‘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

Miss Singh
12 min readMay 12, 2020
Stills from: Inside the Mossad. TV MINI Series. 2017.


The title of this paper is derived from a quote by Dick Cheney, the former Vice President of the United States of America. This paper expands upon the concept of security and argues that multilateral pursuit of security with the broader agenda of cooperation amongst nations is necessary, particularly in the global south, through political dialogue and participatory frameworks. Following the events of 9/11, the United States’ actions and policies in the Middle East and North Africa have resulted in various transnational security threats, causing destabilization in smaller states and affecting international relationships. This paper proposes that the United States of America should prioritize diplomacy and soft power over hard power or military force to achieve its foreign policy goals.

On “Terrorism”

Alison Jaggar, a professor of philosophy and gender studies at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., wrote an article in 2005 titled “What is Terrorism, Why is it wrong and Could it be Morally Permissible?” In the article, Jaggar points out that the term ‘terrorism’ comes from the Latin word terreo, which means “I frighten.” The word was introduced in late eighteenth century France, during the time of the young Jacobin government led by Robespierre, which 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.

What is “Security?”

Adam Smith, in his first publication, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759), provided one of the earliest definitions of security as “the freedom from the prospect of a sudden or violent attack on one’s person or property.” In the late 18th century, during the French Revolution, security took on new public significance and started to develop into a collective good, despite still being considered a private right. However, after 260 years, defining the term has become problematic since the security concerns of nations vary from country to country, resulting in different connotations and measures being applied by governments worldwide to mitigate or prevent perceived threats, making the operational definition of security a contested concept.

According to Lucia Zedner (2003), the meaning of security in domestic politics can provide a basis for public policy justification. The term security can have varying interpretations when responding to internal and external threats. When utilized in the context of national security, censorship, suspension of political rights, and deportation of irregular migrants can be justified. Similarly, the Patriot Act, passed in haste in 2001, 45 days after 9/11, facilitated the US government’s surveillance of ordinary Americans under the guise of national security. This Act turned ordinary citizens into suspects and enabled the FBI to issue 192,499 national security letters (NSLs) between 2003 and 2006, leading to only one terror-related conviction. ACLU asserts that even without the Patriot Act, this conviction would have occurred.

In contrast, Shiping Tang presents a more rigorous definition of the security dilemma. He views it as a theory of war and peace via interaction, which compels states to cooperate with each other (Tang, 2009). Following the 9/11 attacks, the United States easily formed an international coalition against an existential threat. The securitization process, in this case, the declaration of war on Iraq, convinced both the domestic and international public that Saddam Hussein was somehow connected with the 9/11 attacks. In terms of national security, the object of concern was the American way of life, freedom, prosperity, and identity, which was threatened by the perceived link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. The securitization agent, in this case, Colin Powell, who was then Secretary of State, made a persuasive argument to the societal context, whose participation in the process was critical for securitization to occur.

Private Interests and the American Oligarchy

According to Nye, Joseph & Keohane (1971), the state has traditionally been considered the primary actor in transnational relations, with diplomats and soldiers as its key agents. However, they argue that states are not the only actors involved in these relations. Other influential actors include corporations, oligarchs, transnational actors, and individuals. In this environment, transnational actors and organizations can shape common interests and create new attitudes. The global economy is characterized by interdependence, where the movements of finance, people, physical objects, beliefs, and ideas often cross state boundaries.

The movement of people, goods, and ideas across borders creates opportunities for international organizations and political actors to exert influence, especially in times of conflict. However, the role of private corporations, which collaborate closely with government agencies in the defense and intelligence sectors, is often overlooked. For instance, before serving as Vice President, Dick Cheney was the Chairman and CEO of Halliburton, a multinational corporation that profited greatly by securing government contracts worth billions of dollars through Cheney’s powerful connections in the Bush administration.

Great War on Terror (GWOT)

The Global South has borne the brunt of the immediate impact of the Great War on Terror (GWOT). The literature produced in the West after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the occupation of Iraq in 2003 has primarily been from the viewpoint of the “superpower perspective” (Ayoob Mohammad, 1991). It can be argued that interventions aimed at securing countries from non-state armed groups tend to take place in non-western countries, while the primary proponents of these interventions are western actors. While the initial objective of the war on terror was to eradicate al-Qaeda, the policy has gradually shifted towards regime change wars. From Afghanistan to Pakistan, the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and the NATO-led involvement in the 2011 Libyan conflict — the first mission under the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle, which supported the anti-Gaddafi rebels.

