Articles and Essays
“Turkey: Nuclear Choices amongst Dangerous Neighbors,” in The Nuclear Tipping Point, eds. Kurt M. Campbell, Robert J. Einhorn, Mitchell B. Reiss, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 2004.
The following Op-Eds can be found below on this page.
Calling a Truce in DC’s Iraq War
Looking For The Next Tsunami
Congress Must Evolve to Make Progress
Congress Must Curb America’s Runaway Executive
Liberia Does Not Fit the Doctrine
America Need Not be a Law Unto Itself
An Air of Empire
Outfoxed by North Korea
Intoxicated With Power
Alliances For The Next Generation
On Russia, Think Bigger
One Terrorist at a Time
Not the Most Urgent Goal
Why We Fight
Today’s Harsh Global Realities Demand Complex Defenses
Tampering With Strategic Stability
Calling a Truce in D.C.’s Iraq War
The Terms: Democrats Would Support Bush for Six Months in Return for a Little Honesty
Appeared in Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2006
Written by Leon Fuerth
IT’S NO SECRET that Democrats in Congress are badly divided on the Iraq war. Some, such as Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, agree with President Bush that we should stay the course. Others, such as Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, believe that U.S. forces have already done what they were sent to do and should be withdrawn.
That leaves many other Democrats searching for principled middle ground. They are inclined to keep U.S. troops in Iraq long enough to help the Iraqi people find a political path away from their nascent civil war. Yet they have no confidence in the administration’s capacity to manage policy effectively or in its willingness to conduct political debate honestly. That’s why centrist Democrats in Congress should consider offering the administration a deal: For six months, they would give Bush continued support for funding and prosecuting the war, without demanding a specific date for withdrawal of U.S. troops.
In exchange, the administration would have to provide radical improvements in the flow of information to the Congress and the American people. At the end of six months, Democrats would have to decide whether to renew the deal or call for a troop-withdrawal date.
Would this require Democrats to suspend criticism of administration misadventures in Iraq? No, but it would give the president six months when the Democratic leadership would not attempt to legislate an end to the war. While there is a chance for Iraqis to save themselves, Democrats who believe our presence could still make a difference would continue to support it. But they need something from the administration in return: real congressional oversight of national security policy.
Given that Congress is under Republican control, this means active cooperation from the White House in giving all lawmakers access to information about the state of the Iraq war. Committee rules would need to be altered so that Republican chairmen cannot abridge fact-finding by pounding their gavels. A special bipartisan commission on Iraq should be established to ensure that information is not just copious but balanced, as the Bush administration long ago forfeited its credibility as an honest messenger of bad news.
Assuming this bargain were made and kept, what standards could be used to measure progress? Certainly not the president’s undefined standard of “victory,” which gives him the role of sole interpreter of the facts. A much better set of standards was proposed by Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Among the criteria: Have the Iraqis establish a broad-based government? Is there a measurable increase of public confidence in security institutions? Has economic opportunity increased? And have Washington and Baghdad been able to round up more political support from Arab states and from Turkey? These are fair tests politicians of both parties could use to judge the merits of continued U.S. involvement in Iraq.
Making sound judgments about whether to continue the U.S. involvement in Iraq requires subordinating partisanship to the search for truth. This is what made the Sept. 11 commission work so well. But even the commission had its problems getting information out of the White House.
If the administration were to stonewall, then Democrats would have a choice. They could give the president a vote of confidence on the basis of his recent series of carefully staged speeches, delivered belatedly and under duress. Or they could join Murtha in calling for a U.S. exit from Iraq. For the next six months, though, it would be better for the country if Democrats proposed, and the administration supported, a suspension of disbelief in return for a moratorium on spin.
Looking for the Next Tsunami
Appeared in New York Times, January 7, 2005
Written by Leon Fuerth
PERHAPS the most distressing aspect of the Asian tsunami disaster is that thousands of lives could have been saved if people in coastal areas had been told that the deadly wave was approaching. Now, as politicians and scientists start discussing ways of improving early warning systems, a history lesson may be of some help.
During the second Clinton administration, officials from the Central Intelligence Agency and other government departments approached me with a good idea: to establish a ”fusion center” for information about natural disasters that would not only compile data but also stimulate research on forecasting. My boss, Vice President Al Gore, was interested, and after a great deal of informal interagency discussion, we began developing the Global Disaster Information Network. It called for a secure, Internet-based system to help disaster managers around the world plan for calamities and respond more effectively.
We set up a low-tech test model of the network and used it to coordinate information about Hurricane Mitch, which devastated Honduras and Nicaragua in 1998. This helped us compile a list of the villages that were most severely hit by the storm and get it to governmental relief agencies. We also tested the system with the Russians, in a simulated earthquake and environmental disaster in the Sakhalin oil shelf.
Encouraged by the results, we sought to make the network a permanent budget item, but colleagues at several agencies soon told me that the plan’s association with the vice president, who was expected to run for president in 2000, made it a political target on Capitol Hill. Even so, enough discretionary money was scraped together to hold an international conference in Washington in 1998, where the idea was welcomed by foreign representatives.
It was also our hope that the global disaster network would build on work already under way in two environmental initiatives. The first of these was known as Medea and operated out of the C.I.A. It was started during the George H.W. Bush administration at the instigation of Mr. Gore, then a senator, and its purpose was to discover whether intelligence archives and collection systems might provide clues to important issues in environmental science. Medea did extremely interesting work, both classified and unclassified, related to geological issues and natural disasters. But it too drew hostile attention in Congress, and lost its financing.
The other initiative, begun early in the second Clinton administration, was the Environmental Intelligence Center. Although technically inside the C.I.A., it operated independently, off the C.I.A. campus. It did some path-breaking experiments by applying intelligence systems to disaster management. But like its predecessor, it was eventually extinguished for political reasons.
Today, the Global Disaster Information Network survives, but it is essentially a Web site serving as a discussion forum for a large number of disaster managers. It does good work, but lacking substantial United States support, it has not developed into what was intended: a powerful force for informing emergency planning worldwide, and for advancing the science of disaster prediction.
It is painful to think of what might have been if, seven years ago, Congress had strongly supported our plan for the network. For one thing, it is possible that high-quality tsunami sensors would have been developed and placed on the floor of the Indian Ocean. Thus when the earthquake off Sumatra occurred on Dec. 26, scientists at a monitoring hub would have understood the risk of tsunami, and used the Web to activate an international alarm system. Disaster managers with responsibility for Asian coastal areas could have used preset links to send automated Internet, fax and phone messages to officials in the endangered countries. By the time the tsunami arrived, several hours after the earthquake, tens of thousands of people might have been able to flee to higher ground.
In addition, in the aftermath of the killer wave, the global network’s disaster-control systems would have kicked in, with experts making quick damage assessments, getting emergency aid and rescue teams to the most crucial places more quickly. Yes, thousands would have perished in any event, but many others might have had a fighting chance.
The earthquake and tsunami were uncontrollable natural events. But the worldwide failure to anticipate and prepare was not just a technical failure, but also one of political vision. There are going to be more calamities, and we must look at them as opportunities to do better.
Congress and the Bush administration should expand the Global Disaster Information Network along the lines of the original plan. Research into disaster forecasting — by the government, academics and nongovernmental groups — should be intensified. More warning systems, such as ocean-bottom earthquake detectors, should be put in place. In a natural disaster, we can save lives locally if we have a warning and response system that connects globally.
Congress Must Evolve to Make Progress
Appeared in Financial Times, September 8, 2004
Written by Leon Fuerth
The US Congress has returned from its summer recess and the issue of reforming the intelligence services is on the front burner, picking up where things left off. Just before the break, the Republican chairman and most of the Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee called for deconstructing America’s intelligence operations, essentially starting again.
Whatever else may be said about the specific merits of their proposal, it is an unblinking look at establishing an intelligence “tsar” in control of the system. The idea requires breaking down the existing intelligence structures of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon and subordinating the resulting fragments to a new management in full control of budget decisions and with the power to hire and fire. Other approaches to the tsar idea pale by comparison; none more so than that adopted by George W. Bush, whose tsar would be little more than a White House functionary.
It is remarkable that stalwart Republicans were ready to contradict the president on this. They may well have fractured the administration’s position on this critical dimension of the security issue, given that John Kerry’s campaign seems more receptive to radical change than does Mr Bush. The plan highlights the sense of urgency its Republican authors must feel about the need for change. At the same time, the proposal also took Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee by surprise – and that shows a failure to recognise the need for change in the way Congress operates.
