The Evolving U.S. Security Theory: Cold War, War on Terror and Beyond
For the larger part of the 20th century following World War II, United States security policy revolved on Cold War theories of containment and nation-building. The United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in an indirect form of philosophical, military and economic contention that drove alternate strategies of regional occupation and government propping, as well as arms and space exploration races. America’s security priorities and emphases were on the demand to meet communist and Soviet threats abroad and to construct a policy of internal monitoring intended to prevent its internal spread. As we further explore the current security outlook and safety policy vagaries for the United States, particularly those occurring during the period known as the War on Terror and today’s aftermath, it is apparent that both the repercussions of Cod War policy and echoes of its strategic orientation remain a presence in American security policy.
This is made evident by a consideration of the impact which Cold War policy had on security orientation for past American presidents. The dominance of the Cold War and the policies relating thereto would occupy the focus, attention and policy priority of all the presidents to pass through office between World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Afghanistan and South America assured that the presidents during this time would in a certain regard all approach the same question of competing with the Soviet permeation of the globe and the primary driver of security theory. Thus, even if it is popular to consider in retrospect that Kennedy was an important ideological diversion from the model of presidency which came before him, it does not change the fact that his presidency dealt with many of the same security questions as would his predecessors and, to an even greater extent, his more publicly embattled successors. Both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon would grapple destructively with the issue of the Vietnam War, but we may assume with reflection on the lead-up to this conflict, that Kennedy’s survival would have most likely placed this conflict in the lap of his administration.
The security theory known as the domino theory which presumed that the fall of a nation such as Vietnam would cause an entire region to topple to communist influence would underscore Cold War foreign policy for generations, with presidents culturally required to affirm a commitment to the goals of protecting American interests and opposing Russian aims that appeared to be contrary to these interests. Regarding Kennedy, “from his Vienna interview with Khrushchev, through the Berlin crisis during 1961, to the Cuban missile crisis and therafter — this commitment evidently deepened with experience as Kennedy responded to events.” (Neustadt, 170) This is to note that regardless of the perspective which he took into office with him, his increased exposure to the insights and knowledge of the presidency would drive him to view Cold War policy refinement as the highest of security priorities.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, it would be unclear at first what new security challenges would direct theory and policy in the years to follow. Many security policy experts would differ on the greatest area of focus, with concerns ranging from immigration policy to concerns over the War on Drugs. With the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001, it would become increasingly clear that America’s security policy would be driven by concerns over terrorism. The War on Terror is a daily reminder of the changed world theory, with counterterrorism functioning as the centerpiece to American security policy and that of many other nations throughout the globe.
Counterterrorism is essentially the array of strategies related to military objectives, intelligence gathering, policy objective, resource distribution, covert action and direct defense strengthening designed to preempt, prevent or respond to terrorism. According to the Department of Defense, its definition is more simply stated as “operations that include the offensive measures taken to prevent, deter, preempt, and respond to terrorism.” (DoD, 1) This initiation of the idea of offensive maneuvering as being an initial point of reference in the definition for counterterrorism should serve as an indication to those entering the service of the nation’s security that this may in some contexts mean operating overseas in concert with such efforts as those in Afghanistan and Iraq.
These operations denote a definition of counterterrorism which includes meeting threats abroad before they can materialize here. The nature of this objective is reinforced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who maintains an up-to-date listing of the world’s most-wanted terrorists. Here, the Assistant Director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, Michael Heimbach offers further articulation of counterterrorism responsibilities, denoting the obligation “to neutralize terrorist cells and operatives here in the U.S. And to help dismantle terrorist networks worldwide.” (Heimbach, 1) This underscores the security theory which has driven the so-called War On Terror in its international form, with the Bush doctrine serving as its preeminent imperative. The Bush doctrine is a security theory which states that the United States possesses the right to act unilaterally and without approval of the global community to intervene preemptively where it views that regimes, nations or terrorist cells are conspiring in a manner which threatens American security and the security of its friends and allies. Though today Barrack Obama is in the White House, this doctrine remains at least temporarily irreversible for the two wars into which it has already immersed us. The Bush doctrine would have far-reaching implications, allowing for the justification of invasion in such nations as Afghanistan and Iraq with flimsy to nonexistent justification under traditional theories of just war.
This is an approach which would draw no small amount of criticism from all areas of the scholarly community. Indeed, a sentiment which marks Flynn’s (2005) text, and which resonates with the ample evidence availed to us in the aftermath of the Bush Administration, is that the strategy of aggressive military offensive fronts demonstrates a fundamentally illogical misstep with respect to providing Americans with security. The aims of the Bush Administration’s War On Terror, evaluated within in its own context by the Flynn account, were fundamentally misguided in their understanding of that which motivates terrorism, inclines American vulnerability and constitutes a legitimate threat to American stability. By simultaneously weakening domestic economy through an exporting of commercial and defense resources, and creating increased political and ideological incentive for terrorism by extending American aggression throughout the Arab world, the strategies applied by the last administration would have the distinct effect of diminishing rather than improving America’s safety.
