Strategic Truths

It’s a measure of how drastic the impact of September 11 has been on strategic thinking that even this year’s Strategic Survey 2001/2002, the normally buttoned-down review of the year’s events by London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, features a burning World Trade Center on its cover. And indeed, the editors observe that "very few ...

It's a measure of how drastic the impact of September 11 has been on strategic thinking that even this year's Strategic Survey 2001/2002, the normally buttoned-down review of the year's events by London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, features a burning World Trade Center on its cover. And indeed, the editors observe that "very few strategic issues... have been unaffected by the attacks." This year's edition offers some bracing prescriptions for post-September 11 U.S. foreign policy. Chiding the Bush administration for its reluctance to get involved in post-conflict reconstruction, the editors argue that "in some cases, a refusal to engage in nation-building could constitute a gross case of strategic negligence." (Strategic injury lawyers take note.) More broadly, they call for the United States to increase its foreign assistance, restrain its unilateral instincts, pursue the "strategic rescue" of failed states, and in general, deploy political science as well as military power.

Remarkably, these sensible recommendations differ little from those outlined in last year's edition, which gave terrorism just three parenthetical references in the opening and concluding essays. Then, as now, the editors urged the United States to become more multilateral, to maintain its role as an honest broker in regional conflicts, and to be better about trans-Atlantic consultation.

The consistency of these pre- and post-September 11 prescriptions highlights not an analytic failure but a larger strategic truth: For all the horrors of the World Trade Center attacks, they represent a change in the intensity rather than the nature of the threats facing the world. As it has been since the end of the Cold War, the main strategic challenge facing policymakers remains not so much how to crush groups like al Qaeda but how to integrate global outliers (whether defined as failed states, rogue states, transitional states, or premodern states) into the international system. Or as Richard Haass, director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department, put it in an April 22 speech to the Foreign Policy Association, "The principal aim of American foreign policy is to integrate other countries and organizations into arrangements that will sustain a world consistent with U.S. interests and values, and thereby promote peace, prosperity, and justice as widely as possible." To students of the Clinton administration, such language is reminiscent of speeches in the mid-1990s by then Secretary of State Warren Christopher -- one more reason why it may be best not to think of today's war on terror as an existential clash but as another battle in the larger struggle that defines our times.

It’s a measure of how drastic the impact of September 11 has been on strategic thinking that even this year’s Strategic Survey 2001/2002, the normally buttoned-down review of the year’s events by London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, features a burning World Trade Center on its cover. And indeed, the editors observe that "very few strategic issues… have been unaffected by the attacks." This year’s edition offers some bracing prescriptions for post-September 11 U.S. foreign policy. Chiding the Bush administration for its reluctance to get involved in post-conflict reconstruction, the editors argue that "in some cases, a refusal to engage in nation-building could constitute a gross case of strategic negligence." (Strategic injury lawyers take note.) More broadly, they call for the United States to increase its foreign assistance, restrain its unilateral instincts, pursue the "strategic rescue" of failed states, and in general, deploy political science as well as military power.

Remarkably, these sensible recommendations differ little from those outlined in last year’s edition, which gave terrorism just three parenthetical references in the opening and concluding essays. Then, as now, the editors urged the United States to become more multilateral, to maintain its role as an honest broker in regional conflicts, and to be better about trans-Atlantic consultation.

The consistency of these pre- and post-September 11 prescriptions highlights not an analytic failure but a larger strategic truth: For all the horrors of the World Trade Center attacks, they represent a change in the intensity rather than the nature of the threats facing the world. As it has been since the end of the Cold War, the main strategic challenge facing policymakers remains not so much how to crush groups like al Qaeda but how to integrate global outliers (whether defined as failed states, rogue states, transitional states, or premodern states) into the international system. Or as Richard Haass, director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department, put it in an April 22 speech to the Foreign Policy Association, "The principal aim of American foreign policy is to integrate other countries and organizations into arrangements that will sustain a world consistent with U.S. interests and values, and thereby promote peace, prosperity, and justice as widely as possible." To students of the Clinton administration, such language is reminiscent of speeches in the mid-1990s by then Secretary of State Warren Christopher — one more reason why it may be best not to think of today’s war on terror as an existential clash but as another battle in the larger struggle that defines our times.

More from Foreign Policy

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.