TCS Daily

Necessary, But Insufficient

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - May 23, 2002 12:00 AM

In the ongoing war against terrorism, there is a great deal of speculation about whether and when the United States will move to attack Iraq and institute a regime change by overthrowing the Ba'athist dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. The premise underlying the call for a regime change in Iraq, and in other states that sponsor terrorism, is that a new government would be friendlier to American interests, and would be more likely to forsake the use of terrorism.

This view certainly is plausible, and on the whole, regime change in state sponsors of terrorism would make it less likely that those states would carry out hostile operations against the United States. However, regime change, in and of itself is not enough. What is needed is the ability to deter the regime of a state from carrying out terrorist attacks, even if the United States does not try to change the specific nature of the regime. And the best way to do this is to show that it is not in that state's interests to carry out acts of terrorism in the first place.

The need for a strong deterrence capability, and the recognition that regime change may not be a sufficient policy option, stems from the lessons of the realist school of international relations. This school states, among other things, that in examining the actions of a nation-state, the nation-state's perception of its rational self-interests matter more than domestic factors like the internal composition of the regime. Specific regimes with different ideologies may nonetheless settle on a particular policy for their nation-state, on the belief that such a policy is in the long-term interests of the regime. Thus, if a nation-state deems it in its own interests to pursue a particular foreign policy path, it will do so in many cases regardless of the nature of its regime-unless the nation-state is deterred from doing so by a realization that the costs of pursuing that particular interest outweigh the benefits.

Thus, even if an enemy regime like the one headed by Saddam Hussein is replaced, the United States must ensure that a viable deterrence structure exists to prevent a reversion to terrorism by the nation-state in question. It must also be able to deter the contemplation of terrorist sponsorship by other nation-states, regardless of the nature of their regimes.

Effective deterrence requires, among other things, the following four important steps:

1. To be able to deter successfully, the United States must have the proper intelligence capability to anticipate the actions of a potentially hostile nation-state. I have written before about the current poor state of American intelligence capabilities. These capabilities must be upgraded at the soonest possible moment in order to assist in the creation of a proper deterrence structure.

2. The United States must also have the ability to swiftly project its forces in the event that it finds evidence of state-sponsorship of terrorism. The quick deployment of troops to Afghanistan was an impressive feat of logistics, but it must be remembered that the deployment was rather small. If the United States wishes to deploy a larger troop contingent (such as the troop contingent that would likely be needed to wage war against Iraq), it must be in a position to do so speedily. This means that force projection capabilities must be a major part of the Pentagon's ongoing efforts at transformation, as well as an immediate item of attention in the current military budget under review by Congress. It also means that the United States should actively seek a new base of operations for its forces in the Middle East. Because the Saudis are increasingly hostile (at least in public) to American interests, the United States should consider moving its forces to a more friendly Gulf state, such as Bahrain, or Oman. The American military may also wish to make more use of the hosting capabilities of Turkey, or some of the former Soviet states, assuming that we receive ongoing Russian cooperation. These locations may provide bases of operations that allow for swifter troop deployment, in environments friendlier to the presence of American soldiers.

3. The United States should also augment the capabilities of elite military strike forces such as Delta Force, the Army Rangers, the Air Force special operations group (an often overlooked, but tremendously effective fighting force), Navy SEALS, and the Marine Corps (which is, itself, a special operations force). It will often be necessary to insert a small, but highly capable strike force to defeat and destroy terrorist camps within the confines of a particular nation-state. No matter how much the United States augments its ability to deploy a large mass of troops and conventional forces, it will always be easier and quicker to deploy special operations forces. Those forces should have the best training, the best equipment, and consequently, the best funding possible. If a nation-state contemplating the sponsorship of terrorism understands that the United States possesses the capability to covertly infiltrate its borders, and launch swift and lethal attacks against terrorist encampments, it could complicate the ability to host those encampments to such a degree that the costs of terrorism sponsorship outweigh the benefits.

4. Finally, the United States should enhance its abilities to "follow the money" when it comes to gaining information on terrorist financing. This means gaining a strong understanding of the structure of terrorist financing-including the existence and identity of specific dummy corporations and dummy charity group and information on the particular money-laundering techniques practiced by terrorist groups. To deter terrorism, American efforts will have to be largely centered on cutting off the monetary lifeblood of terrorist organizations. State sponsorship of terrorism must be made into as much of a monetary burden as possible.

Changing a regime that supports terrorism is an important part of fighting the overall war against this pernicious global phenomenon. However, it must be remembered that while the identity of a regime in important, a nation-state may very well support terrorism if it determines that such a policy is in the interests of the nation-state. Thus, in fighting the war against terrorism, the United States must not only pay attention to the specific nature of the regime of a particular nation-state, but whether that nation-state is tempted to calculate that the support of terrorism is in the nation-state's own interests. If so, the United States must be able to create conditions that will deter regimes from pursuing terrorism as a policy option by persuading them that the costs outweigh the benefits.

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