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American Diplomacy
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December 2003

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Former Secretary of State Haig argues that terrorism threatens the international order. Our highest priority should be to wage war on terrorism. This war should be a highly focused global struggle with every nation having a role to play. Working together, the international community will have the power to prevail and the strength to make the twenty-first century a time of stability, safety and prosperity.—Assoc. Ed.

Trafalgar and the Balance of Power

The 21st century began with great hopes for a more peaceful and prosperous international order. Yet, on September 11, 2001, not a year into the new Millennium, willful men exploded these illusions. Now we are assailed by a challenge to the community of nations as great as any we have faced. And the vital issue before us is whether we are up to the challenge. To ensure that, we must understand not only the peril but also the promise of our times.

Let me begin with the promise. Throughout history, hopes for a better world were often the victims of great power rivalries. The pattern was depressingly familiar. After much blood and toil, a balance of power would be established only to be upset by an ambitious aggressor. Yet another war would be needed to restore the peace. This was the sad cycle of international relations brought to its most murderous outcome in the wars of the twentieth century. Suddenly, the advance of modern science threatened us all with a nuclear holocaust.

Fortunately, deterrence and the balance of terror, as Churchill called it, lasted for two generations. The United States, its European allies and friends, including China, contained the Soviet Union long enough for its contradictory system to fail. Surprising everyone, Moscow's empire went peacefully to its grave.

Small wonder that for a decade after the Cold War, we lived on soaring hopes. The era of great power rivalry, the ambitions that make for war, seemed to be over. Let us remember for a moment how different it used to be. Thirty years ago, the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East produced a nuclear alert between Washington and Moscow. Now the Middle East conflict produces cozy weekends for Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush in Texas. Unfortunately, as recent events confirm, the jury is still out in an ever-changing Russia.

So we prematurely congratulated ourselves on this new time which lacked even a name except the "post-Cold War era." Nowhere was this more evident than in Europe. The traditional cockpit of conflict was now characterized by a march toward a whole and free continent. Even trouble in the Balkans, a historic spoiler, could not delay a European Union that now includes many of the Central and Eastern European states formerly under Soviet domination.

In summary, the absence of great power confrontation and the reconciliation of Europe offered bright prospects for the world, and that promise remains. The very presence here in Beijing of American, European, and Chinese statesmen testifies to its reality.

Unfortunately, that is not the only reality. Side by side with the triumphal self-satisfaction of the post-Cold War era grew a new and most ominous threat to the international order. I fear that history's verdict on the leaders of the 1990s will be harsh. They were so blinded by the light that they failed to notice the darkness creeping upon them. The tragic truth is that the United States and other governments should have acted before al-Qaeda spread its cells. Even worse, the record will show that the world's response to terrorism over the past thirty years has been weak, erratic, and often just plain disastrous. A simple recital of such names as Beirut, Doha Towers, World Trade Towers, and the Kenya Embassy is enough to make the point. And our inaction only encouraged it. Make no mistake. Today, terrorism threatens the international order as much as any of yesterdays power rivalries. If we allow the targeting of non-combatants, innocent women and children, to become the way to get ahead in international relations, then all we cherish shall be in jeopardy. Nations will draw back to defend themselves.

International trade will contract. Global cooperation will disappear. Our great cities, our bountiful agriculture, our globe-spanning communications systems will be subject to onerous controls, stringent regulations, the products of fears and suspicions.

And this, indeed, is what the terrorists intend. Terrorism is, in fact, a perverted branch of guerrilla warfare whereby the weak attempt to ensnare the strong in a series of mistakes that serve to advance the objectives of the terrorists. These fish, to borrow Sun Tsu's language, hope to swim in a sea of sympathizers if they can get us to create it. Part of this strategy is to set nations against each other, and to ignite religious conflict. Indeed, one of the biggest mistakes we could make would be to attribute terrorism to Islam. Let us not be misled. As President Bush stated on November 6, "more than half of all Muslims live in freedom under democratically constituted governments." But today's Muslim states, however much they resent the West, cannot wish to abandon the fruits of modern civilization. Only the most misguided politics on our part could turn this into a religious clash.

Our answer to terrorism must be shaped by a clear understanding of its goals and methods. Today, however, that clarity is blurred by arguments over foreign policy that, if adopted, could only make matters worse. These arguments have been joined by some who draw misleading lessons from the recent war in Iraq. Confusion about the relationship with terrorists and even about the effective use of military power, must be tempered if we are to succeed.

Let me begin with the foreign policy debate in my own country. Some members of one school, described as "neoconservatives," argue that if the terrorists want to remake the world in their image, then America's answer should be to remake the world in our image. This school is impressed above all by America’s military strength. They have persuaded themselves that such strength, allied to American ideals, can overwhelm any foe. Indeed, at one point they even tried unsuccessfully to persuade others that China was the emerging foe!

My reading of the world is different. It is true that America possesses overwhelming military power. It is also true that American values are worth a fight. I personally have fought for those values on several battlefields, and seen good men die for the cause.

