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11 September: US Policy & Transatlantic Relations

01 October 2001

The impact on US Foreign Policy <br />What are the implications for the direction of US foreign and security policy in the wake of the attacks on 11 September? Will it become more multilateralist or unilateralist? How will it affect transatlantic relations?

Initial indicators suggest an amalgam of engagement and unilateralism as a guiding principle of US policy in the wake of the attacks. There may well be continuing tension between domestic and international imperatives. One the one hand, the public mood in the United States is understandably angry and the opinion polls continually put support for ‘decisive’, i.e. large-scale military reprisals, in the mid-to-high seventies. This level of support has been maintained throughout the military action that is currently underway. On the other hand, the response of the Administration suggests that effective strategy-making will not be easy. The nature of the new enemy, the vital importance of international political legitimacy, the lack of effective human intelligence networks in region and the importance of soft security measures in the medium to longer term all point to a longer game than American public opinion is probably prepared to countenance. This will create considerable strains for policy-makers.

The influence of Secretary of State Colin Powell is clear and this seems to have had a restraining influence upon those in the Administration who would like to attack not just the Taliban and Bin Laden but those on the State Department’s formal list of states that sponsor terrorism, such as Iraq. Indeed, US strategy to date has been a testament to the Powell Doctrine that emphasises caution, a clear plan, the build-up of massive force, the importance of strong domestic and international political coalition and, above all, a clear exit strategy.

<br />Equally, if the Powell approach does not satisfy domestic opinion the hawks on the Republican Right, centred around Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz within the Administration, and to some extent Cheney, will undoubtedly become more vocal. There have already been calls over the past two weeks for action to be taken against Iraq which would place an already fragile coalition under intolerable strain. The fact that all the chairmanships of the key Senate committees (Foreign Relations, Armed Services and Intelligence) are in the hands of Democrats is important. This implies a Powell-Democrat axis that seems to have imposed environmental restraints upon the military strategy (possibly supported by George Bush Sr) and emphasised the need for bipartisan support, not just over the need for action but its direction and scope.

<br />The role of international support in shaping and supporting US policy is also double-edged. Certainly, the invoking of NATO’s Article 5 and UN Article 51 would appear to reinforce the importance that the Administration attaches to the political aspects of the struggle against catastrophic terrorism. The Administration has repeatedly re-iterated the clear distinction between its declared intent to combat terrorism and its determination to do so in conjunction with the Islamic political establishment. This delicate balance is, of course, a sine qua non of effective counter-terrorism activities. However, the pressure that satisfying both US domestic demand for action and Islamic calls for restraint will prove a severe test for an Administration that was elected on the a robust interpretation of US interests.

<br />That tension between declared multilateralism, on the one hand, and deployed unilateralism, on the other, has been a marked trait of the US campaign to date. The problem for the US is that the close participation of the UK in military operations offers only limited international legitimisation to the military action. The importance of wider European involvement and some other allies in military action could well increase as the political tensions with Islamic states intensifies. At the moment, US national technical and military means are at the fore as the Pentagon takes over direction of the operation but the nature of the enemy is such that the US could well find itself having to develop a ‘toolbox’ approach in an ad hoc manner.

<br />This could well lead to a shift in the culture of American security and defence policy as it re-conceptualises defence to include defensive capacities to augment the offensive tradition. To some extent this is already apparent with the appointment of a new Office for Homeland Security and it remains to be seen if the recently published Quadrennial Defense Review will have to be changed to encompass what could well develop into a new defence concept.

<br />The debate over Homeland Defence will also change. It is unlikely that missile defence will be abandoned but it will probably be placed within the framework of a multilayered defence of the home base. These layers will include more emphasis on intrusive domestic monitoring, critical national infrastructure protection (CNIP) and offensive and defensive cyber-warfare. Given the libertarian tradition of the United States it is too early to say how US Government will approach the curtailment of civil liberties that go right to the heart

The impact on transatlantic relations <br />What are the implications for the transatlantic relationship? Is this NATO’s finest hour? Does the US perceive the value in strong transatlantic relations? Does it serve the West’s interests if the rest of the world (particularly Islam) perceive it as a monolith?

