is Secretary of Defense for the United States.
Safety and Sovereignty
Gaining around the world...
J. Feith] 2/28/05
organization, my office at the Pentagon, is now doing its part
in the Quadrennial Defense Review – the QDR – which
the Congress has mandated. The review requires organizations
throughout the Defense Department to consider which capabilities
we’ll need in coming years. The foundation of the QDR is
a defense strategy that nests within our national security strategy.
So we’ve been obliged to think and re-think our most wide-ranging
and basic strategic ideas. It’s a healthy practice to review
the basics – to question the formulation of our national
security aims and re-chew our policy assumptions. Stale thought
makes for bad strategy.
A key element of the President’s strategy is the interest
that the United States has in seeing freedom and democracy gain
ground in the world. President Bush, as you may have noticed,
had something to say on this point in both his inaugural and
State of the Union speeches recently. Under his direction, Administration
officials are considering how best to increase safety and safeguard
civil liberties at home by, among other means, supporting freedom
abroad. As we do this work, we’re paying particular attention
to four phenomena in the world: the spread of weapons of mass
destruction, terrorist extremism, the risks posed by failed or
failing states, and the strategic choices facing important powers
in the world, especially countries like China that are growing
Our nation’s most basic interest is to protect the freedom
of the American people—our ability to govern ourselves
under the Constitution. The sovereignty of the United States
is another way of referring to this freedom. The United States
strengthens its national security when it promotes a well-ordered
world of sovereign states: a world in which states respect one
another’s rights to choose how they want to live; a world
in which states do not commit aggression and have governments
that can and do control their own territory; a world in which
states have governments that are responsible and obey, as it
were, the rules of the road.
Now, if the essence of sovereignty is that no
state dictates how another organizes itself, how can respect
be squared with President Bush’s promotion of democracy?
I believe President Bush has answered this question by explaining
that promoting democracy is not the same thing as asserting a
right to impose governments on other states that are simply minding
their own business. It would be a contradiction in terms to push
democracy down the throats of people. Democracy means self-government
and people can have it only if they choose it for themselves.
Over the years, U.S. presidents have encouraged
democracy. And after wars, the United States has laid the foundation
in countries like Japan, Germany, Afghanistan and Iraq. But democracy
can’t be sustained as an imposition. It requires that the
people not only want it, but are willing to do the hard work
to create and preserve the institutions important or necessary
for democracy such as: multiple centers of power; a culture of
compromise; basic freedoms – of conscience, religion and
speech; an independent judiciary; private property; a free press;
and fair elections.
Democratic institutions have proliferated around
the world in recent decades, including in places with non-Western
and without a history of democratic politics. These institutions
spread because they succeed. In liberal democratic countries
people enjoy greater freedom, prosperity and domestic tranquility
than in non-democratic countries. That’s what I mean by “success.” One
can make this observation and encourage countries to adopt democracy
without offending the principle of sovereignty.
Nor does respect for sovereignty require us to
ignore the depredations of tyrannical regimes. As President
Bush has said, “America
will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains,
or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any
human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies.” Even
if the United States at a given moment is not in a position to
help relieve such misery, Americans associate themselves with
other peoples’ aspirations for freedom. President Bush
has often said, most recently to the citizens of Iran, that where
people stand for their own liberty, America will stand with them.
Promoting democracy marries pragmatism and humane
principle. Hence the President’s declaration that “America's
vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.” The
safety and liberties of Americans are more secure in a world
rich in countries that respect the rights of their citizens.
Skeptics (undoubtedly well represented here, in so sophisticated
an audience) are naturally suspicious of claims that principle
coincides with advantage. But is it not the task of statesmanship
to harmonize, to the extent possible, what is right with what
Since the colonial era, Americans have seen our
country as a “light
unto the nations” – an exemplar of freedom through
self-government. Even those who have argued most forcefully that
America ought not go abroad looking for dragons to slay have
recognized that the American example of self-government is a
powerful force in the world.
The United States carries out its policy of promoting
democracy not in a simple, black-and-white morality tale, but
in the real
world, a sphere of moral complexity and life-and-death challenges.
Despite the preeminent position of the United States in the world,
we are not all-powerful. We don’t have the luxury of restricting
our cooperation in national security affairs exclusively to states
with political arrangements of which we approve, any more than
Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill could afford to be overly
delicate about the nature of Stalin’s regime. Indeed, as
Churchill remarked, “If Hitler invaded hell I would make
at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” But
the United States can boast that our influence on our non-democratic
partners has tended over time to broaden the domain of human
Consider the historical record. The governments
of South Korea and Taiwan, for example, were non-democratic,
even at times repressive,
yet the U.S., for practical reasons, maintained close ties with
them during the Cold War. Both were cited as instances of American
inconsistency – and both are now vigorous democracies.
A similar point could be made about the Philippines, Indonesia,
El Salvador and others.
