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How Perilous is the 21st Century?
(The Threats and Perceptions of Danger)
Is there anything new under the sun?
Ring around the rosies,
A pocket full of posies,
We all fall down.
This simple rhyme from medieval times, still sung by children today, invokes the truth of day-to-day realities in medieval Europe. Rosies are rosary beads to pray for intercession against a mysterious and uncontrollable disease, the plague. Flowers (Posies) were carried around to mask the horrible stench of plague victims. In the end, ashes were all that were left of the burnt corpses of the dead. To fall down means to die. The plague decimated much of the known world. There were no known cures, only the fears of an uncertain fate.
Are we heading into a comparable situation of fear and insecurity? The 21st Century will almost certainly be one in which traditional threats will be supplemented by the unknown. Traditional warfare is far from at an end. Conventional conflicts – wars and revolutions - are likely to blot the future landscape as they have in the past. And so, the need for classic military preparedness will continue for the foreseeable future. The planet is, however, surely entering into a new era, an epoch for which it is ill prepared. It is crossing the threshold into new age of insecurity and unpredictability, an age where old rules will no longer apply, an age in which thousands, if not millions, will be threatened with a modern plague – the sudden and unexpected use of weapons of mass destruction – with little recourse than to await one’s lot, like little children holding hands in a circle of resignation.
For one thing, we have entered into a different world in which terrorism will play an increasingly major role and its perpetrators will have access to the most lethal of weapons. Because the terrorist can pick the time and place of his actions from countless possibilities, it will be virtually impossible to prevent the attacks in some form or other. When combined with the terrorist’s acceptance of “martyrdom”, there will be little that can be done to prevent a terror campaign. Deterrence will not work for those who do not fear the loss of their life.
The collapse of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago has made and will continue to increase the danger. It has led to the widespread fear, not unfounded, that weapons of mass destruction, materials, equipment, and expertise from the former superpower will find themselves not only in the hands of proliferating states, but in the arsenals of terrorist cells. The hundreds of thousands of individuals involved in the Soviet weapons of mass destruction program are still largely underemployed or unpaid. The temptation to sell weapons of mass destruction or the materials to make them to the highest bidder is still a horrendous threat to world peace. The recent commitment of the G-8 to contribute at least $20B to reducing this threat over the next decade acknowledges the seriousness of the threat.
Because of the possibility of such weapons falling into the hands of sub-national terrorists such as al Qaeda, traditional methods of defense with sophisticated armed forces, diplomacy, alliances, and treaties will not work. What can we do? How do we apply deterrence when the threat comes not from a nation state but an ideologically driven religious or ideological cell with suicide as its modus operandi? How do we apply just war considerations to our response when the enemy has no international legal status and, in fact, might not even be known or acknowledged? Attribution of blame for the use of such weapons might be difficult as it was for syphilis during the late 15th century where each nationality blamed another for its spread.
How should we go about preparing for the new, emerging dangers of the 21st century? Shall we gradually move from a post-world war II world in which we prepared for battle with well-know national adversaries into a new realm in which the threat is more like a medieval pestilence, where innocent citizens of the world’s nation states are subject to the mass destruction of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons at a moment’s notice from a group that may be totally unknown to anyone but the perpetrators?
The Technical and Political Horizon
The hemorrhaging of danger from the former Soviet Union is only part of the setting for future security and threats. As the new century settles into its first decade, what can be said about the emerging technical developments and instruments that will provide the new generation of danger and uncertainty? What ought the world to be worried about? Three observations come immediately to mind. First, the technological revolution is widespread and accelerating. Second, there is a question of a “new world order” versus an “old world order”. Finally, there is the shifting of relations among the great powers. What makes these three points interesting is that they apply just as well to the beginning of the 20th century as to the 21st.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the technological revolution was moving at top speed. It included the wireless telegraph, the diesel engine, the discovery of Mendel’s genetic laws, discovery of X-rays, quantum theory, and Arrhenius’s discovery of the “greenhouse:” effect. Within years would be the airplane, the missile, chemical weapons. By mid-century, man-made biological weapons and nuclear weapons would make their entry.
Similarly, there was a transformation from an old to a new world order. Democracy had spread. Human rights conferences, dismantlement of Afrikaner separatism, establishment of a Netherlands organization against chemical weapons, movement to restrain arms trade and drug traffic all were in motion.
