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The idea to sponsor an essay contest emerged at the board of directors meeting a month after 9/11. Our thought was that with the declaration of a war on terrorism and the attention of government and the public on the military aspect of that conflict, it was important to highlight the fact that diplomacy will play a major role in fighting that war. This is true of all such struggles, but probably never more so than in the war against terrorism, given its most unconventional nature.

I was asked to head the project and over the next several months I wrestled with a subject for the contest and finally decided on the theme: “Looking to the mid- to long-term, what is the place of the war on terrorism in formulating American foreign policy?” I believed, and the board agreed, it was important to focus on the longer term, given the fact that all agree this is a war that will not be won quickly or easily.

American Diplomacy being essentially a volunteer-run publication, with financial support from directors, other interested individuals, and several foundations (most notably the Delavan Foundation), we were limited in the size of the prizes we could award for the best essays. Thanks to special contributions from Roddy Jones, President of the Davidson & Jones Construction Co., Raleigh, North Carolina; board member Ambassador Jeannette Hyde; we were able to offer first and second prizes of $500.00 and $250.00. I offered to fund the third prize of $100.00.

The contest produced an outstanding response of equally outstanding essays by our readers. The judging committee (composed of the prize donors) based our evaluation on content (the degree of knowledge and quality of theme development) and expression (clarity of ideas). After much discussion, three essays were judged to be the best. The winning essay, by Jesse Tampio, a student at Harvard Law School, follows. The second and third place essays will be published in future editions of American Diplomacy.

The editor and I and the board of directors of American Diplomacy extend our thanks to all who took the time and effort to submit entries. They, as well as all of our readers who provide feedback, are what make our work so rewarding.

Ambassador Michael W. Cotter
Associate Publisher

What is the place of the war on terrorism in formulating American foreign policy?

An Essay by Jesse Tampio

Since shortly after September 11, President Bush and other government officials have repeatedly stressed to the American people that the war on terrorism has no set timetable and no known end game. They have compared the new war both to the global, perilous war against communism and to the indefinite, pervasive wars on crime and drugs. President Bush, in his September 20, 2001, address to a Joint Session of Congress, stated that “Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.” He also indicated the scope of America’s strategy by declaring “we will direct every resource at our command…to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network.”

While the government has implemented many domestic policies to address the threat of terrorism—such as the USA PATRIOT Act and the Office of Homeland Security—the war will primarily be fought through international means. Because of its indefinite length and global nature, the war on terrorism will transform America’s international relations for the foreseeable future. But if current actions and policies are any indication, the war will have two interrelated roles in the formulation of United States foreign policy in the mid- to long-term. First, the United States will formulate new or altered foreign policies in directly prosecuting the war. But the U. S. government will also use the war as a means to further other long-term objectives. These other objectives include protecting and expanding our worldwide oil interests, strengthening our influence and strategic presence in key regions, antagonizing unfavorable governments such as Iraq, and expanding the nation’s global supremacy.

With us or against us
A very forceful expression of the war on terrorism’s powerful, long-term impact on international relations was the choice Bush presented to every nation in his September 20 speech: “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” The immediate objectives of this strict dichotomy were clear—to bolster the growing coalition of nations, to firmly warn any nations that support terrorism, and to sway any ambivalent governments.

In the short term, the policy has achieved its desired effects of reaffirming the lines along which the battles are drawn and of highlighting where the gray areas remain. But as the war evolves, the United States will use this policy to reinforce American global leadership and to further alienate hostile states. It will give the United States more means to reward its friends—old and new—and to punish its enemies.

The Bush administration made this dual policy explicit through two of its four counterterrorism principles, as stated in the State Department’s 2001 “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report. One principle is to “bolster the counterterrorist capabilities of those countries that work with the United States and require assistance,” and another is to “isolate and apply pressure on states that sponsor terrorism to force them to change their behavior.” Given the importance of the war to the United States’s international objectives, these principles have the potential to influence our long-term relationships with a considerable number of states.

On September 20, Bush asked for the assistance of every nation, saying that “We will ask for, and we will need, the help of police forces, intelligence services, and banking systems around the world.” The assembling of an international coalition against terrorism was a major short-term objective of the administration and given the indefinite length of the conflict, maintaining and expanding it will continue to dominate our long-term foreign policy.

The war has clearly strengthened our relationship with European and Asian allies. But as the war progresses, it will impel the United States to depend on its allies in coordinating intelligence, police work, economic sanctions, diplomatic maneuvers, and military actions. At the same time, America will invoke the war in pressuring allies to increase their level of efficacy in these arenas, especially militarily.

The war will also induce the United States to strengthen relationships with countries not considered our allies, based on their role in the war. The most obvious example of this so far is Pakistan. Before September 11, the country was under U. S. sanctions for its testing of nuclear weapons, but afterwards it became an invaluable ally in the war, showered with debt forgiveness and military aid. By muting its criticism of General Musharaf’s referendum to stay in power, the United States indicated that it is willing to subordinate other long-term principles—in this case democracy and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons—to the war on terrorism.

