Post–cold War Policy - Defending the american homeland

The Cold War had barely ended before American policymakers began to worry about the possibility that hostile states and transnational terrorist organizations would soon be able to undertake nuclear, chemical, biological, and informational attacks against the continental United States. Recognizing that the United States, because of its overwhelming military superiority, would not be threatened in the foreseeable future with traditional adversaries, national security planners pointed to the dangers posed by "asymmetrical" assaults on the American homeland. These might include nuclear missiles launched by rogue states, national plagues caused by the clandestine introduction of biological agents, and the destruction of the American financial system through the use of computer viruses by unknown enemies.

Such fears intensified in 1997 when the blueribbon National Defense Panel warned that the United States remained utterly unprepared for dealing with these threats. Three years later, the U.S. Commission on National Security, cochaired by former senators Warren Rudman and Gary Hart, concluded that "a direct attack against American citizens on American soil is likely over the next quarter century." Consequently, the commission proposed that the Coast Guard, Customs Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Border Patrol be unified as a new homeland security body, whose director would have cabinet status. The new agency would coordinate defense against attacks as well as relief efforts if deterrence proved unsuccessful. According to Rudman, "the threat is asymmetric, and we're not prepared for it."

American foreign policymakers responded to these alleged vulnerabilities in several ways. First, as we have seen, diplomatic and military instruments were used to prevent rogue states from developing weapons of mass destruction. These efforts proved to be only partially successful, and in 1998, Pakistan, formerly a close ally, enraged Washington by testing a nuclear device. Second, counterterrorism programs were intensified after the 1998 embassy bombings. But they could not prevent the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000. Moreover, the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995 by two Americans with homemade explosives, and the attempted destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City in February 1993 by foreign nationals, had demonstrated the extreme difficulty in defending the nation against asymmetrical assaults. And while a consensus about the need to make the U.S. homeland less vulnerable to these sorts of occurrences certainly emerged in the post–Cold War era, designing a strategy for doing so proved to be extremely difficult.

In March 1983, President Ronald Reagan had proposed that the United States build weapons capable of defending the nation against Soviet nuclear attack. His Strategic Defense Initiative proved to be very controversial and expensive, yet the program managed to survive the Cold War. In 1992 the Bush administration opened negotiations with Russia seeking to amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972 that prohibited the deployment of sea-based or space-based missile defenses and placed strict limits on land-based defenses. President Bush wished to permit the construction of several hundred land-based ABM systems to protect the United States and its allies against between 200 and 250 ballistic missiles from any source. But these talks produced no agreement, and in late 1993 the Clinton administration withdrew Bush's proposed amendments to the ABM Treaty and further reduced the scale of national missile defense (NMD) research and development.

The Republican Party, however, remained deeply committed to NMD, and upon capturing both houses of Congress in 1994 quickly increased appropriations for research and development. Moreover, Congress created a commission to assess the ballistic missile threat to the United States. Chaired by former (and future) Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the commission issued its final report in July 1998. Directly contradicting a 1995 National Intelligence Estimate that concluded that the United States need not fear missile attacks until at least 2010, the Rumsfeld Commission claimed that such nations as Iran and North Korea could threaten the United States within five years of a decision to acquire this capability—and that Washington might not be aware of the point at which such a decision had been made.

Just six weeks later, on 31 August 1998, North Korea test launched a Taepo Dong-1 missile, which, to the surprise of the U.S. intelligence community, possessed a third stage, which meant that in theory, at least, this missile had intercontinental capability. Congressional Republicans seized on the Rumsfeld report, as well as the North Korean test launch, to pressure Clinton to sign the Missile Defense Act of 1999, which made it official policy to "deploy as soon as technologically possible an effective NMD system." Strongly encouraged by Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, planning began on the construction of a radar system on an Alaskan island, but after a series of embarrassing failures by the Defense Department to intercept missiles from ground-based sites, in September 2000 Clinton decided to delay deployment.

President George W. Bush's determination to construct a national missile defense system as soon as possible unleashed a fractious and complex public debate. Opponents offered six main arguments against NMD. First, the deployment of even the limited system envisioned by Bush, which would be designed to intercept no more than twenty-five warheads, would be expensive. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a ground-based NMD would cost at least $60 billion. Critics recalled that ambitious Defense Department programs had in the past frequently encountered significant cost overruns and warned that NMD could contribute to future budget deficits if pursued in tandem with President Bush's proposed tax cuts. Second, opponents strongly doubted the technological feasibility of any NMD. They emphasized the difficulties of intercepting incoming warheads, likening it to hitting a bullet with a bullet, and suggested that the task would be made even more daunting if enemy ICBMs were equipped with decoys and other countermeasures.