Relations among the great powers were also shifting. 20th Century Germany was newly united. France was courting U.S. as it sought to lead a new Europe and provide balance to a newly assertive Germany. Japan was acting increasingly as a global nation.
Despite widespread agreement on these three points, the world little anticipated the horrors of the 20th century with its Fascism, Soviet Communism, world wars, and the first use of nuclear weapons.
Of course, the same general 20th century observations can be made for the 21st century, except that, at a minimum, the technical revolution will accelerate and its dangerous side will find its way beyond the elite, highly technical nations to the emerging world and to sub-national groups. There is a fast-moving technical revolution in the information technology and communications area and in the biotechnology area, just to mention two areas. The full implications of both are as yet unpredictable. There is also a new world order, if only because of the collapse of the Soviet Union twelve years ago. We can no longer view the globe through the cold-war bilateral prism. Other than the United States, it is difficult to even state which will be the 21st century’s great powers. Even the United States has no guarantee that it will emerge as a great power at the end of the century. The details of the emerging century will be different than the past one, but all three general observations are as true today as a century ago. The scientific world will move at a continuing fast pace, often too fast for the political and social infrastructure of the world to catch up.
What does the World look like now (an American’s view)?
The bipolar world of a decade ago is gone. There is no Warsaw Pact; there is no Soviet Union. NATO continues to expand into an unknown and probably diminished role in Europe. The United States stands alone as the only military superpower. There is no Soviet union. There is no obvious replacement for it; nor is there one on the horizon. For better or worse, the world now lives under a pax Americana (Some consider this a pox Americana). Of course, this U.S. predominance makes much of the world uneasy, not so much because they fear military threats from the United States or because they view the democratic political system of such a strong and economically dominant country as a menace, but because they fear the prevalence of power in one nation. The fact that so much industrial and cultural power accompanies U.S. military power raises almost uniform apprehension, even among close allies. Such power and influence residing with one country, despite the fact that it is a democracy and cares little about colonization (as is born out time and time again in its interventions), pressures others to conform to U.S. culture and economic influence.
Thus, the need of all nations to engage the threat uncertainties of this unipolar world will create a tension between the need to rely on overwhelming U.S. military and political power in dealing with emerging threats and the apprehension to placing so much power and influence into one nation’s hands. As the only superpower, the United States often is pushed, either by internal or external pressures, to intervene in situations where world peace, stability, and human rights are threatened. How it goes about carrying out this obligation is and will continue to be a source of contention. To what degree and in what circumstances should the United States consult with or be empowered by international groups such as the United Nations, NATO, or other groups. When should it feel justified in acting alone?
The 1991 intervention against Iraq, following the invasion of Kuwait was undertaken with world-wide support. This year’s Iraqi war was not. Long-time, close allies such as France and Germany as well as key new partners such as Russia did not support the largely U.S.-British war against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. On the other hand, the world community has urged the United States to intervene into Liberia. There is no similar world-wide support for a comparable course in Iran, despite the widespread internal Irani dissatisfaction with its fundamentalist regime there. There is great worldwide anxiety that the United States not go to war against North Korea, with a strong consensus that it pursue a multinational solution to nuclear proliferation in that country. Tension over the role of the United States in such situations will continue. It is clear that the friends and allies of the United States will prefer that it act in concert with them rather than unilaterally.
From the view point of the sole superpower, countries that do not go along with its view of international security imperitives will be seen as obstacles to peace, whether true or not. Whatever the merits of French, German, Russian and Belgian objections to the war in Iraq, their opposition led to a poisoned atmosphere within the United States, especially within the Bush administration. Anger against France was particularly strong and widespread in the United States because of its reported active international campaigning against U.S. intervention.
The United States is not used to, nor comfortable with, being in its current position. Despite its worldwide responsibilities, its internal political disposition tends toward disengagement. U.S. political life is torn between its predisposition to be insular, introspective, and uninterested in much of the world, and its international responsibilities to protect its interests and to maintain peaceful stability in key regions of the world.