The process of devising and pushing through such drastic proposals is also a measure of how far the Republican majority has diverged from some of the most important traditions of conducting legislative business in a democracy. The majority party much prefers to rely on itself than to reach out to the opposition – and is in fact prepared to run over the customary rights of the opposition whenever it suits. If that sounds like a derivative of US international behaviour, perhaps there is good reason: both are informed by the same underlying attitudes. And both have the same shortcoming: namely, lacking friends when they most need their resources.
What this episode exemplifies is the erosion of Congress as an effective partner in governance by toxic levels of partisanship. Congress has been frog-marched into a series of derogations of power: it allowed the destruction of sound fiscal policy; it passed the Patriot Act without adequate diligence; and it was herded into voting for war. Along the way, Congress also failed to provide effective oversight of the intelligence services, according to the commission on the September 11 terrorist attacks. It is therefore insufficient for members of Congress to propose sweeping reform of the intelligence services without proposing equally important changes in the way Congress does business in relation to them.
In fact, the need to change how Congress deals with the intelligence services is merely the tip of the iceberg. This is an age in which issues cannot be contained in neat organisational boxes. Challenges and solutions alike cut across jurisdictional and intellectual boundary lines. Meanwhile, Congress is using 19th century systems to deal with 21st century issues.
New approaches are needed to streamline and rationalise the jurisdictions of Congressional committees and either to define or eliminate the difference between authorisation and appropriation. The budget process needs to be reformed to force more reality into discussion of fiscal projections. Some approach must be found for looking longer-term at major societal issues and their legislative implications. Innovations in procedure are needed to deal adequately with complex, interactive issues. There should be joint work with the next administration to discuss ideas for changes in the organisation of the executive branch and in Congressional procedure.
Perhaps the way to begin would be to establish a bipartisan study group or even a commission, properly funded, mandated to do its work in public and answerable to no one for its conclusions. It might be good to have these recommendations on hand in time for the 2006 mid-term elections.
Extreme partisanship has damaged Congress and is a threat to the health of the republic. Regardless of who is president, the country needs a healthy legislative branch. There is a need for urgency and creativity from within Congress directed towards itself. What does not evolve declines.
Congress Must Curb America’s Runaway Executive
Appeared in Financial Times, May 20, 2004
Written by Leon Fuerth
The extreme abuses of prisoners in Iraq were no mere anomaly. They were the predictable consequence of the unchecked exercise of power, beginning not with military prison guards or intelligence contractors but at the highest levels of the US government.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, the administration created a space where neither the law of the land nor the law of nations operates. This is a region where only the will of the president holds sway, as elaborated by the attorney-general. It is a domain where the power of the executive is not subject to effective monitoring or to legal intervention. Under this system, the good name of US soldiers and of the nation has been entrusted to people who can invent the rules as they go along. That is one reason why legitimate questions are being posed about whether the practices used in Iraq’s prisons were based on the earlier treatment of detainees in Afghanistan or at Guantanamo Bay.
It is a basic principle of leadership that responsibility must be linked inseparably to authority. Even if those at the bottom of the chain of command acted entirely on their own, responsibility for their actions does not end with them, but extends upwards to their superiors. If it turns out that their superiors let it be known, by word or gesture, that they sanctioned this behaviour, then they, too, are complicit. Moreover, accountability cannot stop even with the military leadership or the intelligence managers. It continues on, inexorably, to those at much higher levels who are responsible for establishing the framework within which these events occurred, even if they were totally unaware of them until recently.
What has happened in Iraq took place according to principles that are toxic for democracies. The doctrines of executive authority propounded by the Bush administration endanger not only the human rights of foreigners, but also the civil liberties of Americans. Remember that if the Supreme Court rules in favour of the administration in the case of Jose Padilla, detained on suspicion of plotting with al-Qaeda, it will mean that American citizens as well as foreigners can be locked away beyond the reach of US justice.
The executive branch is operating at or beyond its constitutional limits, without effective counteraction by either of the other two branches of government. Our federal judiciary is increasingly beholden to the conservative philosophy of successive Republican administrations. Congress, in fact, is potentially more effective than the courts because it has far more flexible powers for engaging the administration in point-by-point oversight. But Congress is much weakened as the result of a long series of retreats.
Members of Congress who decry the loss of their exclusive constitutional power to declare war must remember that it is Congress that let this power slide away. Members of Congress who believe that the institution is being railroaded into hasty action, as it was in the case of the Patriot Act, must acknowledge that they agreed to the voting procedures that allowed this to happen. Members of Congress who deplore flaws in the US national intelligence system need to recognise that they had the authority to investigate before rather than after the nation suffered the consequences. And members of Congress of both parties, who are now angry that they were the last to know what was going on in Iraq, must realise that this negligent treatment by the executive is just the latest episode in an abusive relationship that Congress itself has helped enable.
Repairing that relationship is something only Congress can do. It must effectively use the power of the purse as a choke-chain. It must demand timely and adequate information from the executive, so as to make possible vigorous oversight. It must not allow the executive to create regions in which its use of public resources cannot be challenged by those who appropriate them. Only Congress is in a position to fill the constitutional void that has been created by an administration eager to expand its powers, and a judiciary unwilling to challenge them. Congress must use the bipartisan anger its members now feel as the starting point for urgently needed bipartisan action to restore the balance of forces in our government.
In the course of vigorous inquiry after the truth, Congress will be told that it is weakening the nation in the face of its enemies. It is the truth, however, that restores our strength and redeems our errors.
Appeared in The Washington Post, October 19, 2003
Written by Leon Fuerth
Much has already been said about national security adviser Condoleezza Rice’s “new” responsibility for coordinating the reconstruction of Iraq, but there is at least one very significant observation left to be made: This event signifies the failure of the Bush administration’s basic overall model for managing national security.
During the presidential campaign of 2000, there were criticisms that President Clinton’s National Security Council was too much in the foreground of foreign policy, to the detriment of the effectiveness of the State and Defense departments.
Once in office, the Bush administration delivered on this criticism by shifting power from the White House to the executive branch “power” agencies and to the vice president.
Each administration is organized in a manner that reflects not only the priorities of its president but also the president’s operational style. In the case of President Bush, this appears to have been a contemporary business approach to management, one that involves flattening the power structure by placing a great deal of authority in the hands of those responsible for running major units.
The problem with this model is that the government of the United States is not a corporation. Its product is not military power in one package, diplomacy in another and economic power in yet another, but rather a single, integrated “system of systems” that collectively represent national security. To create this product requires vision, purpose and direction from the core. Such things cannot be delegated, and unfortunately neither can they be easily acquired if they are not part of a president’s basic orientation to the job.
At first, President Bush was served reasonably well by the system he established. It compensated for his lack of background in national security matters by empowering highly experienced, dynamic leaders in the two most important Cabinet posts. It allowed him to pursue the one strategic goal of his administration prior to the events of Sept. 11, 2001: breaking the federal tax code as we knew it.
There were, to be sure, signs early on that the system was running rough. But these could be written off as understandable lapses during the early phase of the administration’s work.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, however, the inherent shortcomings of this approach have become much more evident.
Middle East policy is in deep trouble. Policy toward North Korea is improvisational and contradictory. Policy toward our allies and vital international organizations is erratic. Policy toward the Russian Federation and China has become personalized and idealized.
But Iraq is, of course, the major case in point. We now know that the administration did not plan realistically for the aftermath of war. It appears to have relied entirely on a scenario in which we would be able to swiftly install democracy in Iraq and just as quickly depart. A properly run interagency system, with its center of gravity in the White House, where it always ought to have been, should have and could have considered other outcomes and their implications. Provided, of course, that the president was of a mind to explore them.
Condi Rice is not in and of herself the solution to this kind of problem. If she is truly to coordinate policy from here on out, it means the president must be ready to elevate her authority over that of two very powerful and assertive personalities. This in turn means strengthening the ability of the National Security Council staff to take on a much heavier responsibility for coordination. In other words, the problem is structural — not just a matter of personalities.
The president has been ill served by his own system, to such an extent that his political interests have been damaged. He is struggling now to convince the public that he is in charge and that his Cabinet is made up of subordinates who follow his lead, rather than vice versa. The mere fact that he is taking this action shows how high the cost of undermanaging the system has become, as a consequence of this and other mistakes (the Joseph Wilson affair, for example).
If the president is truly ready to assert firm control over the complex and always rivalrous interagency system, that will be a good thing for the country. But it is surprising to see how long it has taken to recognize the need. And, of course, there is a price to be paid. From now on, responsibility stops just where it ought to: with the president himself.
Liberia Does Not Fit the Doctrine
Appeared in The Financial Times, July 25, 2003
Written by Leon Fuerth
With each day, the suffering of Liberia’s people intensifies and their appeals for international help become more urgent. Yet the Bush administration’s progress towards a decision on whether to dispatch US forces has been agonisingly slow. There are some obvious reasons for its caution – it is overstretched in Iraq, it wants to avoid a repetition in Somalia, and so forth. But there is something else involved here. Liberia simply does not fit the mould of US strategic interests as defined by the administration and there is no way to use military force there that does not fundamentally contradict policy. This doctrinal issue may not seem meaningful to the general public but it has serious implications and needs to be better understood.
