The Bush administration’s approach to security in the post 9/11 world is built on military strength, and is composed of the following elements: increased military expenditures, the pursuit of global military dominance, indefinite reliance on nuclear weapons, the development and deployment of missile defenses and the threat to initiate preemptive wars in the name of security. There was a time, when nations fought nations and armies battled against armies, when this strategy might arguably have been relevant, but in the post 9/11 world it is a dysfunctional strategy that is certain to fail.
Military force is too blunt an instrument for providing security against terrorists. One need only look at the results of the US-led war against Afghanistan. Military force could topple the Taliban regime, but it could not capture or kill the leading terrorists purported to have initiated the 9/11 attacks. In the process of prevailing over the Taliban, which hardly required the world’s most advanced military force, many innocent civilians were killed, undoubtedly resulting in new sympathies and new recruits for the terrorist forces aligned in their hatred toward the policies of the United States.
Mr. Bush has named Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an Axis of Evil, certainly a provocative statement which, combined with Bush’s stated willingness to engage in preemptive war, is likely to elicit steps by these nations to protect themselves against possible attacks by US forces. The Bush administration is already well advanced in its plans to wage war against Iraq. It is worth contemplating that such a war against Iraq would be the first war ever fought for nuclear disarmament, ironically pursued by a country with 10,000 nuclear weapons against a country with no demonstrated nuclear weapons.
Would a war against Iraq make US citizens more secure? There is every reason to believe that it would make US citizens far less secure. Such a war, rightly or wrongly, would be perceived in the Arab world as reflecting the double standards that allow the US to turn a blind eye to Israel’s arsenal of some 200 nuclear weapons while being willing to attack an Arab country for pursuing the same path. A US-led war against Iraq would require a bloody battle to topple Saddam Hussein, and would undoubtedly result in more hatred and determination by terrorists, old and new, to attack US citizens where they are most vulnerable.
A war against terrorism is not a war that can be won on the battlefield because there is no battlefield. It is not a war that can be won by throwing more money at the military or by building the most dominant military force in the world (we already have that). Nuclear weapons certainly will not be able to deter terrorists, particularly since they are virtually unlocatable. Nor will missile defenses be of any value against terrorists, who will use low-tech stealth approaches to go under the high-tech missile defenses. And the threat of preemptive war by the US will only provoke other countries to seek clandestinely to develop their own deterrent forces.
In sum, the Bush administration’s approach to providing security in the post 9/11 world is a strategy not only destined to fail, but to make matters far worse than they already are. Achieving security in a world of suicidal and determined terrorists requires a new approach, something other than the Rumsfeld doctrine of “find and destroy the enemy before they strike us.”
This new approach to security must be built on the power of diplomacy and aid rather than on military power. It must be built on policies that reverse inequities in the world and seek to provide basic human rights and human dignity for all. These policies must adhere to international law, and end the double standards that have helped to produce extreme misery in much of the Arab world. In the 21st century there must be dignity for all, or there will be security for none.
*David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He is the editor of The Poetry of Peace (Capra Press).