In some regions, like the Middle East, the United States is viewed as an unwanted influence. Close ties to Israel continue to fan the flames of anti-Americanism. The importance of world access to the region’s petroleum forces the United States to play a serious political, military, and economic role. It cannot avoid involvement. The secular nature of the United States political system, the fact that it’s population is largely Christian, and the distasteful influence of its media are particularly offensive to the growing number of Islamic fundamentalists. They view the United States in particular as a great Satan, threatening and undermining Islamic religion or ideology through its pervasive, corrupting culture, economic influence, and its largely Christian orientation. Separation of church and state, the roots of which are Christian (give to Caesar the things that are ceasar’s and to god the things that are god’s), is seen as an evil, not a virtue. These fundamentalists consider the unity of Islam and the State as integral to the ideal nation. This is particularly true and will continue to be the case in the Arabic, Coptic, and Persian Middle East where Islamic fundamentalism has its deepest roots. What the west sees as freedom, women’s rights, separation of church and state, the fundamentalist Islamic community and its terrorist offspring see as the workings of heresy and a threat to their preferred religion-dominated lifestyle.
Islamic fundamentalism promotes a view that is largely unintelligible to the West. To kill thousands of innocent people of the west, such as happened in New York on September 11, is seen by millions of Moslems as an act of religious virtue. Assassins in support of fundamentalist ideals are considered martyrs and not murderers. Horrifying terrorist events are cheered by Moslem masses throughout the world. The United States is the principal icon of what is wrong in the west and will continue to be the principal target of such assassins. However, none of the western democracies are immune to the threat of terrorism from such groups.
Given the roots of terrorism in the Islamic world, the fact that the United States has become a principal target, and the need to reduce and eliminate terrorism’s growing influence, the United States has no choice but to deal with it at its source. U.S. efforts will undoubtedly be controversial, will test the compatibilities of the West’s legal systems, and will not always besupported by its friends. The willingness of traditional allies, such as those of “old Europe” will be increasingly influenced by the rapidly growing Islamic populations that reside in Western Europe. Those populations will continue to grow in influence as the indigenous European population ages and decreases. This will make it increasingly difficult for Europe to intervene against the sources of Islamic terrorism. The degree to which It will involve itself against terrorism may well depend on how Islamic and European cultures blend in Europe as the Moslem population grows toward a majority. The key will be the degree the two cultures – Western European and Islamic cultures and political orientations will evolve together. The strong post-Christian culture of the west might well dilute the influence of traditional and fundamentalist Islam in Europe.
What are the Threats
To deal with emerging threats to regional and world security requires discussion of what appear to be the obvious tools, techniques and potential technologies that will force the world and, in particular, the United States and its allies to prepare the next generation of defense and national security policies.
What are the likely threats that will play themselves out along traditional military lines? Most likely is the possibility of a conventional war in a troublesome region of the world – India versus Pakistan (which could easily turn nuclear); North versus South Korea; a variety of Middle Eastern conflicts. Conflicts in Africa are likely to continue. These are the most likely and predictable conflicts. As we saw in the 20th Century, there will be others that cannot be predicted. Who would have predicted the two world wars, the cold war, the Korean conflict, the Vietnamese conflict at the beginning of the 20th century? The 21st century will bring its own surprises as history unfolds. Such traditional conflicts, whether anticipated or not, would presumably be conducted by nation states using traditional albeit modernized forces.
What about the unexpected and non-traditional threats? Do we have to think differently after September 11, 2001? Or is the “we” just the United States, with the rest of the world long-since used to terrorism? Are we looking at a world in which national, or rather traditional, armies are ill suited to such threats to our security? Does being modern and advanced, such as the United States and Europe, carry with it new vulnerabilities which they have hardly begun to consider?
Traditional national security policies and capabilities will be needed in some measure. They will not, however, be sufficient to cope with new realities. Threats from sub-nationals almost surely will infect the new century. The nuclear weapons threat will continue with possibly only a handful of new national actors. For that, the western world and its allies will rely on traditional nuclear deterrence to protect itself from the indescribable destructiveness of nuclear war on any of their territories. Similarly, special responsibilities will reside with the United States, its allies, and international bodies like the United Nations to play diplomatic and peacekeeping roles in key unstable areas to keep the peace and prevent war, especially regional nuclear war.
It will be in the area of non-traditional threats – for example by weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists – that the world would be least prepared. This would involve more than just nuclear weapons. What the world has hardly yet taken into account is the possibility of chemical and biological weapons which can be obtained or manufactured without the expensive infrastructure required to make nuclear weapons. What we have seen recently in Iraq illustrates how difficult it will be to identify and uncover a biological weapons program. Such a program could look like a legitimate pharmaceutical or vaccine program to the outsider. It could take place in a very small laboratory, and very small quantities could do considerable damage.