Every new US administration devotes some time at the outset to a formal process whose purpose is to lay out a basic approach to the use of military force. And every administration discovers sooner or later that the world has some harsh lessons to teach – hardest of all for true believers, who are usually well buffered from the possibility that they have erred.
In opposition, the Republican party constantly savaged the Clinton administration for allegedly frivolous military adventures that put the lives of soldiers at risk for vague purposes, loosely associated with values such as human rights and with “imploded” states suffering breakdowns of law and order. As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush never saw an intervention he really liked and he famously ruled out any such action in Africa, which he saw as void of all interest for US security policy.
In an interview published in the US on Wednesday, Colin Powell, the secretary of state, repeated that judgment on Africa but then added: “You can’t ignore it.” We will have to wait to see exactly what that phrase means when and if the US intervenes militarily in Liberia. But the mere fact that Mr Powell has uttered these words pierces the administration’s basic philosophy about the use of force.
Yes, the US could ignore Liberia, just as it ignored Somalia until the 11th hour of the preceding Bush administration and just as that same administration was prepared to ignore what was going on in Haiti and in Bosnia. It was the Clinton administration that asserted the need for US foreign policy to represent not just the strategic calculus of experts but also the moral values of the American people – at least where it reasonably could do so.
So, if Mr Powell is now declaring that the present administration will consider the use of force where no other value other than moral is involved, he has announced a fundamental change. That, however, is almost certainly not what he intends to do. Instead, he was trying to explain why there should be an exception for one particular country. Those who agree that there is a compelling need for a US response will be glad this is his attitude. But it leaves a large unanswered question: if Liberia qualifies, what standard will be used to judge US participation in some other place where terrible things are happening to innocent people, for example in the Congo? Does it mean that US military power is now to be at the service of the president’s sentiments, redefined as a national interest strong enough to warrant the loss of American lives? That is a legitimate question, which the administration needs to answer.
Perhaps it eventually will argue that acting in Liberia is really consistent with its war on terrorism on grounds that terrorists can take shelter behind the chaos. But that would leave wide open the question of when and where to intervene military. For now, however, the administration’s answer is simply that Liberia is an open-and-shut case. US forces go in and, as Mr Powell said in his interview, a new president of Liberia is put in place by “constitutional methods”, followed by a transitional government and then elections. Presumably we then decamp. But one reason the Bush administration used to oppose interventions likes this was because they required “nation-building” involving a long-term presence.
This approach, after all, explains the curious lack of thought displayed by the administration as it planned the war to depose Saddam Hussein. It is an over-confident presumption of the tasks ahead that has turned out to make the tasks at hand much harder. It would be a good thing for the US and the world if the deep, partisan divisions concerning appropriate circumstances for the use of force were to be bridged by a doctrine accessible to both sides.
Liberia could be such a bridge. But only if it represents a conscious effort to acknowledge that what is merely the right thing to do matters as part of the US strategic calculus. When out of power, Republicans essentially argued that the country needed less heart and more head in these matters. In power, they have overshot the other way and need to correct their aim.
“America Need Not be a Law Unto Itself”
Appeared in The Financial Times, May 12, 2003
Written by Leon Fuerth
The Bush administration’s security doctrine asserts that presidents have a unilateral, natural right to make war pre-emptively. In short, the administration believes that war works and international law does not. Many Americans are ready to accept that war is sometimes unavoidable, but not that the US can be safe only if it becomes a law unto itself. The question is whether it is possible for the US to balance might and right inside the framework of international law.
Article 51 of the United Nations Charter says that nations may use force pre-emptively for self- defence in case of “imminent” attack. The term “imminent” is not very well defined, but its legal history strongly suggests a very high standard of restraint: perhaps too high for the modern age, when the difference between life and death can be measured in minutes. Does it follow that international law is irrelevant or even harmful for a country such as the US? Because if that is true, it is true for everyone, for example India and Pakistan. And if we do not believe that a lawless world is in our interest, then how are we to protect ourselves without throwing off all restraints for others? To do this, it is important to reason carefully about specific cases in relation to general principle. There are four such instances: Iraq, North Korea, Iran and international terror organisations.
In the case of Iraq, the administration did not claim that the US faced an imminent threat of attack, but rather that it was obliged to use force to prevent Iraq from ever acquiring weapons of mass destruction or from conveying them to terrorist groups. Iraq’s potential to threaten the US was real enough, given time. And as some have said, the UN Charter is not a suicide pact. But it was not necessary to violate article 51 in order to justify action.
Iraq was massively in breach of the terms of the ceasefire agreement that halted the first Gulf war, and had continued to refuse requests from the Security Council to comply. This fact alone provided a rationale for a resumption of hostilities. Not everyone might agree with that rationale, but it would have been better had the administration held to that point, rather than justify war in Iraq in terms that made it a test case for its doctrine of pre-emption. Fortunately, the administration used multiple justifications for war, and so may retrospectively “clarify” its views in a way that reverses the damage otherwise done to article 51.
Meanwhile, North Korea has already become precisely the menace that Iraq only might have been. A peaceful solution to this crisis is highly desirable but may not be attainable. If force does become necessary, the administration should not fall back on the idea of pre-emption. A state of hostilities has existed with North Korea for more than half a century, suspended only by a ceasefire agreement. Under the circumstances, North Korea’s nuclear weapons threats call into question the validity of that agreement.
In the end, no amount of pressure may suffice for Iran to abandon its search for weapons of mass destruction. Does article 51 then mean that the US can take no action until faced with an Iranian nuclear strike? That is a standard not likely to be honoured. Perhaps the notion of “imminent” threat means one thing when dealing with conventional forces, and something very different where weapons of mass destruction are involved. It might be that the closer a country comes to deploying such weapons, the closer it gets to triggering the rights of others to actions of pre-emptive self-defence within the sense of article 51.
Finally, there is the question of whether article 51 somehow ties US hands when dealing with international terrorism. Article 51 is meant to regulate relations among states and, since terrorist groups are not states, they can expect no protection. UN Security Council resolutions 1368 and 1373, written as responses to the attacks of September 11, each reaffirm “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence as recognised by the Charter of the United Nations”. In other words, article 51 applies. One may plausibly argue that, under these resolutions, nations have latitude to define what is an imminent threat where international terrorist organisations are concerned. States that offer succour to terrorists do so at their peril.
International law can be used forcefully to help sustain an international order in which democratic countries will flourish. But if international law is so tough, why go to so much trouble to preserve it by means of careful parsing? Because the essence of international law is to counsel powerful nations to be restrained in the use of violence. If that principle is withdrawn, international life is strictly a matter of power and who has it. To this point, although Americans have understood that force is sometimes needed to sustain international order, we have also dreamed of building an international order strong enough to confine force itself. That is worth preserving as an American message for the 21st century. It is a false choice to say that we can be secure only by giving it up.
“An Air of Empire”
Appeared in The Washington Post, March 20, 2003
Written by Leon Fuerth
The word “empire” has been used fairly often as a metaphor to convey the global scope of American interests and of American military, economic and political influence. After the conquest of Iraq, however, it can be fairly argued that we shall have created not a figure of speech but a concrete reality.
First of all, we will have made clear that the United States answers to no authority other than itself when it comes to the use of military force. Moreover, the authority of the United States will be mostly indistinguishable from the personal will of its president. The Bush doctrine of preemption becomes a replacement for international law: Any president at any time in the future can decide to attack any country, provided only that he is satisfied that said country might at some point represent a direct threat to the United States.
Second, the United States will have established itself as the dominant force at the geographic core of a region that, in turn, exercises tremendous leverage over the rest of the globe through the oil market. As occupying power, the United States will unilaterally assume responsibility for decisions that will determine the future course of Iraq’s oil and gas industries. We become in effect a virtual member of OPEC, and one of the most powerful at that. So immense military power will be united with an equally impressive form of economic power. No, this war is certainly not about oil. But the peace that follows it will be another matter.
The fact that we will have acted out of fear of terrorism in an impulse of self-protection does not change the essential nature of this event for much of the rest of the world. What matters is the answer to a single question: Does the United States consider itself bound by any international obligation if that obligation is seen as an impediment to its will? The Bush administration will have difficulty saying otherwise, in view of its pattern of unilateral action, established well before the present crisis.
