I have posted here (which has links to my other posts on this subject) on other aspects of our necessary future foreign policy. In this post, and as a segue to an upcoming series on defense policy and force structure, I want to talk about the meaning of “war” and “state of war” from a diplomatic perspective and then suggest some things that such an understanding might imply for foreign policy. There is far more to war than shooting and exchanging missile fire; although overtly military actions are certainly central aspects of war, especially in the end game. A clear understanding also is necessary if State and Defense are to work together as the unified whole they must in order for the United States to effectively defend itself in wars of any type.
“War” or “state of war” are more than just formalistic, legalistic conditions involving Congress announcing that we’re at war. A “declaration of War” by Congress under Article I, Section 8 is in the end only an acknowledgment that we’re already in a war. For instance, FDR’s 8 December 1941 request for Congress’ declaration of war against Japan closed with this acknowledgment:
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.
Congress’ subsequent declaration also acknowledged that it was simply codifying with its declaration that war was already in progress:
Whereas the Imperial Government of Japan has committed unprovoked acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America….
That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial Government of Japan which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared….
Thus, with the legalism of a declaration, we merely acknowledge that a state of war has existed and that we’ve been in a war for some time. A formal declaration finds use only insofar as it triggers certain legal conditions and parameters that exist in a formal state of war that do not exist in an on-going war that has not been officially announced.
It’s necessary, at this point, to understand what an “act of war” is. An act of war has meaning on three levels: one is a precipitating action that triggers a formal acknowledgement that a war is in progress: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, for instance. A second meaning includes an action conducted within the confines of an ongoing, declared war and in prosecution of it: shooting down enemy aircraft, or foot soldiers fighting a battle against each other, for instance. A third meaning is an action conducted within the confines of an ongoing war that is as real as the formally declared war but which has not been formalized by the participants’ public declarations of war. A terrorist attack by a non-national organization on buildings and the occupants of them (the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, various centers in Mumbai, India) and the killing of terrorists for these and in preempting other attacks are examples of this third meaning.
It’s this third meaning that is of interest in this series of foreign policy principles, and it is the non-national organizations, the terrorist organizations, with which this post is primarily concerned.
Being at war, from a diplomatic perspective, is more than just the tautology of Carl von Clausewitz’ remark about war being an extension of diplomacy. There are diplomatic considerations applicable during war, including the not-formally-declared war, as well. These begin with understanding the goals of the nation or non-national organization that is attacking us, a critical matter of catch-up if the strike was unpredicted, and an equally critical matter of anticipation when the enmity has been well-known for some time, and the tensions observed to have been building through that time. But the diplomatic considerations also apply to hidden wars, especially when we finally realize that we are under attack (vis., cyber war. This and other forms of “hidden” war are described briefly below).
For instance, the goals Islamic terrorists have for their war on us are not well understood, not least by our politicians. The present administration, and its predecessors, have long shown little interest in understanding their goals, satisfying themselves with bringing the perpetrators to “justice.” The Clinton administration considered terrorist acts simply to be crimes. The succeeding Bush administration understood that we were at war, in some sense, but did not look into the terrorists’ purposes, satisfying itself solely with making war on Al Qaeda and “every terrorist group of global reach;” although President Bush did understand one goal of Al Qaeda, in particular: “Its goal is remaking the world and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere.” The Obama administration has been even less investigative of terrorist goals, satisfying itself with killing Al Qaeda leaders and “bringing the troops home.”
Yet buried in the incuriosity is a statement by a terrorist leader, Hussein Massawi, a former leader of Hezbollah:
We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.
And there’s this from Sayyed Hassan Nasralleh, Hezbollah’s Secretary General:
“Death to America!” was, is, and will stay our slogan.
Within this clear, but not yet internalized by our government, statement of the purpose of a terrorist war, for instance, we can gain a clearer understanding of what’s included in “acts of war.”
Beyond the overt actions of forces invading another nation, or bombing its harbors and ports, or the like, acts of war also include, within this third meaning, such things as the following, which is an illustrative list, only (other examples are described here):
- attacking another nation’s embassy and imprisoning the diplomats, staff, and families within it
- sending personnel—terrorists—into another nation to murder citizens of a third nation
- sending personnel—terrorists—into another nation to murder diplomats of a third nation
- actively supporting piracy
In addition to these plain acts of terrorism, which are a subset of acts of war, are these additional acts of war—acts that often begin as part of a hidden war:
- shipping, as part of ordinary trade, poisoned products: formaldehyde-laced gypsum board, or toxic baby food, for instance.
- manipulating currency values so as to damage our economy.
- attacking our computing and/or communications networks, or our computer-controlled infrastructure, with cyberware capable of damaging/destroying those targets, or planting malware that will be used “later” for that purpose.
- actively supporting nations and non-national organizations that do the above
With this understanding, from a diplomatic perspective, of the nature of war, what can foreign policy do to support the successful prosecution of such a war thrust upon us? It’s important to understand that these are actions that occur in parallel, and in coordination, with military actions; they are not limited to being prior to military action, nor are they conducted instead of military action. They are not merely a point of departure from which military action extends.
The first thing foreign policy can do is to guide our efforts to help our enemies find a way to stop being our enemies. They do not need to become friends or allies, although this certainly would be desirable, but by no longer being our enemies, they will no longer be getting killed by us, and more importantly, they will no longer be killing us (or trying to). In practice, this will most likely apply to our enemies’ allies, but it does not automatically exclude the enemies themselves. Plainly, this must begin with an understanding of our enemies’ motive in attacking us. In the case of Islamic terrorists, it would seem that convincing our enemies will not occur; we can, though continue to work on their allies and supporters.
Along with this, foreign policy can guide our efforts to convince other nations to allow us entry into their jurisdiction so as to bring down enemy individuals—terrorists—or gain other nations’ cooperation in their bringing to justice those individuals. Additionally this can facilitate our efforts to engage foreign intelligence and law enforcement organizations to share information and to obtain assistance in identifying, tracking down, and capturing active terrorists before they can strike.
Finally, foreign policy can guide our efforts to understand the needs and imperatives of relevant nations and non-national organizations (both outright enemies and those who, by supporting our enemies have demonstrated their own enmity and complicity), the better to target such other actions as embargos of critical resources and isolation from the global network (or outright disruption) of their financial systems, including the central banks of relevant nations.
Update: Corrected some (egregious) formatting problems.