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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Releases > 2002

Future Challenges in the War on Terrorism

Andrew P. N. Erdmann, Policy Planning Staff
Remarks to the Gaudino Forum, Williams College
Williamstown, MA
November 18, 2002

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Introduction: From 1988 to Today
Coming over the mountains from Albany this afternoon, I recalled that it was the first time I have driven that stretch of Route 2 since my senior year in 1988. During college, I drove that road countless times to and from Williams to where I grew up, outside of Rochester, New York. This afternoon, coming back over Route 2 to Williamstown to give this talk about the future challenges in the war on terrorism, I couldn’t help thinking about how much the world changed since 1988.

When I graduated from Williams, there was a Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and a major force in the world. This was the time of glasnost and perestroika, long before Gorbachev sold pizzas or had his own website, www.mikhailgorbachev.org. There were two Germanys, separated by a terrible barrier of barbed wire and barricades. There was the Warsaw Pact arrayed against NATO in Central Europe. It was the European Community then, not the European Union (EU). The eight-year Iran-Iraq War was finally drawing to a close. Readers of Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers fretted that the Japanese economic juggernaut might challenge a United States weakened by "imperial overstretch." There was still a Zaire and a Yugoslav Federation that spanned from Austria in the north to Greece in the South. Civil wars fueled in part by Cold War rivalries raged throughout Central America. Nelson Mandela sat in his jail cell. There was still a country called Czechoslovakia and Vaclav Havel was just an Eastern European dissident poet and playwright. Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, and the only George Bush the American people knew was his Vice-President. I didn’t know anyone who had email, and people still bought records. And I should also add that when I was a student here a band from Georgia called R.E.M played in the Chapman Rink. That was a different world.

At Williams, when I was beginning my studies of international affairs, I think its fair to say I was not alone in viewing American foreign policy primarily through Cold War lens. Terrorism was not a major focus. If one day a historian reviews the course catalogues and syllabi from that era, I think this generalization will stand up. Of course, terrorism was an issue that occasionally made its way onto newspapers’ front-pages and into our discussions in class or over lunch in Baxter Hall: Hizballah’s hijacking of a TWA Flight 847 in 1985; the Achille Lauro hijacking a few months later; the bombing of a Berlin Disco in 1986 and the U.S. air-strikes against Libya in retaliation; the events leading up to the Iran-Contra fiasco.

Nevertheless, terrorism was not seen as central to American foreign policy. We fought terrorism, to be sure, but it was a secondary or tertiary policy issue. However tragic and disruptive, terrorism was accepted as just one of the costs for the United States of doing business in the world. With a few notable exceptions such as the small U.S. counterterrorism community and periodic blue-ribbon studies like that by the bipartisan Hart-Rudman Commission, this remained the prevailing perspective of most people inside and outside of government through the 1990s.

The Impact of September 11 and the War So Far
The terrible events of September 11, 2001 changed that. The attacks that day did not change the world so much as they changed us. They altered the way we see the world, the nature of the terrorist threat, and how the government must respond to fulfill its most basic of all responsibilities: protecting the lives and liberties of us, its citizens.

Now, fighting terrorism is the business – the top priority – of the Bush Administration. A cardinal success of our foreign policy in the past 14 months has been rallying an unprecedented global coalition to fight terrorism on every front – diplomatic, military, intelligence, law enforcement, and financial.

The unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 within days of the attacks placed demanding and binding obligations on all nations in the fight against terrorism. With its clear language, this important resolution is helping establish the fundamental international norms in this struggle, that all nations must not only combat terrorist financing, recruitment, transit, safe haven, and other forms of support to terrorists and their backers, but also cooperate with other countries’ counterterrorism efforts.

In a brilliant combined intelligence-military campaign, we destroyed al-Qaida’s bases in Afghanistan, killed or captured many of its operatives, and put the rest on the run. At the same time, we and our allies have helped liberate the Afghan people from the oppressive rule of the Taliban and their al-Qaida supporters. Working with a broad international coalition, we are helping to rebuild Afghanistan so that it remains at peace and never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.

Right now the United States has over 60,000 troops deployed around the world in the war on terrorism. And we are working to build up other nations’ forces so that they can take the fight to the terrorists, from the streets of Sanna in Yemen to the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, from the island of Basilan in the Philippines to the jungles of Colombia.

The sharing of intelligence and cooperation among law enforcement agencies is unprecedented, leading to the arrest or detention of nearly 2,300 terrorists in some 99 countries.   Over 160 countries have joined us in freezing the assets of terrorists and their supporters worth over $110 million.

And often away from the headlines, through steady, patient diplomacy, we have worked with our partners to reinvigorate and redirect such diverse international institutions as the G-8, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), so that they can contribute to the fight against terrorism.

