American Airlines Flight 11 struck the World Trade Center at 8:45am
on September 11th 2001, America's sense of security was shattered.
nearly two hundred years, other than the attack on Pearl Harbor, no
war involving foreign powers had been fought on U.S. soil. While the
World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War had taken U.S.
lives, Americans at home remained safe, seemingly isolated from dangerous
global events. But with the attacks on the World Trade Center and
the Pentagon, Americans felt a new vulnerability, a frightening sense
of connection to global events. Amidst the grief and shock that followed
September 11th, all Americans were forced to confront the question
of our security.
does it really mean to be secure as a nation? A range of answers to
this question are possible.
argue that American security is the security of U.S. territory from
external threat -- that the fifty states must be protected from
attacks by foreign powers.
second view is that security requires the protection of U.S. interests
and citizens abroad.
Such a view requires the use of American power to safeguard American
allies and economic interests overseas.
third view sees connections between American well-being and that
of others around the globe. This third approach suggests an American
role in maintaining global stability, protecting others from threats
of war, famine, or abuse, and even addressing non-traditional security
threats such as environmental dangers.
after September 11th, many have come to see U.S. security as a domestic
as well as a foreign policy issue and stress the importance of preventing
threats from within as well as those from overseas.
American history, Americans have answered these questions about security
in very different ways. In his farewell address upon leaving the Presidency
in 1796, George Washington counseled America to "steer clear
of permanent alliances." His strategy of looking inward and avoiding
foreign contact as much as possible was largely followed for the next
hundred and twenty years.
an intervention in World War I, America again took an isolationist
stance in the interwar period, refusing to ratify the Charter of the
League of Nations. With the rise of the Soviet Union after World War
II, American leaders decided security was dependent on foreign alliances
like NATO and active intervention in Korea and Vietnam to prevent
the spread of communism. The U.S. tried to prevent nuclear war by
matching Soviet power and stopping other nations from developing nuclear
the Soviet collapse in 1991, America's power was unrivaled and its
security largely unchallenged by existing governments. But new threats
of terror attacks and bombings and use of weapons of mass destruction
come from so-called rogue states like Afghanistan controlled by the
Taliban and others not bound by international rules of conduct.
SHOULD WE DO?
PRESENT U.S. POLICY
The present U.S. national security policy has at least three key elements.
First, it recognizes that America is the world's sole superpower and
seeks to increase American power through military development and
deployment. In this view, America largely rejects the need for foreign
approval or multilateral cooperation. For example, when the Bush administration
perceived a threat from Iraq and the U.N. refused to approve military
action, the U.S. built a small coalition with strong support from
the British government to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime through
second key element of this strategy is the idea of "preemptive
self-defense," or preventing attacks on the U.S. before they
happen. The international legal standard
has only allowed states to attack one another in self-defense when
they were already under attack themselves or about to be attacked.
Current American strategy sees a need to act first, preventing attacks
before they occur. Supporters of this strategy suggest that the possible
death toll of a nuclear or biological attack is so great that waiting
to respond until attacked is unconscionable. Preemptive self-defense
requires that the U.S. stop states and terrorist groups that may present
a danger to the U.S. - possibly through military action - before they
are able to threaten the U.S. directly.
A third element of the current U.S. security strategy sees freedom
and justice as common goals of all peoples and tries to support these
aspirations by championing democracy around the globe. History shows
that democratic states do not go to war with one another. Therefore,
the more democracies, the less likely it is that America will be attacked.
Additionally, democracy tends to foster the rule of law and good governance
-- improving the quality of life of others and reducing the likelihood
that rogue states will support terrorist groups. There are many ways
to promote democracy, ranging from linking foreign aid with benchmarks
of democracy to undertaking military action and replacing non-democratic
THE CRITICS SAY
Critics argue that an approach that focuses on unilateral, or sole
U.S. power largely ignores the role that multilateral institutions
and allies can play in making America more secure. Though institutions
like the U.N. may constrain the U.S., these groups also can prevent
others from acting in ways that may hurt or threaten America. Additionally,
by refusing to give other countries a meaningful say or role in global
decisions such as the war in Iraq, the U.S. is unable to benefit from
the financial and military help those nations could give. Other critics
also say it will cost too much to maintain U.S. military superiority.
As a result, needs at home could suffer.
A second criticism, specifically related to the idea of
preemptive self-defense is that, while the U.S. may benefit from preventing
attacks by rogue states, other
nations may rely on the same principle in ways that
could be harmful to U.S. security. If other countries
see preemption as a new way to justify international
conflict, the number of those conflicts may increase,
potentially threatening the U.S. and its interests or
requiring intervention to stop conflicts elsewhere.
the strategy of focusing on democratic values has been criticized
as an expensive form of American overseas involvement. As America
spreads its reach, building nations in its own image or pushing other
countries to become more like America, the U.S. may find itself over-committed.
The costs -- both financial and military -- may be very high. Critics
also say that this policy runs the risk of angering citizens in other
nations who do not support U.S. involvement and goals.
