October 24, 2002 | Backgrounder on Department of Homeland Security
If Washington manages both impending military action against Iraq and the ongoing war on terrorism in the same manner, international accusations of "unilateralism"1 should fade. Were the United States truly acting unilaterally, it would be pursuing solely American national interests, and no other country would participate. But as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has observed, if one leads and the cause is right, over time others will follow.2 In the war on terror, the United States has not had to go it alone. Washington leads a "coalition of the willing" that includes not only its allies, but many other countries that share its objectives.
Indeed, as detailed in the appendix, 136 countries have offered the U.S.-led war varying forms of military assistance, and some 20 nations have deployed a combined 16,000 troops for operations in Central Asia. The sky above Afghanistan is patrolled by some 40 fighter aircraft from five countries, while the Arabian Gulf has some 80 ships from 15 countries. Afghanistan is rid of al-Qaeda, and beyond Afghanistan almost every country in the world has enacted legal and administrative measures to combat terrorism, improve border and airline security, and empower law enforcement agencies to investigate and arrest suspected terrorists. Many countries also have taken steps to thwart terrorist financing.
America's close cooperation with its formal treaty allies paid especially great dividends. The United Kingdom sent 3,600 military personnel and provided the largest naval task force, including one destroyer, two frigates, and one missile-armed submarine among other vessels. Australia deployed some 1,550 soldiers and sent the 16th Air Defense Regiment that includes four F-18 Hornet fighter jets and two Boeing 707 aerial refueling tankers. Japan has expanded beyond the traditional confines of its constitution, enacting new legislation to enable its Maritime Self Defense Forces to contribute directly to the operations in the Arabian Gulf. Tokyo ultimately authorized the deployment of 1,200 military personnel, three destroyers, two supply ships and six C-130 transport aircraft, among other contributions.
The strong U.S. stance against Iraq is following a similar pattern of criticism and charges of unilateralism that belie the global objectives at stake. Every responsible member of the international community understands the dangers that Saddam Hussein poses. Yet most will defer to U.S. leadership and its efforts to achieve a more stable and secure world. Once again, just as in the war against terrorism, the United States will lead a coalition of the willing, comprised most prominently of its formal allies. Britain and Australia have already formally indicated that they would be willing to send ground troops to support any U.S. action in Iraq. Several other countries, like Spain, Italy, and the Philippines, have softened their initial opposition and have offered conditional support.3
The alliance lesson learned during the global war on terrorism should not be lost on policymakers and governments discussing a possible military action against Iraq. To incapacitate an informal network like al-Qaeda required swift action, which precluded a multilateral response decided by consensus. Washington led a coalition of the willing rather than a combined operation under the auspices of an international organization, and America's formal treaty allies have been the most productive members of this coalition because alliances are founded on shared values and congruent security interests.
Many have argued that the need for formal alliance partners is redundant in today's environment because the traditional Cold War threats of invasions or military attacks by third-party states lessened when the Soviet Union's fall ended the Cold War. But September 11 and the new security environment that has ensued demonstrate that alliances are critical for confronting the emergent threat from non-state actors like al-Qaeda, whose tentacles extend across 60 countries. The United States should therefore reinforce its formal alliances with the goal of consolidating resources, stepping up cooperative efforts, and coordinating plans for a wide array of future threats.
President George Bush announced before a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001, that the "war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." In effect, the President declared two wars: a general war to eradicate global terrorism and a specific one to dismantle the core leadership of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Both wars have elicited substantial international participation.
Almost every country has enacted legal and administrative measures to combat terrorism, improving border and airline security and empowering law enforcement agencies with greater powers to investigate and arrest suspected terrorists. Canada, for example, enacted anti-terrorism laws that designate and define terrorist groups and activities. It invested over $289 million on immediate measures to counteract terrorist activities, including enhanced policing, security, and intelligence. Austria established an interdepartmental working group that incorporates its Departments of Interior, Finance, and Justice. Singapore formally outlawed Osama bin Laden and established a National Security Secretariat to "develop a more coherent and integrated approach to ensuring Singapore's national security,"4 including battling terrorism. Other nations have enacted similar measures.5
Beyond securing national borders, many countries also have helped thwart terrorist financing, which is perhaps the most difficult element of the terrorist infrastructure to dismantle. Some 142 countries have issued orders to freeze terrorist assets; consequently, over $33 million in assets of at least 153 known terrorist individuals and organizations has been frozen outside the United States. General Counsel to the U.S. Treasury Department David Aufhauser reports that al-Qaeda no longer has the ability to raise funds efficiently.6
Meanwhile, Operation Enduring Freedom has been successful in ridding Afghanistan of al-Qaeda. After settling in Afghanistan in 1996, bin Laden had established a terrorist training center that trained an estimated 50,000 militants from over 50 countries.7 In a relatively short period, the U.S.-led military offensive destroyed 11 training camps and 39 command sites, incapacitating the al-Qaeda command center. Enduring Freedom also unseated Afghanistan's de facto ruling Taliban government,8 which sponsored al-Qaeda's presence in the country, and established an interim government under Hamid Karzai. On June 13, Afghanistan's Loya Jirga, or grand tribal council, elected Karzai president.
