Traditionally the summer is a good time to bury bad news. This summer has provided extremely good cover for bad news. In the US, the news has been dominated by the Presidential Election. In Europe, the news has been dominated by a resurgent Russia in the Caucasus. In the UK, the news has been dominated by the Prime Minister’s inability to get anything right. Under the cover of this smokescreen, the US Department of Defense has, very quietly, declared the ‘War on Terror’ to be over.
Buried in an obscure American Forces Press Release from the Department of Defense (see Press Release) is a reference to the new National Defense Strategy (which can be accessed through the Press Release). In this new strategy, we are told on Page 7 that the War on Terror has been replaced by ‘Winning the Long War against violent extremist movements’ as “the central objective of the US”. From a futures perspective, this raises a number of interesting points.
First and foremost, it indicates that the American unipolar moment is coming to an end, if it hasn’t ended already, especially when, on Page 8, we are told that the US must act “in concert with others”. Unilateralism is at the core of the Bush Doctrine. Furthermore, we are told that “we face a clash of arms, a war of ideas, and an assistance effort that will require patience and innovation”. It is interesting that the undue reliance purely upon force – again central to the Bush Doctrine – is to be supplemented with the use of soft power as a means to achieve the US national interests in the future.
Eventually, we can expect that war fighting will be left to soldiers and law enforcement will be left to the police. There are many in the world who would welcome this. It seems to us that the legal tangle that the US faces over Guantanamo Bay derives from an inappropriate mixing of these roles. The military are poorly equipped to supervise the effective running of law enforcement (running trials and operating prisons). Police operations rely upon the intelligence gathering and interdiction capabilities of the military. In an ideal world – which is one that we can create in the future – the two organs of government would complement each other.
In many ways, the National Defense Strategy represents a significant departure in US policy towards the rest of the world. If it does mean that the ‘War on Terror’ is over, then we are left wondering who might have won the war. It would be hard to argue that President Bush and the Neo-Cons have come even close to winning the war. Their policy in this area – at best a shambles, at worst criminality beyond comprehension – is in tatters and very unlikely to survive to February 2009. It is ironic that the Bush Doctrine has not outlasted the Presidency after which it was named.
Al Qaeda might claim to have won the War on Terror. They could point to regime change in Washington as their success. This, however, might stretch the point too far. It conveniently ignores the inability of Al Qaeda to operate effectively in the Post 9-11 environment. According to the FBI, the number of deaths in the US from terrorist incidents has fallen to zero. This reflects the success of the law enforcement agencies across the world in containing Al Qaeda and in diminishing its ability to operate.
In many respects, there is a lot to be said for the view that nobody has won the war on terror. We have all been losers in some way. In Europe and North America, the trade off between personal liberty and collective security has shifted decisively towards lesser personal liberty. This loss of liberty has become more intrusive in recent years, particularly when some law enforcement agencies are unable to resist the abuse of their additional powers. Surely this has to be one of the greatest losses because it affects us all.
The National Defense Strategy may prove to be an important realignment in US military policy. It represents a more realistic – even more pragmatic – approach to the security issues facing the US and the world in the future. We may yet see a return to the position where soldiers fight, police arrest, and judges imprison. If so, then we will be better equipped to deal with the issues of global criminality, of which global terror is part.
Perhaps that is a future worth building?
© The European Futures Observatory 2008