Guest Commentary By: Owen S. Whitman
(Links periodically updated and/or refreshed)


Tamarind Associates Inc.
Commercial Intelligence Analysts, Strategic Alliance Consultants

For more than 50 years, atomic weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) have been  the centerpiece of American foreign policy. During  the  justifiably paranoiac  years of the Cold War,  nuclear arms were the "Big Stick," always in the background of virtually every major issue in East-West competition and alliance relations. Thus, for the last half century  the primary concerns of U.S. foreign  policy have, in one way or another, all derived from considerations of the potential dangers of  World War III and the attendant fear of nuclear mass destruction to the American homeland. Now, with the demise of the Soviet Union and Cold War, everything has changed. Moreover, to many, American foreign policy, seemingly adrift and unable to adapt to these wholly unanticipated and rapidly unfolding events, is viewed as increasingly counter-productive, bellicose and anachronistic.

The real risk,  in such a period of transition and  policy vacuum, is that global events could spiral into some  unanticipated crisis with China, Russia or others. Indeed,  this scenario is plainly evident in the provocative and counterproductive  push to expand NATO,  the  March 1996,  U.S. China confrontation over Taiwan and the increasingly rancorous and divisive  U.S. obsession with Iraq. Apparently  Egypt, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, France and the Vatican -- indeed, the vast majority  of the U.N. --  presently hold a different view  from that of the  current Anglo/U.S. position favoring  military force  to coerce  Iraq's behavior.

A source of  increasing frustration  for  "Cold Warriors"  and military leaders alike, vigorously defending unprecedented  levels of  peacetime "defense" spending, diffuse and irrelevant missions and counterproductive Cold War alliances,  and those of government's Political Class and bureaucracy with complementary (and dependent) interests,  is the growing realization that maintaining traditional U.S. civil liberties and forestalling terrorist  attacks on the U.S. homeland will require less American global military adventurism  and the evolution of a foreign policy emphasizing a more benign and less confrontational diplomacy . Such  policies  will mandate  U.S. restraint and the avoidance, withdrawal even,  from some foreign conflicts and counter-productive Cold War alliances - NATO in particular. It is interesting  to  note that while there has been a significant decline in U.S. defense spending, it remains more than triple that of any single potential adversary and greater than the defense budgets of China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Russia combined.

Indeed, one can reasonably argue that the primary factor contributing to the  broadly  perceived  "terrorist" threat  to the U.S. homeland, is America's  unrelenting, activist, international,  post-Cold War projection of  force (i.e. military and related covert operations) in an attempt  to impose and maintain an uniquely American  vision  of International Status Quo (a/k/a  "New World Order").  Indeed, the undeniable reality  is that past/present  U.S. foreign policy is directly responsible for producing what may become the greatest threat to the American homeland that Americans have yet seen.  Perhaps that sage social philosopher and popular cartoon character, Pogo, best articulates the current policy paradox;  "....we have met the enemy and he is us."

Since America, today, is  the only nation actively policing areas outside its own territory, it constantly presents itself as a natural target for states and groups who -- with cause in many instances -- believe that their regional aspirations and right to self determinism are being (or have been) thwarted by U.S. power.

It is hardly likely, for example, that Middle Eastern activists would take the extreme step of  attempting to destroy the World Trade Center had the United States not been identified for so long as the mainstay of Israel, the Shah of Iran, other conservative (dictatorial) Arab regimes and the premier source of a relentless cultural assault on Islam. It is also clear that America's emerging vision of  a global, U.S. economic and cultural hegemony -- ultimately imposed and maintained by  U.S. military force --  poses a clear and present threat to all who would seek to challenge the global status quo and uniquely American  "New World Order."   America's decision to play "Globo-cop" --  maintainer of  international stasis and the status quo -- is an open invitation for aggrieved states and groups to strike back. Common sense tells us that  the best way to keep people from believing that the United States is responsible for their problems is to avoid being in their conflicts.

Such national restraint, however, requires a paradigm shift in the U.S. government's activist  foreign policythink, and this will be extraordinarily difficult for the policy bureaucracy. In fact, there are few solutions to this increasingly tense philosophical/structural situation that do not compromise the fundamental strategic activism and internationalist thrust that has been the hallmark of  U.S. foreign policy for more than half a century.

The role of  WMDs in international conflict will change dramatically. Unlike pre-Cold War arsenals, WMDs are no longer the product of cutting edge military weapons technology . Indeed, the knowledge and materials required to produce such weapons (even atomic) are ubiquitous. More to the point, such weapons are now the only hope for second-class states and groups who wish to challenge the overwhelming superiority of United States conventional military forces. It is logical to assume, therefore, that WMDs will become the weapon of choice for militarily second-class states and groups. Thus it follows that the primary risk is no longer that such aggrieved entities would seek to directly engage the U.S. military's markedly superior conventional forces; and that the most logical "high yield, low risk" strategy is to maximize "punishment" to the United States by wreaking havoc on "softer" civilian & commercial targets within  U.S. homeland.

The relative importance of the various types of WMDs has also changed. Biological weapons are now most likely to be employed, with nuclear second and chemical ".... a distant third..." Even more troubling is the reality that if aggressively pursued by government, some of the most "effective" measures to deter WMD attacks, within the United States, pose a clear and mortal  threat to traditional American civil liberties.

This is not a brief for isolationism; we are beyond that. It is too late to defuse current foreign resentments by simply withdrawing from the stage of world events. And even if we could, this is not an acceptable course. Alienated groups and states will not immediately stop blaming Washington for their problems.

It is crucial to acknowledge, however, that many key security interests that complemented each other during the Cold War no longer serve. Clearly, the core issue of protecting traditional American freedoms and the homeland from attack is now often in conflict with an activist U.S. foreign policy that presumes and relentlessly mandates the dominance of American political values, global economic interdependence, social Westernization and status quo  in regions beyond Western Europe and the Americas.

Again, we recognize that the United States will not abandon its broader international political interests. However, it must develop restraint, empathy and pragmatism  -- especially in the Middle East where simple common sense dictates that caution rules  the day. Ultimately, the final test, litmus test if you will, for American foreign policy will be how well it has protected -- within the homeland -- the traditional Civil Rights and Liberty of the American people, while avoiding the occurrence of some politically contrived, man-made, desperation-driven catastrophe  within our borders.