Policy Analysis No. 306

Protecting the Homeland: The Best Defense Is to Give No Offense

By Ivan Eland
May 5, 1998

Executive Summary

Recently, several government reports have emphasized the need for increased attention to the defense of the American homeland. The proliferation of technology for creating weapons of mass terror and conducting chemical, biological, nuclear, and information warfare has reawakened interest in protecting the homeland.

A study completed for the U.S. Department of Defense notes that historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and terrorist attacks against the United States. Attacks by terrorist groups could now be catastrophic for the American homeland. Terrorists can obtain the technology for weapons of mass terror and will have fewer qualms about using them to cause massive casualties. The assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs maintains that such catastrophic attacks are almost certain to occur. It will be extremely difficult to deter, prevent, detect, or mitigate them.

As a result, even the weakest terrorist group can cause massive destruction in the homeland of a superpower. Although the Cold War ended nearly a decade ago, U.S. foreign policy has remained on autopilot. The United States continues to intervene militarily in conflicts all over the globe that are irrelevant to American vital interests. To satisfy what should be the first priority of any security policy—protecting the homeland and its people—the United States should adopt a policy of military restraint. That policy entails intervening only as a last resort when truly vital interests are at stake. To paraphrase Anthony Zinni, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, the United States should avoid making enemies but should not be kind to those that arise.

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Ivan Eland is director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute.