‘If there’s a 1% chance [that a threat is real], we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … its about our response.’ — -Dick Cheney
This working paper explores the guiding principle of the world’s most powerful nation, which in its search for enemies at home and abroad continues to advocate for erratic responses to shape global order in the 21st century (Suskind, 2019). By considering the origins of the word “terrorism,” this paper outlines the counter-terrorism efforts after 9/11 which were initiated to secure “freedom” for nations across the globe. Instead, since its commencement almost twenty years ago, the Global War on Terror (GWOT) has led to a state of Perpetual War. By drawing examples from ‘across the spectrum of topics covered in the transnational security class’ (from this past semester), this paper identifies and expands upon the concept of security prior to and after the events of 9/11. It argues ‘security’ must be pursued multilaterally with the broader agenda of cooperation amongst nations, particularly in the global south; with political dialogue and other forms of participatory frameworks.
The title of this paper is derived from a quote by Dick Cheney, the former 46th Vice President of the United States of America. The full quote considers the 1% chance of Pakistani scientists helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon. In that case, Cheney suggests, the U.S. government’s actions shouldn’t be determined by an analysis of the threat, but by its response. The quote appears in Ronald Suskind’s book, ‘The One Percent Doctrine’ (2006), whose central thesis draws upon the activities of “the deeply secretive core of America’s real playbook: a default strategy.” Also known as the Dick Cheney Doctrine, the Bush administration’s response to the events of 9/11 were chiefly designed by the former Vice President and his core group of advisors who controlled a narrative which has since shaped the nation’s character.
To conclude, this paper proposes the United States should emphasize the use of diplomacy and soft power rather than hard power, or military force, to accomplish its foreign policy goals.
After 9/11, U.S. actions and policies on a range of issues from the Middle East to North Africa have given rise to various transnational security threats which continue to destabilize smaller states and affect international relationships. In 2005, Alison Jaggar, a professor in philosophy and gender studies at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. wrote an article provocatively titled “What is Terrorism, Why is it wrong and Could it be Morally Permissible?” (2005). In the article, Jaggar writes, the word ‘terrorism’ is derived from the Latin terreo, meaning “I frighten” which was introduced in late eighteenth century France, during a period when the young Jacobin government dominated by Robespierre initiated a “Reign of Terror.”
To deter perceived counter-revolutionary critics between the years 1793–1794, thousands of French citizens were executed. Jaggar argues that although several shifts have occurred in the usage of the word “terrorism” over the past few hundred years of the word’s existence, it is worth remembering that “the original case was one of politically motivated violence carried out by a government against its own citizens.” A few centuries after the word was first used to describe “government intimidation”, the image has shifted to that of an individual or group connected with an extremist ideology against that of the ruling power.
One of the earliest definitions of security comes from Adam Smith in his first publication: The Theory of Moral Sentiments published in 1759. He defines security as “the freedom from the prospect of a sudden or violent attack on one’s person or property.” During the French revolution, a few decades after the publication of Smith’s book, the meaning of security achieved a new public significance. In 1789, although still considered a private right, the concept of security started developing into that of a collective good. Two hundred and sixty years later, defining the term has become problematic, since the security concerns of nations differ from country to country. This makes the operational definition of security a contested concept, with governments across the world applying different connotations and measures to mitigate or prevent a perceived threat.
Lucia Zedner (2003) argues that the concept of security in domestic politics could invoke the justification for public policy. In response to internal and external threats security can take on “different connotations.” When used in the context of national security, censorship can be imposed, political rights could be suspended and irregular migrants deported. Likewise, under the umbrella of national security, the Patriot Act made it easier for the U.S. government to spy on ordinary Americans. The Act which was hastily passed in 2001, 45 days after 9/11, turned regular citizens into suspects. Between 2003–2006, it allowed the FBI to issue 192,499 national security letters (NSL’s), all of which led to just one terror related conviction. ACLU argues that this conviction would have occurred even without the Patriot Act.
Shiping Tang in contrast, advances an even more rigorous definition of the security dilemma. His analysis focuses on the concept as a “powerful theory of war and peace via interaction” which forces states to cooperate amongst themselves (2009). After the 9/11 attacks, an international coalition was easily gathered by the United States against an existential threat. The process of securitization (in this case the declaration of the war on Iraq) convinced the domestic and international public that Saddam Hussein was somehow connected with the events which had occurred on 9/11. The reverent object in this case was freedom, prosperity and identity, or in terms of national security, the way of life of the American people and the Free World. The securitization agent (in this case: Colin Powell, then Secretary of State) made a convincing argument for the audience (the societal context) whose participation in the process is an important aspect for the process of securitization to take place.