Further, the world has not eliminated the possibility of weapons, materials, equipment, or expertise related to weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union falling into the hands of others and facilitating widespread proliferation. The extensive programs of the United States has done a significant part of the job of preventing this eventuality and the ten plus ten over ten program of the G-8 will add to this goal. If successful, this indescribably dangerous threat of proliferation from the remnants of the Soviet weapons of mass destruction program will be dealt with.
Secondly, we will face not just national players, countries that we can deal with in a number of historical ways. Terrorist groups will be a significant part of the security landscape for the foreseeable future. Fundamentalist Islam will continue to feed the threat posed by such groups, especially with much of the Islamic world living in poverty and seething with resentment. Of course, we should not limit terrorism to Islam. We can anticipate other groups as well. The terrorist attack in Oklahoma City was carried out by a very small American group. The subway chemical attack in Tokyo was carried out by a Japanese sect, Aum Shinrikyo. What will make terrorism so much more threatening over the unfolding century is the possibility that current and future groups might have access to weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them effectively. As noted earlier, the ability to counter such terrorism will be significantly diminished by the willingness of its adherents to seek martyrdom and therefore the inability to deter by ordinary means.
National security threats will not just be confined to weapons that kill people. Modern governments rely heavily on technology to function, whether through extensive utility grids, extensive communications systems, electronic book keeping that holds the banking and finance infrastructure of the world together. Therefore the second major threat after terrorism is that posed to infrastructure. Such a threat does not necessarily kill individuals directly, but will cripple the functioning of modern high-technology societies.
The thrust of modern science will present new, as-yet-unthought-of threats and vulnerabilities, to accompany its benefits, just as it did during the past century. Advances in biotechnology will create new possibilities for miracle drugs and other improvement of humankind’s lot in addition to new threats. New biological weapons that make existing plagues virtually untreatable, or incapacitate all, including their users, are part of the future landscape. The bio-revolution will bring miracles and dangers much as the nuclear
Revolution 60 years ago did. Any future strategy for security will have to deal with this threat and find ways to prevent or limit it.
In some sense we will find ourselves in the same position as the world from a millennium ago. The availability of weapons of mass destruction, the willingness of certain groups to employ martyr terrorists, and the practical impossibility of preventing at least some mass terrorism makes the world every bit as vulnerable to certain death as the people of the world centuries ago where they were vulnerable to the plague. Nothing available to them could save them. Huge percentages of Europe’s population died. Will the same happen to the world at the hands of terrorists and new technologies?
More About Weapons of Mass Destruction
Chemical Weapons. Chemical weapons have been largely unused since their terrible employment in the first world war. Possession by the Allies and the Axis deterred their use during the Second World War. However, Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against the Kurds demonstrated the horror of their potential use. Furthermore, the employment of chemicals in the Tokyo subway by Aum Shinrikyo raises the specter of how easily they can be used by terrorists. Europe which made such extensive use of such weapons in the early 20th century, has eschewed their use since then. To some degree this is because all combatants since that time saw use of chemical weapons as a lose-lose game. The reluctance to employ chemical weapons in conflict, however, did not deter their development into much more lethal weaponry. Continued development of such weapons characterized much of the cold war. The more deadly character of modern chemical weapons was demonstrated most dramatically by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds. Potential use of modern chemical weapons as an instrument of urban terrorism away from actual warfare was demonstrated in Japan. The relatively modest number of deaths resulting from the Tokyo attack should not distract the world from its ominous implications. More skilled use and especially a willingness to lose one’s life while employing chemical weapons (which did not happen in Japan) could have made the Tokyo subway incident a event of mass destruction. Martyrdom is the new element that changes the face and nature of terrorism and makes it virtually impossible to deter through affordable defensive measures.
The Chemical Weapons Convention signed in 1992 seeks to reduce this threat through a worldwide national adherence to a ban on chemical weapons. Nevertheless, precursor chemicals for weapons fabrication are often identical to those for commercial chemical products and could be diverted. The ability of the OPCW in the Hague to carry out challenge inspections called for under the convention will go a long way toward reducing, but not eliminating this threat. The ability to acquire, hide, and use such weapons cannot be written off as unthinkable, even by signatories of the convention. This will be especially true given the large number of such weapons in existing stockpiles, especially in Russia, and the slow pace of destroying those weapons, due especially to the high cost and need to take special safety and environmental precautions. Given the continuing underfunded situation with former Soviet weapons scientists and their institutes, the world still faces the problem of such weapons being sold into the proliferation world from Russia. It is urgent that the G-8 program take this issue on to supplement what Russia and the United States are already doing.
