Defusing Dangers to U.S. Security

By Ullman, Harlan | The World and I, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Defusing Dangers to U.S. Security


Ullman, Harlan, The World and I


September 11 is a date that "changed America forever," or so goes conventional wisdom. In fact, the horror of that day really showed how the world had changed. The consequence was that the United States was no longer safe, secure, and insulated from the violence and terror that were commonplace around the world.

On that day, 19 men armed with box cutters and loyal to a cause, not a country, turned commercial airliners into flying bombs and in a matter of moments did far more physical, psychic, and economic damage to the United States than did the tens of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons aimed at us during the Cold War.

Sadly, in the year and a half since, despite much rhetoric and breast- beating, the United States has still not faced up to the realities of this changed world. Indeed, it is very possible that the danger is the most serious the country has faced since the Civil War. Understanding how we arrived at this point is critical to seeing the way ahead and the means of defusing the dangers that threaten our security.

Every major war creates legacies, or pieces of "unfinished business," often with profound consequences. From World War I came fascism, communism, and World War II. From that war emerged the Cold War and the Gulf War in 1991. It is from them that five major pieces of business remain unfinished. Unless or until we deal with each, the safety of the United States is in grave jeopardy. President George W. Bush must confront these legacies, ironically inherited from the days when his father, George H.W. Bush, was president.

FREEDOM AND SECURITY

The first piece of unfinished business is the most serious. The attacks of September 11 were directed against the basic nature of American society--its openness, freedom, and complete accessibility. As security becomes more important, its needs inherently conflict with freedom. By exploiting that tension, those wishing this nation harm can do fundamental damage even without killing a single American. It is the basis of our political system that is the target. How we deal with this potential weakness and vulnerability may prove the most difficult challenge the nation has faced since 1861.

The second piece is the inherent vulnerability to disruption of the U.S. infrastructur; that is, our networks for commerce, communications, banking, power, food, emergency services, and the rest of the sinews upon which our way of life depend. There are no means for protecting all or even much of this infrastructure for an extended period.

Third, the country's national security organization was designed for an era that no longer exists---the Cold War. The Commission on National Security Strategy/Twenty- first Century, cochaired by former Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, called this structure "dysfunctional." The commission study, released in February 2001, predicted that a major terrorist attack, possibly with weapons of mass destruction, would occur within 25 years. Unfortunately, these events took place less than eight months later. Both senators went on to serve on another commission, reporting in October 2002 that America was "still unprepared ... and still in danger."

Fourth, the chief danger to the United States emanates from the "crescent of crisis," the region bounded in the west by the Arab- Israeli-Palestinian conflict, extending through the Middle East and Persian Gulf to the Bay of Bengal and east to the Straits of Malacca. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Indonesia are key states in which extremism abounds. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are the current enemies. However, as long as the causes that breed this extremism exist, then the United States will be at great risk.

The final piece of unfinished business is the need to construct a strategic framework to replace that of the Cold War. The United States has not yet been able to weave together NATO, the European Union, Russia, China, and other key states in some form of partnership or relationship to deal with these new dangers. …

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