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Reflections a Year After September 11

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
September 13, 2002
U.S. Department of State

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Richard N. Haass

Director, Policy Planning Staff, U.S. Department of State

Remarks to International Institute for Strategic Studies' 2002 Annual Conference

London, the United Kingdom

September 13, 2002

It is a pleasure to be back at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a place I first came to know well as a research associate 25 years ago. The Institute holds many good memories and is still home to many good friends. Having spent the bulk of my 2 1/2 years in residence at the IISS offices on Adam Street, I confess to still thinking of the "new" building as the one on Tavistock Street. Worse yet, I can remember when the IISS was only the ISS.

A quarter century has passed, but some things haven’t changed – most notably the seminal role of the IISS as a forum for serious foreign and security policy thinking. I want to applaud the Institute and its director, Dr. John Chipman, on the establishment of the "Shangri-La Dialogue," which provides a much-needed setting to discuss Asia-Pacific security matters. I’d also like to congratulate the Institute on its recent publication of a net assessment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, which provides extremely useful background on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programs and the history of international efforts to control them.

I am delighted to be here today to share some thoughts on where we find ourselves, just one year after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. It is tempting – particularly for Americans – to attribute most of what we see in the world today to the events of last September and their aftermath. 9/11 was a terrible day by any measure. There is no question that it had a dramatic and lasting impact on how Americans think of the world and our place in it. It is indisputable, too, that 9/11 has shaped how the United States conducts itself in both the domestic and international arenas. And there is no doubt that the U.S. response to 9/11 is still evolving.

Many people have spoken out or written on September 11th and its consequences. This first anniversary of 9/11 provides additional opportunity for reflection. Enough perspective exist to begin to assess how lasting are the effects and how fundamental are the changes that 9/11 wrought. How much has the world really been transformed? How different is American foreign policy as a result? What have we learned in the past year and what lessons have we not yet fully come to terms with?

Today, I would like to address some of these questions. I won’t claim to have the definitive answers. 367 days is too short a time to fully absorb the impact of 9/11 or to completely separate out the permanent changes from the transitory blips. Don’t worry, I won’t quote Zhou Enlai on the French Revolution. What I will do, though, is highlight a dozen or so reactions to and lessons of 9/11 that I see as the most salient.

Changing How Americans Think About Foreign Policy: Perhaps more than anything else, 9/11 brought foreign policy issues home for Americans in a way that had not been true for half a century. On September 10, 2001, millions of Americans watched the evening news to learn what was happening in their communities, their states, or in Washington. But what was happening beyond our borders was of little interest to most. Today, our focus is not only at home, but abroad. We learned the hard way that American primacy does not mean American invulnerability. Even a country with unprecedented global power and influence cannot be fully insulated from every threat or hazard, particularly in a world marked by globalization. In the wake of 9/11, Americans recognize that what happens "out there" can have a major effect on their lives. A failed state in Central Asia, the curriculum in religious schools in Pakistan, lawlessness in the Andes, drug trafficking in Central Asia, instability in Africa – all have the potential to affect U.S. national security. We now understand that even if we choose not to engage with the world, it will engage with us, and not always in welcome ways. As a result, there is much greater American willingness to commit resources to national security and to use them. In 1997, I wrote a book about American foreign policy called The Reluctant Sheriff; if I were writing the same book today, I’d describe the sheriff as considerably more resolute.

Transforming Our Understanding of Terrorism: Before 9/11, many of us working in this field tended to view terrorism as a nuisance, just one of many transnational problems. Terrorism was of course tragic for its victims. But it was not seen as a major challenge to what the United States did in the world or a pressing threat at home. Terrorism is now viewed as the principal foreign policy challenge to the United States. Yet, at the same time, we recognize that we are not dealing with the same beast of past decades. First, the nature of terrorism is changing – and in ways that make it potentially more destructive and more difficult to address. As President Bush pointed out in this year’s State of the Union address, the intersection of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction is of the greatest concern. We are not simply worried about a reoccurrence of 9/11, but are working to ensure that the intentions of terrorists are not married to the capabilities of WMD. Second, globalization has led to the super-empowerment of non-state actors, benign and malign alike. We must adjust our thinking and our actions to a world where state actors no longer have a monopoly on the use of potentially catastrophic force. This has profound implications for how we think about foreign policy writ large. In the 1990s, it became fashionable to think and talk about "exit strategies." There can be no exit strategy in the war against terrorism. It is a war that will persist. There is unlikely to be an Antietam, a decisive battle in this war. An exit strategy, therefore, will do us no good. What we need is an endurance strategy.

