Friday, October 24, 2014

Lessons From an Anti-Terrorism Spending Spree

With the attack this past week in Canada’s capital, Canadian lawmakers are on edge about what the next step should be in shoring up security deficiencies at the nation’s capital. If a lone gunner can run into a well-guarded facility like the National War Memorial and manage to kill a soldier, it is not hard to imagine a much grimmer scenario with multiple gunmen or even a type of bomb. As we have seen from recent United States history and its domestic reaction to acts of terror, whether people agree or not, it has been effective at preventing another attack on US soil.

At least that is what we as American taxpayers hope is the case. In the article written by Micah Zenko and Michael Cohen, they challenge the notion that the defensive build-up is the reason that we are safe and that we remain safe. They argue that we should have a “99%” policy as opposed to Dick Cheney’s “1%” policy, wherein every possible scenario must be prepared for as though it will happen. The 99% policy would be one where policies of the United States reflect its states has the most safe and secure nation in the world.

The issue here is that if you read further into the article, you find that the authors argue that our defense build-up and maintenance at current levels is unnecessary because the US is the safest and most secure nation in the world and the terrorists got “lucky” on 9/11. While it is certainly true that America is relatively safe, the specter of an attack lingers on in many people’s lives. The first question many people had about the attack in Ottawa was whether or not it was carried out because of radical Islam. The authors go on to say that every subsequent planned domestic attack has been “thwarted” by the US security apparatus, which seems to support the success of the post-9/11 security doctrine.

Nevertheless, article makes a good argument about how the capabilities of terrorist organizations have been severely diminished due to the effects of the Global War on Terror. However, since the article was written in 2012, the world has changed significantly. From Putin’s foray into Crimea, ISIS’s rise as a caliphate, and the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa, the US has seen constant challenges to its foreign policy that have profound implications for national security. Clearly, with entities such as ISIS, who remain well-funded and organized, terrorist capabilities have received a considerable boost.

With the continually changing global landscape, can the US and allies like Canada afford to keep the status quo or even diminish national security capabilities? Or would a decrease in funding lead to a diminished capability at all or could that funding save more lives being spent somewhere else? (Yes) In any case, the US has learned that overreaction is the wrong policy approach and can lead to the waste of trillions of dollars (see graph above) better spent on other domestic issues. Canada will surely keep its neighbor’s failures and successes in mind as it determines how to prevent another domestic attack in its capital. 

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