A Plan for Peace in the Twenty-first Century

We can prevent most of the dangers in the foreseeable future without resorting to war. But we cannot prevent all of the misery in the world.

We are going to face no danger from a war with a major power, and we must reorganize our military to counter the true challenge we do face, against Islamic terrorists. Our military striking force must decentralize largely into small, lethal, highly mobile, cooperating teams that can move swiftly to any place where terrorists are located and destroy them. The challenge we face today and will face in the foreseeable future is a guerrilla war waged by terrorists. The day of conventional war between nation states has passed away. Our military must be restructured to meet its new challenge, not remain organized to fight a war that never will be waged again.

Our military at present is involved in exactly the wrong task—serving as an occupation force in a country, Iraq, that is involved in a civil war. We must get out of Iraq as quickly as possible, and not repeat elsewhere the mistakes we have made there. Since 2003, we have attempted and failed to build a democratic, peaceful society in Iraq.

An outside power is incapable of transforming another nation’s institutions and laws by means of military occupation. A nation must rely upon the genius of its own people to develop the institutions and laws to create democracy and the rule of law. We should teach these values by diplomacy and example, not by force. Our abortive efforts in Vietnam, Somalia and Iraq should warn us off any future such endeavors. Our military should be structured to fight terrorists, not serve as peacekeepers or nation-builders.

Although terrorists are intransigent and must be destroyed, many of our problems can be solved by negotiation or careful calculation.

We should devote our full resolve and offer bountiful economic incentives to convince North Korea and Iran to give up possession of atomic bombs. In the event this effort fails, however, we must tell both nations that—if terrorists detonate an atomic bomb anywhere on earth—we will determine by tests which country the bomb came from, North Korea or Iran. We then will destroy that country with nuclear strikes. This will force the leaders of both countries to keep their nuclear weapons away from terrorists, if only to ensure survival of their own people,. This was the threat that brought the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev to heel in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. We told him that, if any missile was launched from Cuba anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, we would destroy the Soviet Union with hydrogen bombs.

In this and other endeavors we must rely largely upon our own resolve. We will get only modest help from our allies.

European states have done little more than slap the wrist of Iran for its defiance of world opinion in its quest for the atomic bomb. They have done nothing about the nuclear threat of North Korea. NATO countries have placed complex rules of engagement to reduce the danger to their troops in Afghanistan. The Italian premier pressured the Afghani president to release five Taliban leaders in exchange for a kidnaped Italian journalist in early 2007, insisting that otherwise his government would collapse. One of Holland’s occupation units has a policy of retreating every time Taliban insurgents fire on it. Fifteen British sailors and marines surrendered rather than resist Iranian attackers in the Persian Gulf in March 2007.

No other countries can be relied on to back up the United States in any international crisis. This reality is being complicated by the fact that an increasing number of Americans are turning in on themselves and against the world. A late 2005 Pew survey showed that 42 percent of Americans think that the U.S. should “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best that they can on their own.”

In the November 2006 congressional elections, the American people voted to withdraw from Iraq. In a broader sense they rejected America’s role as the world’s policeman and are disillusioned with trying to solve the world’s intractable problems. Growing isolationism and the failure of our allies to help are primary reasons why we must develop a new policy in our dealings with world crises.

The United States must choose goals that are possible and reject aims that are laudable but cannot be attained. Our great threats are from Islamic terrorists and rogue states with atomic bombs. We should concentrate on these dangers and—while offering help and counsel—let most of the rest of the world’s problems take care of themselves. Some of them follow.

The United States can do little to eliminate tyrannies in the world. Some leaders oppress their people horribly. Burma, several of the former Soviet Muslim states in inner Asia, Belarus, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela are among the world’s badly governed states. The leaders of these countries, however, pose little threat to the peace of the world. We cannot remove them by force, except at unacceptable cost and consequence. We can only hope to mitigate their damage by example and persuasion.

We can’t eliminate starvation in Africa. The continent has ample capacity to feed itself. But outside efforts to create the institutions to achieve this goal have failed for half a century and are going to fail in the future. The African people must generate the desire to solve their own problems and must create the necessary institutions. Zimbabwe is symptomatic of the situation. A repressive dictatorship wiped out a highly productive agricultural sector and put nothing in its place. In neighboring Zambia, the World Food Program made an urgent appeal in February 2007 for donations to buy corn for starving people, although the country itself had a bountiful harvest. A country that has food but cannot distribute it to its starving citizens is in dire need of a structural and institutional transformation. The West cannot do it. The Zambians must take responsibility to feed themselves.

Iraq has demonstrated that fundamentalist terrorism is only a small part of the seething chaos within Islam. The doctrinal dispute between the Shiites and the Sunnis is almost incomprehensible to Western minds, but it has remained unresolved for 1,300 years. The Kurdish desire for freedom is easier to understand but equally difficult to solve. The Arabs, Turks and Iranians have repressed them for many years and they want release. But an independent Kurdish state carved out of northern Iraq would encourage Kurds in Turkey and Iran to join it. This would throw the Middle East into even greater chaos. The best that can be hoped for is that the Iraqis can establish a weak federal state that can divide power and the country’s oil equitably between the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds.

China has been advertised as a potential threat, but this is not so. China is intent on building up its economy, not in embarking on military adventures in the Far East. Our fears about the safety of Taiwan are unfounded. The Taiwanese are Chinese themselves and they have long since become a valued, dynamic part of the Chinese economic empire. We should think of Taiwan as another special Chinese trade zone, like Hong Kong and Macau, not as a competitor. Taiwan’s economic integration into China will eliminate the danger that the island may launch itself as an independent state and cause mainland China to attack.

Russia is reverting to its historic role as a rigid, authoritarian state, but the Kremlin has no interest in reconstituting the Cold War, and little ability to do so. Although Russia has immense stores of oil and natural gas, its economy otherwise is weak and its population is declining in the wake of scarce economic opportunities. Russia may be a nuisance in the future—by occasionally cutting off supplies of gas to Europe, for example—but it is unlikely to threaten the peace of the world. Russia is returning to its traditional position of sitting on the edge of Europe, but remaining too steeped in ancient fears that it may be absorbed into Western culture to become a part of Europe.

In regard to terrorists, we will get some help from European countries that face attacks within their own territories. But they will leave the broader problem of eliminating terrorism to us.

In Afghanistan, we won’t get much help from neighbor Pakistan. It has done little to oust the Taliban who are using tribal areas along the Afghan frontier as refuges. Our concern rather is to preserve the Pakistani dictator, Pervez Musharref, because he is backing the West against the terrorists. If he were to be assassinated, Pakistan—where fundamentalists have a great deal of support—might become a haven for terrorism. With a population of 180 million and possessing the atomic bomb, Pakistan would present a far greater danger than Afghanistan.

A key problem inhibiting our pursuit of terrorists is the outdated structure of the American military. Although we have adjusted our forces significantly since 9/11, they are still organized to fight a conventional war with another major power.

Major powers could not fight wars even if they wanted to. If any major country were to face defeat or occupation by another major power, it would resort to nuclear warfare. A nuclear confrontation could escalate quickly beyond the power of any state to stop it. This would lead to the destruction of civilization and a planet overwhelmed with deadly radiation. No political leader would take this step. The only person who would detonate an atomic bomb would be a terrorist, with no national state of his own to protect. Wars between major powers have passed into history, and cannot come again. Future confrontations between major powers will be economic, not military.

America must lead the world into the new realities. It is the only country that can do so. This is our great challenge in the twenty-first century.

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