alone is not sufficient to suppress aggression. Osama bin Laden and the Taliban could have predicted that the United States would respond to their attacks, yet they acted anyway. On September 11, deterrence failed because the United States largely ignored its own vulnerabilities and the changing nature of the threats it faced.

The unfortunate reality is that 21st century aggressors do not seem swayed by the threat of massive political, diplomatic or military retaliation. They are willing to expend all their resources, including not only their own lives and power but also those of others, to achieve their goals.

What makes deterrence virtually impossible is that a non-state actor, a non-state actor working with a state, or a state acting alone can all perpetrate acts of aggression. And each of these entities may be inspired to act by different motivations. The one common trait such aggressors share is a lust for ever-greater means of destruction and the willingness to use them.

Second, attacks can occur with little or no warning. The emergence of global communications, advances in technology, and the globalization of terrorism have significantly reduced the time it takes not only for a potential threat to be identified, but also for a threat to be realized as an act of aggression. In many instances, a specific threat may not be identified until after the act of aggression has taken place, rendering preventive measures irrelevant.

In this world of drastically shortened time lines, it is essential that leaders have the authority to act decisively, in short order, to defeat aggressors when a preponderance of information points to a threat of imminent attack. This is especially true when weapons of mass destruction are introduced into the equation.

Third, the use of a weapon of mass destruction is reasonably likely. On September 11, Americans and citizens of other countries were killed on a massive scale. Hostile entities increasingly view weapons of mass destruction as political assets.

North Korea may have two nuclear weapons; Iran has active chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs; and Iraq has not only active WMD programs, but also a history of using such weapons. All three countries have ballistic and cruise missile programs.

Even terrorist organizations, such as al Qaeda, are involved in developing and using WMD, as was evidenced by recently revealed videos showing al Qaeda experimenting with chemical weapons on dogs. Other reports link Osama bin Laden to the pursuit of a nuclear or radiological device. In 1995, terrorists in Japan used sarin gas to kill civilians in a Tokyo subway.

Fourth, hostile state and non-state agents are conspiring with deadly consequences. Although state-sponsored terrorism is nothing new, the globalization of terrorism increases the threat exponentially. While hostile states continue to threaten the United States and Europe, the threat of global non-state actors, such as al Qaeda, is growing.

The danger increases when states and non-state actors work together. States have resources - including territory, finances, an international diplomatic presence and trade - that non-state actors do not have. On the other hand, non-state actors are able to operate globally and can act largely without detection.

The reality of the 21st century is that a state like Iraq can harness its resources to develop a weapon of mass destruction and collude with non-state actors to deliver that weapon. This symbiotic relationship can operate under cover, possibly without the knowledge of Western governments. Thus, a state hostile to the United States or to Europe may appear to be acting within the bounds of normal diplomatic behavior while at the same time covertly supporting aggressive endeavors by non-state allies.

Fifth, the future envisioned by America's enemies is incompatible with the security of free nations. Before September 11, "soft diplomacy" - including multilateral arms control, aid incentives and appeals to reason - was the preferred approach in dealing with hostile regimes. Although the ideals of such regimes conflict with those of the West, there was hope that, eventually, these despots would transform, fall or simply discontinue their threatening activities.

This policy was pursued despite it being demonstrably ineffective: North Korea continues to sell ballistic missiles, Iran continues to support terrorism and Iraq continues to develop nuclear bombs.

On September 11, however, the idea that such hostile regimes and the free world could simultaneously pursue their respective interests lost all credibility. It was clear that the West's enemies were willing to use unprovoked violence to achieve their objectives. The Western world could no longer afford to postpone acting against terrorists and the nations that support them.

Iraq has now become a uniquely dangerous threat to Europe and to the United States, to their interests and to world peace. Saddam Hussein combines hostility to U.S. and European interests, proven intent to act against those interests, WMD acquisition, continued pursuit of WMD, a history of using WMD to achieve foreign policy objectives and ties to international terrorists. When his behavior is juxtaposed with the lessons of the September 11 attacks, it becomes clear that he poses a threat that must be dealt with immediately.

Saddam Hussein has not been deterred from aggressive action against international peace and stability for over a decade. He has evicted international arms inspectors and flouted numerous UN resolutions, including those requiring him to disarm and to stop terrorizing his own citizens. He is an active, direct and near-term threat to the United States and to Europe.

His belligerence is demonstrated by a video recently released by the U.S. Department of Defense that shows Iraqis firing missiles on U.S. and British aircraft enforcing the UN no-fly zones over Northern and Southern Iraq.

This aggressive attempt to dominate the region through intimidation and coercion is certainly a threat to the Western world. The Middle East is a vital region to both the United States and Europe, and any attempt to dominate it is an assault on Western interests.

The most direct threat, however, that Saddam Hussein poses to the United States and to Europe is the combination of his WMD activities and his involvement in international terrorism. Many warnings have been delivered, and many obstacles erected to coerce him into behaving less aggressively; yet none have deterred him.

Furthermore, Iraq's WMD could be used with little or no warning. Iraq has a 30-year history of covert WMD programs. In defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 687, Iraq continues to build and develop its biological, chemical, nuclear and long-range ballistic missile programs.

Recent evidence, supported by a wealth of Iraqi government contracts, concludes that Iraq has at least 20 covert facilities devoted to chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Saddam Hussein continues to seek dual-use infrastructure and equipment to conceal his plans to build a robust WMD arsenal.

The threat is given greater urgency by Iraq's history of using WMD, making it likely that they will be used again in the future. Iraq began using deadly chemicals, including mustard gas in 1983 and tabun in 1984, becoming the first nation to use a nerve agent in war.

The State Department lists 10 incidents of Iraqi chemical attacks between August 1983 and March 1988. All were launched against Iranian and Kurdish populations, resulting in casualty tolls in the tens of thousands.

Although UN Security Council Resolutions 687 and 1373 prohibit Saddam Hussein from supporting terrorism or allowing terrorist cells and organizations to operate within Iraq, he has maintained his ties to international terrorism.

Recognized by the U.S. State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism, Iraq is believed to shelter several terrorist groups, including the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO) and several Palestinian-sponsored groups responsible for deadly attacks on Israel.

Saddam Hussein also rewards the families of Palestinian terrorists, with those related to "martyrs" receiving the highest payments. Defectors from the Iraqi armed forces have supplied details of Salman Pak, an elite facility where Arabs with terrorist inclinations can receive extensive training.

Last but not least, Iraq's disregard for the cease-fire agreement of 1991 is incompatible with international security. Saddam Hussein has spurned at least 16 Security Council resolutions, including the terms that should have ended hostilities between the United Nations coalition and Iraq. He has persisted in efforts to rearm Iraq through an elaborate oil-for-arms smuggling ring.

Although President Bush did not have advance information that al Qaeda operatives were going to commandeer four passenger jets and use them as guided cruise missiles on American soil, there was ample evidence that threats to the United States were likely to emerge from Afghanistan.

Yet neither the United States nor the international community chose to take decisive preventative action. In that case, a preemptive strike was warranted and necessary - indeed, such action might have saved the lives of 3,000 people. The world cannot make the same mistake again.

The President's National Security Strategy establishes guide-lines which, if implemented, could help to prevent the next September 11. Such a policy can contribute to the security of both the United States and Europe, as well as that of many other nations around the world, well into the 21st century.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number III, Issue number IV in the Fall of 2002.

 
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