the Cold War era – the four decades that followed World War Two – there were
two superpowers in the world, the United States and the Soviet Union, each with
the capacity to destroy the other. The prospect of nuclear devastation made its
avoidance the undisputed top priority for both Washington and Moscow.
Stevenson wonders if that strategy will work in America's war on terror. The
strategic analyst tackles that question in his new book, Thinking Beyond the
Unthinkable: Harnessing Doom from the Cold War to the War on Terror.
says the sudden end of the Cold War with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in
1991 did not prepare strategists to deal with the new threats of the post-Cold
Soviet Union seemed so powerful and immovable that it was difficult for even
the great strategists to imagine a world without the Cold War," he says.
"And the rise of non-state groups as strategic threats was so
unanticipated that the strategists just didn't think in advance about how the military
strategy would have to change in the post-Cold War world."
a professor of Strategic Studies at the Naval War College, explains that during
the Cold War, the threat of mutual assured destruction kept the superpowers in
check. Certainly, he says, the theory still applies to Russia, new nuclear
regimes like North Korea, potentially Iran, as well as between India and
Pakistan. But in his book, Thinking Beyond the Unthinkable, he argues
that nuclear deterrence does not extend in any obvious way to trans-national
Islamist terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.
terrorists, for instance, like al-Qaeda, don't pose any real nuclear
threat," he says. "So, holding the vast American military arsenal,
even recruiting some conventional weapons, over al-Qaeda is a little like
holding a shotgun on a horse fly. It wouldn't discourage the bug from biting.
So we need to establish an arsenal that includes a lot more so-called soft
power than what we've been using so far."
power includes diplomacy, intelligence and law enforcement. Deterrence,
Stevenson adds, can be a soft power weapon. But it only works, he points out,
if the adversary has something of value to be threatened. So he suggests
militant non-state groups should be encouraged to participate in non-violent
state activities… like politics.
of those groups, and I'm thinking particularly about Hezbollah in Lebanon as a
good example, developed political power and legitimacy through the non-violent
participation in politics that they have become reluctant to relinquish through
violence," he says. "Hezbollah may seem very threatening now, but
they are actually much less violently inclined than they were in 1980s,
precisely because they have gotten a lot more political traction in
other lesson America should draw from its Cold War experience, Stevenson says,
is the organization of efficient think tanks that are able to assess and
analyze new threats.
the great Cold War strategists were incubated by government-linked think tanks,
especially the RAND Corporation, through which they became intimately
acquainted with the strategic challenges the government faced but were allowed
to think expansively about solving them outside the chaos of day to day policy
execution," he says.
many of those think tanks still exist, Stevenson says "they have beome
constrained by their closeness to the Defense Department." He says it's
time to create a new think tank to deal with the new strategic problems and
approach them in a broader way.
also recommends that Washington focus its international efforts on those
"soft power weapons" – law enforcement, intelligence and diplomacy –
rather than on direct military action.
will involve cautiously, and I think probably fairly slowly, withdrawing from
Iraq… a refocusing on Afghanistan in a way that stabilizes that country and
makes it harder for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which are resurgent in the tribal
areas of Pakistan, to get traction in central Asia again.
also recommends "re-immersing ourselves in conflict resolution, in
particular with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And he suggests focusing on "other
diplomatic efforts [that] involve re-building and re-consolidating alliances
that are important in keeping an eye on terrorist activity and doing so in a
way that doesn't antagonize Muslims more broadly."
warns that the war on terror should not distract America from the other
geo-political developments that actually seem, in some ways, similar to Cold
preoccupation with the campaign against al-Qaeda and global terrorism and our
immersion in Iraq and the way in which it's made us distracted and
overstretched, both diplomatically and militarily, has made us myopic," he
says. "It has made us perhaps too
dismissive of the possibility, for example, that Russia is behaving like an
emerging great power."
says Russia's oil wealth and Europe's dependency on that oil "has given it
much freedom of action." He adds
that "a greater U.S. presence in Central Asia has, at least to the
perception of Moscow, impinged on an area that it still considers its sphere of
analyst Jonathan Stevenson says he hopes the lessons learned from the end the
Cold War era will help a new generation of strategists navigate and eventually
end the era of terror.