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In AAAS Address, Influential Security Expert Urges U.S. to Get Past "Paranoia"
The leader of an influential U.S. security think tank urged the nation to renew its commitment to constructive international engagement, and told scientists at a recent AAAS forum that they are important partners in efforts to craft a security strategy for a new era.
John Hamre, president and chief executive officer of the non-partisan Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said that since the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, the U.S. has slipped into a state of "turbocharged paranoia." The result, he said, is manifest in an outdated Cold War approach to current security threats, a strong impulse to isolationism and crude fears about immigrants and foreign port operators.
"I'm alarmed at how these last five years have turned us into a frightened, cowering country," Hamre said on 21 April, during the 31st annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy. "We are now a nation that's no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave, but the home of the afraid."
"We've had some of our politicians pumping fear nonstop for the last five years, which is part of the problem, but it's now deep in the genetic material of the American public. And we've got to work on this."
Hamre was elected CSIS president and CEO in January 2000. Before that, he served as U.S. deputy secretary of defense from 1997-1999 and under-secretary of defense-comptroller from 1993-1997. Before joining the Department of Defense, he worked for 10 years as a staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee. From 1978 to 1984, he served in the Congressional Budget Office, where he became its deputy assistant director for national security and international affairs.
Hamre was introduced at the Forum by Norman Neureiter, a veteran scientist and diplomat who now heads the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy. (The center seeks to advance national and international security by providing objective, state-of-the-art scientific and technological information to policymakers.) Neureiter called Hamre "one of the great heroes of public policy here in Washington," and said he had helped develop CSIS into "one of the world's pre-eminent policy institutions."
During the Cold War, Hamre said, the United States and its allies developed a "brilliant" strategy in response to an ominous enemy: They created a system of international institutions that embraced Western valuesthe United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, for example. The United States kept a sizeable military contingent overseas. Knowing that it could not match the Soviet Union in troop strength, though, the nation invested in superior technologyand in the policy infrastructure to block the Soviets from access to that technology.
Overall, it was a strategy of containment, Hamre said. But in today's global economy, where crime, terrorism and legitimate business transcend borders, containment is not a practical response. And yet the old containment reflex still governs our reaction to 9/11 and other perceived challenges and threatsand in that way, he suggested, the United States undermines its own interests.
"The architecture of blockage…the architecture of isolation, is a profoundly contradictory strategy [if we are] to survive as a nation and prosper as a people," he said.
"We're caught in this turbocharged paranoia that's carried over from 9/11 that has put energy back into a strategy that doesn't fit for this era. That's what we've got to changeat a time, frankly, when some of our politicians are more interested in getting re-elected by promoting paranoia [rather] than confidence."
Noting that China plans to open 100 new universities in the next decade, Hamre urged the United States to make a renewed commitment to expand education in all areas. And, he said, the nation must make "a dramatic expansion of our research and development investment" and work to revitalize the institutions and practices of international collaboration. Further, he said, the United States must retool the Cold War security establishment so that it's more attuned to the challenges of the new era. It must shake off the "handcuffs" of export controls, prohibitive visa rules and restricted technology access that are more appropriate to an age of containment, he added.
"The absolute foundation of our security is not with aircraft carriers or tanks or missiles, but it's the vitality of our society and the health of our economy," Hamre said.
The security community is responsible for shifting from a Cold War mindset to a more contemporary approach, he continued, but scientists must inform and back that shift. The S&T community may have a better understanding of that than most people, he said, but too often scientists and technology experts seem uninterested in such dialogue.
"The problem is that you're your own worst spokesmen," he said. "My plea, I guess, to the science community, is that you develop the vocabulary of patriotism as you're talking about the changes that we need to bring to this country….This is an era of wise internationalism. That's the only way we're going to survive as a country and prosper as a people."
Hamre acknowledged that the openness needed for such internationalism also creates security risksand scientists and engineers are needed to help limit those risks. "We've got to be smart," he said, "about how we design a security structure that does that."
Edward W. Lempinen
3 May 2006