Indeed, the most important of concepts to draw from this assertion is the idea that America would categorically misapply its efforts in preventing future terrorism as a knee-jerk reaction to the events of September 11th. As Flynn denotes “our nation faces grave peril, but we seem unwilling to mobilize at home to confront the great before us. Managing the danger that al Qaeda poses cannot be achieved by relying primarily on military campaigns overseas. There are no fronts in the war on terrorism. The 9/11 attacks highlighted the fact that our borders offer no effective barrier to terrorists intent on bringing their war to our soil.” (Flynn, x)
This points us to the myriad ways in which America remains unsafe for the poor definition of its immigration policy, inconsistencies in port security, limitations of airline screening measures, a total failure to account for maritime security threats, a failure to invest in emergency response capacity and a guiding misconception of the political structure and functionality of terrorist cells. Among the shortcomings in America’s general strategy of combating terrorism discussed by Flynn, a failure at defining a proper security strategy for its ports and its overall unwillingness to properly understand its enemies will figure into damning opportunities for terrorist aggression. The points to the clear failures of the United States to properly adapt to the changes to which the Bush Administration had so vociferously pointed to in justifying its global War On Terror. In many substantial ways, the United States appears to have postured itself in such a way as to actually actively diminish the logistical and resource capacities of law enforcement and security groups even as the federal government has proposed to be primarily directed by the inclination to prevent infiltration of security vulnerability. Accordingly, “outside of Washington, pink slips for police officers and firefighters are more common than new public investments in security. With state and local budgets hemorrhaging red ink, mayors, county commissioners, and governors are simply in no position to fill the security void the federal government has been keen to thrust upon them.” (Flynn, 2) Thus, as the United States’ federal government increasingly diverts funding from domestic law enforcement agencies to lumbering groups like the Department of Homeland Security and, even more dubiously, those privateering organizations contracted to help rebuild such nations as Afghanistan and Iraq, which appear in their rebuilding phases to be mutually still in a state of constant demolition, the result is an increased rather than decreased lack of preparedness. To an extent, the idea of Cold War nation building has been in evidence in attempts to instill democracy in fronts such as Afghanistan and Iraq. But as a new president seeks to undo the damage of previous security policy conditions, it is apparent that this is an archaic approach to understanding the way individuals tend to behave under foreign occupation. The resistance that has made Iraq one of the most violent places on in Earth speaks more clearly to the implications of the Bush doctrine as a security policy umbrella theory.
Another result of this misappropriation of the Bush doctrine is the selective attention which it promotes amongst lawmakers and defensive strategists. Amongst these exists a perception of reactionary necessity, in which the clear vulnerabilities exposed by 9/11 have directed the focus of security policy on airport screening and, in many instances, the obtuse law enforcement tool of racial profiling. These responses are attendant to a culture of relative strategic laziness, contrasting dangerously the energy for ingenuity shown by terrorist cells. As Flynn argues, “from water and food supplies; refineries, energy grids, and pipelines; bridges, tunnels, trains, trucks, and cargo containers; to the cyber backbone that underpins the information age in which we live, the measures we have been cobbling together are hardly fit to deter amateur thieves, vandals, and hackers, never mind determined terrorists.” (Flynn, 2) The basic case is made here that under the terms of the War on Terror, America has been ill-prepared in terms of security, emergency response and recuperation from an effectively catastrophic attack in a major American city, at one of America’s ports or in any of America’s embassies and holdings around the globe.
And with recent events in Iran and the heated exchange which these events have invoked between President Obama and Iranian Prime Minister Ahmadinejad, it is clear that the threat to the United States of hostility resulting from its recent policies of military preemptive attack is real and present. The Islamic hardliner has declared his hostility toward the United States, especially in light of its attempts to intervene with Iranian nuclear production. As this was the very same line of logic which enabled the invasion of Iraq in search of nuclear secrets, it is easy to view a correlation between the Bush doctrine and the current security scenario. Indeed, the conflict between Iran and the United States over human rights, recent election results and aggressive tactics of protest repression have boiled over into a public war of words that is highlight another of America’s key security concerns. This relates to nuclear non-proliferation, a priority on which the U.S. itself has a decidedly mixed history.
Indeed, today, the behavior of key nation states such as the U.S. have come to hinder the maintenance of the global non-proliferation regime’s goals, even as this compromises U.S. security prospects. By using remote nation-states as venues through which to retain a world presence, the United States has actually played a part in disseminating nuclear secrets to both Israel and India, in direct violation of the 1968 treaty. “U.S. nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) commitments forbid the United States from assisting another state’s nuclear weapons program ‘in any way.’ (Cirincione et al., 1) Concerning its agreements with nations such as Israel and India, which it views as key allies in the ongoing war against terrorism, the United States is itself a central stumbling block to the legitimacy of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This serves as a prime example of the fundamental flaw in the non-proliferation organization. Many of its members view it as a device to be employed when such is congruent with their purposes and as one to be ignored when its provisions stand in the path of self-interest.