The Challenges Ahead

Despite these significant successes – and others unseen – the war on terror is far from over. The events of the past few weeks – such as the attack on the French oil tanker Limburg off the coast of Yemen and the Bali blast that killed more than 180 people – underscore that the al-Qaida danger remains clear and present. Just last week, the release of another audiotape by Usama bin Laden threatened not just the United States, but also our allies Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and Italy.

As President Bush stressed in his radio address to the nation this past Saturday: "The threat of terror will be with us for years to come." All our futures will be touched in one way or another by this long struggle.

Instead of focusing on the headlines of today, therefore, I want to spend the rest of my time exploring what I see as some of the fundamental challenges ahead. I group them under four headings: the challenge of ideas, the challenge of institution building, the challenge of intensity, and, finally, the challenge of ideals.

The Challenge of Ideas

Although this may sound strange coming from a government official, the most fundamental challenge lies in the realm of ideas – in understanding the nature of the terrorist threat today and how to deal with it. Pundits and policymakers alike have stressed that the war on terrorism is a "new kind of war." That is true, but it is important to take the next step and explore what is new about it, and what is not.

Among the lessons of the Cold War we should heed today is the notion that you can get into trouble when you view a complex, variegated phenomenon as a monolith – and, therefore, fail to tailor policies to fit individual cases. Terrorism certainly is not monolithic. Each group is unique in its way. And these groups are dynamic, evolving. This being said, it is helpful to consider the terrorist threat in two categories: "old" terrorism and "new" terrorism.

We are all too familiar with the "old" terrorism, which we and our partners have been fighting for decades. This is the sort of political violence used by groups like ETA in Spain, the Real IRA in Ireland, the FARC and AUC in Colombia, the Palestinian rejectionist groups, and 17 November in Greece. Although heinous, these terrorists’ political objectives have traditionally provided some check on the level of violence they perpetrate. For them, terror is a tool to achieve limited – usually secular – ends in one country or region. Too much death and destruction, therefore, risks alienating support for their cause. Since the September 11th attacks, we and our partners have intensified our efforts to combat these groups and punish their backers. Our basic approach, though, reflects continuity with past counterterrorism policy, which has been steadily and patiently accumulating successes against the "old" terrorism. For instance, we continue our efforts to name, shame, and sanction state sponsors of terror, and have seen progress on this front in recent positive steps by Sudan and Libya. Likewise, the benefits of improved training and cooperation helped Greek authorities break open 17 November in the past year.

The "new" terrorism, however, presents a qualitatively different threat. Groups like al-Qaida and Aum Shinrikyo have insatiable, even apocalyptic ambitions. Such unlimited ambitions lead to the search for unlimited means to achieve them. By harnessing the globalization that helps define our era to the destructive potential of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons, such groups have become true transnational threats. They operate in countless countries, independent of any state sponsor or single home base. The sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subways in 1995 and the still unsolved anthrax attacks of a year ago highlight that the WMD terrorist threat is not hypothetical; it is all too real. Equally important, we have learned from harsh experience that the basic logic of deterrence that helped preserve the peace during the Cold War will not check the "new" terrorists; they do not fear retaliation and in some cases even welcome it.

We need to continue to fight both the "old" and the "new" terrorism. This requires a flexible, comprehensive strategy, one that encompasses action against terrorists of all stripes who threaten us today, as well as a long-term approach to win "hearts and minds" to prevent new recruits from rising to fill the ranks of those who fall. We must, therefore, fight for the present and the future. This will involve simultaneous, synchronized, and sustained action on four fronts.

  • We will defeat terrorist groups.
  • We will deny terrorists the support, safe haven, and sponsorship they need to survive and thrive.
  • We will diminish the underlying conditions that allow terrorism to take root and flourish.
  • We will defend the American people and homeland, as well as our friends, interests, and values abroad.

Each of these four D’s – defeat, deny, diminish, and defend – is forcing us to think anew, reconsider and adapt old policies, and generate new ideas and new approaches suited to the distinctive threats of this era.

To illustrate this reality with just one example, consider for a moment the new ideas regarding how to defend our homeland in the 21st century. Over five decades ago during the early Cold War, the American people similarly reconsidered the basic requirements of security in the face of the Soviet military challenge, especially the development of vehicles to deliver nuclear weapons across intercontinental distances. In the 1940s and 1950s, we pushed the boundaries of our security outwards with a network of overseas bases, alliances like NATO and ANZUS, and efforts to bolster our partners’ military capabilities, to contain and deter the Soviet threat. Today, we confront the threat of the clandestine terrorist delivery of WMD to our shores. Consequently, we are pushing our borders outward once again, but this time in a more fundamental and profound way. As part of our new approach to homeland security, for example, we are attempting to search as much cargo as far away from our shores as possible. This means that U.S. Customs officers are now walking the docks of Antwerp and other "megaports" carrying out their inspections abroad. But we are reciprocating, allowing foreign officials to conduct their inspections in our ports, on our territory. This single example captures how new ways of thinking about security are leading to new ways of thinking about borders themselves – challenging us, therefore, to reconsider traditional notions of sovereignty.