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington there was an outpouring of voluble support for the United States from its European allies. However, as indicated above, the guiding principle thus far of the American response has been to generate transatlantic political support but to retain the right for unilateral action. Indeed, much was made of the re-invigoration of the Atlantic Alliance with the invoking of Article 5 in the wake of the attacks. However, in spite of the political role that the allies have been asked to play (together with a limited military role on the part of certain key allies) the Alliance has not been asked to undertake any concrete action. This suggests that whilst there is only a limited contribution Europe can make in the initial stages its emphasis on holistic security makes it well-placed to contribute significantly downstream after the initial American response. It is this facet of Europe’s approach that engenders cautious optimism that it might be possible to develop a common strategy for the West against catastrophic terrorism.

It was not without a certain irony that the moment Article 5 is invoked its relevance as a policy tool became questionable because the new threats are by and large not susceptible to military solutions. It is too early to say whether this will prove to be NATO’s finest hour but it seems strange that a treaty instrument that was held for so long to be the cornerstone of Alliance deterrence strategy has been marked by a vacuum of effective policy since it was invoked. Perhaps this reflects the increasingly political nature of the Alliance in which NATO is more political symbol than effective military alliance. If that is the case it raises further questions. Does the US really need military allies? If NATO is political symbol and given the problems that the stalled Berlin-process face will the CESDP find itself called upon to replace NATO or will transatlantic security relations become increasingly bilateral? That, after all, is how the US has organised the military response thus far. There are two scenarios that Europeans might confront. First, the US asks for Allied military support and the Europeans fail to deliver. Second, the US does not ask for Allied military support and Article 5 (and NATO) appear irrelevant. How is Europe to respond.

<br />As indicated above, the crisis has already restored the tendency of the US to deal with Europe through a series of bilateral engagements. It has been particularly keen for the active support of key actors, such as Britain, France and Germany. The role of international organisations such as the EU and NATO has been confined to declaratory statements of support. Has 11 September changed the culture of European force planning within the ESDP? Certainly, the ERRF looks somewhat inadequate, whilst key assumptions in its construction, such as generic planning, appear inappropriate given the threat that now confronts the West as a whole. Surely, this is the true test of the ESDP because it has demonstrated once and for all that product-led approaches must be replaced by a market-led approach that starts to look at the relationship between threats and responses far more closely than has hitherto been the case?

<br />Can the EU add value to the overall Western effort without giving the appearance to the world that the West is a political monolith? The EU’s toolbox of hard and soft security tools should have lessons for the Americans because of the long and diffuse nature of any struggle against catastrophic terrorism? But how real is it? Individual EU Member-States, such as Britain, France and Spain already have extensive experience in counter-terrorism operations but would it not make more sense to co-ordinate the European response at the EU level? If sharing of intelligence with the Americans is going to be a key part of the struggle against catastrophic terrorism then Europe must overcome its first barriers first.

<br />What areas of transatlantic co-operation are there that Europe and America can immediately explore? The question being asked by both European and American citizens is the extent to which they can be afforded protection. One key area of EU-US co-operation could be homeland defence structures and mechanisms because of the important role that pillar one and three type capabilities will play in such a struggle.

<br />Another area in which Europeans can add value to the overall Western effort could be through their intelligence gathering mechanisms. European intelligence agencies and their greater emphasis on human intelligence networks and intrusive domestic monitoring might provide the Americans with important lessons that could be used to establish a policy quid pro quo that would underpin the emergence of a common strategy against catastrophic terrorism. Moreover, the presence of radical political Islamic groups is a much more apparent within European societies than within American society. As such, European states have far more experience dealing with groups that can pose an internal threat through asymmetric attacks.

Conclusion <br />In conclusion, it is clear the much of the West’s response to 11 September will reflect policies and agendas set by the US. However, Europe must develop its own strategy to afford its citizens a similar degree of security. Defence against catastrophic terrorism is not yet another area in which America is strong and Europe is weak. As suggested above, there are a range of ways in which Europe can add value to the a common Western strategy without creating the impression that Islam is confronted by a uniquely powerful political monolith that, probably more than any other factor, could turn those who dislike the West into those who wish to destroy it. When the initial shock has been replaced by more sober assessments Europe will have to remind the US that multidimensional solutions are the only way to confront multidimensional security challenges. Can EU provide such security for Europe and contribute effectively to a common Western strategy