The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, defined the presidency of George W.Bush, who responded by projecting U.S. military power on a global scale. In the months following the attacks, the administration forcefully evicted the Taliban regime and its Al Qaeda sponsors from Afghanistan, while expanding basing rights and military cooperation, for the first time, in Central and South Asia. After unsuccessfully seeking United Nations endorsement, it then quickly defeated Saddam Hussein’s army in Iraq. Beyond the challenge posed by Al Qaeda and other radical Islamist terrorist groups, additional threats emerged in a post-September 11 world: fallout from weak and failed states, the global effects of political instability in the Middle East and Asia, and the risks posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their potential nexus with terrorist groups.
The United States has waged this war on terrorism against the backdrop of more traditional geo-political concerns. America has long realized the strategic importance of Asia for international stability and economic growth, but continuing political, economic, and military developments pose new and significant challenges to U.S. leadership in the region. The rise of China and India, as well as Russia’s struggle to resume a leading global role, are indicative of tectonic shifts in geopolitical power and influence to Asia. Additional issues, including possible conflict over Kashmir, tensions in the Taiwan Strait, the maturing nuclear threat from North Korea, and political stability in Central, South, and Southeast Asia all assume new meaning in light of the ongoing war on terrorism.
The current issue of the NBR Analysis is unique in scope and range. It is also the first time that the NBR Analysis has been co-sponsored with another institution—the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace—which for two years has worked with NBR to launch the Strategic Asia Program. Dr. Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment, draws on recent government service to offer a distinctive perspective of U.S. foreign policy at the intersection of two interlocking challenges: the prosecution of the war on terrorism and the maintenance of U.S. preeminence. Dr. Tellis begins with the premise that the Bush administration entered office decidedly skeptical of the post-Cold War “end of history” thesis, and thus sought to more explicitly manage the rise of potential adversaries and competitors in Asia. With the onset of September 11, however, the administration rapidly assumed the new priority of confronting radical Islam, in addition to managing U.S. primacy. He writes that this balancing act is an unrecognized “signal achievement” of the Bush presidency.
That said, on balance Dr. Tellis offers mixed marks to the Bush administration for its conduct of the war on terrorism, due to both the failure to reduce the ranks of Muslim sympathizers worldwide and the deleterious effects on America’s long-term position in Asia and elsewhere. Dr. Tellis raises important questions about whether the United States has been successful in accurately identifying the terrorist threat in Asia, and, citing continuing instability in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, he is similarly ambivalent about whether the administration has crafted an effective response to radical Islam. He concludes that any successful “grand strategy to defeat terrorism” will have to entail a re-examination of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Dr. Tellis also offers a sweeping survey of, and insightful contribution to, the existing literature on terrorism. He engages important and broad debates about the “structural issues” of terrorism and how they impact policy options of the current and future U.S. administrations in waging the war on terrorism. Describing terrorism as more than a “criminal aberration” but not yet constituting the “deep structure of global politics,” he adopts a nuanced approach that accords a certain status to terrorist networks in international relations. This entails appreciating the diversity of terrorist motives, and Dr. Tellis rightly urges recognition that Al Qaeda and similar organizations, contrary to claims of their irrational or religious nihilism, do indeed operate according to an “instrumental” logic. This acknowledgement is crucial in order to craft effective policy responses to this growing threat.
This issue of the NBR Analysis is a longer, more detailed study of that published in the new volume Strategic Asia 2004–05: Confronting Terrorism in the Pursuit of Power (Seattle: The National Bureau of Asian Research, 2004). We have decided to publish Dr.Tellis’ full study separately here for his wide-ranging contribution to analyses of terrorism, international relations of Asia, and U.S. foreign policy.
NBR is grateful to the Department of Energy, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for their support of the Strategic Asia Program, and to the Jackson Foundation for its continued generous support of the NBR Analysis. Special thanks are also due to Jessica Tuchman Mathews and her colleagues and staff at the Carnegie Endowment for their generous cooperation and support. The author, as always, is solely responsible for the content of this article.
Richard J. Ellings
The National Bureau of Asian Research
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