The Twilight War: Emily Osborne’s Perspective

Philip Zelikow, speaker at The Twilight War and executive director of the 9/11 Commission from 2003-4, spoke of the serious threats posed by terrorism today. He explained the paradox of adjustment and protection, as the American government must triage its defenses. He poses the possibility of whether or not the CIA will be the “new” defense, fighting the Twilight War, becoming perhaps more important than the large and structured military. A question and answer session followed, in which engaging questions were raised. Zelikow explains the issue of military capabilities being divided between the CIA and military, with separate operations and missions handled without enough synergy between institutions. He adds the interesting stance that foreign policy is no longer about relations between states, but is actually about the harmonization of all nations’ domestic policies. Both his monologue and discussion afterward were interesting and informative, even though he did not focus quite enough on the actual theme of “Twilight War,” the title of his speech, and its implications, in my opinion.

Zelikow’s opinion that the threat of terrorism today is unequal to the “apocalyptic” nuclear threat of the Cold War is a widely disputed topic, with many scholars believing that terrorism is the number one reason that America may fall as the global hegemon, or most powerful nation in the world. Joseph Nye, author of the article Limits of American Power, foresees terrorism to be the biggest threat to American preponderance. Zelikow believes that this threat is not comparable the “apocalyptic” age of nuclear deterrence during the Cold War, when he grew up. Many scholars believe that this is not the case, and that world was actually more stable than today’s, and the biggest threat to US unipolarity (assuming that is its international role) is terrorism. Stephen Walt, author of Taming American Power, explains American primacy in the global community and how non-Americans view power of the US in his book. He explains that the US will inevitably breed anti-Americanism abroad, which then has led to terrorists who hold the belief that America is evil, corrupt and must be punished. The underlying reasons of terrorism come from differences in culture and ideology, but we fight this with “hard power.” Zelikow only talked about hard power in response to terrorism, when authors such as Nye and Walt, while differing in schools of thought, place an important role on soft power and its ability to change state and non-state actors’ behavior. Perhaps given more time, and with different questions posed, Zelikow could have better expressed his perspective on the importance and relevance of soft power in foreign policy and regarding defence against terrorism.


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