Nuclear Weapons. Nuclear weapons have historically been subject to strict controls by the countries which possess them, including the United States, the Soviet Union, France, United Kingdom, and China. Even those outside of the Nonproliferation Treaty such as Israel, Pakistan, and India have not been sources of proliferation to other nations. Of course there were additional nations that sought such weapons, mostly unsuccessfully, such as Iran, Iraq, and until recently North Korea. Terrorist groups such as al Qaeda are known to seek materials, expertise, if not the actual weapons themselves that would lead to a nuclear weapons capability. Other nations also have flirted with the possibility of becoming nuclear weapons states.
The collapse of the Soviet Union led to a financial collapse of the largest nuclear weapons complex in the world. The then Minister of Atomic Affairs for Russia, Viktor Mikhailov, said in 1992 that his ministry was responsible for about a million people, a large portion of whom worked on nuclear weapons. Given the underfunded condition of his ministry, a situation that persists today, there was an urgent need to help stem a possible hemorrhage of weapons, materials, equipment, and expertise from Russia to proliferant nations and sub-national groups. Fortunately all the nuclear weapons were soon consolidated within Russia so that Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan could accede to the Nonproliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapons states. Nevertheless, a huge legacy of nuclear material, equipment, and expertise was left behind throughout the entire former Soviet Union. None of it had enough economic support to protect it or support the staff, either the weapons scientists themselves or the security guards that protected materials and prevented it from being stolen and sold to outsiders.
This has led to one of the greatest proliferation threats faced since the beginning of the nuclear era. Hundreds of metric tons of highly enriched uranium and weapons grade plutonium were inadequately protected. Thousands of scientists and engineers who designed, fabricated, and maintained nuclear weapons were unpaid or underpaid and therefore susceptible to job offers from proliferant countries. The extensive worldwide system of nuclear safeguards that aimed to prevent diversion of materials from peaceful nuclear use to proliferation suddenly went for naught as huge unsafeguarded sources of material became available within the borders of former Soviet republics.
The United States has spent billions over the past dozen years in trying to contain this problem, but the end is still not in sight. The Russian economy, while on the mend from the disaster of economic collapse that led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, still cannot adequately cope with the proliferation threat by its inherited Soviet nuclear weapons complex. There are remnants of this complex also scattered throughout the other former Soviet republics. Numerous experts have pointed out and emphasized the need to devote more resources to this task before it is too late. The G-8 commitment will go a long way toward meeting the challenge. The gradual emergence of well-financed terrorist groups has heightened this threat. If the Russian threat cannot be resolved, all other efforts to deal with nuclear proliferation will go for naught.
Biological Weapons. Perhaps the most daunting future threat is that of biological weapons. We know what a nuclear weapon will do, but the range of effects from biological weapons has yet to unfold as scientist push the state of knowledge of the human genome through DNA research. The world faces no only traditional well know types of weapons like anthrax, but more subtle forms of weapons through genetic engineering.
It is true that most of the world adheres to the Biological Weapons Convention. That convention, like the NPT and the CWC, creates a world-wide culture reinforcing the unacceptability for biological weapons. Unfortunately, the convention itself is weak on verification and enforcement measures. Recent efforts to strengthen such measures were rejected by the United States in large part because of the marginal benefits of such verification measures and the potential for undermining the proprietary rights of companies that have invested billions into modern pharmaceuticals through intrusive inspections. Hopefully, the issue of reinforcing the effectiveness of the convention will be revisited with provisions that are effective and practical.
Unlike nuclear weapons, biological weapons do not need the kind of vast infrastructure required for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Quantities sufficient to produce large numbers of very toxic biological weapons can be manufactured in relatively small laboratories that would be hard to detect. Even were the world able to detect that the facilities could produce biological weapons, the facilities would be indistinguishable from ordinary scientific laboratories doing research without very intrusive inspections. A major fear is that simple and very dangerous forms of biological weapons can and will be produced easily and inexpensively by sub-national terrorist groups. Dispersing such weapons effectively will easy in a world where the disperser is willing to martyr himself for whatever cause he espouses. Unlike nuclear material and chemical weapons, biological weapons are often hard to detect quickly. By the time their presence can be detected, the victims are already infected. Thus, a current problem will be to detect their presence in time to take countermeasures such as the use of the appropriate vaccines.
