With the end of the Cold War more than a decade ago, the field of national security grant making essentially collapsed. Even longtime national security donors turned their attention elsewhere, convinced that no one could touch American military might. In universities across the country, we studied peace instead of history and pursued the premise that the world was made up of sensible folk with whom we could strike reasonable bargains. Even the term “national security” went out of style, replaced by the more fashionable “international security.” Not even continuing violence in the Middle East and other hot spots was enough to shake our conviction that national security was a moot topic.
Needless to say, since September 11 many of those assumptions have been abruptly challenged. A seemingly arcane notion of “asymmetric threat” was made diabolically real. The attacks shocked Americans into appreciating that the United States did indeed have enemies and that military technology alone cannot protect an unprepared society from those who would do us deadly harm. Now, the dogged work of the few foundations and nonprofits that did not abandon the field is about to come to fruition as national attention once more focuses on questions of war, security, and the national interest.
In the Wilderness
But the fact is, a number of authoritative voices had warned that America had foes who were busily acquiring all sorts of weapons to use against us. In 1999, the Rumsfeld Commission, chaired by then-former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, announced that the ballistic missile threat to the United States had been underestimated and was more pressing than the government wanted to acknowledge. The detailed report was backed unanimously, even by commission Democrats.
Yet even that impressive group stirred little interest in the media. In fact, leading arms control groups and their foundation backers redoubled their efforts against missile defense. Several donors banded together to launch the Peace and Security Funders Group, which opposed missile defense and pushed for arms control agreements with ever more questionable governments, despite missile tests in North Korea, nuclear tests in Pakistan, and rumblings from Saddam Hussein. There is a veritable industry promoting these perspectives—foundations, think tanks, academic research centers, even polling shops—all espousing the “let’s work it out” view, whereby stakeholders have as much right to sit at the table as nation-states.
Incredibly, we even managed to overlook mounting evidence on the terrorism front. Following the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the FBI attempted to pursue concerns about a number of groups and individuals involved or possibly involved in the attack. They were rebuffed by the Justice Department and an administration intent on crafting an agreement with Arafat. This appeasement of the PLO leader continues even after September 11, despite clear signals that the public is dubious about these sorts of deals. A New Atlantic Initiative/Chicago Tribune poll taken in mid-October indicated that 63 percent of those polled felt that even if the United States succeeded in finding bin Laden, terrorist attacks would continue from other sources. Roughly the same number responded that forcing Israel to reach an agreement with Arafat at this time would effectively be “rewarding terrorism,” and 82 percent favored extending the war to Iraq.
Public Strength, Elite Ambivalence
The poll numbers indicate just how far out of touch the foundation world is with the American mainstream on national security issues. There is much talk in this community, as well as in the press and occasionally among members of allied governments, that no war on terrorism can be won without addressing the “root causes” of the problem. These are universally assumed to be poverty, though as Edward Rothstein pointed out recently in the New York Times, the terrorist groups are directed by millionaires like bin Laden and draw adherents largely from the educated middle class.
Yet the “root causes” proposition seems central to the grant making approach taken by some of the country’s largest foundations in the wake of the attacks. A recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy cited a host of grants in support of programs like the Global Terrorism Project, which will make recommendations to Western governments on “how to end the conditions in which terrorists flourish.” The MacArthur Foundation is dedicating $5 million to “long-term responses to terrorist attacks,” which they call “new threats to international security. What conditions give rise to terrorism and sustain it? What are the implications of tighter security for civil liberties?” And the Nathan Cummings Foundation has set aside $500,000 to protect the civil liberties of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans.
There is much concern about giving Americans a better understanding of Middle Eastern culture. “The United States, psychologically, culturally, and socially, has not been readied to expand its accommodation of faiths beyond Judeo-Christian,” says Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. So expect a good bit of investment in the “getting to yes” school of dealing with terrorism. All these initiatives are no doubt worthy, assuming we all live long enough to get to the oft-referenced “root causes” of terrorism—or the root causes of poverty, for that matter. But what any of these programs will do to protect and defend the country is not obvious. We have been shown to be stunningly vulnerable—what is to be done?
One of the more interesting aspects is what polling reveals about public support for missile defense: Despite popular commentary calling it irrelevant, the public seems even more keen on the development of missile defense systems since September 11. Several polls taken in the spring and summer indicated that some 62 percent of Americans favored the deployment of missile defense, whereas the NAI/Chicago Tribune poll taken in mid-October showed over 75 percent want to see the deployment of a missile defense as soon as possible.
