Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Containment vs. Pre-Emption

The doctrine of containment put forth by George F. Kennan is what won the Cold War for us. Expounding upon an article titled "Broken Engagement" by former General Wesley Clark, Kevin Drum says:
Clark's point is a simple one: Neither Reagan nor any of the seven Cold War presidents before him ever attacked either the Soviet Union or one of its satellites directly. This wasn't because of insufficient dedication to anticommunism, but because it wouldn't have worked. In the end, they knew that democracy couldn't come at the point of a gun; it had to come from within, from the citizens of the countries themselves.
Now, that's all well and good, but Kevin forgets two things. Nuclear weapons and 9/11.

The reason the containment policy was so adhered to was because of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Both the United States and the Soviet Union both cherished their societies too much to see them get utterly wiped off the face of the earth. But the Islamists we are fighting do not have that same rationale. As they have shown hundreds of times, they will willingly sacrifice their own lives to take ours.

On September 11th, terrorists killed 3,000 US citizens on US soil. With that blow, any sembalance of a containment policy flew right out the window.

Last September, Wretchard at the Belmont Club wrote a post that ultimately gave him his fame around the entire blogsphere, it was titled the Three Conjectures. In it he said this:

These obstacles to terrorist capability are the sole reason that the War on Terror has not yet crossed the nuclear theshold, the point at which enemies fight each other with weapons of mass destruction. The terrorist intent to destroy the United States, at whatever cost to themselves, has been a given since September 11. Only their capability is in doubt. This is an inversion of the Cold War situation when the capability of the Soviet Union to destroy America was given but their intent to do so, in the face of certain retaliation, was doubtful. Early warning systems, from the DEW Line of the 1950s to the Defense Support Satellites were merely elaborate mechanisms to ascertain Soviet intent. That put the Cold War nuclear threshold rather high. Even the launch of a few multimegaton warheads at US targets or a nuclear exchange between forces at sea would not necessarily precipitate Central Nuclear War if American national command authority was convinced that the Soviet strike was accidental or could be met with a proportional response; in other words, without the intent to initiate an all out nuclear exchange, there would be none.

In stark contrast, the nuclear threshold against a terrorism may be crossed once they get the capability to attack with weapons of mass destruction. Unlike the old early warning systems, designed to gauge Soviet intent, the intelligence systems of the War on Terror are meant to measure capability. The relevant Cold War question was 'do they intend to use the Bomb?'. In the War on Terror, the relevant question is simply 'do they have the Bomb?' This puts the nuclear threshold very low. Just how low was empirically demonstrated in the days immediately following the September 11, when it was reported that the United States had considered -- and rejected -- a nuclear response to the World Trade Center attacks. The threshold had almost been crossed. [Emphasis mine]