Weapons of Mass Destruction are not the whole story
As horrible as weapons of mass destruction are, the world will be threatened by other new destructive means that exploit and destroy the operations of modern industrial societies. These will not necessarily be destructive in the tradition sense, but could lead to the ineffectiveness of military forces, paralyze and render society dysfunctional, and make urban areas uninhabitable for decades. They will be the tools not only of national or alliance entities, but of small groups, terrorist or otherwise.
The society of the west relies on infrastructure to survive and prosper. Threats to a nation’s entire, or even significant part of, critical infrastructure could jeopardize its ability to function or even survive. Critical national infrastructure includes six sectors:
· Energy and Utilities (electrical power, natural gas and oil transmission systems)
· Communications (such as telecommunications and broadcasting systems)
· Transportation (including air, rail, marine and surface)
· Safety (such as nuclear safety, search and rescue, and emergency services
· Government (including major government facilities, information networks or assets).
Attacks on any of these sectors could cripple, severely penalize, or distract a country from its normal political, military, or economic business. All are currently vulnerable to attack or disruption. The cost of preventing such vulnerability entirely is beyond any nation’s capability. Reasonable decisions must be made and programs begun that will minimize the danger to critical infrastructure without bankrupting or parallelizing normal essential operations. Dealing with this broad threat will require cooperation and coordination that is unprecedented between civic entities within a country, as well as with other countries. Serious decisions will have to be made with regard to the degree to which individual liberties and the right to privacy can be protected while engaging in preventive or counter actions against attacks on key parts of infrastructure.
The stakes are high. Skillful hacking into centralized computer systems could cause irreparable damage to a nation’s or the world’s banking system. The ensuing chaos could bring a national or world economic system to a standstill. Similar successful attacks could shut down power grids, disrupt heavy traffic by destroying key bridges, or presenting credible threats to transportation nodes such as airports. The costs of successful infrastructure attacks could easily become astronomical. The efficiency of and accessibility to the U.S. government both at home and abroad has already been affected the need to protect its infrastructure. Its Federal buildings are no longer easily accessible to ordinary citizens, but are barricaded by cement and require time-consuming procedures for ordinary admittance.
An explosion using even modest amounts of radioactive material could close down large urban areas for years and cost hundreds of billions of dollars, even though the explosion would only kill a handful and the radioactivity would only hurt those who stayed in the affected area.
Of course, threats to infrastructure have always existed. However, as the world depends more on electronic communications, banking systems, and energy management, the threats have migrated to these areas. Much of the infrastructure damage can be carried out from a distance. A clever computer hacker could be sitting in a remote village in central Asia or Africa and causing economic chaos in a Wall Street computerized banking system or disrupt the controls of a national electric grid. This threat does not require a nation or terrorist group to be successful. It could be carried out by a disaffected citizen or mischievous computer “geek”.
How this future threat will unfold is unpredictable. However, most western nations are creating organizations to prevent and cope with such actions. Prospects for their success are questionable given the ease of carrying out such threats.
The Role of the United States (Further Observations)
The only country that can today bring significant, almost unchallengeable, military power into situations that disturb or threaten world peace is the United States. Intervention into Iraq would have been almost unthinkable without the United States, whether done in conjunction with the United Nations or alone. Therefore, the first thing we have to address as we look into the 21st century is how to live peacefully and successfully in a one-superpower world for the near, if not long, term. Key to answering this question, however, is the answer to how the United States will go about exercising its unique power? How can it exercise its peacekeeping role, without raising tremors among other countries, including its closest allies? Some would pose this question in the context of unilateralism versus multilateralism. Many view the current U.S. administration as an international unilateralist. This is probably a stretch and exaggeration of the Bush administration. However, there is the issue of how the superpower interacts with the world community in difficult or ambiguous security situations. When should it enlist UN support and when must it ignore the call for formal backing. When should it work through NATO and when not? The recent conflict in Iraq is a dramatic illustration of this issue.
