Washington needs to reconsider, reluctance to share decision-making with European partners. Partners need to reassess traditional concerns about burden sharing.
Almost two decades after the 9/11 attacks and just weeks after the extremists attacked the US Capitol, the Biden administration pledged itself to revitalize alliances to address US national security challenges. As the administration’s newly published Interim National Security Strategic Guide put it, “Recent events clearly show that many of the biggest threats we face do not respect borders or walls and must be met with collective action, including violent extremism and terrorism.” While critical, this will not be an easy removal.
Under President Donald Trump, the United States withdrew from the list of international treaties and institutions. He took a disdainful attitude towards America’s traditional European allies.
NATO downplayed the alliance and ceased to form an alliance in favor of the highly operational and typically bilateral international. Trump’s policies prompted a European counterterrorism official to comment. “Doesn’t the Trump administration understand that his actions in Syria are undermining our national security? We are not an ocean far from Syria; the problem is at our back door. “
The Biden administration’s need to restore the reputation of the United States as a partner has become even more urgent after the Trump administration’s numerous announcements about military withdrawals from Syria. Defending his decision to withdraw troops in October 2019, Trump tweeted that the US “can always go back and EXPLODE”.
Should the Islamic State go back? “Actually you can’t. Who will register with us? Who will fight us?” Said Brett McGurk, who served as President’s ambassador to the Counter-Islamic State coalition under Trump and President Barack Obama.
“Diplomacy requires credibility,” said Joe Biden, the candidate of the time, “the word of a nation is its most valuable asset in the execution of foreign policy, and especially in times of crisis.” The first step in this direction is to engage in close consultations with partners and allies to determine how their countries prioritize the national security threats they face and to find common cause areas.
Such meetings also provide opportunities to help shape the threat perceptions of partners and allies and to create coherence between the US and partners ‘and allies’ threat perceptions. For example, the Islamic State and have a broad consensus on the threat posed by al-Qaeda, but Turkey, northern Syria attacked and sharp divisions on issues such as not sent back to their country of foreign fighters, the key country has defined how to handle these threats.
Similarly, disagreements over the level of threat and appropriate response to the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraq and other Shiite militias, and Iranian operations such as assassination and bombing in Europe in recent years, continue.
However, rebuilding the US reputation as an anti-terrorism partner begins at home. In the eyes of many allies, the United States now functions as a de facto safe haven for transnational white supremacists and far-right extremists.
The January 6 uprising threatened not only US internal institutions, but also national security interests and foreign policy priorities. It saw the image of the United States as an exporter of right-wing extremism eroded and undermined one of its best tools to attract partners to counter-terrorism efforts around the world.
As Russell Travers, former deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center and current assistant advisor to homeland security for the Biden National Security Council, puts it: “For almost two decades, the US has been pointing to countries that have been exporters of extremist Islamist ideology. We are now seen as the exporter of the white supremacist ideology.”
In a new study outlining what a rationalized and sustainable counter-terrorism stance should be 20 years after 9/11, I argue that it will be possible to persuade partner countries to form burden-sharing alliances with the United States only when the U.S. takes concrete steps. To restore its credibility as a reliable long-term partner both at home and abroad.
The United States must “do something” according to realism to get allies to join and contribute to alliances. This means leading some anti-terrorism lines and supporting others. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledges, the US allies “raise questions about the durability of some of our actions” and the only effective answer to these questions is US actions, not promises.
The United States is the only country in the world that has assets that can support military counterterrorism deployments over time, including essential support functions such as air refueling, shipping and logistics, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).
In the words of a European official, “The capacity of the United States to enable is enormous.” Immediately after the Trump administration’s unsteady commitment to allies such as the Syrian Kurds, Washington’s allies may worry that this or any other US administration might suddenly reverse course once again. Addressing this credibility gap will therefore require US action to be accompanied by clear diplomatic commitments.
The United States will also have to invest in building the capacity of partners to gradually take on more roles. In this formulation, load shifting, a process that will allow partners to develop their own abilities, must precede any real burden sharing.
Moreover, traditionally, allied commitment to military counterterrorism missions diminishes when the United States assembles and decides to leave. This calls for continued small American advice and relief efforts to support joint-led missions such as Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region of Africa. Around 5,000 French forces are deployed as part of this operation, fighting terrorists as well as the armies of the G5 Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger).
The Niger-based US contingent consists of 800-1,000 personnel serving in support roles, and air missions are often flown from bases outside of Africa. “With very few assets, the United States provides asymmetric value, not only in tactical terms, but also in terms of strategic impact,” said a US Department of Defense official.
Over time, Washington significantly reduced the number of troops deployed for this mission, and European powers filled the gap. One area where US support remains critical is the ISR from drones operated outside of Niger.
Of course, sharing the counter-terrorism burden may not always be possible. Even close partners who share a common perception of a common terrorist threat may prioritize them differently or apply a different risk / reward account for any action. However, America’s closest allies tend to seek partnership.
A European official said there could be “some post-traumatic stress disorder” as a result of the Trump administration’s isolationism, unilateralism, and impulsive withdrawal in places like Syria. But at the end of the day, all Europeans want a strong security partnership with the United States. The question is whether this cooperation is based on core tasks (sharing information on terrorist networks) or whether we can go beyond that and address co-breeding. terrorism grounds and stabilization missions (Syria, Iraq, Sahel).
“The key to making the second development more likely may come down to the United States’ reconsideration of its traditional reluctance to share decision-making with its European partners, and the traditional annoyances of European partners with burden sharing.
Under his temporary guidance, Biden made clear his intention to “revitalize America’s unique network of alliances and partnerships” to meet today’s challenges. He has the right idea, but the only way to revive America’s alliances is to restore America’s reputation as a trusted partner. Now is the time to step up and do it.