Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the International Institute for Strategic Studies


  1.  On 11 September the US was subject to a terrorist attack on its own territory. It had the right under Article 51 of the UN charter to strike back with military force to prevent further attacks. Before doing so it recognised that the battle against terrorism with a global reach required a campaign fought on many fronts.

  2.  Effectiveness in that campaign was dependent on other countries playing particular parts. A coalition of sorts was built. It is a coalition of sorts, because it is a coalition of variable geometry. So far, one country (the UK) is involved in all elements of the campaign: broad political support, direct military involvement, military assistance, intelligence sharing, co-operation on financial controls, collaboration in UNSC diplomacy, co-ordination of diplomatic efforts, development of long-term geopolitical strategy, humanitarian and refugee policy, consultation on macro-economic dimensions and sundry work. Other countries are involved in some subset of these activities.

  3.  The coalition is not merely led by the US but cannot be much influenced by others precisely because it is of such varied and inconsistent participation. It would be too cynical to argue that the US policy has been to "coalesce and rule", but it remains the case that the US has built the coalition to advance its aims. And to do so with the minimum constraints. This should be thought normal by a country acting in self defence.

  4.  These realities mean that there has been no sea-change, despite what some have suggested, in the instincts that animate the Bush administration. The Bush administration, despite its decision to pay UN dues and consult widely, has not embraced multilateral diplomacy in the traditional meaning of the phrase, nor found a new affection for international treaties. Indeed the current campaign will make it likely that the US takes harsher judgements about the relevance to its own security about actual or proposed international instruments and will be more, rather than less, vigorous in ensuring that, in its view, it is not constrained by them when it seeks to act in self-defence.


  5.  There will be a point at which the campaign against terrorism becomes routine, part of the sinews of international relations, just as was the Cold War itself. Unlike the Cold War, not every international problem will be seen through the prism of the campaign against terrorism. Most issues will, however. Therefore the campaign against terror, or Cold War 2 as some US commentators are calling it, is providing close to a defining principle for general international relations in the first decade of the 21st Century.

  6.  From the US point of view this will have advantages and one disadvantage. The advantages are two from its perspective: First, that it will be able to ask countries to do things which they otherwise might not because of the need to assist the US in its own self-defence. US relations with Pakistan have, for example, turned 180 degrees in one month. Second, that as it conducts a robust diplomacy on other issues, it will be protected from the argument that it is inspired by a "Cold War" mentality, or that it is searching for enemies, by the fact that the foreign policy of the Bush administration is being defined by the need to defeat international terrorism. Thus, if it needs to stand up to China on some question, it will be less vulnerable to the accusation that it is doing so only to satisfy some visceral need to "find an enemy". It has one, and will be fighting it.

  7.  The disadvantage is that this new task will require of the US a form of hyper-engagement in the world. However much it argues that it should not be involved in nation-building, the US, with others, will have an enormous task to protect countries that have taken risks and to incubate, in Afghanistan, whatever new regime comes to office. It will need to invest hugely, diplomatically and financially, in Middle East diplomacy. It will need to involve itself in the domestic politics of the 50 plus states in which the al Qaida network is thought to operate. All this will be a heavy burden to carry and will have costs.

  8.  Thus, the US will be heavily engaged in world politics, but not necessarily using the instruments of multilateral diplomacy at every turn. There will be a new shape to the burden-sharing debate with Europe. As Europe develops its ESDP, it will have to move beyond the so-called Petersburg tasks. What counter-terrorism role will the ESDP undertake? And as Europe develops its CFSP, it will need to think way beyond Europe's borders if it is to play a useful role in shaping events given the new international dispensation. The extroversion demanded of the Europeans will put more stress on their (recent) traditions than will the hyper-engagement of the US place on it.


  9.  The US will continue to analyse the size and shape of its nuclear forces in the context of the Nuclear Strategy Review. It will continue to negotiate with the Russians on a new strategic framework in which a new balance might be found between offensive and defensive elements in nuclear strategy. These efforts will be slowed down but not stopped by the current priorities.

  10.  A prospective ballistic missile defence programme will need to compete with many other defence requirements and many other public spending priorities in the post 11 September order. The timing of any announced withdrawal from the ABM treaty will be a matter for more delicate judgement. Nevertheless there will be a programme that will be funded and at some point the US will declare its withdrawal from the ABM treaty unless it can get an agreement with the Russians quietly to bury it together.

  11.  The aim of the administration will be to argue that the ABM Treaty can be dispensed with because the US and Russia are no longer in an adversarial nuclear relationship, and that the maintenance of the ABM Treaty prevents the US from deploying defences against other states or organisations who may in the future threaten the US with ballistic missiles. They will argue that the new dispensation equally allows the US to reduce its offensive nuclear weapons, a move which George Bush anticipated in the speech on 1 May 2001 in which he also argued that the ABM Treaty was out of date.

  12.  The UK should view the development of a modest ballistic missile defence as a natural, if partial, response to the new range of threats. Russia and the US may well reduce their holdings well below Start 2 levels down to about 1,500 strategic nuclear warheads, though that figure will only be fixed on the US side once the Nuclear Strategy Review is complete. For some, the paradox therefore will be that the abandonment of the ABM treaty actually contributes to a major reduction in offensive nuclear weapons. The abandonment of the ABM treaty would thus be presentable as a contribution to real arms control.


  13.  The crisis has seen a re-nationalisation of European foreign policy. The British have unequivocally supported the US and sought to be near-equal partners in the political effort of coalition-building. The Germans have been diplomatically supportive but angst ridden. The French have been embarrassed by the enthusiasm of the British for the US—led campaign yet frustrated by not being a larger part of the effort. The EU has taken useful measures on the financial and information-sharing fronts, but has also realised that policy making for Afghanistan may be beyond its reach given too many years of Euro-centric introversion in the development of foreign policy positions. These reactions are now trends and will not be quickly reversible.

  14.  As Europeans think about how to influence US policy effectively over the coming months, they must pick their subjects carefully. If European leaders stand up and argue that the ABM treaty is "a cornerstone of strategic stability" the present US administration will wonder if they were on a different planet on 11 September, when strategic stability in the proper sense of the term was shattered by a terrorist network that would have been happy to launch an attack on the World Trade Centre with ballistic missiles. As the US gives Homeland Defence a new primacy, it will be hard for outsiders to argue that the US should be denied in law the right to spend its own taxpayers money to erect an imperfect defence against small salvos of ballistic missiles.

  15.  Equally, it will be important as the emphasis turns back to diplomacy, for the Europeans to act in a manner complementary to and in co-ordination with the US as that country addresses the future of Central and South Asia, and of the Middle East Peace process. The most useful role that the Europeans can play is to encourage the US to remain intensely engaged in the politics of these regions. The PM insisted on this himself in interviews on 9 October. In the aftermath of these attacks the world cannot afford a US policy that is itinerant in character. Europeans can play a role in keeping the US engaged, but to do so they must lead by example, and this may be challenging for some.

Dr John Chipman, CMB

International Institute for Strategic Studies

October 2001

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