U.S. devotion to a well-ordered world of sovereign
states has been called into question also because of our warnings
the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of bad
actors. In his State of the Union message in 2002, President
Bush said: “We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our
side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will
not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States
of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes
to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.” Some
criticized those words as a repudiation of classic notions of
It’s instructive to reflect, however, on how the concept
of sovereignty has evolved over the years. The traditional idea
was that governments should be immune from interference as to
actions at home short of actual aggression against another state.
But in the mid-20th Century, for example, the civilized world
modified the concept of sovereignty in light of the Nazis’ crimes
against humanity. Genocide is now widely recognized as a matter
of international concern and, despite the importance of sovereignty,
governments are deemed outlaws if they commit genocide, even
against their own citizens.
Then, in the 1990s, notwithstanding that Kosovo belonged to
Serbia, the United States and our NATO allies did not permit
the Milosevic regime to use the concept of sovereignty to shield
its gross mistreatment of the Kosovars against international
intervention. So, even without an authorizing resolution from
the UN Security Council, NATO took action against Serbia.
As the enormities of genocide and other acts
of gross inhumanity perturbed established ideas about international
of mass destruction now challenge statesmen of the civilized
world. Even a small and poor state may now be in a position to
produce the means to cause devastation to other people – damage
far beyond the ability of such a state ever to remedy or recompense.
The world has decided that sovereignty shouldn’t protect
a government perpetrating large-scale crimes against humanity
within its own borders. Before us all now hangs the question
of how long-standing ideas about sovereignty can be squared with
the dangers of biological or nuclear weapons. Should governments
with troubling records of aggression, support for terrorism,
human rights abuses and the like be allowed to invoke sovereign
rights to protect their development of catastrophic weapons that
threaten the sovereign rights of others in the world? This is
a question for which there is no simple, objective answer.
The importance of promoting a well-ordered world
of sovereign states was brought home to Americans by 9/11,
enjoying safe haven in remote Afghanistan exploited “globalization” and
the free and open nature of various Western countries to attack
us disastrously here at home. Sovereignty means not just a country’s
right to command respect for its independence, but also the duty
to take responsibility for what occurs on one’s territory,
and, in particular, to do what it takes to prevent one’s
territory from being used as a base for attacks against others.
In the war on terrorism, one of the key strategic challenges
is this: How can we fight a global war against enemies who are
present in so many countries with whom we are not at war? Indeed,
many of these countries are friends of ours.
To contemplate that question is to come to understand
why the United States cannot possibly win the war on terrorism
means alone – or by itself alone. The United States can
win the war – it can defeat terrorist extremism as a threat
to our way of life as a free and open society – only through
cooperation with allies and partners around the world.
Now, this may strike you as a shockingly non-unilateralist pronouncement.
Perhaps you will conclude that it represents the new diplomatic
tone of the new term of this Bush presidency. In fact, recognition
that allies and partners are indispensable to the war effort
has animated U.S. strategy since 9/11. Top U.S. officials have
said so for years, though statements to this effect tended to
be ignored or underplayed by folks wedded to the thesis, as common
as it is false, that the administration is run by fools committed
to go-it-alone-ism in national security affairs. But I digress.
Let’s get back to the key question: How
can we fight a global war against enemies who are present in
so many countries
with whom we are not at war?
A key part of the answer is cooperation with partner countries.
As a practical matter in most cases, only they can act as required
against the terrorists on their territory. The required action
may be law enforcement; it may be intelligence work; it may be
a military operation; or it may be the development of an educational
system that can compete with extremist madrassa schools.
We’re working with allies and partners to develop common
views on the nature of the threat of terrorist extremism. We’re
assessing with them the capabilities needed to confront it. We
urge our partners to do their duty as sovereign states to regulate
their borders and otherwise control their territories.
And we’re working to build their capacity
to perform that duty. So the United States not only encourages
but helps to enable it. This accounts for such various, not obviously
related projects as:
- the training
and equipping of the Afghan and Iraqi security forces, military
train-and-equip efforts in Pakistan, Yemen, the Philippines,
Georgia and elsewhere;
assistance programs in various countries;
- the President’s
Global Peace Operations Initiative, to help train, sustain
and rapidly deploy forces (initially
in Africa) for peacekeeping and for the more difficult
missions known as “peace enforcement;” and
establishment of the new Reconstruction and Stabilization
Office at the State Department to help countries
develop the tools they need for civil administration.
The main elements of U.S. strategy in the war on terrorism are:
one, protecting the homeland; two, disrupting and attacking
terrorist networks; and three, countering ideological support
for terrorism. The third – the ideological fight – we
see as the key to victory.
We have overthrown two regimes that supported
terrorists – that
of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of Saddam Hussein in Iraq – and
induced a third – Qaddafi’s in Libya – to change
its policies. All of this has contributed to forcing our extremist
enemies to shift some of their attention from offense to defense.
All of this has helped interfere with their communications, planning,
weapons programs, training and operations, as have our disruptions
of terrorist financial flows and the capture or killing of approximately
two-thirds of the known leadership of al Qaida. But we recognize
that, if all we do is disrupt and attack terrorist networks,
we’ll not defeat our enemies.