America's formal treaty allies are the countries most likely to participate in an international coalition of the willing led by the United States for achieving global aims. While any country that has offered support since September 11 to the global war on terrorism has been called an ally, only 23 countries are formally obligated by treaty to defend the United States from an armed attack. These treaty allies include Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and the 18 countries that belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).9
America's existing alliances were established formally after World War II, primarily to deter invasion by third-party nation states. An allied bloc of countries mutually obligated to defend one another, like NATO, significantly raises the cost for an aggressor to invade. That is why, in NATO's 50 years of existence, no member of has ever been the victim of an invasion or military attack.
In Asia, a network of bilateral alliances, along with the presence of U.S. troops, has maintained relative peace in a region rife with historical animosities. Although North Korea invaded the South in 1950, the United States and its allies launched a swift counteroffensive to restore the partition along the 38th Parallel. The presence of U.S. troops along the border ever since then has kept this volatile regime in check, providing South Korea with the security necessary to cultivate an economy that has grown 21-fold since then. Furthermore, the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-Australia alliances--respectively, the "northern pillar" and "southern pillar" of security--are the foundations of security, prosperity, and democracy in East Asia.
An alliance can be as symbolic as it is functional. A formal treaty embodies shared values and congruent national interests. For America and its allies, it symbolizes a commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and free market capitalism. No matter how situations and paradigms change, shared values make it likely that allies will pursue a similar course of action for the same reasons. Hence, America's best weapon against the unexpected is its alliances.
September 11 reemphasized the relevance of alliances and expanded both their scope and nature. The countries of NATO quickly invoked Article 5 of the NATO Treaty,10 recognizing the terrorist attacks as an attack not only against the United States, but against NATO as well. This treaty mechanism was the necessary first step for a collective military mobilization under the aegis of NATO.
The United States eventually declined the option of a collective operation, choosing instead to lead a coalition of the willing. Australia also invoked the mutual self-defense clause of the Security Treaty Between Australia, New Zealand, and the United States,11 despite the fact that there was no formal declaration of war. Other allies responded as if they had invoked their articles of mutual self-defense without formally doing so. For instance, Japan expanded beyond the traditional confines of its constitution to allow new legislation enabling its Maritime Self Defense Forces to contribute directly to the operations in the Arabian Gulf.
September 11 is certainly the first instance in which treaty allies have invoked articles of mutual self-defense following an attack by a non-state entity. This means that America's allies have expanded the kind of event that triggers a military response to include non-state threats to sovereignty. Concomitantly, there is an implicit expectation that the United States would do the same in a similar instance.
As the sole superpower with the most powerful military force in history, the United States is most vulnerable to unconventional modes of military attack or asymmetric warfare. These include tactics like guerilla warfare, conventional terrorism, and cyberterrorism. The desire to exploit this vulnerability guided the formation of al-Qaeda, a loose but extensive network of networks whose cells operate independently of one another, often unbeknownst to each other. Al-Qaeda deployed operatives, stored weapons caches, and set up bank accounts in many different countries to avoid detection and penetration.
Al-Qaeda is arguably the first organization to recognize America's military dominance and reorient its goals accordingly. Unlike a rival state power, al-Qaeda does not seek to invade the United States from without or overthrow its government from within. It does not even intend to diminish directly America's economic or military might. Al-Qaeda aims to injure American citizens and their values in order to extort Washington into inaction and ultimately a withdrawal from international affairs.
This limited objective allows al-Qaeda to pursue an unlimited array of methods to achieve success. Its structure, hierarchy, and methods make it difficult for the United States to defend against, let alone exterminate, it single-handedly. In many ways, al-Qaeda is the archetype for other groups or organizations with goals that conflict with the national interests of the United States.
