‘To provide for the common defense’
The Treaty of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years War in Europe established the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of sovereign nation-states. It also formed the underpinnings of much of today’s international law regarding non-intervention.
However, trans-national terrorists who transcend the nation-state were never contemplated when the treaty was signed in 1648.
World Wars I and II, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars, all began with combatants using obsolete tactics and strategies. Today we face a new threat: the specter of NBC weapons (nuclear, biological, chemical) being used against us by terrorists.
Our Constitution requires the government to protect us. It would be irresponsible of the administration and the Congress not to respond to these threats. What, then, does self-defense in the 21st century look like?
The national security document that was sent to Congress last week calls for pre-emptive strikes if necessary against those who would do us harm. It also advocates proactively bringing democracy to the corners of the globe. It appears that this administration is determined not to fight World War IV (WWIII was the Cold War) with outdated tactics and strategies. The stakes are just too high!
Cries of imperialism will reverberate from abroad, but we must be mindful that nations always act in their own best interests. The Arabs, Russians, Canadians and the Europeans are responding in a manner they perceive as in their best interests.
The Arab world will not endorse a policy that may lead to armed conflict in the region because war could disrupt the flow of their oil income. More importantly, any free and potentially democratized Persian Gulf nation (read: Iraq) would present an incalculable threat to the totalitarian regimes that would like to eliminate the words “freedom” and “democracy” from their languages.
The Russians have huge oil contracts with Iraq, including $8 billion in Iraqi debt, which are legitimate economic concerns to them. In the meantime, Canada’s armed forces have been reduced to about the size of the New York City Police Department. Is it any wonder that neither nation sees pre-emption as being in their best interests?
Continental Europe’s armies haven’t been an international factor since 1945. After years of protection by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, their militaries have deteriorated to a point where they are incapable of projecting force. It’s highly unlikely that will change in the foreseeable future.
With cradle-to-grave social programs, 32- to 35-hour work weeks, six weeks of paid vacations and astronomical tax rates, European economies cannot afford the 300 percent increase in defense spending necessary to begin closing the gap militarily.
The administration’s pre-emption policy is clearly in response to 9/11 and Saddam’s NBC weaponry, yet many European leaders will call us militaristic unilateralists. That’s an expected response precisely because Europe is militarily weak.
American pre-emptive military action is not in their perceived best interests, especially when one considers that The Hague, the Eiffel Tower and Munich International Airport were not targets on Sept. 11, 2001.
There’s another dynamic at play in a world with only one superpower. Strategic analyst Robert Kagan used the analogy that a man armed only with a knife may decide that a grizzly bear prowling the forest is a “tolerable threat,” in so much as the alternative – hunting the bear armed only with a knife – is much more dangerous than remaining in his tent and hoping the bear never attacks.
Meanwhile, a man who is armed with a high-powered rifle will likely view what constitutes a tolerable threat quite differently, because he has an option the man with the knife doesn’t have. He has the option to hunt and kill the bear.
It appears that much of the world has concluded that the threat posed by terrorists and rogue states is more tolerable than the risk of forcibly eliminating them. But the United States, being orders of magnitude stronger militarily than the rest of the world, has a lower threshold of tolerance -especially after Sept. 11.
The man with the knife says, “I can’t, so I won’t.” The man with the rifle says, “I can, so I will.” Put another way, the world opposes unilateralism in part because no other nation, save the United States, has the capability to act unilaterally.
Aside from its NBC weaponry, Iraq is the lynchpin in the War on Terror. Imagine if you will, a free Iraq with its people seeking reforms. Imagine a free Iraq with a powerful American military presence that would out of necessity remain there for a few years.
Then ask how many Middle Eastern, African or South Asian potentates, imams, kings or dictators would have the temerity to harbor, aid or abet terrorists with full knowledge that the American administration is willing to use the military force stationed at their doorstep.
The president has broadened the context of “providing for the common defense” in the 21st century. Not to pursue this war with selective fury will only invite a never-ending war with terrorists. We have the ability to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. We also have the ability to lend a guiding hand in rebuilding Iraq, just as we did with Japan and Germany in 1945.
In the meantime, the United Nations and the Security Council should beware of pain it gets used to.
Butch Mazzuca of Singletree can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org