© National Security Studies Quarterly Volume VII, Issue 4 (Autumn 2001).
THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION HAS RIGHTLY STATED THAT WE ARE and must be prepared to use the full arsenal of our defense capabilities to respond to the heinous acts of terrorism directed against the United States and the world on 11 September 2001. President Bush clearly stated that the use of military force will be a part of our campaign to fight terrorism and defend our homeland. Administration officials also cautioned Americans not to expect a massive military response but rather a longer, and at times invisible, diplomatic and financial campaign aimed at crippling terrorists. This is an astute, but incomplete, use of U.S. force.
What is the long-term strategy for enhancing the security of the United States and it allies? Without questioning that military force must be a component of the U.S. response, entirely different weapons should also be deployed to fight this war, both in the immediate future and in the decades to come. Our full arsenal must include weapons of both economic and political opportunity. In the short term, it must bring the al Qaeda network to justice in the most efficient manner possible. Over the long term, we must pursue preventive defense-a strategy that aims to destroy the root causes of the extreme strains of Islamic fundamentalism rather than just battling its most recent symptoms.1 In a word, the provision of donkeys, seed, water, books, and ideas may be our most effective weapons. The American homeland will be best protected if we follow our military campaign with non-military campaigns to promote democracy and economic growth in those countries that currently harbor terrorists. Such policies will take decades to produce results, but they must be implemented now to make our military actions more effective and better understood. Failure to deploy them means fighting the military phase over and over again, and perhaps even worse retaliation on our own soil.
Americans know little about Wahhabism, Pushtun-Tajik relations, or the operational code of Osama bin Laden, an ignorance that cripples our ability to think strategically about this part of the world. But we do know some basic facts. Osama bin Laden lives in Afghanistan because the militant Islamic rulers of Afghanistan, the Taliban, allow him and other terrorists to reside there. The Taliban assumed control in Afghanistan several years ago because they provided a modicum of order to that anarchic land through the brutal use of force. Osama bin Laden provides money to the Taliban and is related by marriage to the Taliban's leader, Muhammad Omar. Yet, the real ties that bind them are ideological. The Taliban mullahs and bin Laden espouse an extremist version of Islamic fundamentalism that sees the West and the United States as the root of all evil, which must be destroyed. They despise our policies in the Middle East, including most importantly our support for the regime in Saudi Arabia. But they also abhor our way of life.
The enormous disparities that separate poverty stricken Afghanistan (not to mention other Islamic countries) and the rich United States allows extremist ideologies to fester. Afghanistan is a wasteland bombed into the Stone Age after 22 years of brutal war. Life expectancy is 44 years. Of Afghanistan's 26 million people, a staggering 11 million Afghans are children between the ages of 0-14. They are in great measure sick, hungry, and illiterate. Afghanistan has the highest number of widows and orphans in the world. Over 2 million of the population is maimed and all are traumatized by war. It is the most densely mined country in the world, with 10 million mines mostly on the border areas with Pakistan and Iran. Its infrastructure is obliterated. Per capita income annually is less than $200. It is one of the most desolate places on earth.
The people who executed and financed the terrorist attacks against the United States on 11 September were not poor and were not Afghani. Osama bin Laden is a multi-millionaire from the Gulf who is motivated by messianic ideas, not economic deprivation. The hijackers were also middle class and educated Egyptians and Arabs, who gave up their lives for an ideological/religious cause, much like communist revolutionaries from well to do, educated families did a century ago. None of the attackers were from Afghanistan. Once U.S. armed forces strike targets in Afghanistan, however, the poor of Afghanistan and other Islamic countries may rally to bin Laden's call for a holy war against the United States and the Western world more generally. And if innocent people are killed, some will find just cause to retaliate with violence, just as Americans have found just cause to retaliate in response to the killing of innocents on 11 September 2001. The reservoir of discontent in this region of the world is deep, and we have already witnessed what havoc the arsenal of organized terrorists can wreak. But this discontent is directed not only at the United States. In Afghanistan alone, the Northern Alliance has been fighting the Taliban since the mid-1990s, and the infighting within the Taliban is well known. More important, nearly a third of the Afghani population has fled the country, and most of those who remain live in abject poverty and fear.