The Need for Multilateral Action: Terrorism forces us to rethink globalization. Globalization has brought Americans, Europeans, and hundreds of millions of others around the world a higher standard of living, the ability to bridge distances, and a greater choice in what we buy and what we do. But globalization itself is not inherently good or evil. It is a description of the state of the world and a dynamic, evolving process that creates new vulnerabilities along with new opportunities. Globalization ties us together for trading goods and knowledge, but it is also a conduit for the spread of disease, crime, financial contagion, global climate change, drugs, WMD proliferation, and trafficking in men, women, and children. What is no less clear is that transnational issues demand multinational responses. No matter how powerful the United States, without partners it cannot easily or efficiently tackle problems that transcend borders. Al-Qaida operates in some 60 countries. There is simply no way the United States alone can be present everywhere to deny it funding, or, better yet, to find it and destroy it. A total of 20 countries provided direct military support for the U.S. operations in Afghanistan; nearly that many are participating in ISAF in Afghanistan; and over 160 have frozen a total of more than $100 million in assets of terrorists and their supporters. Although there will be occasions when unilateral action is warranted or necessary, collective efforts need to be the norm, not the exception, if we are to successively address the transnational challenges that define this era.

Underscoring the Importance of a Full Toolkit: Just as the United States needs the cooperation of many allies and friends, so too must it employ a full range of foreign policy instruments. Our new resolve for engagement in the world, and our new appreciation for the magnitude of the threats we face, has brought with it a willingness to use military force when it is the best path to achieve our objectives. But in many cases, force will not be the most useful or appropriate tool in the kit. Instead, we will need a mix that includes diplomacy, economic coercion and inducement, intelligence, and law enforcement. Foreign assistance will also be critical. Here I would call to attention to the Millennium Challenge Account, in which President Bush will seek an increase in America’s core development assistance by $5 billion a year over current levels in just three years. That represents a 50% increase in U.S. funding. This aid will be channeled to developing countries strongly committed to good governance, investment in the health and education of their people, and economic policies that foster enterprise and entrepreneurship. So used, foreign assistance can bolster the capacity of states to meet internal terrorist challenges.

Growing Awareness of the Implications of State Failure: We now are more sensitive to the possible consequences of state failure. Before 9/11, state failure was mostly seen as a humanitarian problem. Today, we also view it in strategic terms. A state that no longer has control over its territory, that no longer has credible, unifying institutions, is a threat to its people, its neighbors, and the international community. Diagnosing state failure as both a strategic and a humanitarian problem has implications for how we address it. Building the institutions of failed states – as we are doing in Afghanistan – is no longer discretionary. Strengthening or reforming the institutions of weak states – as we aim to do through our educational assistance to Pakistan – is a priority. And ensuring that new states are born with viable institutions – be it East Timor or Palestine – is a serious responsibility. Those of us who long distinguished between hard and soft areas of security studies need to think again.

Changing Notions of Sovereignty and Justified Intervention: 9/11 and its aftermath accelerated new thinking that had already begun about the limits of sovereignty. The 1990s saw a major departure from the traditional notion of near-absolute sovereignty. The horrors of Rwanda – and the collective failure to adequately respond to them – convinced many that sovereignty should only provide immunity from intervention if the government upholds basic, minimum standards of domestic conduct and human rights. This new understanding of sovereignty guided the intervention in Kosovo. 9/11 again expanded the circumstances in which most countries condoned external intervention in the affairs of a state. Virtually everyone agreed it was legitimate for the United States to intervene in Afghanistan and target the Taliban, even though the Taliban had enabled – but not executed – the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Sovereignty can provide no protection for governments that carry out or abet such terrorism. Today, we are on the cusp of a third adjustment to our thinking about sovereignty. Classical notions of deterrence have little relevance for groups like al-Qaida, which have no constituencies to defend, no borders to protect, and no traditional national assets to preserve. We need to act against these threats. Similarly, deterrence and containment may well prove inadequate for dealing with Saddam Hussein, someone who has repeatedly violated his international obligations and who is doing everything in his power to develop and conceal weapons of mass destruction. In this new international environment where terrorism and WMD are intersecting, we cannot allow a regime like Saddam’s to flout the demands of the international community. Given Saddam’s history of violence against his neighbors and his own people (including the use of chemical weapons) and his aggressive pursuit of nuclear and other weapons, the dangers of inaction outweigh the costs of action. In these extreme circumstances, a strong case can be made for preventive military action. As President Bush said in his speech at West Point in June, "New threats require new thinking." And as President Bush said just yesterday in his speech before the United Nations General Assembly, "We cannot stand by and do nothing while danger gathers."