A current arrangement between the United States and India, enacted in 2005, is illustrative of the dangerous favoritism which the superpower shows to its militarily strategic allies in terms of nuclear security theory. As an extension of its war on terrorism and the key front of Pakistan, “the U.S. may allow India to keep significant amounts of its existing spent fuel from its nuclear power reactors free of IAEA safeguards.” (Cirincione, 3) Though it would be favorable to imply that it is the so-called rogue-nation which must be checked in order to bring greater credibility to the NPT, there is good cause to suggest that these nations are merely the consequence of impropriety amongst the so-called world powers. In the condition of trespassing rogue nations, it would ideally be possible to foster the alliance of the IAEA’s more powerful nations in pressuring those outside of the agreement’s parameters to adhere to international standards. The presence of imposing diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions or even military action could in such conditions yield positive results from those in the developing world who have aspired to nuclear capacity as a means to gaining international leverage. Indeed, with nations such as Iran and North Korea, which it has deemed to be a threat to global security, the United States has often sponsored or supported the levying of such isolating practices. This is considered an approach to global security which invokes greater alliance with global law and ideology by using economic opportunity as a prod. Unfortunately, the diversion and inconsistency provided by such crucial members as the United States has had a stultifying effect on the agency’s effectiveness. Though such conditions are clearly a problem for the regime, as exemplified by the situations in North Korea and Iran today, where collective resistance to efforts at nuclear acquisition have been met with secrecy, resistance and antagonism, there remains a far more foundational stumbling block to the effectiveness of non-proliferation. The unilateral proclivities of some of the world’s most powerful nations have in fact factored in most predominantly in rendering the IAEA the minimally effective organization it is today.
At present, the nuclear non-proliferation theories of security have begun to factor into what is seen as a new age in the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons. A number of factors have contributed to a demand for change in the nature of the initiative, chiefly among them, the incidence of September 11th 2001 brought into focus the threat of international terrorism and its potentially catastrophic relationship with the gaining ambitions of the developing world for the acquisition of nuclear capabilities. As such, many of the most current priorities in security orientation revolve on the goal of inhibiting the capacity of independent terrorist cells and rogue nations to realize nuclear strength. Thus, America’s explicit priorities today in addition to its missive safeguard prescriptions are the prevention of the theft of nuclear devices, the prevention of the independent acquisition of radioactive materials, the prevention of the acquisition of other potentially weaponized materials and the prevention of any harmful attack levied directly against a nuclear power facility.
As a guideline to the areas in which the most attention must be dedicated, the Secretariat of the IEAE offered during a 2002 conference a host of directives upon which we are continually attempting to improve our global efforts. Particularly, the conference cited a need for greater protective measures against attacks on civilian and military nuclear targets. This means the ‘physical’ protection of facilities through the presence of military defense, as both a measure to deter attack and to prevent theft or security breach in these crucial locations around the world. (Berdennikov, 2) These are security policies which are coming increasingly to recognize the need for a counter-terrorism policy that anticipates rather than simply responds to domestic threats.
Today, we are coming to a place of understanding with respect to the lessons of the War on Terror. The extent to which the Bush doctrine had promoted a security theory driven by the extension of war on a global has today been illustrated as counterintuitive. The conflict in Iraq has contributed to a massive loss of life, both American and Iraqi, and underscores the relatively irrational elements of the preemptive strike approach to terrorism prevention.
Increasingly, the Obama Administration will work to remove American troops from Iraq and to bring a formal end to hostilities in Afghanistan as a way to begin to draw back the vestiges of the previous administration’s failures. As with the Cold War, however, the events which have already occurred will produce their own lasting effects for the world. How the current and future crops of leaders contend with these effects will determine whether we remain in something of a negative security cycle or whether America proceeds forward with a more rational, ethically grounded and inherently logical approach to maintaining security and safety.
Berdennikov, G. (2002). Dealing With the Risks of Nuclear Terrorism:
Physical Protection, Nuclear Safety and Other Initiatives. Programme for Promoting Nuclear Non-Proliferation: Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, Monterey. Online at http://www.mcis.soton.ac.uk/Annecy2002March/BERDENNIKOV-Annecy.pdf
Cirincione, Joseph. (2006). Clarifying the Record on the July 18 Proposal for Nuclear Cooperation with India. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
DoD (Department of Defense). (Feb. 2006). Quadrennial Defense Review Report. The Department of Defense. Online at .
Flynn, S. (2005). America the Vulnerable. Harper Collins.
Heimbach, M.J. (2009). Counterterrorism and Terrorism. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Neustadt, R. (1991). Presidential Power and the Modern President. Free Press.
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