In other circumstances, though, the United States will use its principle of aiding countries to fight terrorism to advance other regional interests. For example, the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in the Philippines did kidnap American citizens, but the level of military aid the United States provided to the country to fight them was partly guided by a desire to bolster a potentially unstable regime. In other areas where the United States has pledged assistance, such as in Georgia, Armenia, and Uzbekistan, the military and economic aid is partly intended to protect American oil interests and to strengthen regional influence for years to come.

The war on terrorism will also affect America’s long term relationship with countries it considers adversaries by providing grounds both to intensify and justify animosity towards them, and potentially to improve relations.

The war’s ability to intensify United States animosity towards certain nations is exemplified by President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address, in which he accused “states like” Iran, Iraq, and North Korea of constituting “an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.” Although these and four other nations have long been on a list of states that sponsor terrorism, the current war will increase the level of urgency that will mark the U. S. policies towards these countries. The growing threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will further ratcheted up this pressure.

Iraq, in particular, poses a threat that will figure heavily into American foreign policy in the Middle East. The administration has strongly linked its desire to overthrow Saddam Hussein to the war by emphasizing the dictator’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and his potential to aid terrorists. But this is one issue where the United States will need to consider any future policies very seriously within the context other objectives in the war and circumstances in the region.

In the case of both Iran and North Korea, the United States has in recent years taken steps to improve relations with both countries by engaging in more active diplomacy. Bush’s “axis of evil” statement, however, strongly suggested that the prosecution of the war will take precedence over other objectives. While no military action is being planned against these countries, the United States will, as the principle above indicated, use the war on terrorism as justification to apply greater pressure on these countries.

The war will provide other pariah states with an opportunity to improve relations with the United States. For instance, both Libya and Sudan have offered to share intelligence information on Al Qaeda with the United States and have expressed a willingness to dissociate themselves from terrorist groups. In the long run, America will make it clear to many nations that their stance on, and participation in, the war on terrorism could greatly affect their relations with the United States.

Shifting priorities
Looking beyond the nation’s individual relationships with other countries, the war on terrorism will also affect some of the broad components of American foreign policy in the long run.

The very way that the United States employs its military, for instance, will be impacted by the war on terrorism. As evidenced by the considerable increase in military spending, the United States is gearing up for a larger presence overseas and a variety of different conflicts. Other than continued operations in Afghanistan and any possible ground attack on Iraq, missions will likely focus on small groups special operations forces working quietly or involved in counterterrorism training. In some countries, an increased American military presence will breed further popular resentment that the United States will need to reckoned with. In other countries, such as Yemen, the United States will use the war as an opportunity to reinforce strategic positions.

America will also need to engage its military and other personnel in “nation building” as a result of the war. The rebuilding of Afghanistan will be difficult task for the United States over the next several years, but the administration will also use the opportunity to help establish a friendly government, which will certainly aid our oil interests in the area. As seen in Pakistan and elsewhere, the United States will also be able to provide strategic military and financial support for undemocratic governments by giving aid in the name of counterterrorism.

The reliance on the often-delicate international coalition against terrorism will change the extent to which the United States becomes diplomatically involved in international conflicts. Neither the Israeli-Palestinian nor the Indian-Pakistani conflicts are likely to be resolved soon, but the United States will have to remain engaged in both in order to maintain the stability needed to pursue its goals in the war.

The long-term U. S. disarmament policies will also shift in the context of the war. The attacks of September 11 demonstrated the will and ability of terrorists to inflict massive U. S. casualties. As a result, the United States will continue to ratchet up its efforts to curtail the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Washington though, will also use the threat of WMD to garner support for broader policies, most notably offensive actions against Saddam Hussein and Iraq,

The war on terrorism will also have a lasting effect on how the United States utilizes diplomacy in the first place. One early action that clearly indicated a shift in U. S. foreign policy was its payment of long-neglected UN dues. A primary motivation for this was to reassert the United States’s involvement in multilateral diplomacy and gain momentum for its coalition against terrorism. But, in the long run, Washington will also use the war as a pretense for unilateral action. For example, the Bush administration said that it would be willing to use only U. S. military forces in a campaign against Iraq.

In addition, the United States will continue its use of public diplomacy to present a more favorable vision of the country and its policies, especially within the Islamic world. The administration will rely on embassies that have somewhat neglected since the end of the cold war to revitalize American efforts to spread good will across the globe. The appearance of American diplomats on foreign media outlets—such as Colin Powell’s numerous interviews on al-Jazeera—are likely to continue as well. Public diplomacy, along with economic aid, are long-term policies that could help engender an international environment less favorable to terrorist actions against the United States

If one thing is certain in the war on terrorism, it is that the future holds many surprises. As everyone involved in the struggle would surely attest, it is impossible to predict the war’s trajectory. No one knows when or how terrorists will achieve another major strike against the United States, or what new fronts will emerge. But it is clear that U. S. foreign policy will continually adapt to the war, both by finding ways to fight it and by finding ways to integrate its objectives into a cohesive vision of America’s relationship to the rest of the world.End.


Jesse Tampio grew up in Maryland. A graduate of the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill in 1998, he studied for a year at the University of Bologna in Italy. He is currently a first-year student at Harvard Law School who plans a career in international affairs.


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