As a result, the Middle East has been plunged into chaos due to the unrest and conflict in Syria. A recent report by the United Nations revealed that after nine years of war, over 5 million Syrians have fled the country and 6 million are internally displaced. Currently, more than 13 million people in Syria require assistance, including over 6 million children. The Secretary General of the UN declared in February 2020 that “there is no military solution for the Syrian crisis” and that a political resolution remains the only viable option.

In his 2010 essay ‘Right to Protect or Right to Punish,’ Mahmood Mamdani asserts that the new global system of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) divides the international community among global states. He argues that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has become a key component of the R2P framework under the guidance of the United Nations. Mamdani argues that by criminalizing the violence of other nations as genocide, the ICC normalizes the use of western violence.

If the international system didn’t prioritize the Westphalian principle, then why haven’t the millions of deaths resulting from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2001 been classified as genocides? Mamdani also questions the use of rights language, suggesting that it is a tool of power which turns victims into pawns. He argues that powerful nations, or the enforcers of international justice, are the ones who dictate the application of international laws. Mamdani concludes that the ICC selectively applies these laws, with only some perpetrators being targeted, resulting in a significant subordination of law to power.

The U.S. and the U.K. led a unilateral military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council, according to Poorvi Chitalkar and David M. Malone in their working paper for the United Nations University. This led to the sidelining of the UN in and on Iraq. Despite the lack of credible evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 terrorists, the United States and its willing coalition launched an occupation of Iraq in 2003. No Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) have been found in Iraq, disproving the theory based on assertions by the American intelligence community. The false allegations led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. However, no instigator of the Iraq invasion has been called to appear at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, unlike several dozen leaders from mainly African countries who have 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, has criticized George Bush’s anti-terrorism strategy, which he believes was not aimed at “protecting people” but at instilling fear for purposes such as “social control, military mobilization, and electoral advantage.” Younge also accuses the Obama administration of perpetuating the repressive infrastructure that Bush created.

Non-state armed groups have become a significant security threat in the world today, particularly since the start of the GWOT. Terrorism, in particular, has emerged as a major transnational threat. In 23 Asian countries, 232 armed groups have been identified, posing the greatest threat to local populations. Among these groups, ISIS was responsible for massacres against the Yazidi community in Iraq, leading to the international coalition initiating airstrikes against them. According to Neil A. Englehart (2016), these airstrikes were motivated by human security concerns rather than military ones. This situation of perpetual crisis has made non-state armed groups one of the biggest security threats faced by the world today.

Corruption and Terrorism

The war on terror has led to a link between corruption and terrorism. According to Sarah Chayes, there is mounting evidence that corruption is pushing people towards extremist movements. During the invasion of Afghanistan, petty bribery was generating billions of dollars as American officials engaged in bribing local leaders and tribesmen, as found by Chayes. In her research article for the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister’s office, she contends that governments fighting terrorism may actually be fostering more terrorism than they are attempting to prevent. This raises the question of whether groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda would have existed or become as powerful if the policies of the U.S. and its coalition had not advocated for intervention in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and, earlier, in Afghanistan.

Fiona Adamson (International Security, 2006) contends that with the global war on terror causing an increase in refugees and migrants, the United States has made “management of migration” a primary concern since the 9/11 attacks. The relationship between migration and terrorism has also been a major topic on the European agenda as policymakers view “migration flows as a conduit for international terrorism.” The breakdown of institutions and political instability in conflict zones has resulted in a significant increase in human trafficking and smuggling through certain routes, leading to the tragic deaths of thousands of migrants who are seeking better opportunities outside their home countries.


The implementation of harsh policing controls on both land and sea routes has been the European response to the rise of refugees and migrants. Afghanistan had the largest number of migrants before the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, due to ongoing conflicts since the Soviet occupation in the late 1970s.