Asymmetric threats from such a nebulous organization will require the United States to look beyond its borders. These threats are more difficult to anticipate than conventional threats; therefore, preparing adequate defenses and deterrence is even more problematic. Terrorist organizations operate in several countries to exploit the lack of coordination between and among countries, as well as within a sovereign country's own law enforcement agencies. For example, European Union countries have expressed their reluctance to extradite criminal suspects to the United States because of its death penalty, and terrorists may take advantage of such disagreements.
Intelligence sharing is a long-term solution to this problem. An unprecedented number of countries offered intelligence assistance to the United States after September 11. Even Russia provided the United States with at least 100 comprehensive intelligence reports after September 11. This level of intelligence cooperation is probably unsustainable; it is also ultimately undesirable because extensive international intelligence sharing is susceptible to leaks that terrorist organizations can easily exploit. In 1998, the United States launched cruise missiles at targets in Afghanistan and Sudan in an attempt to eliminate top al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden; but the attack came three hours too late, and senior U.S. officials suspect that Pakistani intelligence had tipped off bin Laden.12
The middle ground on this issue is for America to bolster intelligence ties with a core network of countries that have similar intelligence needs and objectives as well as an equal stake in preserving intelligence security. The foundation of such a network should inevitably start with America's treaty allies.
There are currently two wars on terrorism: the general war to eradicate all forms of terrorism and the specific war to dismantle the core leadership of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The general war on terrorism will not succeed without significant participation from the international community.
Unlike the general campaign to eradicate terrorism worldwide, however, Operation Enduring Freedom is not a global coalition of equal partners. As the primary target of the September 11 attacks, the United States is leading the war effort. In all likelihood, Washington would have launched a massive military operation against al-Qaeda even without vast international support. While a majority of the U.N. General Assembly supports U.S. action in Afghanistan, Enduring Freedom is not an official U.N. operation like the Korean War or Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
The United States was able to rely heavily on a few select countries, particularly its formal allies, for the main military operations in Afghanistan and the surrounding region. And those countries that participated in the operation did not hesitate to defer to U.S. control of the operations. The success thus far of the war on terrorism, therefore, has provided a blueprint for future allied operations. As the primary victim of the September 11 attacks, the United States led that operation. Had Australia been attacked, for example, the United States would have offered its vast military arsenal; but it would have recognized Canberra's right to lead and decide the manner in which to execute the military response.
While some criticize U.S. action as unilateral, it is rather an exhibition of real leadership from a country that was not only the primary target of the terrorism, but also the most powerful and best equipped to lead the charge. The valuable role of America's allies during this time of hurried action shows that the system of bilateral alliances is well- suited to address the new global security environment, providing critical flexibility to complement U.S. leadership.
Bilateral alliances thus have provided the United States with an immediate and great pool of resources, without the excess deliberation and consultation required of organizations that require a consensus or even a majority vote. America's system of bilateral alliances in Asia is well-suited to prosecute the war on terrorism. Alliance commitments give the United States flexibility to request specific contributions from particular allies; and in turn, they can contribute according to their capabilities and to the degree to which their national interests coincide with U.S. actions. For example, Australia sent a detachment from its 16th Air Defense Regiment while Japan provided logistical support in the form of refueling ships and fuel, because of constitutional restrictions that limit its participation in offensive military operations.
Asia's security environment is sometimes characterized as unstable or insecure because the region lacks a formal multilateral security institution such as the mutual defense pact of NATO. While such a collective defense organization has been successful in maintaining peace in Europe for the last half century, U.S. forward presence--entrenched in the series of formal bilateral alliances it maintains with several key players in Asia13--has prevented wars in this region. Perhaps more significantly, faced with the unanticipated insecurities of a new security environment, these bilateral alliances will provide the cornerstone of future stability and prosperity.
Alliances are not just for crises summoned into action when the fire bell sounds. They are sustained by contact and trust.... [T]o be relied upon when needed, our allies must be respected when they are not.
Strengthening America's alliance relationships in Asia does not mean that the United States must rely solely on them or get their permission before acting to preserve its vital national interests. Rather, given the lack of multilateral security organizations in Asia, the key to U.S. leadership in Asia to promote stability and prosperity is working through its formal alliances.
The flexibility and dependability of alliances is precisely what the United States requires to combat and vanquish asymmetric threats that will continue to arise in the post-September 11 environment, and will be key to a successful strategy in Iraq. Unswerving alliance support also will provide justification for the effort in Iraq in answer to charges of unilateralist U.S. foreign policy.