If war comes, we may be quickly victorious. And perhaps the president’s sweeping vision of positive change throughout the Middle East will also come to pass. The more brilliant our success, however, the more deeply we will be feared. And the reason for that is not just the stunning demonstration of power in bringing it about but the fact that the government of the United States went out of its way to drive home one point: We are dominant, and dominant is as dominance does. That has its price.
Americans — whether they support or oppose war with Iraq — need to realize the consequences of the status we may shortly assume. The beginning of empire is the end of commonwealth. We have already seen how that works in the failed bidding war the United States engaged in for the sake of support in the Security Council and from Turkey.
The irony is that all along the United States has had every right to resume military operations against Iraq under existing Security Council resolutions, because Saddam Hussein was patently in breach of his commitments. Instead, the administration chose to base its actions on an unlimited assertion of an American right to make war at will.
Whether or not we intend to be an empire, we now present the aspect of one — an appearance that has already contributed to the fracturing of our alliances by playing into the ambitions of those, such as the French and their followers, who believe their mission is to contain us. The administration knows that it is responsible for the reconstruction of Iraq after this war is over. But it does not appear to realize that it also must find a way to reconstruct another collateral casualty: the notion that America is part of a community of nations.
“Outfoxed by North Korea”
Appeared in The New York Times, January 1, 2003
Written by Leon Fuerth
We’re beginning the new year in a deep fix.
The Bush administration’s decision to refer North Korea’s revival of its nuclear-weapons program to the United Nations is a reasonable but transparent effort to sidetrack the issue in hopes of avoiding another military crisis on the eve of war with Iraq. It is unlikely that the United Nations will take meaningful action in this situation, since no power other than the United States possesses the means to back up words with action. Even if the administration’s strategy of isolating North Korea works, at best it would amount to a partial tightening of sanctions against a country whose economy is already moribund. The only additional threat available is the denial of food aid for the people of North Korea, an act that would take the United States into new moral territory.
The administration now is in the awkward position of choosing to give war with Iraq priority over the most serious threat to stability in Asia since the last North Korean nuclear crisis a decade ago. Moreover, the North Koreans are moving to develop their nuclear stockpile with such dispatch that the administration’s delaying tactics appear to have little chance to succeed. With the last of the international inspectors ejected yesterday and the possibility of a mothballed plutonium reprocessing facility coming back on line in the next month or two, North Korea is giving itself the means to produce ever-greater numbers of nuclear weapons, and no subsequent agreement will be able to reverse that fact.
There is still a lingering hope that all this will turn out to have been an attempt by North Korea to get the Bush administration to make major concessions. If that’s the case, either the United States or North Korea will have to give way. Unfortunately neither of these scenarios looks likely. And absent either outcome, North Korea is on course to becoming a nuclear power. If the North Koreans are successful, the consequences will be severe.
North Korea already is in a position to provide nuclear technology to other states or to terrorist groups. In any event, we should expect that it will continue to develop the ability to deliver nuclear weapons by ballistic missile. And no long-term comfort can be found from the relatively limited capabilities of North Korea’s current missiles, which can still threaten our allies, including Japan. What’s more, North Korean weapons engineers can gradually develop longer-range rockets and lighter warheads, giving the country true intercontinental ballistic- missile capability.
While it’s uncertain how far North Korea’s missiles will be able to travel, it is certain that the Bush administration now faces an immediate loss of credibility. Its report on National Security Strategy, released in September, claims the right of pre-emption as a means to deal with the type of threat that Iraq is said to represent by virtue of its efforts to build weapons of mass destruction. There is no sign, however, that the administration plans to use this doctrine against North Korea, which poses a danger to the vital interests of the United States by virtue of what it has already accomplished.
The administration’s special addendum to its National Security Strategy, the “National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction,” published in December, states on its opening page: “We will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes and terrorists to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” But there is no sign that this new unconditional doctrine will be directed against North Korea. Another line in the addendum states that “effective interdiction is a critical part” of the American strategy to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the missiles that deliver them. But, again, the administration, after seizing a North Korean vessel in the act of smuggling North Korean ballistic missiles into Yemen, elected to release the ship and its cargo. American officials cited reverence for international law, but such a justification, so unusual during the administration’s first weapons-proliferation case, takes the teeth out of its tough pre-emption policy. With what lesson for North Korea?
So on the way to war with Iraq, the United States has been caught out by North Korea — which apparently saw its opportunity in our distraction and seized it. This drama is far from over, but with each day North Korea moves closer to its goal of either forcing the administration to negotiate or enhancing its ability to produce weapons of mass destruction.
Either way, the balance of power in the Far East is likely to be upset. If the president negotiates, he will send a message that the key to respectful attention from his administration is blackmail. If he can’t stop North Korea from pursuing its nuclear ambitions, the only effective remedy would be military action.
War on the Korean peninsula is almost too horrible to contemplate, although the Clinton administration certainly confronted it when dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program in the early 1990’s. (Then, as now, the North Koreans were preparing to begin a process that would give them enough plutonium to build nuclear weapons serially.) If North Korea proceeds today, we would then be faced with a ruthless government in a position to increasingly threaten its region. This threat could cause a number of states, including South Korea and possibly Japan, to question whether American security guarantees are still the most reliable means for their defense and survival.
One political reminder from this episode is the danger that can come from tough talk. When using words as weapons, a leader must be prepared to back up his rhetoric with force. The president’s nomination of North Korea as a member of the “axis of evil” in his last State of the Union message now looks like a bluff that is being called. And the outcome of the administration’s diplomacy is that we are preparing to fight a war with a country that might eventually acquire nuclear weapons, while another country is closing in on the ability to go into mass production.
Like it or not, the administration needs to test the theory that North Korea is trying to force the United States into negotiations. That would be bitter medicine for the administration to swallow, but in view of the alternatives it would be wise for the administration to reverse course and engage with North Korea. However, if such a process doesn’t stop the North Korean nuclear enterprise, and quickly, then the administration must either accept a monumental blow to the security of the United States, or prepare for a second major military enterprise in Korea — one that would take place simultaneously, or nearly so, with action against Iraq.
“Intoxicated with Power”
Appeared in The Washington Post, October 16, 2002
Written by Leon Fuerth
According to recent news stories, the Bush administration may have decided that if the United States ultimately invades Iraq, it will establish a military government under the control of an American military officer who will simultaneously run and redesign the country, on the model of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Japan after World War II. Whether this turns out to be the policy of the Bush administration, the fact that consideration of such an approach has reached this level warns us that there may be a dangerous intoxication with American power, and a serious loss of judgment as to its limits, among the most senior persons in our government.
According to this plan, as reported, the United States would set up a military viceroy in the capital of an Arab state, having occupied its territory, and then proceed to build a new nation. We presumably would do this with some help from perhaps the British, if they have the stomach for that — despite their experience of trying to hold on to empire beyond its time. We apparently would not conduct this operation under U.N. auspices, and therefore it would be a direct and unilateral extension of American military power. We would betray the Iraqi National Congress, which the Republicans championed in Congress, by making it clear that it would not be the next government of Iraq. We would take responsibility for suppressing Kurdish national ambitions, so as to keep Turkey calm. We would take control over decision-making for Iraq’s oil resources, which would raise problems for Vladimir Putin, who would be seen to have lost Russia’s stake in 4 Iraq to the United States. We would have U.S. troops in all sorts of interesting places, including on the border with Iran. We would have assumed responsibility for the costs of reconstruction in Iraq. We would presumably be trying, convicting and punishing persons we deemed guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity in courts of U.S. jurisdiction, most likely military, not before international tribunals.
We will be telling ourselves that our job is to arrange for a smooth transition to democratic government in a place that has never known one. Probably we will be told that there is an exit strategy and that it involves our succeeding at all these things within a relatively short period of time. And certainly we will be told that none of this is going to distract us from our war against terrorism or in any way diminish the cooperation of other nations in that regard — particularly other nations in the Middle East.
Granted, many have appealed to the administration to present its thoughts about follow-on after a war. And so in a way, this plan may be considered a step in the right direction. But it could well be a step toward a debacle, and a giant step at that. The United States will be seen as having decided to establish its security on the basis of empire. Few will believe that we will be able to successfully withdraw from this kind of occupation; many will believe that this administration does not intend to withdraw rapidly as a matter of policy. It will be assumed that this occupation is intended to be of long duration, or that if it is to give way, what follows is meant to be a puppet government beholden to Washington. If this is the government that is supposed to win international legitimacy, and to gain the loyalty of its own populace, then the Bush administration’s reading of human nature and of the politics of this region is very strange.
Above all, it is important to realize that if this is the administration’s plan, then we are about to become the hegemonic power par excellence of the Middle East and beyond: We would become the guarantors of the balance of power. And if the logic of that position inexorably carries us on into a direct confrontation with Syria, or with Iran, then that should be no surprise, because it will merely be the unfolding of the “axis of evil” speech, and the materialization of what is meant by concepts of the right to preemption and the need for dominance — the hallmarks of the administration’s doctrine for organizing our relations with the rest of the world.
