America currently finds itself in the midst of a confused search for a central principle around which to organize its foreign and defense policies. For almost a half-century, until the collapse of the Soviet system in the early 1990s, containing communism was the core doctrine guiding US national security policies. The "war on terrorism" has come to serve as a handy substitute. But it fails to provide a solid (or particularly admirable) foundation upon which to base America's role in the world in the 21st century.
The search for a new grand strategy, or at the very least a new organizing principle, is confounded by the revolutionary times in which we live -- an unprecedented era of several simultaneous revolutions, all of which are epic and historic.
Globalization is internationalizing markets, finance and commerce, while the information revolution is changing the way we work, learn and communicate. Both revolutions are benefiting the developed, Western world but further dividing the "haves" from the "have-nots," in this case those without finished products, services or resources to trade or without access to new technologies.
They are also contributing to a third revolution, the erosion of the sovereignty -- and thus the authority -- of the nation state. The failure of states, especially those artificially constructed by great powers after wars or cobbled together by older colonial powers, is becoming a serious international issue and promises to remain so. As the authority of the state erodes, the fourth, and potentially most dangerous, revolution emerges -- the transformation of war and the changing nature of conflict.
This is the revolution that arrived at America's doorstep on Sept. 11, 2001. There were, of course, many warnings. The first attack on the World Trade Center occurred in 1993. Then came the bombings of the US barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the USS Cole in 2000.
On Sept. 15, 1999, the US Commission on National Security for the 21st Century issued a report entitled "New World Coming." Its first conclusion was that: "The United States will be attacked by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction, and Americans will lose their lives on American soil, possibly in large numbers."
The same commission, on which I served, urged the new US President George W. Bush, on Jan. 31, 2001, to prepare the nation for these attacks by consolidating dispersed federal government agencies into a new national homeland security agency. Our warnings and recommendations were not heeded. Three thousand people died in the first terrorist attack in the US in the new century. Everyone agrees that others will follow. Many experts believe that, two years later, the US has still not begun to take the urgent steps necessary to defend itself against further attacks.
Even the trade-off of liberty and security has been little discussed relative to its importance. This is probably because most of those inconvenienced by preliminary counter-terrorism measures in the US are Arab-Americans, while the broader American community has not been bothered. But the US is, and prides itself on being, an advanced liberal democracy where individual liberties are guaranteed by a written constitution and bill of rights, and whose freedoms are protected by an independent judiciary established as an equal third branch of government.