International Developments Call U.S. National Security Policy into Question


Two recent developments should awaken the U.S. foreign policyestablishment from the slumber it has enjoyed since the end of the ColdWar. The world has changed dramatically, but U.S. national securitypolicymakers remain dangerously locked in the mind‐​set of the Cold Warperiod.

The first development is the publication of a report by theCommission onNational Security/​21st Century, the so‐​called Hart‐​Rudman commission. Thatpanel reached conclusions about what the global security environment willlook like in the next quarter century and what threats the United Stateswill face. The commission rather casually came to a chilling conclusion:“States, terrorists, and other disaffected groups will acquire weapons ofmass destruction and mass disruption, and some will use them. Americanswill likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.”

The report continued, “for many years to come Americans will becomeincreasingly less secure, and much less secure than they now believethemselves to be … While conventional conflicts will still be possible,the most serious threat to our security may consist of unannounced attackson American cities by sub‐​national groups using genetically engineeredpathogens.”

The second development reinforces the first. Russia has beenterrorized byapartment building bombings alleged to have been committed by Chechens, whoare fighting for an independent Islamic state in Dagestan and have anenmity toward Russia for its brutal attempt to repress Chechen independenceaspirations in the mid‐​1990s. The bombings are evidence that theinternational playing field, long dominated by the great powers, may haveshifted weaker players to the advantage. Although the bombs used in Russiawere conventional, the terror and damage inflicted by the weaker partycould have been magnified exponentially if a weapon of mass destruction(nuclear, biological or chemical) had been employed. The Hart‐​Rudmancommission warns that such powerful weapons may be used on Americanterritory.

In terms of conventional indices of power, the United States isunrivaled.Yet it may now be more vulnerable to an attack by weapons of massdestruction than it was during the Cold War. If conventional conflictsbetween powerful states are less likely, as the commission argues, perhapswe should worry more about this more important threat.

About 40 percent of terrorist attacks perpetrated worldwide havebeendirected at U.S. targets. It is unusual for a country with friendlyneighbors and no civil war or insurrection to be such a prominent targetfor terrorists. We should first ask what motivates terrorists, statesponsored and independent, to target the United States.

The commission answered the question somewhat more honestly than others inthe foreign policy establishment: “Much of the world will resent and opposeus, if not for the simple fact of our preeminence, then for the fact thatothers often perceive the United States as exercising its power witharrogance and self‐​absorption.”

But terrorist groups rarely attack the United States because of ourmilitary, economic or cultural preeminence. Even in radical Iran, theworld’s most notorious state sponsor of terrorism, Disneycharacters – symbols of U.S. cultural and economic influence – were presentat the 20th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. Rather, terroristsattack the United States for what it does: arrogantly exercise itspolitical and military power overseas to intervene in the affairs of othernations. I have documented more than 60 terrorist incidents directed at theUnited States because of its interventionist foreign policy.

Excessive U.S. intervention in a post Cold War world arises from theUnited States’ hubris associated with being the “world’s only remainingsuperpower” and from fear generated from its experiences of opposinggreat‐​power rivals in World War II and the Cold War that any conflict couldspiral out of control into a global conflagration. Yet the commissionpredicts that wars between major powers will become more rare and that mostconflicts will occur internally within states.

As the only remaining superpower with no peer on the horizon for another 20to 30 years, the United States should be more self‐​assured and delegate thepolicing of less threatening conflicts to friendly regional powers.Although an extended defense perimeter may have had some value during theCold War, the costs far outweigh the benefits in an age of catastrophicterrorism. If the motivation behind terrorist attacks against the UnitedStates can be removed or attenuated, the chances of a catastrophic strikewill be reduced.

Given the valuable insights the commission has provided into theprincipaldanger facing the United States in the post Cold War international securityenvironment, it reached a strange conclusion about the desired role of theUnited States in that environment. The commission argues that “the UnitedStates will be called upon frequently to intervene militarily … TheUnited States must act together with its allies to shape the future of theinternational environment, using all the instruments of Americandiplomatic, economic, and military power.” Alas, the commission’smembership, drawn from the U.S. foreign policy establishment, rendered itincapable of reaching the obvious conclusion: In the new internationalenvironment, U.S. intervention overseas lessens rather than enhances thenation’s security.