One can imagine that if the president takes his time, plays out his hand with the United Nations, allows inspectors to return to Iraq and awaits the inevitable demonstration of bad faith by Saddam Hussein, he might be able to deal with Iraq with meaningful, rather than nominal international support; and he might then also be able to deal with the aftermath of a change of regime in the same way. But much of the time the administration’s overall approach to policy breathes impatience with the opinion of others, eagerness for military action despite protestations to the contrary and an ideologically driven indifference to consequences that could prove devastating to fundamental American security needs.
“Alliances For The Next Generation”
Appeared in The Washington Post, August 23, 2002
Written by Leon Fuerth
During the Cold War, and in the decade after its end, the United States based its global strategy on an alliance system whose primary elements were NATO and Japan. That system is now rapidly eroding, in part for reasons having little to do with the United States, but increasingly for reasons directly related to the policies and attitudes of this country under the Bush administration. This trend, if neglected, points toward a situation in which the United States could ultimately stand alone in an adverse world. We need to develop a second-generation alliance system that will serve the long-term security requirements of its participants.
With the exception of the United States, NATO governments have been disinvesting in military power since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. As a result, there is now a substantial and rapidly widening gap between the military capabilities of the United States and those of its European partners. At the same time, however, Europe has insisted on the creation (on paper, at least) of a 60,000-member armed force that could be pulled out of NATO and deployed by the European Union in support of out-of-area missions that NATO (read the United States) chooses not to support. There seems to be no crisp statement of what military capability this force needs. This is not a formula for strengthening the North Atlantic security relationship but for attenuating it.
One needs to think more deeply about the ultimate purposes of NATO as a military alliance. NATO’s real importance over the long term is to anchor European unity. It does so by operating as the legitimizing framework for military force in Eurasia, with one proviso: NATO must continue to be an alliance whose center of gravity is Atlantic, by virtue of the coupling of U.S. military power to the stability of Eurasia. If the ties between America and NATO are allowed to grow slack, then the long-term political future of Europe should be considered problematic.
Unlike our European allies, Japan has a military that is being carefully developed into an impressive regional force. Nevertheless, there is a growing sense that Japan faces rising challenges to its physical security principally from China. Over time, Japanese experts see diminished American ability to maintain regional stability, and they fear that at the end of the road there may well be a Sino-American war, probably triggered by a clash over Taiwan.
Japanese experts are deeply concerned that the United States’ determination to build a ballistic missile defense system will stimulate the Chinese to exceed American expectations by increasing the size of their nuclear forces, rather than by merely deploying more modern systems. They worry that India might be compelled to increase its forces to offset China, thereby further stimulating a nuclear cycle with Pakistan. They have good reason for concern about North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. With possibilities such as these, it’s not surprising that from time to time senior Japanese officials release trial balloons about a nuclear option for their country.
The policies and attitudes of the United States under the Bush administration tend to make the problems of both these alliances substantially worse. The United States is at present deconstructing its alliances. Unilateralism, triumphalism, exceptionalism and — often — simple arrogance now mark our approach. We demonstrate by word and by deed that allies and alliances do not matter enough to constrain us. And each time we do this, we advance toward the culmination of a self-fulfilling prophecy. We will end up operating alone in the world.
The Bush administration aims to fundamentally alter foreign policy. What is to be abandoned is the goal of a world system based on multilateral institutions, underwritten by security alliances anchored and cross-braced in the United States. In place of these things, what is intended is a world order serving American interests, based on American military and economic primacy, although to the maximum extent possible avoiding American engagement in long-range tasks, whether military operations or nation-building.
At the administration’s present rate of progress, returning to the status quo ante will not be an option. The issue to be thinking about is not how to go back but how to go forward. That is why we need a second-generation alliance system.
Europe and the United States can take steps to make sure that the emerging Rapid Reaction Force is precisely that part of NATO that has been equipped and trained to fight on a par with the United States in out-of-area engagements. Europeans should focus on understanding the revolutionary trends in U.S. military capabilities and doctrines, and plan to have a Rapid Reaction Force develop in such a way as to intercept those capabilities in a certain number of years. This is substantially less demanding in technological and financial terms than trying to upgrade the alliance as a whole.
Japan must find a way to cut, or at least loosen, its constitutional Gordian knot. Essential forms of future cooperation with the United States should be identified and ways found to either design these forms to make them compatible with the Japanese constitution or to redefine the constitution to enable Japan and the United States to improve their mutual security relationship.
That issue comes to its sharpest edge in terms of ballistic missile defense. Right now the Japanese assume that their constitution bars any integrated U.S.-Japanese defense against ballistic missiles. That is a devastating consequence, because it blocks effective cooperation against the most dynamic part of the security threat facing Japan. There may be ways to work around this problem; the United States and Japan should be making it a very high priority to find them.
The United States especially needs to offer an overall idea of how to bring Asia through a period when power relations will be changing to a new equilibrium reflecting China’s rapidly growing importance. Moreover, our concept should aim to do this at least in the first instance by means other than military force, while still maintaining that force as a backup and the resource of last resort.
We should work to bring about constructive change in China and a benign regional adjustment to growing Chinese power; but we should hedge that bet by putting in place the building blocks of a coordinated regional defense against aggression. Our goal here need not be to create a formal alliance but rather to encourage a regionwide interest in collective security, capable of generating tailor-made coalitions for specific purposes, and possessing the means for effective joint operations with the United States.
In both Europe and Asia, governments most friendly to us deeply believe that the purposes of alliance now also extend to the need for collective, forward engagement against pandemic disease, environmental collapse and poverty. To the extent that our allies neglect to maintain the capacity for basic collective military defense, they are forgetting or ignoring the lessons of history. But to the extent that the United States tries to minimize its engagement with any issues other than physical security, we are failing the prime obligation of leadership: to chart a future worthy of the aspirations of all.
The largest goals of a second-generation alliance system are no longer strictly regional, but global. They are no longer purely military, but societal. For such purposes, the United States is still the indispensable nation, not by custom or some version of divine right but by virtue of clear vision and sustained commitment.
“On Russia, Think Bigger”
Appeared in The Washington Post, May 1, 2002
Written by Leon Fuerth
It seems only yesterday that the Bush presidential campaign had scathing things to say about American Russia policy as conducted during the Clinton/Gore administration. The idea of a strategic partnership between the two countries was dismissed as “romanticism,” the product of an overheated relationship between Clinton and Yeltsin, neither of whom could be said to really be defending the core interests of their respective countries. But that was then, and this is now — and late next month there will be yet another summit between presidents Bush and Putin, working on their version of a strategic partnership.
Much of the credit for this development goes to Putin, who took 9-11 as the moment to turn Russian policy decisively toward cooperation with the United States. But that arrangement is far from being a partnership of equals.
We wanted full Russian cooperation in the war against terror and we have received it.
Putin wanted to keep the ABM Treaty, and the United States announced its abrogation and an intention to weaponize outer space. He wanted deep, irrevocable and binding cuts in strategic nuclear weapons. We, at least initially, wanted only to take such reductions as suited us, under arrangements designed to be reversible, and in any event not legally binding.
He wanted some means to make Russia’s voice heard in NATO’s councils, especially as the alliance prepares to expand. We offered a reinvented version of what already exists, in the form of yet another forum with circumscribed authority.
He wanted to develop trade and investment with the United States. We imposed an exclusionary tariff on Russian steel. (The U.S. industry is in real trouble, but we need to recognize the impact of our actions.)
He wanted an end to U.S. criticism of how Russia conducts its operations in Chechnya. We gave him a massive State Department exposé (one can be glad for honesty on our part, yet recognize what this means for him).
It is the kind of treatment you get when you play with a particularly weak hand. The Bush administration knows this and exploits it. Putin knows it and has to bargain for the best deal he can get. But solid partnerships are not built on winner-take-all rules; they require a search for win-win outcomes. Putin does have critics at home, and they have taken note of the unequal returns to Russia on his investment in the Bush administration. If the administration does not begin to find ways to restore a real sense of give and take, it may lose its chance to build the solid relationship to which it now aspires.
In the long term, Russia will regain its stature as a major power. That makes it important to determine whether we are building a relationship that will work for us when that time comes. The May summit offers a chance to put win-win to work.
In arms control, it should be made possible for Putin to bring home agreements that are not only substantial but verifiable, irreversible and fully binding. And that’s not just because Russia needs these things. We should want them, too. The Bush administration, which took office intent on avoiding anything but tacit agreements on nuclear weapons, has been giving ground on this position only reluctantly. It’s time to accept the idea that we need the structure provided by an arms control agreement — whatever the administration chooses to call it. In particular, the Russians have been right to want such an agreement to extend to nuclear warheads and to provide for their dismantling, not storage.
