Terrorism: National Security Policy and the Home Front

By Stephen C. Pelletiere | Go to book overview
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Steven Metz


The contemporary world is one of rapid and extensive flows, whether electronic flows of information and communication, or physical flows of goods, services, and people. Seamlessness is a defining feature of the late-20th century; the result is an erosion of the distinction between foreign policy and domestic conditions. This is especially true for the United States where deliberate choices have amplified the connection between the world and the nation. In his foreign policy, President Clinton has continued a 50-year tradition of global engagement, the goal to expand the community of free market democracies. 1 However sound, this approach has unintended costs, sometimes violent ones. As the world's dominant power, the United States is seen as a bulwark of the status quo. Opponents of the status quo-the repressed, dispossessed, and disgruntled-often consider the United States a natural enemy. Hostility is thus part of the price of global engagement.

The relationship is actually circular: just as American actions abroad have domestic repercussions, domestic public opinion shapes foreign policy and national security strategy. The starkest venue for this relationship is terrorism on U.S. soil. Admittedly, not all terrorism within the United States is performed by foreigners. Most is not. Still, a fringe group of those dissatisfied with American foreign policy could at any time strike targets in the United States. Today, this is becoming increasingly easy. With the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, terrorism, according to Congressman Benjamin A. Gilman, “had come home to America. We Americans, frequently the target of terrorists abroad, were no longer safe, even on our own soil.” 2

The World Trade Center bombing may offer a glimpse of the future, serving as the first skirmish in a campaign of violence within the United States. Increasingly, American policymakers must consider whether their decisions will spark terrorism. Terrorism at home could debilitate U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy, thus destroying any chance of constructing a more positive and prosperous global system. Having won the Cold War, the United States could lose the peace to a handful of violent extremists. Only determined political leadership can prevent this.


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