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Sunday, September 16, 2001

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Dealing with the enemy

Homeland defence will now take precedence in the U.S., says C. Raja Mohan.

AS THE United States prepares for complete overhaul of its foreign and security policies after the terrorist assault on New York, it is struggling to come to terms with the reality that the American homeland is now vulnerable. Until now the U.S. had the extraordinary luxury of two ocean moats on either side and friendly neighbours to the North and South.

As a result, the U.S. had concentrated in dealing with the security threats arising from afar, and defining its global policies with no fear of the Continental United States coming under attack. With the homeland absolutely safe, the U.S. had huge leverages and large margins of error in dealing with the world.

Now Washington must deal with an enemy who has shown the capacity to inflict a scale of punishment on America, few thought was possible without the use of weapons of mass destruction. The debate in the U.S. after the cold war about the nature of the new threat is over.

An enemy has now presented itself. The debate in future will be on crafting a strategy and creating the instruments to deal with the new challenge. The sleeping giant has been woken up, and it will mobilise resources that no great power in the past had access to. Given the new awareness of its new vulnerabilities, homeland defence will take precedence.

The debate on national missile defence will resume in this new context, after a decent interval. Both its opponents and supporters will claim the events of this week support their case. The former will argue that missile defence cannot cope with the terrorist threat and the latter will point to the real American vulnerability and call for all means, including missile defence, to secure the homeland. But the political mood in America is likely to shift in favour of the latter.

As America gears up to wage a war and defeat the new adversaries, it is bound to be less preachy. From now on, America will be conducting a purposeful foreign policy aimed at crushing the new enemy. Every single issue will now be judged in the U.S. through the prism of counter-terrorism.

As the U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Colin Powell, put it on Friday, a new benchmark has been set up for American foreign policy. ``Willingness of a nation to support and cooperate with the U.S. is the new way of measuring the relationship and what we can do together in the future and what kind of support we can provide to you across the whole range of issues and activities,'' he said.

The traditional allies in Europe and Asia, after some hand wringing are likely to fall in line. The U.S. relations with Russia and China will be defined by the kind of positions the two take towards joining the international coalition against terrorism.

As the U.S. prepares to launch this new war, the greatest geopolitical changes are in store for West Asia and the Subcontinent. And this is where nations will be under the greatest stress to make choices. New sets of alliances and political equations will be firmed up in the coming weeks and months.

New Delhi and Washington find themselves on the same side of the global divide for a change, and the former's unconditional support for the American war against international terrorism is likely to transform the relationship between the two.

Pakistan, on the other hand, is at a new fork in the road. It could either return to the civilised world by dismantling the infrastructure for international terrorism it has created in the last two decades. Or it could get deeper into the embrace of the jehadis, and all the unpredictable consequences inherent in that course. India should be wishing good sense will prevail in Pakistan.

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