We should also be looking for ways to promote the downsizing of Russia’s huge plant for the production of nuclear weapons. That’s part of irrevocability too, and we have long since cut our own establishment down to post-Cold War size. The Russians might resist such a drastic change, but they would have little basis for doing so, given the U.S. reductions. They might also ask who would help them foot the enormous bill for carrying out such a cutback. Will we be ready to provide that help?
The ABM Treaty is dead, but the need to address the role of defenses in our strategic relationship is still very much present, even greatly intensified. We need a truly imaginative approach designed to engage Russia in the construction of a defensive system capable of offering protection to the United States, Russia and Europe against a possible nuclear/missile threat from rogue states. According to the press, the issue of missile defense will be one of the first agenda items for the proposed new NATO-Russia council. But what specific ideas will we bring to the table? Proposals could include helping the Russians fill gaps in their long-range ballistic missile warning system. We could also propose joint work to develop and deploy limited ground- based systems against very basic threats from rogue states, to be followed by a jointly developed boost-phase defense against more sophisticated threats. If so, the latter should be ground-based; the United States needs to avoid, not promote, space-based defensive systems, because these can be brought to the point where they threaten the Russian Federation’s retaliatory capability, something ground-based systems can’t do.
Further expansion of NATO is justifiable, and in the end Russian involvement with NATO cannot be permitted to become a Russian right to veto action from within the alliance. But the expansion underscores a problem Russia has with old treaty restraints on its placement of major military equipment near what used to be the NATO/Warsaw Pact front line and flanks. The Russian Federation inherited these constraints on Conventional Forces in Europe from its predecessor and is living with them — but not happily. After all, three of the countries that used to be military allies of the Soviet Union are now members of NATO, and more will certainly be coming on board in the next few years. In light of the radically changed circumstances, the Bush administration ought to be open to some kind of easing of these treaty provisions.
The administration, like its predecessor, has promised to “graduate” Russia from provisions of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which sought to promote free emigration from certain countries. The time has come to honor that promise, but it won’t be easy, and a substantial investment of political capital may be needed to get it done. The administration should make that investment. Russia also needs to join the World Trade Organization, and while membership is not ours to confer — it is Russia’s to earn through compromise and reform — we can make it clear we strongly favor Russian entry.
Measures that the Clinton administration proselytized to a skeptical and preoccupied Yeltsin government are now the core agenda of the Putin administration — for its own good and sufficient reasons. Much remains to be done in the reform, but a great deal has been accomplished. And yet, American private investment in Russia remains relatively minute. Our president ought to use the summit to help revive and expand the interest of American investors in Russia.
This summit can be a point of departure for U.S.-Russian relations. But if it is anything less, Putin may have to reassess his policy toward us. Combating terrorism is a true mutual interest. But as we are seeing, it is not enough to sustain the whole weight of American concerns in the world — nor can it serve as the one load-bearing wall in U.S.-Russian relations. It is time for the Bush administration to finally present its case for a larger vision of our relations with Russia.
“One Terrorist at a Time”
Appeared in The New York Times, January 4, 2002
Written by Leon Fuerth
Advocates of going to war to displace Saddam Hussein are working hard to sell their case to the public, and there are indications of a vigorous debate on Iraq within the Bush administration. But eliminating Mr. Hussein’s regime will not solve the terrorism problem as exemplified by Al Qaeda — and waging war against Iraq could create new threats.
Saddam Hussein is dangerous and likely to become more so. He may well possess stocks of biological weapons that escaped both the bombardments of the Persian Gulf war and the subsequent investigations by United Nations inspectors. He is trying to rebuild his capacity to make weapons of mass destruction as the United Nations sanctions system — intended to keep military supplies from entering Iraq — grows ever more porous. He has demonstrated more than enough ruthlessness for us to credit him with the will to use weapons of mass destruction. He is a permanent menace to his region and to the vital interests of the United States. He and his government must be ripped out of Iraq if we are ever to be secure and if the sufferings of the Iraqi people are ever to abate.
Nonetheless, Mr. Hussein is not our most serious problem, and attacking him would be at the expense of higher priorities.
There may well have been interaction between Mr. Hussein’s intelligence apparatus and various terrorist networks, including that of Osama bin Laden. But it was Mr. bin Laden’s network that brought about the Sept. 11 attacks, and his agents did not come from Iraq. There is no credible public information to indicate that Iraq was significantly involved.
It is, indeed, characteristic of Mr. bin Laden’s network that it does not entirely depend on a state sponsor like Iraq. What makes Al Qaeda so dangerous is not Mr. bin Laden — although his death or capture would remove a great, evil talent from the leadership of terrorism — but his development of the concept of using a network as a vehicle for leveraging many individuals and groups, each weak on its own, into an engine of destruction powerful enough to hurt the United States.
The capacity to network, as described by a growing number of scholars, means an ability to create ad hoc patterns of activity among widely distributed cells: to communicate, pass resources, move key personnel and maintain the initiative through audacious planning. It is the network that gives what Mr. bin Laden created the means to adapt even to his demise, taking advantage of an organizational pattern that resembles that of a global multinational corporation.
After the dislocation of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the next phase needs to be a sustained assault on the broader network: attacking its individual cells by working in concert with intelligence and police services around the world. Multilateral cooperation is of the essence, as it was in the Afghanistan campaign. Anything that distracts us from relentless pursuit of the system by which terrorist groups can operate as networked entities — and anything that detracts from the willingness of other governments to work alongside us — is at the expense of our national security.
An immediate attack on Saddam Hussein carries a very high risk of constituting just such a fatal diversion. Arguments that his fall would require little American military investment are reckless in the extreme. Claims that the Iraqi National Congress, or the two main Kurdish groups, are ready to be Iraq’s version of the Northern Alliance are misapplied analogies. Assurances that Iraq’s neighbors would be happy to see Mr. Hussein eliminated are dangerous simplifications. Claims that we can either hold the coalition together if we promptly attack Saddam Hussein or that we no longer need a coalition are simply guesses.
America’s choices are not limited to attack or neglect. There can be an interim program for Iraq. We should reheat the demand for international inspectors and return to the Security Council for “smart” sanctions. We should take the position that if Mr. Hussein blocks inspection of facilities suspected of being used for manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, the United States will destroy those sites.
Further, we should develop the capabilities of the Iraqi National Congress, help the Kurds while making clear that we are not supporting a Kurdish state, and use covert action across its full potential. We should also develop homeland defense as an absolute priority, to hedge against the risk that Saddam Hussein — or any other opponent — might try to reach us with a weapon of mass destruction or mass disruption.
Our hand could be forced by convincing evidence that Saddam Hussein was a central actor in the use of anthrax as a weapon against us or by some new move on his part that threatens his neighbors. Absent such developments, the United States should focus on destroying what threatens us most: the ability of terrorist organizations to organize and to attack through a dispersed network; literally, the globalization of terror.
Not the most urgent goal
Appeared in The Washington Post, November 27, 2001
Written by Leon Fuerth
In Afghanistan the Taliban have been driven out of power, and Osama bin Laden’s apparatus is disrupted and hunted. Iraq, however, is coming up as the next major piece of unfinished business. There are reports of strongly held views within the administration that the United States should strike while we have the opportunity.
Those who hold this view are right in believing that neither the region nor the United States itself will be safe until both Saddam Hussein and the Baath political regime are gone. This is a man who was coming perilously close to having nuclear weapons capability before he made his disastrous misstep in Kuwait. He is believed to have developed chemical and possibly biological weapons, and he used chemical weapons on a massive scale against the Kurds in 1988.
It is possible that he has concealed numbers of Scud ballistic missiles and their launchers. No one was certain about the status of weapons of this type even when U.N. inspectors were ensconced in Baghdad, and the inspectors have been gone now for three years.
Meanwhile, Saddam has been trying to loosen the economic sanctions that bind him and has managed to use the sufferings he imposes on his own people to build sympathy worldwide for Iraq’s plight. Illegal oil sales have given him access to hundreds of millions of dollars. Time is not weakening Saddam Hussein. Rather, his potential for rising again to threaten the interests of the United States is growing. But the tremendous risk involved in turning on him must be thought through.
It is likely that immediately targeting Iraq would be more than the anti-terror coalition could sustain, not just because of the effect on the Arab “street” but because France and especially Russia have invested deeply in efforts to preserve Saddam Hussein as a man worth doing (oil) business with. If so, then Saddam’s luck still holds. The first Bush administration might have destroyed him in 1990 but held back because it thought Iraq under Saddam was necessary as a counterweight to Iran. The Clinton administration could not generate international support for anything much more forceful than limited airstrikes. And at the end of the day, the current administration may also find that it cannot destroy Saddam without causing grievous damage to other, more urgent priorities.
