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After 9/11 anniversary: the return of US diplomacy

The US has relied on the military to hit back when attacked or even threatened; to place first priority on building up defenses; to sometimes shoot first, ask questions later. But the most difficult challenges ahead will require greater reliance on diplomacy and traditional statecraft.

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Second, diplomacy is also the most likely way for the US to blunt the nuclear ambitions of both North Korea and Iran. After the searing experience of invading and occupying both Afghanistan and Iraq, there is no appetite in Washington or in allied capitals for another land war in the vital regions of the Middle East and Asia. Instead, America will need to contain and eventually defeat the aims of the gangster regimes in Pyongyang and Tehran by leading international coalitions to sanction and weaken them over time.

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The military can't solve global warming

Third, diplomacy will also be our major instrument in confronting the many international challenges ahead for the US – climate change; trafficking of women and children; virulent crime; narcotics and terrorist cartels; the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; the extraordinary revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa; the need to renew and rebuild NATO and strengthen America’s Pacific alliance; the challenge to US power from the rise of China, India, and Brazil.

While the military will continue to be a front-line resource for future presidents on some of these issues, there is no question that this country will have to rely much more on diplomatic power to address most of them. The majority of these problems cannot be resolved by the United States acting alone or in small coalitions or by relying excessively on the use of force. Washington will not be able to ask the Army or the Marines to respond to poverty and climate change or the Navy to address the complex religious and political roots of terrorism.

This renewed commitment to diplomacy is critical for America’s national strategy. It is the most practical and effective way to coalesce with allies and friends as well as to confront foes in the decade ahead. That is why leaders in Washington should make the same commitment to rebuild the State Department as they did with the Pentagon, CIA, and Homeland Security in the years following 9/11. Congress fully funded those three pillars of national security but starved the fourth and equally important pillar – diplomats and USAID professionals.

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