The Challenge of Institution Building

New ideas, however, are not enough. We must put these ideas into practice. And to do that, we need the right institutions – formal and informal, domestic and international. This is the challenge of institution building. In many cases, we are revitalizing institutions inherited from the Cold War era.

Public diplomacy is a prime example. Public diplomacy is not propaganda; we have a good story that stands on its merits. Getting our message out to the world played a critical role in our long-term success in the Cold War. After the implosion of the Soviet Union, however, our global public diplomacy efforts were slashed, apparently because many agreed with Francis Fukuyama’s conclusion that history had indeed ended and the ideological conflicts had been settled decisively in the favor of liberal, democratic values. Between 1993 and 1999, public diplomacy personnel were cut by 29% and funding for overseas libraries and information resource centers by 39%. Similar cuts were made in exchange programs, like the Fulbright, and support for the teaching of English abroad. Ironically, therefore, when the Cold War ended, we stopped trying to reach people. We are digging ourselves out of this hole and we are developing new ways of tapping new media – such as the Internet and satellite television – to reach new audiences. But success will take time, creativity, and hard work. Implementing many of the new notions of security demands new institutions.

Again, the case of homeland security provides the most dramatic example. The establishment of a new Department of Homeland Security, supported by the nation’s first National Strategy for Homeland Security, will involve the largest reorganization of the U.S. government since the National Security Act of 1947. The homeland security bill should be passed by the Senate within days. Then the real challenge begins, the challenge of forging a cohesive institution with a primary mission to protect the American people from terrorist attack out of the roughly 170,000 employees drawn from over 20 government entities ranging from the U.S. Customs Service to parts of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. If the experience of attempting to "unify" the armed forces is any guide, this will be one of the defining institutional challenges of our age; remember the reforms of the Goldwater-Nichols Act were needed in 1986, nearly 40 years after the first National Security Act.

We are seeing similarly inspired changes on a smaller scale in the military, the intelligence community, and the State Department. Last month, U.S. Northern Command – or NORTHCOM – was established to "deter, prevent, and defeat threats and aggression aimed at the United States" and to provide assistance to civilian authorities, including "consequence management," which is shorthand for dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Both the CIA and the FBI have reoriented themselves to respond to the terrorist threat, shifting huge amounts of resources in the process. Along with the new Department of Homeland Security, they will have to find new ways of working together to make the homeland security intelligence and analysis system a reality. And in the past year, the State Department has nearly tripled the size of its Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism as well as established a new office to coordinate the Department’s homeland security activities.

But such institutional changes are not limited to the federal government alone. The New York City Police Department, for example, will soon have officers stationed in Britain, Germany, France, and Israel, to work terrorist-related cases. In this age, global threats can be local, and vice versa.

But new government institutions will not be enough. We will need to institutionalize new, unprecedented public-private partnerships as well. Two examples convey the diversity and depth of this particular challenge.

The first involves protecting our critical infrastructure. These communications, information, and transportation networks upon which we rely everyday are mostly owned, maintained, and controlled by the private sector. The only way that we can ever hope to protect them is to forge new types of relationships between the public and private sectors. You see the beginnings of this now with the Critical Infrastructure Protection Board’s National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace that is currently being reviewed and revised. But we will have to see much more innovative work on this front, work that brings together government, the private sector, research centers, and educational institutions.

The second example involves fighting terrorist financing. Terrorists hijack legitimate non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to raise and then siphon off money to fund their operations. We are now working with our partners here in the United States and abroad to develop best practices to help charities protect themselves against infiltration and exploitation by criminal and terrorist elements.

But just as the terrorist threat is international, so must be our institution building. As President Bush has stressed from the beginning, "The defeat of terror requires an international coalition of unprecedented scope and cooperation." We need to establish and reinforce the international institutions, norms, and habits of cooperation necessary to protect us long after the war against al-Qaida ends.

The leaders of NATO are gathering this week in Prague, and a major item on the agenda is pursuing new missions and new capabilities that will allow that great organization to remain relevant in the 21st century just as it was in the 20th.