Private Interests and the American Oligarchy
The state is usually regarded as the most important actor in transnational relations, with diplomats and soldiers as its main agents. Nye, Joseph & Keohane argue that states by no means are the only actors (1971). Corporations, oligarchs, transnational actors and individuals are major players in this environment where transnational actors and organizations can influence common interests and foster new attitudes. The interdependence of the global economy is such that with its intersecting movements of finance, people, physical objects, beliefs and ideas usually permeate across state boundaries.
The result of this cross sectional movement creates pathways for international organizations and political actors to influence situations, particularly during conflicts. Given this scenario, the posture of private corporations, who work closely with government agencies in the defense and intelligence sector is easy to underplay. For example: prior to his Vice Presidency, Mr Dick Cheney was the Chairman and CEO of Halliburton a multinational company, from which he profited immensely by procuring government contracts worth billions of dollars through his powerful connections in the Bush administration.
Policy of Chaos
The immediate effects of the GWOT have largely been felt in the Global South. After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and the occupation of Iraq in 2003, literature in the west has been largely written from a “superpower perspective” (Ayoob Mohammad, 1991). It can be argued that interventions to secure countries from non-state armed groups are usually occurring in non-western countries while the main advocates of these interventions are primarily western actors. From the initial beginnings of the war against terror, which was to destroy al-Qaeda, the gradual shift in policy has mutated into regime change wars. From Afghanistan to Pakistan, the capture and death of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the invasion of Libya occurred in 2011, with the involvement of NATO in its first Responsibility to Protect (R2P) mission, which sided with the anti-Gadhafi rebels.
Subsequently, the unrest and conflict in Syria has led to a state of chaos in the Middle East. According to the latest United Nations report, over 5 million Syrians have fled the country and 6 million are internally displaced after nine years of war. At present there are more than 13 million people within the country who are in need of assistance, which includes over 6 million children. In February 2020, the Secretary General of the UN stated, “There is no military solution for the Syrian crisis. The only possible solution remains political” (2020).
Mahmood Mamdani in his essay ‘Right to Protect or Right to Punish’ (2010) argues that the “new global regime of (R2P) bifurcates the international system within global states.” He claims that under the direction of the UN, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has become an integral part of the architecture of R2P. By normalizing western violence, the ICC “criminalizes the violence of other states as genocide.”
If the “Westphalian coin weren’t an effective currency in the international system” why wouldn’t the millions of people killed in the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2001 be declared as genocides? In the same piece, Mamdani questions the language of rights as the language of power, one that turns victims to proxies. The point he makes is that its the Big Powers who are the enforcers of Rights internationally — or the enforcers of international justice. He concludes that international laws are being applied selectively by the ICC as only “some perpetrators are being targeted.” The result Mamdani writes, is that there is “a considerable subordination of law to the dictates of power.”
The military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power was a unilateral action undertaken by the U.S., the U.K. and a few other willing participants. In their working paper for the United Nations University, Poorvi Chitalkar and David M. Malone disclose this action was taken without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council. “The UN was subsequently mostly side-lined in and on Iraq.” Despite any credible evidence to connect the terrorists of 9/11 to Saddam Hussein, the United States along with a coalition of willing states launched its occupation of Iraq in 2003. To date, no evidence of the Weapons of Mass destruction (WMD), a theory which was based on the assertions of the American intelligence community have been found in Iraq. Years later, after the death of hundreds and thousands of Iraqi’s, the justification for the decision to go to war was found to be based on false allegations. Yet, not one instigator of the Iraq invasion has ever been called to appear at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, unlike several dozen leaders from largely African countries who’ve been indicted by the court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Consequences of the Global War on Terror
Gary Younge, a former columnist for The Guardian newspaper has argued against George Bush’s anti-terror strategy which was not about “protecting people but about scaring them,” with terror being routinely leveraged for “social control, military mobilization and electoral advantage.” Younge likewise incriminates the Obama administration for building on the repressive apparatus that Bush constructed.
In this state of perpetual crisis, one of the biggest security threats facing today’s world is from non-state armed groups which have multiplied since the initiation of the GWOT. Since 9/11, terrorism has become a major transnational security threat. Data on 232 armed groups in 23 Asian countries show these groups pose the highest threat to local populations. In Iraq, massacres against the Yazidi provoked the international coalition to initiate airstrikes against ISIS, which were “triggered by human security issues not military issues” (Neil A. Englehart, 2016).
Another consequence of the war on terror is the connection between terrorism and corruption. Sarah Chayes found there was growing evidence corruption was driving people into “the fold of extremist movements.” In Afghanistan, she found petty bribery was “raking in billions of dollars” as U.S. officials participated in bribing local leaders and tribesmen during the invasion of the country. In her research article published by the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister’s office, Chayes argues governments fighting terrorism “may actually be generating more terrorism than they seek out to curb.” The question to ask is whether groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda would even exist or would’ve had the chance to become as powerful if U.S. and its coalition’s policies in that region hadn’t advocated to intervene in Iraq, Libya, Syria or earlier, in Afghanistan?