Third, even if these enormous odds were somehow overcome and a reliable NMD system was deployed, critics worried that the creation of a Fortress America mentality among the public could be a major result. They warned that some congressional Republicans might seize on NMD and the consequent public retreat into isolationism as a pretext to reduce dramatically America's international role. Fourth, even if Russia could be persuaded that a limited NMD posed no threat to its massive nuclear arsenal, China, in possession of only about two dozen ICBMs, would be likely to build more missiles in order to deter a U.S. nuclear attack. Beijing's actions would trigger an Indian response to increase its nuclear capabilities, and that, in turn, would spur Pakistan to do likewise. Hence, an unintended consequence of NMD would be to heighten the likelihood of a South Asian nuclear war.

Fifth, critics contended that NMD constituted a quick technological "fix" that would serve as a poor substitute for patient diplomacy and nonproliferation efforts. Thus, instead of negotiating further agreements with North Korea, for example, armed with an NMD, the United States would have no incentive to try and help Seoul improve North-South relations or to attempt to alter peacefully the nature of the Pyongyang regime. Finally, opponents claimed that NMD represented a "Maginot Line" approach to nuclear defense. Recalling that the Nazis had invaded France in 1940 by simply circumventing the elaborate defensive fortifications known as the Maginot Line, critics predicted that NMD would, at best, defend the United States against an extremely remote sort of attack with ICBMs. Much more plausible was the so-called "man in a van" scenario, whereby a single terrorist could kill millions of Americans with a suitcase bomb or through the release of deadly biological agents into the water supplies of major cities.

While some NMD advocates, especially House Republicans, harbored isolationist sentiments, most in the Bush administration believed, at least privately, that a limited national missile defense system would enhance American global hegemony. Robert Joseph, Bush's counterproliferation expert at the National Security Council, dismissed the likelihood of a rogue state launching a preemptive missile attack on the United States as a false issue created by NMD opponents. He argued that such regimes viewed weapons of mass destruction as their best means of overcoming the American technological advantages that would lead to their certain defeat in conventional wars. Rather, ICBMs would enable these states to hold American and allied cities hostage, thereby deterring the United States from intervention in regional crises. In other words, their missiles could reduce the likelihood of massive retaliation by the United States if they employed chemical and biological weapons regionally, even against American forces. Implicit in Joseph's hypothesis was the assertion that a limited national missile defense system would cement the ability of the United States to intervene anywhere it deemed necessary. Russian and Chinese appreciation of this consequence doubtless explained much of their hostility to such a program.

Proponents furthermore claimed that only China had the ability to defeat an NMD system with decoys and that any effort to substantially increase its inventory of ICBMs would be extremely expensive and threaten future economic development. They also rejected the arguments of those who doubted the technological feasibility of such a system, noting that the United States only succeeded in placing a satellite in orbit after thirty failed attempts. Moreover, unlike Reagan's "Star Wars" plans, this system would only be aimed at intercepting a small number of missiles.

Yet NMD advocates disagreed about what sort of national missile defense system to build. In order to adhere to the provisions of the ABM Treaty, the Clinton administration decided to pursue a land-based system, and three trials were conducted. As a result, a consensus within the Pentagon developed that the Alaskan system could be finished more rapidly. Some in the Bush administration, however, preferred a sea-based NMD that would use and upgrade the navy's Aegis air defense system. They suggested that in addition to being less costly, it would also have the ability to defend U.S. allies against rogue attacks by simply moving ships close to Europe and Japan. Moreover, it would have the advantage of firing at ICBMs in their "boost" phase (that is, immediately after launch), when their speed is much lower than during the reentry phase. But others argued that such a system would take many more years to construct, because it could not, in fact, rely on existing Aegis technology. Some observers predicted that the Bush administration would attempt to pursue both land-and sea-based systems simultaneously despite the enormous costs involved. In any event, homeland defense and the closely related issue of national missile defense appeared ready to assume prominent roles in early twenty-first century American foreign policy.

For the Bush administration the post–Cold War era ended on the morning of 11 September 2001, when international terrorists used hijacked U.S. commercial airliners to destroy the World Trade Center in New York City and to damage the Pentagon. American foreign policymakers announced that the nation was at war with terrorism and girded it for a long and potentially frustrating struggle. Putting aside its early unilateralist inclinations, the administration immediately began to organize a broad international coalition to assist it in "draining the swamps" where terrorism thrives. For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States apparently confronted a direct threat to its physical and moral well-being, albeit one that seemed extraordinarily elusive, ruthless, and hydra-headed. Some commentators suggested that the period between the breaching of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 and the attacks of 11 September 2001 be renamed "the interwar era."

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