Of course, the unilateral military and economic dominance of the United States will not endure forever. It is likely not to last the entire century. History bears universal witness to the temporary nature of world affairs. Perhaps, we shall see new superpowers over this coming century – China comes immediately to mind. Even Russia, with its extraordinary endowment of natural resources and the size of its highly trained scientific and engineering community, could emerge once again if it can achieve the kind of political stability that will pave the way for new prosperity and strength. Of course, the European Union will be a comparable if not growing economic power. This does not imply that such potential emerging of other economic or military superpowers will be of a hostile nature, but does mean that there will be more than one dominant power weighing in on the difficult situations as the 21st century proceeds. The United States cannot assume that it will have no competition for its dominant world position. The only question is how long before other major national and international actors emerge.
Nevertheless, the world must start with the reality of current and foreseeable U.S. military dominance as it tries to consider the threats that are likely to emerge. This dominance cannot be ignored as we try to predict the security threats of this new century.
In this context, the United States and its allies must address the question of sub national groups that are spread across nation states, are often loosely federated, are ideological or religious in nature, are bent toward terrorism, often are well funded and otherwise supported, and are willing to promote terrorism in a new way – with weapons of mass destruction and with a willingness to become martyrs. The likelihood of martyrdom takes away the traditional tool of deterrence.
Such groups are usually transnational, living in small cells. Eradicating them requires, at a minimum, cooperation by the nations in which such cells operate. This is doable in the west, where such groups have not become imbedded into the predominant culture. There remains the question of the role of the United States and other natons in dealing with this threat.
Despite the obvious American tilt to this paper, certain observations can be made:
· Uncertainty rather than predictability will govern our future security.
· Trends of terrorism and threats to critical infrastructure will grow. Our ability to counter these trends is highly doubtful.
· The willingness of terrorists to suffer “martyrdom” in carrying out there activities will add to the threat and make it much harder to deter through traditional methods.
· The potential spread of weapons of mass destruction, not only to proliferant nations like North Korea or Iran, but to subnational groups like terrorist groups is significantly enhanced by the continuing situation in the former Soviet Union where the legacy of its huge weapons programs lingers in an unprotected and unsafeguarded state.
· The commitment of the G-8 to address the former Soviet weapons of mass destruction legacy is of the highest priority, if the threat of weapons of mass destruction – particularly in the hands of terrorists – is to be reduced.
· Much of the responsibility and capability for military intervention will fall on the shoulders of the United States, with or without international support.
· The United States must maintain the attention span and long-term commitment to multi-year counter-terrorism efforts abroad. It cannot succeed by just to winning short wars against mismatched opponents. The disappearance of Afghanistan from the political scope as it slides back into desperation already raises this question of long-term U.S. commitment. In the past the United States has shown such endurance – in Western Europe and Japan after World War II and in Korea. Key to success this time around would be whether the United States can make a more concerted effort to build coalitions involving compromise and patience with its friends and allies. The United States will require more flexibility and understanding in dealing with views and experience from other countries so that future involvements against long-term threats like terrorism or regional “bad actors” are not born by it alone.
· Terrorism cannot be handled only through force, but must involve social and political solutions that attack the source of discontent. In particular, the West must find a way for the Islamic world to promote modern prosperity and democracy without threatening key religious beliefs. This may require a serious effort of Islamic scholars to establish countervailing theologies more in tune with economic and cultural prosperity, as well as human rights.
· A continuing question for the West is whether it can effectively deal with fundamentalists and terrorists short of employing armed conflict. Can those who engage in terrorism be turned to moderation without abandoning core Islamic views? The current efforts in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations may be a harbinger of how to deal with deep and long-standing emotions that lead to terrorism and violence. However, the world has been down this path before. It does it again because there is no alternative. The current efforts in Iraq toward establishing a stable democracy – forced by necessity and the aftermath of the war –have created another much-needed route to turning the Middle East, the birthplace of three great faiths, into an area of opportunity, freedom and democracy for 300 million, mostly impoverished Moslems. No one should have false illusions about the prospects for peace in either effort. Will the United States display a long-term commitment and patience to these goals comparable to those shown during the cold war?
· In these efforts, the United States must work with its friends and allies – many of whom have vast experience with the Islamic world – to come up with solutions to reduce the threat of terrorism.
· We must be careful in our actions to deal with future threats. The tension between western concepts of freedom and the need for more intrusive security and judicial codes will test our ability to preserve democracy.
· Success in our efforts will keep Ring around the Rosies a playful chant for children rather than their paean of hopelessness