Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Cato Unbound on Controlling Terror

This month’s Cato Unbound began yesterday, with a fascinating title and topic: Keep Calm and Carry On: How to Talk about Terrorism.

The term is trite, perhaps, but terrorism is handily described as a form of psychological warfare. It’s a wonder, then, that more time and attention hasn’t been paid in official Washington to communications strategies pertaining to terrorism.

People elsewhere have been giving it focus, and the author of the lead article is Bill Burns, a research scientist at Decision Research and consultant at the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events. His piece is called “The Path Well Taken: Making the Right Decisions about Risks from Terrorism.”

You are hereby assigned it as reading, but here’s an inspiring quote from Burns’ closing paragraph:

America may yet offer the voice of calm and deliberative action to a world as shaken as we. And through these travails, we must lead by example, inspired by our constitutional freedoms and drawing from the best of our science and culture.

Watch for follow-on commentaries by Bernard Finel (January 7), John Mueller (January 9), and Camille Pecastaing (January 12).

Burns is a speaker, and this topic will be one of the subjects, at Cato’s two-day conference on counterterrorism strategy which begins on Monday next week. Read more and register here.

Downsizing the Federal Government

President-elect Obama has pledged to go through the federal budget “line by line” to root out waste. In this new video, Cato analysts Chris Edwards, Sallie James and Daniel Ikenson explain why the Department of Agriculture is a great place to start.

For more great videos from the Cato Institute, subscribe to our YouTube Channel.

Our New Quasi-Allies

On the way out the door, the Bush administration is extending something resembling security guarantees to Georgia and Ukraine.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ukraine’s foreign minister signed a “Charter on Strategic Partnership” on December 19. According to the State Department, it will be the basis for the pact with Georgia, which will be signed within a week.

The deal with Ukraine is non-binding, meaning that it is legally meaningless. (Presumably, the same will be true of the Georgia-U.S. pact.) But its language can be read to commit the United States to defend Ukraine:

This Charter is based on core principles and beliefs shared by both sides:

1. Support for each other’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders constitutes the foundation of our bilateral relations.

True, this is no formal commitment to mutual defense, as in the NATO treaty’s Article 5. But leaders in Ukraine might believe that this obligates the United States to aid them in a fight with Russia. That is doubly true because the agreement also says that the United States will help Ukraine prepare for NATO membership. The confidence that seeming–U.S. protection provides may cause leaders in these countries to provoke Russia, possibly dragging the United States into a crisis. In Georgia’s case, this sort of moral hazard was already obvious last August.

American commitments to defend these countries are nuts. If you could design a model of a state not to ally yourself with, it would look something like Georgia:

  • Hard to defend geographically.
  • A territorial conflict with a stronger, nuclear-armed rival.
  • A leader with a demonstrated capacity for recklessness.
  • Little or nothing to offer in exchange for our defenses.

With a population that by and large does not want to join NATO and a contentious, long border with Russia, Ukraine is little better.

Americans once formed alliances for self-defense. They did so with trepidation. The alliances were seen as necessary evils and temporary. Today, they are perpetual rewards that we hand out to almost anyone that adopts our ideology or its rhetorical trappings. Then we invent a strategic rationale. We confuse our sympathies with our interests. Wishing the best for young democracies does not mean that we should defend them.

These agreements are not subject to Senate approval under the current understanding of the treaty power. But this sort of unilateral presidential action is why the Constitution divides foreign policy power. The Senate should pass a resolution making it clear that these deals create no obligations. At a minimum, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should hold hearings questioning the wisdom of casually extending the borders that we claim to defend and piling commitments onto our forces and taxpayers.

For more, see this op-ed I wrote with Justin Logan on possible NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia.

More Power to State

The New York Times reports on Hillary Clinton’s efforts to reassert the State Department’s power over US foreign policy. This is, in one sense, good news. A bloated budget and far flung combatant commanders have allowed the Pentagon to trample over Foggy Bottom in recent years. That is bad not because diplomats are inherently wiser than generals, but because the competition of relatively balanced bureaucratic powers is generally conducive to wise policy.

The trouble here is the idea, hinted at in the Times story, that increased State Department capacity will bring success in state-building missions. A peculiar hubris of Democratic foreign policy analysts is their confidence that they have discovered a science of nation-building by watching the Bush Administration screw up. They see errors on the road to chaos during the occupation of Iraq and assume causality.  They read a little about counter-insurgency and the Small Wars Journal blog. Avoid the errors, apply the best practices, and you are gold, they say. So: more troops, better plans, more interagency coordination, more reconstruction, and so on – and, presto, you can “fix” failed states that you occupy, like Afghanistan, or even states you don’t occupy, like Pakistan.

As I wrote here and said last week, this would-be science provides leaders with confidence they should not have to undertake dumb wars or to establish excessive goals for sensible wars. Hopefully, I will be proved wrong in Afghanistan, where we are about to test this kind of thinking.

David Spade versus the Mexican Cartels

News outlets are reporting that actor David Spade donated $100,000 to the Phoenix Police Department to purchase AR-15 rifles for patrol officers. 

If the police officers in the Southwest are outgunned, it is likely because former Mexican soldiers have been recruited by the drug cartels.  As the War on Drugs has ballooned north from Colombia to Mexico, military incursions on American soil are becoming more common, Mexican soldiers are being killed and beheaded, and police officers are being assassinated (warning: violent content). 

This is one more way that the War on Drugs is nonsensical policy.  For more on this topic, click here, here, or here.

Fallows on Security

On the Atlantic blog, James Fallows has a few thoughts about security.

In sharing them, he compliments Cato’s own “precocious” Ben Friedman, and endorses our January counterterrorism conference: “I hope that everyone who can possibly be in Washington on Jan 12-13, including [DHS Secretary-designee Janet] Napolitano, will attend this conference, at Cato, about rational and non-hysteric ways to keep America secure.”

You can learn more and register here.

TSA Screening as ‘Security Theater’

Yesterday, 60 Minutes interviewed Security Expert Bruce Schneier about Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening practices at airports.  A timely report as the travel crush gets underway.

Bruce Schneier will be speaking at Cato’s Counterterrorism conference next month.  Also, check out today’s podcast with another conference speaker, former FBI agent, Mike German.  The conference is part of a three-year Cato initiative on counterterrorism and civil liberties.