Courtesy Reuters

Engaging Failing States


Two years have passed since the September 11, 2001, terrorist strikes aroused the United States from its post-Cold War strategic slumber. The attacks spurred Washington to action and offered an opportunity for fresh thinking in foreign policy. To meet the challenge posed by large-scale terrorism of global reach, the Bush administration has mobilized the country, assembled substantial armed coalitions, overturned two hostile regimes, weakened the leading terrorist network, and adopted a posture of forward defense against future attacks. It has also refocused relations with Russia, China, and Europe to deal with terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass destruction (wmd) in the hands of rogue regimes.

Despite these important achievements, there is something wrong with the big picture. The administration may be hitting its immediate targets, but it is only paying lip service to the broader objective of achieving a safer and better world order. Forcing U.S. global policies into the simplifying framework of a "war on terrorism" creates the illusion that there is one enemy. In reality, no global adversary exists analogous to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Terrorism is a tool, not an actor, and conflating the menace of terrorism with the threat posed by wmd in the hands of evil regimes further distorts the strategic picture. By concentrating on worst-case scenarios of immediate vulnerability, moreover, the Bush administration overlooks the failed-state crucible in which many threats to U.S. interests are forged and risks alienating the partners and undercutting the credibility required to address them.

Now that the United States has carried out several bold military campaigns to unseat odious rulers, it must face the reality that these are only the first steps in building global security. Acknowledging this truth openly is the only way to mobilize U.S. and international attention, resources, and staying power. It is time, therefore, for a fresh articulation of Washington's purposes, centered on sustaining regional security, leading coalitions and institutions to help failing and threatened states,

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