If persuasive evidence existed linking Iraq to the use of anthrax as a biological weapon in this country, that would create an open-and-shut case for finishing him. But without such a link, or some other fresh, major provocation, it would be difficult to build our case for dealing with Saddam. We would need to reheat the chilled and congealed crisis over his ejection of U.N. arms inspectors, and we would have to make (justified) demands for maximum access, given the length of time Iraq has been able to enjoy privacy. The administration would also have to revive its effort to refocus sanctions: perhaps setting up the equation “smart sanctions or smart bombs, take your pick.”
It would have to avoid notions of breaking up Iraq. Our goal should be to establish a federal, democratic state with a weak central government and strong local governments in the Kurdish, Sunni and Shia regions. We certainly ought to cooperate with the Iraqi National Congress, but not be swept up in romanticism about its ability to operate effectively inside Iraq.
All this will take time to develop, and that is just as well. U.S. forces will need to be rested after the campaign in Afghanistan. There are also more urgent priorities than Iraq: carrying the campaign against terror to other parts of the world by whatever combinations of means turns out to be best suited in each location — but above all, maintaining the initiative so that the ability of terrorists to network is dismantled, and they are reduced to isolated cells to be finished off by local authorities, with massive help from others.
But when the moment comes, the United States must avoid half-measures. Given the changed climate produced by Sept. 11, we should aim from the beginning to destroy the Iraqi regime, root and branch. That is the only way to secure the logistically and politically indispensable support we need from the Gulf states. And finally, we must avoid a major ground war unless Saddam forces it upon us by massing forces against his neighbors. It could be that the war in Afghanistan will turn out to be a proving ground for the kind of tactics that would give us the means to take Saddam Hussein down once and for all. That is another reason to avoid haste. There are still lessons to be learned.
Why We Fight
Appeared in The Washington Post, November 4, 2001
Written by Leon Fuerth
We need to focus on our war aims.
In the first days after Sept. 11, the president said the United States wanted custody of Osama bin Laden himself, along with his lieutenants, that we would destroy terrorism wherever it exists and that nations giving aid and comfort to terrorist groups would be dealt with in the same way as the groups themselves.
Forceful and galvanizing. But as it became clear that the United States might not soon be able to neutralize bin Laden, administration rhetoric shifted to the goal of undoing his organization. As it became clear we would not be able to literally make war against all forms of terrorism everywhere, the target was narrowed to terrorist organizations “with global reach.” Finally, as it became clear that there are governments that have been deeply involved with terror, whose support we nevertheless need, rhetoric shifted to forgetting the past if such governments would mend their ways in the future. These are sensible adjustments. But there is a danger this process will continue until we lose sight of bottom-line requirements for our national security. It’s crucial that we not do so. What we experienced in September was not just an attack on American symbols, it was an attack on the actual substance of this country. There was, and remains, an intent to find and destroy vulnerable critical pillars of our system for the purpose of inducing a general societal collapse.
Recent events can leave us in no doubt that should weapons of mass destruction become available to terrorists, they will be used. In effect, the war against international terrorism has now become a battle to prevent such an event from taking place on our soil. To win such a war we will need psychological victories, and in this regard, the capture of bin Laden would be an important moment. But the more fundamental requirement is to disrupt the ability of terrorist networks to function in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
In Afghanistan, this means that the Taliban government must be displaced in favor of any other arrangement that permanently denies cover to terrorist operations. It has been reported that out of respect for Pakistan’s regional concerns, the United States has hesitated to bring maximum force to bear on the Taliban, in hopes of engineering a successor regime in the form of a unity- government under the exiled king. But this solution is proving elusive, and the passage of time is already beginning to work against us. So the issue now involves a choice among priorities. It is a hard and dangerous choice. But once before, in 1990, the United States pulled its punch for the sake of a coalition partner’s regional needs. That decision ensured the survival of Saddam Hussein.
The president spoke early on in terms of conducting this battle in phases. But we cannot await an endgame in Afghanistan before attending to the larger issue of terrorist networks worldwide. Tempo is of the essence. If we can destroy the bin Laden network’s ability to operate in Afghanistan, there must be no place else in the world where it can regroup. The ability to network gives terrorist groups the means to reach out toward us from many locations. Destroying that capacity would segment terrorist organizations into isolated groups more easily destroyed by local government forces with help from us and other coalition members.
In order to have this effect, the United States and its associates need to deny terrorists access to secure international electronic communications, to safe international passage, to safe harbor and to financial privacy through the banking system. Technically, it is possible to do these things, providing the will to cooperate exists on a broad enough basis. The U.N. Security Council’s resolution responding to the events of Sept. 11 creates a legal foundation for such operations and is written in language that mandates all members of the United Nations to comply. Resolutions of this kind can be very powerful if the United States mobilizes support for them.
As regards the threat of weapons of mass destruction, options that would have been unthinkable earlier ought now to be back on the table. Those who trade in technologies of mass destruction should face consequences more swift and more final than economic sanctions. States harboring programs for weapons of mass destruction should understand that the United States intends that these be neutralized by one means or another, including direct preemption. States linked to the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States should know that our response will be on the scale of societal retribution focused in the first instance on the physical survival of the leadership. All governments should understand that action by the United States will occur when it suits our security needs, whether or not we have acquired evidence that would stand up in court. In that way, restraint on our part will be valued rather than taken for granted.
Assuming our success in these matters, permanent operations to disrupt and suppress international terrorism cannot be the end of the story. Beyond this conflict — and even beyond conflicts associated with it, such as the clash between Israel and the Palestinians — the further destiny of the United States is being shaped by mass poverty, mass illiteracy, mass disease and massive environmental disruption. The people of the United States realize this. They know that we cannot protect our future by turning our backs on it. In that knowledge they are well ahead of at least part of the political system.
It is time for our political leaders to make an expanded conception of our national security agenda a matter of bipartisan agreement and of long-term commitment. If not, then tragically for ourselves and our descendants, the dangers and sacrifices of the times just ahead will have been endured for naught.
Appeared in The Washington Post, September 16, 2001
Written by Leon Fuerth
The events of Sept. 11 do not offer easy hope. A terrible threshold has been crossed, and there is no way to guarantee it will never be crossed again. We have entered a nightmare of the spirit — potentially one of the great tests of the American people in the nation’s history.
But we have endured and survived much. And our record as a nation makes clear that the most fatal mistake any of our enemies have made is to assume that we are soft, unwilling to sacrifice and liable to be intimidated. The most enduring trait of our people is reluctance for war, and implacability in its conduct. War has been declared by the president, and for the people of America, that is far more than a figure of speech. They are ready for a call to action that can only come from the commander in chief. They are expecting, and they deserve, a true battle plan representing a quantum change in our approach, to match the quantum change in the level of the threat. What might be its elements?
First, homeland defense. Until now, a buzz-word readily understood to mean improved means for blocking terror and enhanced capacity for managing the consequences. But it has always been a budgetary and organization orphan. Now is the time when it must become a hard-edge reality.
To do what is needed, we will have to develop new relationships between elements of government from the federal to the local level — relationships that are unprecedented and in some cases, difficult to reconcile with our constitutional sensibilities. For example, there is the question of the precise role of the military in carrying out operations within the United States that might cross the line and threaten to usurp the functions of civilian police. Ordinarily this idea is untouchable. But what now, after this disaster? And what next, in view of the fact that use of a crude weapon of mass destruction could involve the larger part of a major city?
As for the cost of serious homeland defense, expect it to run into the billions — which means a direct conflict with other defense priorities, including modernization of our conventional forces and ballistic missile defenses.
Regarding the social impact, we will shortly be confronting proposals that go well beyond additional delay and inconvenience: We will be looking at intensified forms of surveillance that raise very troubling questions about what is left of individual rights to privacy. Before last week, that would have been shocking. Today, it is a trade-off to be weighed against the possibility of a repetition of calamity on the same scale or worse.
Second, we must carry the war to the enemy. The president has said that we will treat those who harbor terrorists in the same way as we treat the terrorists themselves. If the enemy turns out to be Osama bin Laden, then the hosts have been the Taliban, who rule Afghanistan. Does the president mean we will then exact retribution without regard to distinctions between the guilty and the innocent? He has a horrendously difficult problem to wrestle with as he confronts the actual choices that will be laid out for him by the Joint Chiefs.
If it is indeed war, does this mean war without quarter? Should the president be able to order the death of our enemy in explicit language without being called an assassin and a murderer? At present, he cannot. Shall we set in motion a no-holds-barred pursuit of bin Laden’s operatives, and if it is indeed war, are we going to want to serve them with a grand jury indictment — or serve them death?