POLICY IN ACTION:
THE CASE OF IRAQ
The most obvious place where these crucial questions about national
security are being played out is in Iraq. In March 2003, after failing
to get U.N. backing for military action in Iraq, the U.S., with the
support of a small coalition, invaded Iraq and toppled the government
of Saddam Hussein.
number of reasons were advanced for the U.S. war in Iraq. Primary
was the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction in the hands of
a dictator like Saddam Hussein. A second reason was the need to protect
the human rights of Iraqi citizens. A third rationale was the desire
to promote democracy in the Middle East. A final set of justifications
is based in U.S. economic interests - particularly access to oil.
United States is deeply committed in Iraq. By mid-November 2003, there
were nearly 130,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, with 422 Americans and
estimates of 4,000 to 20,000 Iraqi civilians killed in action. Each
month of the war and ongoing occupation costs an average of $4.4 billion.
And Congress has approved President Bush's request for $87.5 billion
to pay for the occupation of Iraq.
FOR THE FUTURE
In thinking about U.S. policy in Iraq, there are a number of important
issues we must face. How we respond to these issues, and their effects
in Iraq, will be essential to the outcome of our efforts there and
are likely to impact American national security from then on.
A first crucial issue is whether to increase or decrease the U.S.
military presence in the country. Throughout the fall of 2003, resistance
to and attacks on U.S. and international personnel increased and became
more coordinated. The Bush administration has taken the position that
present deployment levels -- approximately 132,000 soldiers as of
November 2003 -- are sufficient.
-- Democrats and Republicans -- have offered different proposals.
Some call for a significant increase in U.S. presence to deal with
security threats and bolster stability. Others suggest a significant
decrease in U.S. military personnel in Iraq or even a complete withdrawal.
troops in Iraq would enhance security, but might also lead to a
further backlash and more attacks against U.S. forces. In addition,
more troops would increase costs and might require further reserve
units to be deployed.
related question is how long U.S. troops should remain in Iraq,
and how do we define a successful mission?
A second important issue relates to the level of international involvement
in Iraq. The current approach is that the U.S., with some help from
Britain, should have a largely exclusive role in the occupation.
alternative would be more active efforts to seek support -- both
financial and personnel -- from other countries, so as to share
the burden and to internationalize the effort.
second option would be to allow a greater role for the U.N. in the
occupation and political reconstruction of Iraq.
of these possibilities would presumably increase the legitimacy
of the occupation by involving a broader range of actors and would
decrease the costs to the U.S. However, both options likewise would
also require the U.S. share power and influence in the country.
A third issue relates to the promotion of democracy in Iraq. The present
U.S. strategy is to actively create a constitution and promote democratic
the creation of a democratic Iraq be part of the U.S. mission so
the U.S. doesn't leave until an effective government is up and running?
Doing so is likely to increase the costs and length of U.S. involvement.
Failure to do so might lead to an Islamic theocracy in Iraq, possibly
similar to Iran.
the U.S. should build a democratic Iraq, how can it best meet the
needs of Iraq's different religious and ethnic populations?
should the U.S. push for early elections? Doing so might allow the
U.S. to exit early. However, if elections take place before the
country is stable, it might lack fairness or even lead to the election
of a radical government opposed to the U.S.
backgrounder was written by William W. Burke-White, Lecturer of Public
and International Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University.
Basic Policy Choices For The U.S. In Iraq
1. Increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq so as to better address
the current security threats in the country.
2. Continue the current strategy of working, with only a few allies,
to build democracy and a new nation in Iraq.
3. Create a multilateral basis for going forward, preferably under U.N.
control, to lessen the burden on the U.S. and increase legitimacy.
4. Create a state in Iraq that can, to the greatest extent possible,
take over from us. Such a state might not live up to the dream of a
unified and democratic Iraq, but it would lead to an end of direct involvement
of U.S. troops.
The Afghanistan Example
Afghanistan under Taliban rule shows vividly how a failed state without
rule of law and an
effective government can allow for the operation of terrorist groups,
facilitate organized crime or drug trafficking, and result in significant
abuses to local citizens. After the events of September 11th, the United
States launched a military campaign in Afghanistan to uproot al Qaeda
and overthrow the Taliban. That campaign was largely successful.However
as late as December, American military forces were still mounting major
efforts against regrouping Taliban forces.
The United States
is deeply involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. A new government
under the leadership of Hamid Karzai is now in place, and local leaders
are putting great emphasis on a new constitution. Yet, Afghanistan is
still unstable. War-lords control most regions outside the capital city
of Kabul and pay only slight deference to President Karzai. Government,
transportation, education, and economic infrastructure remain in a state
Recent U.S. National
Security Policy Examples
with Allies: The First Gulf War -- When Iraq invaded Kuwait, the
U.S. created a broad international coalition to oppose Iraq in 1991
after concerted diplomatic effort. After the Iraqi army suffered strong
initial defeats, pressure on the U.S. from other countries in the coalition
helped influence the U.S. to end the war quickly.
-- In 1993, at U.N. request, the U.S. sent troops to Somalia to
prevent tribal fighting from interfering with international efforts
to relieve a famine. After a breakdown of governance and order, 16 U.S.
soldiers were killed and some were dragged through the streets of the
capital, leading to a complete U.S. withdrawal. Rival tribal leaders
proceeded to carve up the country among themselves.
Rwanda -- Two days after the Somalia tragedy, the U.S. argued against
a proposal to send U.N. troops to stop the ethnic massacre underway
in Rwanda. One hundred observers were sent, and the genocide intensified
and spread. Nearly 800,000 people were killed.