An extremely simple argument can be made on this issue: If we think we are vulnerable now, imagine if these powers had nuclear weapons. Can we be under any illusions that our enemies wouldn’t use these weapons if they could? Funding that would allow relevant organizations to organize and promote discussion of this initiative would be a timely investment in an issue the public is eager to explore.
Shifting the Bias
Along with more concrete investments in missile defense and related technologies, the whole field of national security funding needs a paradigm shift away from fuzzy notions of “international security” to more hardnosed questions of national security and American interests. Already our schools have largely done away with the study of military history, questions of military tactics and strategy having been deemed irrelevant to the post-Cold War era. But as Yale’s Paul Kennedy will attest, when these courses are offered, they prove to be enormously popular. A real investment in revamping national security education seems warranted.
The events of September 11 highlight the need to acknowledge the limits of arms control and international protocols and agreements, which have been strongly supported by some of the major philanthropies and the nongovernmental organizations they fund. The degree of adherence to these treaties is highly variable—it is not uncommon to see among the signatories those countries most eager to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Having agreed to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction, for example, Saddam Hussein nonetheless sponsored a full-tilt biological weapons program under the noses of an international weapons inspection team. The Soviet Union signed the biological weapons ban in 1972 but still conducted successful research into lethal biological agents. According to Judith Miller’s new book, Germ, Soviet scientists could not imagine that the United States wasn’t cheating, too.
Our preference for arms control and treaties has left us unprepared for the scope of the threats that we now confront. Biological and chemical weapons developed by the Russians may be in the hands of Saddam Hussein or others, and we know that several of these players hope to acquire nuclear capabilities as well. A rigorous examination of the record of arms control treaties in accomplishing their stated goals—an examination foundations are eminently suited to fund—would make an immense contribution to future government initiatives and would provide useful markers to an often emotional public debate on these issues. A careful record of arms control and the attendant verification procedures could well help build a better set of mousetraps in the future.
Staying the Course
As we said, after the end of the Cold War, foundation support for national security was at its nadir. But there were a very few funders who kept some money going to good groups working in this area. Why did they persevere in making these grants when so many donors were convinced that national security was no longer a priority?
Allen Roth, who works with Ronald Lauder on several philanthropic fronts, put it this way: “History tells us that it would be injudicious, to put it mildly, to assume that these issues suddenly no longer matter. It was evident to anyone involved in international affairs that the danger to a free world did not come to an end with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Being involved in the Middle East, which has been the flashpoint of assaults on democracy and western values, it was especially clear that it was a matter of time before the U.S. was affected.”
These concerns led Lauder’s office to launch an initiative, One Jerusalem, which with a website and a statement generated 200,000 signatures in support of a free and accessible Jerusalem. Within just two months, the group generated rallies with 400,000 Israelis in the streets of Jerusalem protesting initiatives to partition the city.
Another foundation that has been critical to support for national security studies is the John M. Olin Foundation, whose president, James Piereson, has been closely involved in launching and supporting key programs in this area. “We were very active in the foreign policy field during the Cold War, supporting various organizations and a number of national security studies programs at several leading universities. We did pull back a bit [after the Cold War] but stayed involved with academic centers where we could help develop talent.”
Piereson says that funding of academic research bore a number of important fruits, including Francis Fukuyama’s work on the post-Cold War world, The End of History, and Samuel Huntington’s groundbreaking book The Clash of Civilizations, both of which were supported by Olin grants. Olin also kept up funding to national security journals such as the National Interest and books like the Yale University Press Documents on Communism series.
Another donor whose support was key to a few small national security organizations asked not to be named but made an important point in an interview: “It was clear from the grant making on the part of the internationalist crowd that they certainly did not feel these issues were irrelevant. There was considerable investment in this area across the board, from the academic to the activist, and I took that as an interesting signal.”
David Steinmann, an investment advisor who has generously supported some key initiatives in this field, especially concerning the Middle East, put it quite simply: “You don’t abandon what you know is true just because most other people don’t happen to agree at that moment.”
Groups on the Ground
Public support for an extended and comprehensive engagement against terrorism raises an intriguing question—why has opinion among the foundation elites and in government lagged so far behind public opinion? As one administration official recently noted, “It is remarkable how far the country has moved [since September 11] and yet how little the government has changed.” What can donors do to turn the proverbial freighter around?