All should expect American leaders to vigorously promote these values. Yet, part of these very values is the right of peoples and nations to choose their own way. Part of America's strength is precisely our unwillingness to help ourselves to land and resources in the old imperial style. As Secretary of State Powell told the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, the only ground we asked of Europe was a place to bury our dead.

In recent years, Americans have not been very good at occupations. Also, Americans are not very good at building nations that do not want to be built. If people decide on democracy, they should expect our help and they should be able to do so in safety. But, as we recognize in Iraq, people must be free to choose.

In my view, a strategy that threatens to impose America's image on the world would play directly into the hands of the terrorists. As an American, I would resist to the utmost any attempt to displace my culture by force. For us to attempt to do this to others would risk arousing a resistance that could be resented by our friends and exploited by our enemies. I have never doubted that the American people are too respectful of other peoples and our own values to subscribe to American empires. We should remain mindful of what America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams, asserted two centuries ago to the effect that American values can be best promoted by force of example.

The second school actually dominated American foreign policy during the nineties. Sometimes called "globalization," it meant the gradual easing of international tensions through the beneficial spread of technology, communications, and finance. We are familiar with the "web" and its image of interconnected strands. And we can certainly agree that as more states benefit from a growing international economy their reasons for conflict should lessen.

But not every nation benefits equally. Some, held back by bad governments, do not benefit at all. Moreover, globalization has been used to argue for a reduction in military power on the grounds that it would no longer be necessary or effective. The easy reliance on "globalization" during the past decade no doubt explains how naive so many Americans turned out to be when disaster struck. The globalists and their derogation of military power mistook economics for politics and security. Since September 11, 2001, they have been on the defensive. But the mounting costs of the war on terrorism and the zeal of some of the "neocons" are producing a backlash.

It would be disastrous if "globalization" once again became a substitute for a robust American war on terrorism. This war cannot be won through defensive mechanisms alone. It cannot be entrusted to the international economy with its inevitable ups and downs. The terrorists must be fought on their own ground, the war taken to them. Otherwise, we grant them what they had before 9/11, freedom to choose the time and place of attack without much fear that we would try to prevent it. Military action, to be sure, is not the entire answer to terrorism but it is an essential part of it. The globalists still seem unready to face this fact.

Finally, there is a third school, primarily European, of which we must be wary. These are the "passives," those who do not think the struggle against terrorism is a war, and are afraid to use military force. Some hide a visceral anti- Americanism behind the banner of multilateralism. They argue that a "rogue America" is tearing down international institutions necessary for world order, such as the U.N., in favor of unilateral actions that threaten international peace. Some also have a record of opposing American leadership, even during the Cold War, when they argued that it was NATO's efforts to sustain credible deterrence that threatened the peace, not the proliferation of Soviet missiles. My good friend, Helmut Schmidt, carved a profile in courage when he resisted such arguments during the late seventies and early eighties. Because of his leadership at great political cost, NATO did deploy the necessary missiles. Following that deployment, the Soviets understood at last that they could not intimidate the West. It was the beginning of the end of the Cold War; and we are all in his debt.

Let's take a closer look at the heart of the argument. Exactly what has the "American rogue" done with its dangerous power? Leading an international coalition, the United States has largely rid the world of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and threatened the shelter for al- Qaeda and other terrorists. We have also terminated Saddam Hussein's rule, ending a career of murderous aggression, including the use of weapons of mass destruction against his neighbors and even against his own people. He capped this by a decade of defying U.N. resolutions that made a mockery of the Security Council, while raising Saddam to hero status in the terrorist world.

To argue that ending the Taliban and Baathist regimes threatens the peace of the world is to suffer from a disturbed imagination.

I would rather find recourse in the words of U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan, who said that the opponents of American action must offer an alternative that actually deals with the problem—something the "passives" are simply unable to do. If multilateralism becomes a slogan for inaction, it will simply turn the U.N. into a League of Nations, as President Bush warned.

I am glad to note that the recent U.N. Security Council action on Iraq indicates the Council's desire to avoid this trap. Several states are being given credit for this vote and China should be among them.

Let me turn now to the military issue. By all accounts, the US-led coalition campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq initially achieved rapid victory with few casualties. Coordinated air, ground, and sea power reached into the most remote battlefields, quickly destroying enemy formations with skill and precision. Some have taken these campaigns to mean a new type of warfare that substitute’s firepower for manpower, airpower for infantry, and technology for physical presence on the battlefield. And to a degree, it does.

Nonetheless, we should keep these caveats in mind when evaluating the new style of warfare: First, both the Afghans and Iraqis lacked air power and most of their ground units were either unskilled in maneuver or unwilling to fight.

Second, the enemy's command and control was very poor at the outset and its top leaders incompetent. Had Saddam been more of a soldier than a terrorist, for example, he might have acted more effectively against a three-division invasion force spread out over three hundred miles of vulnerable supply lines.

Third, success depended heavily on a highly skilled coalition military force that included infantry and armor able to improvise and modify plans in the midst of battle.