Not Losing Sight of Principle: Counterterrorism is a security challenge that will be an important element in bilateral relationships. The challenge for the United States will be striking the right balance between pursuing counterterrorism and advancing other goals. We must be careful not to avert our eyes from unpleasant realities simply in the name of counterterrorism – as we did on occasion during the Cold War in the name of anti-communism. Striking the right balance does not mean steering clear of governments that engage in practices of which we do not approve. But it does mean making domestic reform an important element of our bilateral relations. In some instances, such as in Afghanistan or even Pakistan, we can already point to improvements in human rights and women’s issues and discern a gradual movement toward greater political openness. In other countries, such as those in Central Asia, joint efforts against terrorism can serve as a foundation for a broader agenda, including the promotion of political and economic reform. Getting this balance right is essential, as there is no question that democratic governments make the most stable, sustainable partners in combating terrorism and other transnational challenges.

Re-orienting Relations with the Arab World: 9/11 also forced us to reexamine our relationship with the Islamic world and Arab countries in particular. At the same time, 9/11 helped focus attention within the Arab world on their own societies. The recently released Arab Human Development Report (2002), authored by a group of prominent Arab scholars and analysts, demonstrates this new self-reflection. Together, Americans and many Arabs look to the Middle East and see societies struggling under the weight of burgeoning populations; societies that have largely missed out on the liberalizing trends of globalization and the prosperity that comes from embracing market economies; and societies where people strain to enjoy basic political and social rights. This picture, more so than 9/11, has influenced our thinking and will increasingly shape our policy toward the Arab world. We realize that it is no longer sustainable to have narrowly-defined relationships that focus almost exclusively on access to energy resources or basing rights. Ignoring internal dynamics in many of these societies only allows alienation and despair to multiply, creating a climate where support for terrorism can grow. Instead, we need to forge new, broader relationships that encourage and enable Arab regimes to gradually address the freedom deficit that has developed in their own societies. We need to gently recalibrate our policies to place greater emphasis on promoting market economies, educational reform, the participation of all citizens – men and women – in society, and the gradual strengthening of democratic institutions and procedures. Such a reorientation is not simply "the right thing to do." It makes strategic sense. If we fail to reorient our policies to address the lack of opportunity in these states and their resulting brittleness, our allies in the Arab world will grow weaker – not stronger – and our interests will suffer.

Rethinking U.S.-Europe Relations: During the cold war, Europe was understandably a – or even the – geographic focus of international relations. Today, Europe’s importance is derived less from its location and more from its ability to be a partner in tackling global issues. NATO’s invocation of Article V and the AWACs that patrolled American skies with European crews after 9/11 were tangible evidence of deep transatlantic ties. The U.S.-Europe relationship is sufficiently robust that even discord in discrete areas – be it trade or the ICC – will not jeopardize the core relationship. But neither Americans nor Europeans can afford to be sanguine. If the United States and Europe come to see the world in different ways, if we grow to see the solutions to problems as being down separate paths, if we no longer maintain a habit of cooperating, we inevitably will grow apart. The real danger is not so much a gathering crisis as it is the possibility that the U.S.-European relationship will become increasingly less relevant to the conduct of global affairs. Both Europeans and Americans have a stake in ensuring this does not occur. The United States must hold genuine consultations with its European allies and work to accommodate their concerns; Europe must enhance its own capabilities – including military capabilities suitable for force projection – so that it can be more of a full partner to the United States beyond Europe.

