Center for Strategic Decision Research


Responses to the Risks of Terrorism: Introductory Remarks

Dr. Ashton B. Carter
Ford Foundation Professor of Science and International Affairs,
Kennedy School of Government,
Harvard University

September 11 put practically all of the United States foreign policy into play. Things are moving everywhere, not just in Afghanistan, and not just in the war against Al-Qaeda. In foreign policy, movement is a great opportunity. There is now a real challenge to American foreign policy leaders to respond to this great opportunity, to "make lemonade" out of the "lemons" we have been given. 


In addition to the serious post-September 11 implications of Al-Qaeda and terrorism, the attacks of that day resulted in a profound challenge from President Bush: Are you with us or are you with the terrorists? That question was first put to the Taliban, who failed the test. It was then posed to Pakistan, which passed the test remarkably well, although somewhat unexpectedly as President Musharraf said to me. Others in the region are still struggling with the question, particularly Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The full implications of that question have not yet entirely played out. 

The September 11 aftermath also produced other collateral damage-the "axis of evil" designation-which has been given to certain countries that are conspicuously deviant or at variance with mainstream security policy. That designation did not have to be made, but President Bush decided to take advantage of the moment in order to raise this issue as well. As far as Iraq goes, I think that Iraq and Al-Qaeda have little in common. We are unlikely to find a relationship between egregious Iraqi behavior and egregious Al-Qaeda behavior and certainly, Saddam Hussein's ideology and Osama bin Laden's ideology do not have much to do with one another. But it is a fact that Iraq is now implicated, once again by choice and somewhat unexpectedly. Personally I would require a plan for unseating Saddam Hussein and a subsequent plan for dealing with Iraq before I went in, and I do not doubt that such plans are possible to construct. 

Concerning Russia, I think most Russians looked at the events of September 11 and thought, "Those are your buildings, not our buildings, and we have had terrorism on our soil before; while most Americans think that September 11 changed the world, and most of the world realized that it changed the U.S. in important ways, it may not have changed the entire world." Those were the views shared by most Russians, but not by Vladimir Putin. President Putin decided to make September 11 a watershed in Russian foreign policy. He did not have to do that and, in fact, he was pushed in the opposite direction by most of his advisors. But he decided that September 11 was the moment to settle the "question of questions" in Russian history: Is Russia part of Europe or is it not? Putin took the leap right on the spot, a very dramatic and very positive development that is still playing itself out. 

September 11 also had a profound impact on China, not because of the events in New York per se, but because the Chinese had previously felt that the U.S. was developing the case that China was a potential enemy-the most significant galvanizing concept in American security thinking. From the Chinese point of view, the U.S. found a real enemy on September 11 and no longer needed to make one up any more. Such a development is having a very significant effect on U.S.-China relations and could not have been foreseen. 


As far as the budget goes, let me remind you where the Department of Defense and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were in the summer of 2001. They had almost worn themselves out in the process of wanting to transform defense but having no money for it. They were caught in the vise between the lockbox, Social Security, the surplus, the presidential tax cut, etc. 

September 11 changed all that. The need of the Department of Defense to deal with an underfunded program was vastly relieved by what happened on that day. We went right through the Social Security surplus like a hot knife through butter, but nobody even talks about it. We are deeply into deficit spending in the U.S., and no one cares. There is money now, a $379 billion defense budget and a $38 billion Homeland Security budget. Personally, I view this as a very positive development, but it leads to the illusion that we can do it all. We have enough money at last to buy what we want and we can keep wasting and we do not have to make hard choices. But I do not believe that the numbers bear that out. 


Two attacks took place in 2001. One was the Al-Qaeda attack; the other was the anthrax attack and we still do not know its perpetrator. Most people speculate that it was in fact the work of an American, not a foreigner, quite possibly an American with a clearance, and quite possibly an American working alone or almost alone with a motivation so bizarre or obscure that he or she has not seen fit to take credit for the act. This is a pretty strange phenomenon, which reminds us that terrorism is not about Al-Qaeda or about Islamic extremism. It is a syndrome of modern society in which we live in complex, interconnected, and vulnerable societies and in which technology is placing mass destructive power in the hands of smaller and smaller groups. We will be living with the problems of terrorism long after Al-Qaeda is gone. 

Protecting the U.S. homeland in a fundamental, strategic, ongoing sense is what Tom Ridge is supposed to be dealing with. In 2001, if one added up everything in the U.S. budget that could be characterized as homeland security, one would have come up with $20 billion. In 2002, for those same categories, President Bush has been requesting $38 billion, substantial new money, of importance to the industry that serves defense. But the money is being spent-and there is no kind way to say this-in a helter-skelter manner, i.e., most of it has not been spent pursuant to a strategic plan designed by Tom Ridge. But one hopes that he will strengthen his authority and, in future years, create an investment program for our society that will protect us not just from the Al-Qaedas of the future but also from those who mail anthrax, whoever they may be. 


On September 11 we got a very dramatic and galvanizing wake-up call at a comparably low price. It seems odd to say that, losing 3,000 lives. But by comparably low I mean that there are easily imaginable scenarios in which the losses could have been much larger, especially, of course, if nuclear weapons had been used. And it is obvious that if Al-Qaeda had had access to nuclear weapons it would have used them. Then, all our talk over the years about deterrence would have been for nothing. 

Therefore, it seems that we need another kind of coalition effort besides the coalition against Al-Qaeda, and that is a coalition against terrorism that causes mass destruction. A country or organization with the capability to cause mass destruction, be it by chemical, biological, or nuclear means and regardless of whether we believe it should have those means or not, should be safeguarding those materials according to the highest international standards. If it is incapable of doing this, the coalition should assist it in doing so because we will be in great danger if deviant forces get hold of weapons of mass destruction. 








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