President Bush got one thing right: the greatest threat to American security is a rogue state providing a terrorist group with weapons of mass destruction and the means to deploy them to the United States. Unfortunately, almost everything he has done since Sept. 11 has made this problem worse rather than better. While some progress has been made on cooperation on intelligence and money laundering, the Administration has taken giant steps away from its initial post-9/11 strategy which involved working collaboratively through the United Nations.
This sorry record is clear not only in Afghanistan, which stands on the brink of chaos; in North Korea, which moves ever closer to developing nuclear weapons; and in Iraq; but also in the United States.
While John Ashcroft’s Department of Justice focuses on acquiring more power to conduct surveillance, every outside group that has studied this problem agrees that the key problem is the culture of the FBI and the CIA and that we need to strengthen border protections and key facilities —starting with the inspection of incoming cargoes for radioactive material. Little if any progress toward those goals has been made, and America is less safe for it today.
New institutions with their own career services and raisons d’être might work better than shifting around the same old structures. This is why the Air Force and the CIA came into being during the Cold War, and why the Special Forces Command was created by Congress in 1987. Urgently needed today are institutions to combat international terrorism at home and abroad and to deal with the problems that follow a military intervention in a failed state such as Iraq.
We need a new agency that has both law-enforcement and intelligence functions at home and abroad, but whose jurisdiction is limited to dealing with international terrorist groups targeting Americans. When dealing with such terrorists, there is no meaningful distinction between intelligence and law enforcement, as Al-Qaeda and other such groups operate within a complex and well-financed global network. Such a U.S. agency would indict potential terrorists as criminals and prevent terrorist acts.
At the same time, America also needs a new agency for nation building. In Iraq—as in Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti and East Timor—the collapse of the existing authority created an immediate need for an international police force to provide stability and to help create an indigenous police force and criminal-justice system. The United States inevitably relies on its military to perform these tasks for which it has no training and capability; it does it reluctantly and poorly and comes away more reluctance than ever to intervene in similar situations.
A new civilian agency reporting to the Secretary of State should be explicitly charged with this set of tasks, endowed with the necessary resources and mandated to plan as intensively as the military before our military intervenes. It would be critical to create a robust, standby police capability with a small, permanent staff and a larger number of reservists who, like those in the military reserves and National Guard, would train on weekends and over the summer and be sent abroad in times of crisis to carry out police functions.
In addition to creating these two new agencies, the U.S. needs to work with other nations to invigorate an international regime designed to deter states from developing weapons of mass destruction and providing them to terrorist groups. This regime must be global, and the rules must apply to all nations, not simply those the United States designates as rogue or “evil.”
The United States must recognize that it needs the cooperation of the rest of the world to bring rogue states back into the community of nations, to help failed states mend so that they do not become havens for terrorists, and to build a more open and just world so that states do not become breeding grounds for terrorism. This begins by accepting that the UN Security Council must have the lead role in helping Iraqis to regain control of their own country, by working cooperatively with other states to find solutions to security problems, and by assisting nations that are on the path to democracy.
None of this argument is based on altruism. It is a straightforward claim that the administration’s policies to date have failed to make us safer, and that a new approach is needed to prevent rogue states from sharing weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery with terrorists who would wish us harm.
This article is adapted from an article prepared for The American Prospect special conference issue, published in conjunction with the October 28-29 New American Strategies for Security and Peace sponsored by The Center for American Progress, the Century Foundation and The American Prospect.
Morton H. Halperin is a Senior Vice President and Director of Fellows at the Center for American Progress.