We have already given the Taliban, a government we do not even recognize, the opportunity to hand over bin Laden and his network. Why not use our economic weaponry to give the same chance to the Afghani people? The Bush administration already has begun food drops into Afghanistan. This is a good first start, but only a start. Food could be followed up with money. We could distribute dollars, checks or IOU's in return for terrorists. For their cooperation in handing over those groups the United States identifies as responsible for the attacks on our homeland, the people of Afghanistan could receive direct cash payments from the United States Government to spend however they wanted. Not traditional aid going through traditional channels, but cash in the hands of desperately poor people. Even if we provided a mere $600 to each Afghani citizen-the sum of our latest tax rebate-we would provide years of income to these people. To battle inflation, the West would also have to provide real goods and services in country. To insure that this assistance does not subsidize bin Laden and his allies, we must channel these transfers through the Rabanni government in the north, the only government in Afghanistan recognized by the international community.
The logistical nightmares of providing direct assistance are enormous, but no more enormous than full-scale war. And if it does not work, our leadership will have demonstrated to the world its willingness to spare innocent lives. It will have bought time to develop other alternatives, gather more intelligence, and garner further support for targeted military action. Obviously, food drops and a one-time bribe to the people of Afghanistan would neither end poverty there or root out extremist elements of Islamic fundamentalism. The United States, along with its allies throughout the world, would have to invest in economic, social, and political development throughout the Islamic world for years if not decades. Like we did in South Korea and West Germany during the Cold War, we must prove through the export of military might, economic development, and political liberty that our allies in the region offer a better way of life than that now propagated by our enemies. At the time of partition, South Korea had nearly the same gross domestic product per capita as North Korea and India. Four decades of engagement and assistance there made a huge difference.
In providing economic opportunities, we also must foster outlets for political dissent in the region. Dictatorships foster extremism. It is no accident that every democracy in the world-rich or poor -has a friendly relationship with the United States, while every U.S. enemy is a dictatorship. Dictatorships foster extremism; democracies do not. The Afghan people did not invite bin Laden to their country. The Taliban dictatorship did. Throughout the world, terrorists like bin Laden thrive in weak or failed states run by autocrats. The use military force in Afghanistan, therefore, is not aimed at the Afghan people. Promoting democracy is also a key component of effective economic assistance. Aid to corrupt, autocratic regimes has rarely produced results. Assistance to new democracies has produced positive results.2 Multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund cannot make political conditions on their assistance. But bilateral assistance should be conditional. Debt relief, development assistance, and free trade regimes should be conditioned upon progress in democratization and good governance.
Obviously, in the short term, we must move cautiously in promoting democracy in those countries that have currently pledged to help us in our immediate aim of bringing justice to bin Laden and his network. Today, we are not forging a coalition of democracies versus non-democracies. Rather, it is a coalition of order versus anarchy -those that want to preserve the status quo versus those that want to unravel the status quo. In the long run, however, the best facilitator of stability is democratization. The empirical record in Latin America and Southern Europe suggests that reformers in authoritarian regimes have the best chance of crafting a smooth transition to democracy when they take the initiative.3 Those dictators that resist change and refuse to liberalize eventually fall by revolution, not through negotiation. 4 Before Saudi Arabia becomes the next Iran or Pakistan the next Afghanistan, the United States must press these regimes to take serious steps towards political liberalization. At a minimum, the United States must maintain rhetorical consistency when speaking about the principles of freedom and democracy. For instance, pseudo-democracies should not be called democracies. A country like Egypt should not receive full status membership in the community of democracies.