Similarly, we are striving to ensure that the United Nations remains vibrant and relevant. That’s why President Bush took the case for a new regime to disarm Iraq to the UN General Assembly on September 12. The UN Security Council’s unanimous adoption of Resolution 1441 ten days ago will pave the way to the disarmament of Iraq – we hope peacefully – so that its weapons of mass destruction are never again turned against its own people, its neighbors, or others around the world, or find their way into the hands of terrorists. To keep the global focus on counterterrorism, we are exploring ways of transforming the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee, established under UNSCR 1373, into a permanent and perhaps free-standing organization. At the same time, we must press ahead and embed counterterrorism as a normal priority in the major regional and functional institutions – ranging from the OAS, ASEAN, OSCE, and EU to the G-8, APEC, and FATF. The challenge is to build a network of mutually reinforcing international institutions that will help coordinate assistance to "weak but willing" countries, sanction states that tolerate or support terrorists, and sustain programs like the new Container Security Initiative that will secure global transportation and communication networks.

None of this institution building will come easily or quickly.

The Challenge of Intensity

Therefore, a third major challenge in the years ahead will be maintaining the intensity of the political will and forward momentum in the fight against terrorism. Once again, we need to do this not just here at home, but around the world. As we have already seen, however, this challenge will probably only increase with the passage of time.

The initial campaign against al-Qaida in Afghanistan had the drama of clashes between forces that could be tracked on a map, as armies advanced and cities were liberated. By the end of last winter, after the main concentrations of al-Qaida and Taliban forces in Afghanistan had been routed, only small cells remained. We thus entered a different phase of the war against terrorism, one where military power usually will not be the most important factor in our success.

Fighting terrorism over the long haul is really the patient accumulation of seemingly mundane, separate successes. It involves holding seminars for foreign legislators to help them draft the laws needed to combat money-laundering. It involves equipping border guards in Central Asia with binoculars and better communications equipment. It involves improving the international standards for travel documents to frustrate terrorists’ transit around the world. It involves training teams of bomb-disposal specialists. It involves negotiations with our OAS counterparts to energize the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE). In sum, it involves countless unglamorous, unpublicized, yet nonetheless essential efforts that together will help create a world where Americans can live free without fear of terrorism.

But precisely because these efforts are unglamorous and too often unnoticed, support for them can slip. For instance, I bet that not too many people here followed last month the deliberations of the G-8 Roma and Lyon Subgroups in Montreal or the FATF Plenary Session in Paris.

Furthermore, there is a natural tendency for things to gravitate back toward business as usual. Too often in the past, after the shock of a major terrorist attack wore off, attention and will wavered. We’ve seen this again during the past year. Thus, one of the ironies of this struggle is that the more successful we are in preventing or at least minimizing terrorist attacks, the harder it is to maintain public interest and commitment to the campaign.

In an age when terrorists are trying to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, we cannot afford back-sliding. The challenge of intensity, therefore, is to keep pressing forward relentlessly – and for years to come – on many fronts that appear mundane and day-to-day, while avoiding unwarranted complacency as things seem to improve.

The Challenge of Ideals

In maintaining this intensity and forward momentum, we must never lose sight of the ultimate purpose that guides us. Let there be no misunderstanding: the defeat of terror is a necessary goal in its own right. But fighting terrorism is only part, not the whole, of our foreign policy. We strive to build an international order where more countries and peoples are integrated into a world consistent with the interests and values we share with our partners – universal values such as rule of law, respect for individual liberties, open economies, equal justice, and religious toleration. A world where these values are embraced as standards, not exceptions, will be the best antidote to the spread of the terrorist disease. Accordingly, the war on terrorism is only a part of our broader national strategy that will build, as President Bush has said, "a balance of power that favors freedom."

To accomplish this, we must confront the terrorist threat without undermining the basic principles that have made our country unique and great. The ultimate challenge before us, therefore, is to remain true to our ideals abroad and here at home.

As Secretary of State Powell said in July in his testimony before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security: "We can not, we will not, let the need to fight this war make us that different a society. We have to protect ourselves. But we must not put up tall fences, sprinkle broken glass on the tops, put a guard at the gate and seal ourselves off from the rest of the world. We must not become gated America or they will have won. We can’t let that happen."

We must remain a free and open society – because that embodies our highest ideals and our greatest strength. "We are a welcoming nation," Secretary Powell is fond of saying, "a nation that is a country of countries, touched by every country, and we touch every country in the world." We must communicate this reality to the world and reject those voices that would make it otherwise. As long as we remain true to our ideals, we can be assured that we will triumph over terrorism.

That is one reason why Williams College and other places like it are so vital. They embody and sustain our highest ideals. This is a community that encourages critical thought and tolerance, analysis and argument, and, I hope, a bit of humility as well. Cherish it. Protect it. And take some of it with you when you leave.

Thank you for inviting me back home and for being such a great audience.


For texts of other statements, testimony and articles by Richard Haass and other members of the Policy Planning Staff, please go to the Policy Planning home page.

Released on November 28, 2002

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