Center for Strategic Decision Research


The World View of the United States After September 11

Ambassador Robert Hunter
Senior Advisor, RAND Corporation
Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO


Alastair Buchan, the founder of the Institute for Strategic Studies, said, "If you want to understand America and the world, you have to understand two dates: July 4, 1776, and December 7, 1941." If he were alive today, I think he would add the date September 11, 2001. Though it may not seem so to other countries, September 11 was a shaping, seminal event for our country, and it sank very deeply into our psyche. November 11, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell - presaging the collapse of the Soviet Empire and European communism - and when the United States became the sole superpower, may have done more to shape international politics. But for us, September 11 led to a new perception of our role in the outside world, one in which we help to shape what happens to others. This new perception makes September 11, 2001, strikingly like July 4, 1776, and December 7, 1941, which were parochial events, impacting at first far more on us than on others, but which came to have tremendous impact on the outside world. 


September 11, 2001, was the first time since 1814 or, with Hawaii being part of the United States, since 1941, in which there was a direct attack on the United States within our sovereign territory. Though this may seem commonplace to those on the Continent who have suffered so much from war and conflict, essentially it was an alien experience for us, and has since caused our thoughts to be dominated by the global war on terrorism and other aspects of asymmetrical conflict, in particular, weapons of mass destruction and especially those that might emanate from the Middle East.  

Since the end of the Iraq War, the United States now "owns" the Middle East in the sense that the U.S. has assumed primary responsibility on behalf of our citizens and others for shaping the Middle East's future. We will hold that responsibility until the job is done, which means until we achieve what we achieved in Europe after the Second World War. This includes not only what we do in Iraq, but also what we do regarding Iran, oil, the Arab-Israeli conflict, transforming societies, and so on. It is our fundamental preoccupation and will continue to be so. In fact, to a great extent, as we look to our engagement with other countries, we are determining the ways in which they will be useful to us or at least relate to our agenda of fighting terrorism, dealing with weapons of mass destruction, and ending conflict in the Middle East, with most other things being secondary.  


While it is critically important that people understand our priorities, it is also important to know that NATO is a continuing central focus of America's view abroad. There are two parts to that focus. The first is what I would call bringing the 20th-century agenda to a close. In this, the United States remains just as engaged in, and just as committed to, NATO as before, to keeping the United States as a European power and to preserving the best of the past. This includes Allied Command Operations, a home for Germany, integrating the countries of Central Europe firmly and finally into the West so they can be subjects of their own international politics instead of being objects of others', and, yes, drawing Russia out of its 70-year self-imposed isolation to resume its place in global politics. It also includes abolishing war on the Continent, spreading the idea of a European Civil Space eastward, and ending conflict in the Balkans. 

The second part of our NATO focus is the organization's 21st century agenda, which deals with outside-of-NATO areas. This agenda deals with projecting power and, yes, at least for the foreseeable future, with the war on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and the Greater Middle East. Obviously, the U.S. perception is not shared by every country in the Alliance. In fact, in recent months we have noticed that there was not just a policy difference regarding the run-up to the Iraq War and how that particular crisis was handled. There was also a difference about the situation's relative importance to other countries, which derived from their perceptions of the world.  


In talking about our focus, we have to understand three things: that there is no such thing today as global security; there is no single set of challenges facing all of our countries to the extent that we are all equally preoccupied with them; and there is no single set of paradigms such as we had during the Cold War, in which the central struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, the East and the West, liberal capitalism and communism, was the central defining principle of world politics. There is nothing equivalent to that today, neither terrorism nor weapons of mass destruction. 

We also need to understand that even among countries that agree on the importance of finding answers to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and the Middle East conflict, here are significant differences of opinion and attitudes about the relative importance, the quality of the challenges, what should be done, and when it should be done. There are also differing views about whether primacy should be assigned to the effects of terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, as we do in the United States, or if it should be assigned to the causes of terrorism (and support for it) and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, as is true in many in other countries, especially in most of Europe. 