A week ago, that question would have shocked many people who would have found it inconsistent with the traditions of a civilized nation. Today, many people would be shocked to think that a great civilized nation would hesitate to use any means to deal with a mortal enemy who has declared war upon it.
As a colleague of mine asked, shall we recruit whoever is willing to betray terrorist organizations from within, no matter how personally unsavory, or will we continue to insist on persons whose other activities would never embarrass us, even if this means they are unlikely to be skilled at the forms of treachery we will need?
Third, we must make common cause with the rest of the globe. It will be difficult enough to create a real and effective international alliance against terrorism. Ministerial meetings and expert panels are well and good, and so are clandestine huddles of intelligence chiefs. But are the heads of governments up to tough, concerted action? For a season of anger, or for as long as it takes?
One thing is clear: We will need the support of others. To gain that will we be more likely than in the recent past to look for collective solutions rather than go our own way when it suits us? To some extent, the sense of common peril may cause other governments to put cooperation against terror in a protected category. But over time, the general tenor of our relationships with them will be felt even inside that special domain.
And yet another thing should be clear even when so many other issues are not. We will be making a strategic mistake to conclude that defenses alone can win this war for us. We also must have an affirmative plan for the future of the world, attractive to the citizens of many other countries.
In that plan, we will have to consider whether the list of security threats ought to be broadened. We must ask whether unchecked pandemics are not a security threat; whether environmental damage on a global scale is not a security threat; whether the continuing extreme poverty of billions isn’t a security threat. We will have to consider whether the quality of an emerging global civilization is not as important to us as the immediate strength and quality of our own national life. And if we assert these things, we will have to put resources behind them on a scale that demonstrates serious intent.
Hope destroys the resources of terror by denying it recruits. The United States — alone among nations — can represent hope in the armor of action. If we so will it. That choice remains uniquely ours.
Today’s Harsh Global Realities Demand Complex Defenses
Appeared inThe Los Angeles Times, September 12, 2001
Written by Leon Fuerth
There is so much mourning to be done and so many questions to be answered. But the destruction and carnage of Tuesday’s attacks against the people of the United States will find their place soon enough in the debate over ballistic missile defense.
Many will say that this attack proves we are vulnerable to grievous damage from enemies who do not need intercontinental ballistic missiles to strike us. Moreover, awful as the damage is, a terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction, such as biological or crude nuclear devices, would be far worse. Given these stark facts, it is fair to ask whether spending scores of billions of dollars to create a missile defense against a future threat from the likes of North Korea or Iran represents the right set of priorities.
A defense of the U.S. homeland against a repetition of what has happened or worse is going to be expensive. We have talked about this concept for years, and at the intuitive level it isn’t hard to understand the general idea. But notwithstanding the analysis and talks, and despite a considerable amount of money spent, neither the general concept nor the specifics have been worked out very well.
It is clear that we must create a new kind of partnership between the various levels of government. Better organization and better communication systems are just the beginning. We are going to have to strengthen our ability not just to prevent disasters such as this but also to manage the consequences. Just one of the needs that ought to be met is for stand-by capacity to manufacture vaccine in case of a biological weapon attack. Improvement will be the sum of many relatively small steps. But the aggregate cost will run into billions of dollars.
There will be no single magic bullet. Neither is this a matter that will yield to a one-time fix. We face a chronic and serious threat to our security, and in effect we must now absorb an extremely disturbing fact: It is possible to bring war to our country, notwithstanding our possession of the most mighty army, navy and air force on the planet.
Raising the priority of homeland defense would take money away from other priorities, including missile defense. But it would be unfortunate to conclude that the United States cannot afford to continue to explore missile defense, or that money considerations ought to stop us from deploying it if needed to meet a real threat.
The question of what kind of defenses to develop, and under what circumstances to move to deployment, deserves serious bipartisan examination and debate. But first we need to deal with the immediate challenge that faces us as a people today: to grieve with our fellow citizens, to attend to the damage, to find and deal with those responsible, to settle the question of how preparations for this attack escaped the notice of our intelligence and law enforcement systems. Then it will be time to confront the long-range implications. To do that properly means we have to insist that the totality of America’s security interests–not just one element–must be dealt with in a plan for action, and that resources be expended for these in a way that reflects the harsh new realities just demonstrated.
Tampering With Strategic Stability
Appeared inThe Washington Post, February 20, 2001
Written by Leon Fuerth
It’s commendable that a review of nuclear weapons policy is an early priority of the Bush administration, but it would be more encouraging if there were reason to believe this study will be undertaken in a spirit of real inquiry. However, the outcome may well be preordained, written months ago.
The task for those engaging in this study is not likely to have been “Tell us what you think we ought to do” but rather “Tell us how to implement what we already intend to do.” And those intentions have been reasonably clear since the campaign: build a much more powerful defense of the United States against ballistic missiles than can be accommodated by the ABM Treaty without radical change; abandon the treaty if it stands in the way of that objective; bypass formal arms control and instead take deep unilateral cuts in U.S. nuclear weapons; and do away with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. There is something in this package to please almost everybody: those who think the ABM Treaty is an anachronism; those who believe we should build something approaching Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” defense; those who are impatient with lengthy negotiations and want to cut more deeply into nuclear inventories; and those who think that an end to nuclear testing presents unacceptable risks to the security of the United States. It also appeals to those who are impatient with constraints that other countries wish to put on American freedom of action — be they allies or the Russians or the Chinese.
What is missing, however, is an appeal to the concept of strategic stability. This is an idea which holds that the relationship between opposed nuclear forces is just as, or more, important than numbers alone. Depending on how it is done, reducing nuclear launchers and warheads in and of itself might make this relationship more rather than less dangerous. SALT I — the first strategic arms control agreement — had this effect. It capped the number of launchers for ballistic missiles but left open the option to deploy multiple warheads on the remaining launchers (MIRVs). As a result, we and the Soviet Union entered a new and even more threatening phase of the nuclear arms race.
START II, on the other hand, was designed around a mutual recognition of this problem and as a result provided for both reductions and de-MIRVing. But START II may be a dead letter, since the Russian parliament has written into law that Russia may not execute its terms unless the United States shows that it intends to preserve the ABM Treaty. The Russians are in effect asking whether we still have agreement on a central point: that stability must be mutual or it does not really exist.
If you combine sharply reduced numbers of nuclear weapons and increasingly effective defenses, one way of looking at the result is that it creates an increased temptation for launching a first strike in a crisis. Why? Because conservative military planners can think of desperate situations in which one side might hope to destroy as much as possible of the other side’s nuclear forces before they can be launched, and then rely on defenses to soak up the remainder.
Would any sane government think it could get away with this kind of plan? Perhaps not. But the arms race is only cloaked in the hyper-rational language of experts. It is really about existential, and therefore potentially irrational, fear. That is why nuclear capabilities are so much more important as drivers in the psychological equation of war and peace than are statements of intention. Capability endures; intentions do not.
But sharp nuclear reductions and a strong nuclear defense are the essence of the arms control proposal put forward by President Bush during his campaign. His position appears to be that we will unilaterally reduce as we see fit, regardless of what the Russians choose to do, and outside the bounds of any formal agreement. His position also appears to be that we will give the Russians an option to sign on to whatever form of defense we decide to build, but if they do not, we will give notice and abandon the ABM Treaty without regret, making it impossible for either side to know how far the other will go in deploying strategic defenses.
Perhaps the Russians will buy into all of this. If they do, we could have a fatally flawed nuclear relationship, by mutual agreement. At some point in the future, the results could be a calamity. The relationship between these forces could be less stable than before. And as far as nuclear weapons are concerned, reductions without benefit of a carefully negotiated agreement mean that neither side would have the right to know what has been done with the weapons taken out of sight — a blank spot that could be a source of major trouble in a time of strained relations.
On the other hand, if the Russians do not buy in, we will end up with an open field for a new arms race: no arms control agreement to formally confine offensive nuclear weapons; no agreement to regulate defensive systems; and no agreement to prevent renewed testing and diversification of nuclear weapons.
That’s not win-win. It’s not even win-lose. It’s lose-lose. Even though the Soviet Union is dead and the Russian Federation is for the moment poor and weakened, it would be folly to see history in such a shortsighted way. Moreover, there is the issue of how all this relates to China and its choices about strategic nuclear weapons. Not least, will costs for a much bigger missile defense come at the expense of modernizing our conventional forces?
Clearly, the opening of the Bush administration’s review of nuclear policy must also mark the reopening of a major national debate on the same subject. It has been a long time since we had one. But we’ve had the wake-up call.
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