Alternatives to a Military Response to 9/11

What could the United States have done except make war on the people who perpetrated or abetted the attacks of 9/11?   Wasn’t war the only possibility?

The alternatives for finding and holding accountable those guilty of the 9/11 attacks, and for preventing future attacks, were not long, if ever, considered: a military invasion of Afghanistan commenced on October 7th, 2001.  Those methods, however, might have enabled the United States to better prevent and cope with the threat of terror attacks, and at far less cost to life and treasury.

Comparisons have been made between states that have used military responses to terror tactics (for example, France in Algeria in the 1950s and 1960s) and states that have taken alternative policing and political approaches (for example, Italy in the 1970s in response to the Red Brigades). 

A Rand report made systematic examination and comparison of 268 groups using terror tactics in the period from 1968 to 2006.  It showed that several approaches have been much more effective than military responses at eliminating future attacks.  They include criminal justice responses and attempts to address the well-being concerns of both combatants and the broader populace that might support them. 

The study found that 40 percent of the 268 groups were eliminated through intelligence and policing methods; 43 percent ended their violence as a result of peaceful political accommodation; 10 percent ceased their violent activity because they had achieved their objectives (“victory”) by violence; and only 7 percent were defeated militarily.

Military responses have often created more extensive violent response and terrorism against the civilian population caught between two opposing forces. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have served as an effective recruiting device for new terrorists.  For example, contrary to the US government’s rationale that invading Iraq would prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, the country has instead become a laboratory in which militant groups have been able to hone their techniques of propaganda, recruitment, and violence against the most highly trained military in the world.  The number of terrorist attacks in Iraq rose precipitously following the 2003 invasion and has not returned to its pre-war level.

In addition, wars often create the conditions for additional violent conflicts over the new resources and new political alignments created by an initial invasion or occupation.  The civil wars and criminal violence that erupted in both Iraq and Afghanistan are examples of this phenomenon.