Our goal is not only to deny the terrorists what they need to
operate, but ultimately to deny them what they need to survive.
This is why it is crucial to counter ideological support for
As we see it, this effort, a long-term undertaking,
has two components. First, we have to de-legitimate terrorism.
President has said, we intend to make terrorism like the slave
trade, piracy, or genocide – activities that nobody who
aspires to respectability can condone, much less support. It
will take a lot of work to change the way millions of people
think, and to undo the effects of decades in which terrorism
was tolerated and even, on occasion, rewarded.
The second component of our effort to counter
ideological support for terrorism is support for models of
sound economics and healthy civil society that can compete with
the bloody blandishments of the extremists. As President Bush,
referring to the Greater Middle East, has explained, “As
long as that region is a place of tyranny and despair and anger,
it will produce men and movements that threaten the safety of
Americans and our friends. We seek the advance of democracy for
the most practical of reasons: because democracies do not support
terrorists or threaten the world with weapons of mass murder.” This
is why the political and economic reconstruction of Afghanistan
and Iraq are crucial to success in the war on terrorism.
The problems that I’ve been discussing thus far are by
no means the sole focus of folks in the Defense Department. As
important as are the war on terrorism and WMD proliferation,
we retain our interest in relationships among the world’s
Throughout history, regulating such relationships has tested
the skills of statesmen. The test gets especially tough as it
becomes necessary to accommodate the shifts in relative strength
among those states, especially the rise of new powers. A failing
grade has all too frequently come in the form of war, when the
international system proved unable to balance the demands of
the rising powers and the interests of the older ones.
Over the last ten to twenty years, the world’s
state system has managed a number of grand adjustments gracefully
including the disintegration of the Soviet empire, the unification
of Germany, the blossoming of India and the enlargement of NATO.
Of the new powers that are rising – developing economic
strength and willing to engage in the world, through trade and
otherwise – the country that can be expected to have the
greatest effect on international relations is China.
As in India and other rapidly developing countries,
the people in China have benefited palpably from their government’s
economic liberalization and from the world’s general willingness
to accommodate their rise by, for example, admitting them into
the global trading system. China has cultivated confidence on
the part of international business people that it will remain
stable and hospitable to them for trade and investment.
As is the case with other major players too – Russia,
India, Japan, the European Union and, I would say, the United
States – China can be seen as facing a strategic crossroads.
The world is in rather high flux, international relations don’t
now have the structure and the alignments that existed during
the Cold War, or even in the decade preceding 9/11. Countries
are making choices that will determine what kind of world they
want to live in. These countries have to define their aspirations
for the future, what in the past might have been called their
conception of “national greatness.”
For a country like China, the fundamental choice is whether
it wishes to join the group of advanced economies whose relationships
are governed by “rules of the road” of the international
state system and who define their national purpose with reference
to the freedom, well-being and prosperity of their citizens.
As the U.S. record makes clear, we don’t see the world
economic system as a zero-sum game – we envision the possibility
of rising economic tides, as the saying goes, that lift all boats.
China, for its part, was able to develop rapidly because it abandoned
the radicalism of the Mao years. If it wants to continue to prosper,
it will choose a benign path that will allow the world to accommodate
its rise peacefully. The question is: do its leaders see that
China’s long-term interests – including its opportunities
to profit from foreign investment and trade – hinge on
its becoming a respected and responsible member of an international
community, and that this will in turn require that it forego
the threat or use of force to pursue reunification? Sensitive
and explosive issues, such as relations between China and Taiwan,
should be addressed within the existing diplomatic framework,
the essence of which is that all matters be resolved consensually
Other key players in the world can help the Chinese
leadership understand that China’s future prosperity, stability, and
dignity depend to a significant degree on China’s continued
political development toward a freer society governed by a more
representative political system. Such a society would be less
likely to see military force as useful, and more likely to seek
international influence through the attractiveness of the society
it builds at home.
The world’s recent successes in managing great power relationships
are a credit to the flexibility of the state system and the vitality
of the conflict-averting “rules of the road” that
I have referred to. Rising powers have understood that their
worthy hopes can be realized within a well-ordered system of
sovereign states. The United States and our allies and partners
have an interest in fostering an environment in which China comes
progressively to share that understanding.
This discussion of U.S. policy has been, I realize, a bit abstract.
Some of what we do in the Defense Department is like that,
and some is more down to earth. I would like to conclude by
mentioning the people in the Department who are not only down
to earth, but the earth they are down to is in Afghanistan
The men and women of the U.S. armed forces serving in combat
abroad are contributing bravely and brilliantly to achieving
the national purposes I have been outlining. They are disrupting
terrorist networks, helping set the conditions for the Afghans
and Iraqis to create their own democratic institutions and
helping shape the global environment so that Americans can
enjoy safety and civil liberties and continue to serve their
historical role in the world as supporters of freedom. They
make us proud and deserve our grateful recognition. We should
all thank them. tOR
by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith,
to Council on Foreign Relations New York City.