No technological innovations or machine could replace this age-old dimension of warfare.

Fourth, and most important, we should always recall that success in war means more than winning the battles. There must be coordinated actions between the campaign and the post-war plans for victory to be secured. The forces on hand must be up to that task. Sometimes they may need to be larger than those actually needed to defeat the enemy’s army.

It should be clear by now that the new kind of war gives those who know it a decisive advantage. But it does not substitute for adequate ground echelons which remain an integral part of any combined arms operation. It cannot avoid a”contact war" that demands highly skilled and frequently massed units to engage the enemy. And we should not allow our understandable attraction to firepower with fewer forces to blind us to the ultimate purpose of war, which is to achieve political objectives and stability in the post-conflict phase. Just as forward deployed forces frequently serve to deter conflict in the first place; such pre-conflict deployments also frequently bring political and economic advantage as well.

Any war, including the war on terrorism, must be subjected to continuous refinement and adjustment if it is to succeed. Seldom, if ever, have armchair experts been able to predetermine these adjustments. We have now been waging this struggle for two long years over a multitude of fronts. There is growing recognition of the peril among many nations, including some in Asia, who thought they could avoid it. The time has come therefore for a few suggestions about the campaign that takes into account experience thus far.

First, this war is not America's alone. Our cities were attacked but others have also been attacked in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. It is a global struggle with global stakes for the international order. American leaders and their counterparts abroad must sound this message time and again, calmly and consistently. If we allow terrorism to become the method of advancement in international relations, then all progress will be jeopardized—freedom, security, and prosperity lost.

Second, we need each other to succeed. The issue is not a new American empire, a role neither sought by the American people nor capable of being run by Washington. The issue is whether we can work together to meet the challenge of international order. Every nation has its role to play. Yet we must rely on the basic building blocks without which little will be achieved. These include those represented here today: America, Europe, and China. It includes the great alliances, such as NATO and the US-Japanese Security Treaty, that have secured peace in the past. And there must be room for others who wish to associate, such as Russia, when their actions confirm that they are truly prepared to help.

Third, diplomatic differences should not be allowed to obstruct vital cooperation. Let me note that despite the arguments in the Security Council, France and, notably, Germany, were most cooperative "on the ground" when it came to helping the us Campaign against Iraq. Our troops, aircraft, and ships were able to move over land, air, and sea, often with the help of German units. France and Germany continue to work closely with the United States and Britain on intelligence and police action against terrorists. That should now include help in stabilizing Iraq and setting it on the path towards self-government. None of us can accept a failure that would turn Iraq once more into a danger to its people and its neighbors. Such an outcome would consolidate the hijacking of Islam by the fundamentalists and magnify the threat to us all.

Fourth, we should keep our forces and collective action focUSed on terrorism worldwide, not only the Middle East. The Korean problem predates 9/11 and indeed has been with us for five decades. I note with satisfaction that China has begun to work with the United States and other neighbors of North Korea to convince its leader not to make further dangerous mistakes, to get out of the nuclear bomb business and to stay out of the terrorism business. The stakes here are of the highest. Failure to cooperate could produce the worst possible outcome: either a devastating war or a nuclear arms race that would engulf Japan as well as the Koreas.

Fifth and finally, we should proceed with the world's other challenges even as we fight the war. Clearly this new world and its future must encompass growing cooperation between China and America, and between both and Europe. That means a maximum effort to renew economic growth, ease trade frictions and promote constructive change. All of us here know that we face significant problems. For the European Union, enlargement, changes in unsupportable welfare states, and reformed labor laws; for the United States, cascading budget deficits, health care reform and energy policy; for China, banking and currency reforms, greater reciprocity in trade, enforcement of anti-piracy laws, and political modernization. In light of very recent events in Taiwan, the time has also come for the United States to reiterate its "One China" policy and its opposition to independence movements.

These suggestions can be achieved. All of them will help. None will hurt.

Let me conclude by reminding each of you of the promise of our times. The end of the Cold War also concluded the historic rivalries that plunged the world into conflict so frequently in times past. Today, the major powers have every reason to work together. A unified Europe, a growing China and a confident America cooperating with both, do not encompass the whole world but they include enough of it to assure a preponderance of power for peace. Churchill once said once that when nations have had the power they have not always done right, and when they wished to do right them no longer had the power. We must avoid this fate. The danger today is no longer what we might do to each other but what we might fail to do for ourselves. Together, we have the power to prevail in the war on terrorism. We have the strength to make of the 21st century a time of stability, safety and prosperity for our peoples. Surely, we will have the will and the wisdom to succeed.


Republished by permission of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia, PA, USA. (www.fpri.org)

Alexander M. Haig, Jr., is a former Secretary of State and former Supreme Allied Commander/Europe. This document is the text of a speech to the International Symposium on Sino-US-European Relations in the New Century: Opportunities and Challenges, hosted by the Chinese Institute for International Strategic Studies and the Hotung Institute for International Relations, Beijing, China, November 18-20, 2003.

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