The Syrian conflict has resulted in the largest mass exodus of people since the World War II, burdening neighboring states with over three and a half million persons of concern residing in Turkey, and over two million distributed throughout Jordan and Lebanon, the latter having the largest per capita concentration of refugees in the world. However, hosting refugees also brings underlying issues for the receiving countries, such as security problems and integration issues faced by the migrants. These integration problems include psychological traumas passed on by migrant parents to their children, who could face discrimination by anti-migrant groups in their adopted countries. These circumstances provide an opportunity for extremist groups to recruit members, particularly young men who feel alienated from Western ideals and whose reactions are fueled by anger and vengeance.

Rethinking Security

Different regions have diverse perspectives on security, and it is essential to comprehend how they approach this subject. While there are several relevant approaches to security, there is a growing debate between human security and national security. However, some argue that prioritizing human security could be perceived as a form of colonialism, compromising the doctrine of non-interference.

In 2001, Amitav Acharya published an article titled ‘Human Security: East vs West,’ which delves into the differences in the security concepts between two different hemispheres. In the global north, security is about “freedom from fear,” while in the global south, “freedom from want” is more significant. Acharya also suggests that some Asian governments and analysts view human security as 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?

It is important to uncover the inherent eurocentrism that shapes both international relations and security studies. Critical security studies, which is a subfield in security studies, allows for a more comprehensive examination of the sources of both security and insecurity. It scrutinizes traditional power hierarchies and questions the motives of states. The research and work in this field are dedicated to enacting liberating changes in policies. The critical security approach seeks to transcend the traditional empiricist, positivist framework of security studies and instead prioritizes feminist, postmodernist, constructivist, non-western, and non-eurocentric cultural studies. It welcomes any perspectives that challenge the conventional way of thinking.

Decolonizing security would entail challenging conventional conceptions of security, the field of security studies itself, and the practice of security worldwide.

Diplomacy as the Long Game: Goodbye Unipolarity!

As the 21st century poses significant challenges to American militarism and its global war on terror, policymakers in government circles must reconsider their approach. It is not helpful to continue to give a platform to former decision-makers to shape American foreign policy. The likes of John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and Hillary Clinton, among many others, keep voicing their outdated views from their positions in powerful think tanks. They maintain a mythical presence by appearing on shows and fail to see that their self-interests, particularly their efforts to change the behavior of other countries via threats and unilateral sanctions in order to “spread democracy,” have hurt U.S. influence and ended America’s post-Cold War dominance. Their short-sighted game relies disproportionately on a military-intelligence industrial complex and fails to advocate for long-term strategies that had placed America as the predominant unipolar power since World War II.

The era of American unipolarity has come to an end, and today’s world is characterized by the presence of multiple actors, leading to competition and collaboration as key features of the new global order. William Burns, a seasoned diplomat with over thirty years of experience in shaping American leadership, contends that the significance of diplomacy cannot be understated. In his recent book, The Back Channel (2019), he advocates for the revival of diplomacy as a primary tool, stating that it will restore trust in the “wisdom of American leadership.” Burns asserts that a balance between force and diplomacy is essential, as an imbalance could result in significant failures. He further suggests that although “the process of rebuilding will be challenging,” the United States “must reclaim its diplomatic agility from the cumbersome national security bureaucracy.”


In the 21st century, America’s approach to shaping global order with its erratic responses and search for enemies both domestically and internationally calls for a reevaluation of its concept of security. Prioritizing military engagements over long-term strategies has led to chaos in several countries, given rise to non-state armed groups, and a threatened international order which has caused insecurity for millions. This working paper recommends that policymakers prioritize the Do No Harm Principle to avoid inadvertent harm and implement effective long-term strategies. It also suggests reshaping America’s image from a diplomatic perspective as a wise decision for long-term benefits, even if it may take several decades to achieve.


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Burns, William J. The Back Channel: a Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal. S.l.: RANDOM HOUSE, 2019.

Chayes, Sarah. “Corruption and Terrorism: The Causal Link.” Carnegie Endowment for Peace Website. 12 May 2016.

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Miss Singh

writes on international affairs | cyber • diplomacy • intelligence studies • statecraft • a private citizen • cosmopolitan • dedicated biryani fan