I would like to talk now for a bit about another out-of-area focus that is a primary concern of the United States, Europe, Russia, and other areas. We have had little to say here on this subject, because of our preoccupation with the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Greater Middle East, and Central Asia and the Caucasus. But the area that may well pose the gravest risk of nuclear weapons use is not the Middle East or North Korea, but India and Pakistan. We have had very little discussion about these areas, and about the role of China, Korea, and Japan. This is not a fault of our sessions, but rather a result of our key preoccupations, which emanate to a great extent from security concerns of the United States, Europe, and Russia, but which are not necessarily shared by other countries that are looking to their own security concerns. 


Obviously, some issues that affect us are going to be global, driven, to a great extent, by U.S. perceptions. Obviously, there are also a number of global issues that will be driven by economics or by the integration on a global basis of economics, even if security, to a great extent, is regionalized. I would like to address just a few points: 

1. The United States is now completely preoccupied with those matters that derive from our unprecedented vulnerability. But in time we will be able to become again more fully engaged with a wide range of international issues; we will reassert ourselves and take on, piece by piece, other responsibilities. You will then see the United States exercising a degree of leadership in a number of areas that is similar to that of the past. 

2. In the not too distant future, the United States, I believe, will learn that it cannot and will not do all the critical work in the Middle East by itself. We will progressively learn the importance of having troops from other countries with us in Iraq, in part because of the casualties we and the British are taking. 

3. The Congress of the United States will not continue to vote to give the monies that are required for reconstructing Iraq, and certainly not for other areas in the Middle East, certainly not unless we have significant contributions also from allies and partners. 

4. A number of countries have a lot more experience than we do in what is called nation-building and also in understanding what is required by the United States and others in overall Middle East regional development. We cannot and will not do it by ourselves. 

5. This means, therefore, that the capabilities and cooperation of other countries are needed, beyond those of Britain and the others who have been engaged with us in Iraq. Even in the military area, the U.S. will need engagement by other countries. Budgets, even in the United States, are going to be constrained. Regarding transatlantic defense relations and challenges as a whole, there is an increasing movement toward some division of labor within the Alliance. A critical role will be played by the private sector and by the defense industry. We are learning there is a need for greater integration of the transatlantic defense market and for cooperation among industries, in part because of limited resources. 

6. In the area of collaboration in Iraq-and indeed beyond-we are going to need some profound institutional and functional involvement: 

  • The United Nations or some other mechanism must give legitimacy to the use of force, something that is required by America's partners and also, I think, by the American people. 
  • There must be a role for NATO in Iraq, and this alliance will be as important in the future as it has been in the past. 
  • A new U.S.-European Union strategic partnership should be formed, not so much in the military area but in all the non-military areas in which we collectively have the greatest capabilities to work toward our common interests. 
  • Russia must be integrated into the overall scheme of Western security to a degree that has not been possible for generations. The need for the United States, Europe, the NATO nations, and the European Union nations to work together with Russia in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the greater Middle East and beyond should be obvious. 


To do all this, we are going to have to shape a future that is congenial to the United States, to Europe, to Russia, and to the overall global environment as it affects economic development, health, education, democratization, and so on. We and the European Union countries are the great repositories of functioning governments, of capabilities, of attitudes and abilities, and we are going to have to be the countries that take the lead in shaping a quality international life that meets our common objectives. The work will involve major countries, institutions, and, yes, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. And it will involve a great deal of effort. 

It will also involve developing a new set of strategies and a process for strategizing on a regional as well as a global level, to a degree that we have not seen for a generation. And not only will this process need to be regional as well as global, it will need to integrate military, economic, and political interests and work on an integrated, cooperative basis involving both the public and the private sectors. The old military, economic, and political divisions will no longer do. And the old divisions between government and the private sector will not do. We need a holistic approach, both global and/or regional.  

What needs to happen as we look to the future, despite the great military feats we have seen in Iraq, where we are justly proud of what our fighting men and women have achieved in Afghanistan and Iraq, reminds me of an anecdote. In 1811, Jerome Bonaparte was king of Westphalia; Napoleon gave jobs to everyone in his family. There was an assassination attempt and there was rioting. So the emperor in Paris sent a message to his little brother: "What about the bayonets?" Jerome sent a message back to Paris, one only a little brother could get away with. "Sire," he said, "you can do anything with a bayonet except sit on it."


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