Turning the Absence of Great Power Rivalry into Opportunity: The 20th century was marked by the struggles between great powers. There is no reason why the 21st century should bear the same stamp. Already, transformed relationships among the United States, Russia, China, India, Europe and Japan suggest that these next 100 years are likely to be markedly different. President Putin’s response to the 9/11 attacks accelerated the transformation in U.S.-Russian relations that already was taking root. Russia’s cooperation on counterterrorism, its willingness to embark on a new, positive relationship with NATO, and its acceptance of withdrawal from the ABM treaty paved the way for cooperation on a range of transnational issues. Russia’s actions also opened the door to its gradual integration into the global economic order. The mood between Washington and Beijing has also changed appreciably, from one of rancor and incrimination to one marked to a considerable degree by the rhetoric of cooperation. This new context – and China’s own evolution as a global power –could create broader avenues for U.S.-Chinese cooperation in the future on matters ranging from infectious disease and trade to non-proliferation and promoting stability on the Korean Peninsula. The U.S.-Indian relationship is acquiring new significance as consultations on regional and global issues multiply and cooperation in science and technology advances. The United States-Indian relationship should also benefit from further increases in trade and investment. This said, we should not be content with the absence of great power conflict today. Instead, the objective should be to integrate the principal centers of power in today’s world into a widely accepted international system of rules, norms, and, where possible, institutions – a system with the potential to promote peace, freedom, and prosperity for decades.

Promoting Homeland Security: The traditional division between foreign and domestic policy is increasingly and necessarily blurred. The 9/11 terrorists came from abroad, but trained for their mission in the United States. Our national security apparatus has been focused on external threats and is inadequately organized to respond to the enemy within. The President has proposed a restructuring of the U.S. government – the most dramatic since the National Security Act of 1947 – to bring order and greater efficiency to the defense of our homeland. The new Department of Homeland Security will be charged with the primary mission of countering the terrorist threat within the United States. At the same time, in a world where the terrorist pays no respect to traditional boundaries, a successful strategy for homeland security must be intrinsically international. The United States, Europe, and others must work together to tighten border controls, improve travel document security, and protect global communication and commercial networks. In so doing, however, the United States cannot shut itself off from the world. America has always been a free, open, welcoming, and dynamic society – and that has helped make us such a powerful force for good in the world. One of our defining challenges is to balance both collective security with individual rights and prudent controls with desirable openness. We must find a way to confront the terrorist threat without undermining the principles fundamental to our country. As Secretary of State Powell has remarked, "What [we] must not do is become afraid. We must not be afraid to travel, we must not be afraid to enjoy ourselves, we must not be afraid to assemble. We must not be afraid to let people from overseas come to America."

Final Reflections

Exactly one year has passed since the awful devastation of September 11, 2001. These past twelve months have not been enough time to heal, but they have provided enough time to learn some important lessons about how best to deal with the challenge of modern terrorism. And the lessons are clear. The war against terrorism is a fundamentally different kind of war. It is a war against multiple foes. It is a war without clear battlefields or fronts. It is a war that must often be fought with weapons other than bombs and bullets. It is a war that cannot be waged and won by any single country.

The task is enormous, and it is open-ended. None of us can be complacent about the threat of terrorism or the work that needs to be done to build and solidify new international norms and arrangements critical to combating terror. Yet, it would be misleading to say that fighting terrorism has replaced containing communism as the defining foreign policy challenge of this era.

The battle against communism was an ideological, economic, diplomatic, and military struggle waged in every corner of the globe. Counterterrorism, by contrast, is a priority, not an organizing principle for American foreign policy. It will influence the focus of attention and resources and will require that we address other foreign policy challenges such as state failure and nation building. But counterterrorism cannot be a doctrine. There are simply too many critical issues for which opposition to terrorism provides little or no direction, including implementing a new global trade agenda, building civil societies or advancing democracy around the world, meeting the transnational challenges from infectious disease to climate change that increasingly define this era, or integrating China, Russia, India and others into the major undertakings of this era.

Successful counterterrorism will, however, be a necessary precondition of a broader foreign policy agenda. If we are under constant attack from terrorists or are consumed with our own personal and national security, we will be unable to advance a more positive international agenda. We need to combat terrorism – with the help of friends and allies – but not simply as an end itself. Instead, we will fight terrorism so we can make the most of our unusual status as the world’s only superpower and to ensure that globalization is harnessed more for good than evil. We will fight terrorism to increase the prospects for peace in Colombia, the Middle East, and South Asia. And we will fight terrorism to create the space in which we can promote our values, build a peaceful international order, and create global opportunities for economic growth and personal freedom. Making opportunity of adversity has always been an American quality. That has not changed since September 11th.

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