One way is to ensure that both private elites and the government hear regularly from the public. For instance, media agitation about the possibility of waves of hate crimes against Arab-Americans were never borne out, nor did the public show signs of despair when the war in Afghanistan wasn’t wrapped up in a week, despite the media’s broadcast gloom. This is a good time for polling and a national feedback effort that would give some grounding in data to the broad-based support for doing what needs to be done. A group of concerned donors have recently launched a program along these lines called United for America, a national outreach effort that will host a website with information and analysis on defense and foreign policy topics, talking points for grassroots organizations, and a speakers’ bureau for interested audiences and the media.
To be an effective outreach vehicle, United for America will need bulletins and easily accessible materials that can comment sensibly on the course of the war and the broader conventional wisdom. We currently see a good deal of hour-by-hour television commentary from retired military types, but little on the broader context of the war, the nature of the opponent and his resources, how we are working with our allies, and what we may have to do by ourselves. This work doesn’t require new organizations; despite the general lack of attention to these issues, a few lean and efficient organizations stayed in the field and now need only to expand their organizations to meet the demand.
One group, the Center for Security Policy, has been particularly effective through short, two-page updates that make specific political and military issues accessible to the media and general public, while keeping a steady eye on these issues as they are debated in policy making circles. Similarly, the Project for the New American Century has worked with the Weekly Standard in keeping attention on foreign policy issues.
Getting the attention of our allies and partners in highlighting our defense and foreign policy concerns has been difficult as well since the Cold War as the obvious cohesion of a common enemy gave way to more economic and trade concerns. Jeffrey Gedmin of the Aspen Institute in Berlin put together an impressive network of parliamentary leaders, ministry officials, journalists, and think-tanks that included Europeans as well as Israelis, Turks, and Scandanavians. Meeting regularly on a range of issues, Dr. Gedmin’s efforts were singularly important in keeping a brisk dialogue going among the allies and in keeping Americans aware of both issues and perspectives overseas.
Another small and extremely effective organization, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, has focused on the “revolution in military affairs,” both technological and political. The center has found itself in great demand as the war has catapulted these issues to the fore. We will need more from these groups and from their colleagues in the academic and military research institutes, both in the way of research and analysis and in “packaging”—making the material understandable and compelling to the layman. Now is the time to invest in training younger people, something that has slowed considerably over the last ten years. We will likewise need more from journals of opinion, all of which now have websites that give the investment further leverage. Grants to these journals for in-depth writing, foreign coverage, investigative reporting, and internship programs would be worthwhile and relatively low-cost investments.
Word on the (Arab) Street
We also need to know a good deal more about radical Islam and its networks, and about the many dimensions of the Islamic world in general. “Regional studies” is perhaps too much of a catch-all, but our language and in-country expertise on the entire region is not what it should be, nor are the language skills of the American law enforcement agencies up to the task. The legal constraints on their surveillance activities and the abysmal training they receive render them less than effective, to put it mildly, against sophisticated terror networks.
One organization—the Investigative Project—has more or less single-handedly researched these networks and radical Islamic operations here and abroad, carefully chronicling their growth over the last decade. The head of IP, Steve Emerson, has written widely for leading national publications and is now the MSNBC in-house commentator on terrorism, but for many years he labored against the government’s reluctance to commit the necessary attention and resources to an increasingly worrisome problem. With offices in Washington and Jordan, Emerson and his team comb through publications and websites, attend meetings at various mosques, and generally keep current with the interlocking organizations that make up these networks. This sort of information and expertise will be crucial to the government’s efforts to track down terrorist networks and activities.
Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum has also worked extensively on radical Islam and has co-authored several articles with Emerson on the subject. The University of Pennsylvania’s Foreign Policy Research Institute has been another thoughtful and rigorous voice on these issues, and the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins’ School for Advanced International Studies has a promising program underway to recruit and support democratic groups in Islamic countries. Initiatives such as this will no doubt generate conferences, working groups, and exchange and internship programs that will offer donors the opportunity to develop younger talent in the region, both academic and political.
The longer-term issue of encouraging democratic reform in the countries and regions vulnerable to radical Islam is enormously important and certainly one that should meet with broad public and philanthropic support. The more immediate challenge of helping the country get a grip on the post-September 11 security environment is trickier—the unprecedented nature of the attack leaves us groping for answers. The good news is that we have some excellent organizations in place that can help both the government and the public understand the nature of the challenge. All they need is the support of philanthropists who are determined to do their part in ensuring that the tragic events of September 11 never occur again.
Devon Cross is founder of the Donors Forum for International Affairs.