As the global war on terror gives rises to more refugees and migrants, Fiona Adamson (International Security, 2006) argues that since the 9/11 attacks, the “management of migration” has become a top priority for the United States. As policy makers focus more “on migration flows as a conduit for international terrorism,” the relationship between migration and terrorism has also been high on the European agenda. Political insecurity and the breakdown of institutions in conflict zones has given an unprecedented rise to human trafficking and smuggling across certain routes. These illegal practices have led to the death of thousands of migrants fleeing their home countries for better prospects.
The Europeans have responded by implementing draconian policing controls on both land and sea routes. Prior to the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, Afghanistan had the largest number of migrants due to ongoing conflicts since the late 1970’s with the Soviet occupation of the country. Currently, the Syrian conflict has created the largest mass exodus of people after the second world war resulting in refugee burdens for neighboring states. Over three and a half million persons of concern live in Turkey. Over two million are distributed throughout Jordan and Lebanon, with the latter having the largest per capita concentration of refugees in the world. Hosting refugees comes with several underlying issues for the receiving country: security problems might arise which could be heightened by integration problems faced by the migrants. These include psychological traumas passed on by migrant parents to their children, who in turn could face discrimination by anti-migrant groups in their adopted countries. These circumstances allow extremist groups to recruit for members, a process which is most notable in the post-9/11 era and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Recruits are usually young men who feel “alienated from western ideals and whose reactions are fueled by anger and vengeance.”
There is a wide variety of perspectives on security. Although various approaches to the subject are relevant, it becomes important to understand how different regions pursue security. As the debate on human security over national security develops, it has been argued that emphasis on the former could be a form colonialism as it could potentially compromise the doctrine of non-interference. In his article ‘Human Security: East vs West’ (2001), Amitav Acharya focuses on the differences in the concept of security between two different hemispheres. For the global north, security centers on the “freedom from fear” while in the global south “freedom from want” is predominant. Acharya argues that some “Asian governments and analysts see human security as yet another attempt by the west to impose its liberal agenda and values on non-western societies.”
How do we mitigate future problems in the international order? There is certainly a need to expose the embedded eurocentrism which structures both international relations and security studies. Critical security studies — a sub field in security studies provides the possibility of thinking more broadly about the sources of both security and insecurity. It questions traditional power structures and challenges the motives of the state. All the research and work in this field is committed to implementing emancipatory changes in policies. The critical security approach seeks to look beyond the empiricist, positivist tradition of security studies and favors feminists, post modernists, constructivists, non-western and non-eurocentric cultural studies. It embraces anything that is critical of the traditional way of thinking. Decolonizing security would essentially mean: a) challenging conventional understandings of security, b) challenging security studies as a field, c) challenging the practice of security in the world.
Making the Case for Diplomacy as the Long Game
As American militarism and its global war on terror face great challenges in the 21st century, policymakers in government circles must reassess their approach. Continuing to give a platform to former decision makers to shape American foreign policy doesn’t help. The likes of John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, Hillary Clinton et al, amongst many others keep voicing a myopic vision from their positions in powerful think tanks. They maintain a mythical presence by appearing on shows to voice their outdated opinions and fail to see that their self-interests, particularly to change the behavior of other countries via threats and unilateral sanctions in order to “spread democracy,” has hurt U.S. influence and ended America’s post-Cold War dominance. Their short game relies disproportionately on a military-intelligence industrial complex and fails to advocate for long term strategies which since World War 11 had placed America as the predominant unipolar power.
The unipolar moment in American history is over and today we live in a world with multiple actors, where competition and collaboration are part of the new world order. William Burns, a career diplomat who for more than three decades played a seminal role in shaping America’s leadership argues that the enduring importance of diplomacy should not be overlooked. In his recent book, The Back Channel (2019) he argues for its revival as a tool of first resort saying that it will restore faith in the “wisdom of American leadership.” Burns writes that both force and diplomacy should be in balance. The imbalance of which can cause serious failures. He writes that although “the rebuilding process will be daunting,” the United States “must recover its sense of diplomatic agility out of the muscle bound national security bureaucracy.”
As America searches for enemies at home and abroad with a series of erratic responses to shape global order in the 21st century, its concept of security must be reassessed. Short sighted advocacy for military engagements over long term strategies has created chaos in several countries across the world. The result has been a threat to the international order through the proliferation of non-state armed groups and insecurity for millions of people. In conclusion, this working paper recommends policymakers study the Do No Harm Principle to avoid causing inadvertent harm to implement long-term strategies for effective change. Reshaping America’s image from a diplomatic perspective could take a few decades but for the long term it is a wise decision.
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