June 14, 2023

Counterterrorism Partnerships Sharpen America’s Competitive Edge

Originally published in The Liberal Patriot

Counterterrorism may not be America’s top national security priority anymore, but counterterrorism partnerships play a larger role in America’s foreign policy than simply preventing transnational terror attacks against America and its allies: they build the very bilateral relationships the United States needs to keep its competitive edge in the wider strategic competition against the likes of China and Russia. Yet U.S. policymakers treat counterterrorism and competition with China and Russia as two separate efforts, an either-or choice in a world where terrorism is no longer America’s primary national security threat.

This geopolitical contest drives the realignment of national security resources toward building defense capabilities to deter Chinese aggression and reinforcing NATO, particularly through support for Ukraine, while prioritizing more conventional Indo-Pacific partnerships. Seemingly left behind by this shift are those U.S. partners whose shared interests with the United States—namely counterterrorism—fall lower on a list of U.S. strategic priorities than, say, climate and energy security, global health, and nuclear non-proliferation.

Partially justifying the shift away from counterterrorism is the near elimination of the direct threat terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State pose to the United States and its allies. Counterterrorism operations have almost erased their ability to carry out mass-casualty attacks within the United States itself. Better border security, better international counterterrorism infrastructure, and better remote targeting capabilities—i.e., drones, surveillance, and the like—provide layers of defense against such attacks within a counterterrorism machine that essentially runs on autopilot (though this over-the-horizon posture may prove less effective than advertised). Moreover, the local conflicts in which al Qaeda and the Islamic State have embedded themselves are messy and complex—stoking fears in Washington of foreign entanglements and long-term military commitments.

Read more in The Liberal Patriot here.