What cost national security? Question is debated at reunion event
In the post-9/11 world, national security is an oxymoron; it cannot exist without international cooperation, said Dan Caldwell, a political science professor at Pepperdine University, during a lively roundtable discussion Oct. 21.
The well-attended Reunion Homecoming event in Memorial Auditorium brought together Caldwell ('70, A.M. '78, Ph.D. '78) with fellow alumni Heather MacDonald (J.D. '85) and Stephen Stedman ('79, A.M. '85, Ph.D. '88) and Assistant Professor of Law Jenny Martinez. Carlos Watson (J.D. '95), a commentator on Cable News Network, moderated the forum, which was titled "National Security: At What Cost?"
Stedman, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a special adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, agreed with Caldwell on the importance of mutual cooperation in tackling global problems such as terrorism and disease pandemics. The nature of such threats, he said, is such that no state—rich or poor—can protect itself by itself. "When we understand that our security is dependent on security in the larger world, we'll all be better off," he said.
When Watson asked whether Americans are safer today than before 9/11, MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said she did not know because U.S. intelligence has been unable to infiltrate al-Qaida, the group that claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks. Unlike the Soviet Union, America's former Cold War adversary, little is known about the Islamic group, she said. "The only way we can defend against asymmetrical threats is through intelligence," she said. "We have to get into this enemy and figure out what their plans are."
In response, Stedman said that more can be done to combat terrorism than simply improving intelligence. "You have to be able to sway populations and groups from supporting terrorism as a tactic," he said. "This is something that's bigger than the United States. This is something world leaders have to do."
MacDonald also questioned whether terrorists should be entitled to the Geneva Conventions concerning the protection of prisoners of war. She spoke in favor of employing stress techniques such as "marathon interrogation sessions" to extract information from detainees. "If you have an al-Qaida operative who is trained in resistance and knows our limits, you have to know how to get the information," she said. "We are obligated not to torture, but we should explore how to break down that resistance. I don't think there is a slippery slope."
Martinez, who represented Jose Padilla, the "enemy combatant" in the 2004 U.S. Supreme Court case Rumsfeld v. Padilla, said more can be asked of detainees who are not recognized as prisoners of war. "But the line is torture or cruel and inhumane treatment," she said. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq and the mistreatment of prisoners in Guantanamo, Cuba, have had negative repercussions for the United States, she said. "It has been quite serious and had a significant impact in terms of our security," she said.
MacDonald agreed that the Abu Ghraib case has been a disaster for U.S. national security. "I'm appalled by the abuse that's gone on," she said. "The prohibitions against torture must be respected. I think by and large they have."
Caldwell and Stedman faulted MacDonald for her stance on the Geneva Conventions concerning the treatment of enemy combatants. "If the U.S. doesn't observe the Geneva Conventions, then we can't expect countries or non-state actors to observe them," Caldwell said. The United States cannot expect reciprocity from terrorists, "but the world is watching," Stedman said. "When you are trying to battle terrorists, you are telling the world, 'We are different. They do things that we don't. We live up to the rule of law.' The incentive is that there is a global audience, and it costs when you don't live up to the norms that you uphold."
Stedman also said Americans are not safer today than they were four years ago. "I think the war in Iraq has been a disaster," he said. "The global war on terrorism has been a disaster. The failure to strengthen the [nuclear] nonproliferation treaty has been a disaster."
Despite this, Stedman said, technological advances and improved understanding of ways to foster economic growth could go far to address fundamental global problems. "I believe that if we did the right thing, we could end global poverty in 15 years," he said. "It depends on whether we are going to start seeing the world as interconnected and start viewing our security as dependent on everyone else's security."