The United States and the rest of the Western world must also work to strengthen the voice of moderate Muslim political, religious, and intellectual leaders. They must receive grants, education, and moral support that can help them develop and disseminate alternative beliefs to those now espoused by bin Laden and his allies. Even the basic facts of what happened on 11 September are not known in many parts of the Islamic world. The people of Afghanistan did not see the buildings of the World Trade Center collapse because they have no television sets. Today, many media outlets in the Islamic world are suggesting that Israel's Massad carried out the attack against the United States as a way to inflame a world war against the Islamic world. This absurd propaganda has to be countered and the best voices to carry this message are moderate political and religious leaders in the Islamic world. We must also help to refute the myth that democracy and Islam are incompatible. Forty years ago, the same was said about Catholicism and democracy. Only a decade ago, many still professed that Orthodox Christianity and democracy do not mix. Democracy and economic growth may be the enemies of Osama bin Laden, but they are not the enemies of Islam. In mounting this political, economic, and ideological counteroffensive, we should learn from some of our successes in fighting communism during the Cold War. Military force and deterrence were parts of our strategy back then, but so too were other innovations.
Especially after the fall of Czechoslovakia in 1948, the United States learned the importance of international allies. New weapons against the last "ism" included the Marshall Plan, the World Bank, AID, the Peace Corps, Radio Free Europe, and the National Endowment for Democracy. Over time, the Western Alliance developed a more sophisticated understanding of the threat, making distinctions among different strands of communism, recognizing the difference between dangerous communist cells and legitimate mass-based movements and differentiating between communist leaders and the captive nations they subjugated. At crucial moments, U.S. leaders even learned the importance of letting old anticommunist allies fall and new democratic forces prevail. Democratic ideas proved to be one of our best counter-communist weapons.
To fight a sustained battle against communism, the United States also invested billions in education and intelligence about the enemy. The U.S. government sponsored centers for Soviet studies, provided foreign-language scholarships, and offered dual competency grants to compel graduate students to gain expertise in both security issues and Russian culture. Such programs aimed to combat the new "ism" exist today but are underdeveloped. We lack "human intelligence" -covert agents, spies, and informants-in the Middle East. But we also suffer from shortages of National Security Agency linguists, academic scholars, and senior policy-makers trained in the languages, cultures, politics, and economics of the Middle East. Undertaking these programs will be costly and take years if not decades to produce results. They will demand a fundamental rethinking of our defense strategy. But do we have any alternative? A Delta force strike against bin Laden's camps may well be necessary and most certainly will make us feel better for a while. But absent a fullscale reengagement-including economic and political engagement -our long-term security will not be enhanced.
To prepare for this long preventive defense campaign, U.S. political leaders must develop a new discourse about defense that explains the enormity and necessity of the new challenge. Just as Americans were willing to subsidize South Korean, Japanese, German, French, and Italian development to fight communism, the U.S. taxpayer is now primed to assume this new burden. As demonstrated by its paltry budgets for international aid, the United States has pretended for the last decade that the problems of the world were not its problems. We have hoped that we could live our lives shielded and insulated from the problems of others. The terrorist strikes on 11 September 2001 gruesomely demonstrated that we were in error. Some might call this plan "nation building." We call it preventive defense.
1. Though used in a different context, the phrase, "preventive defense" comes from Ashton Carter and William Perry, Preventive Defense: A New Security Strategy for America (Washington: Brookings Institutions Press, 1999).
2. In the post-communist world, the correlation between democratization and economic growth is robust. See Joel Hellman, "Winners Take All: The Politics of Partial Reform in Post-communist Transitions," World Politics, 50, no. 1 (1998); Jean-Jacques Dethier, Hafez Ghanem, and Edda Zoli, "Does Democracy Facilitate the Economic Transition? An Empirical Study of Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union," unpublished manuscript, World Bank (June 1999); Transition Report 1999: Ten Years of Transition (London: European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, 1999), chapter five; and Anders Aslund, Building Capitalism: The Transformation of the Former Soviet Bloc (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
3. Guillermo O'Donnell and Philippe Schmitter, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies, 4, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986).
4. Terry Lynn Karl, "Dilemmas of Democratization in
Latin America," Comparative Politics, 23 (October 1990): 1-23. 5. See Larry
Diamond, "Promoting Democracy while Fighting Terror," remarks to the
Secretary of State's Open Forum, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, 21