A new report from the 9/11 Commission leaders has warned that the growing influence of Russia and China threatens to create more extremism around the world and has encouraged the United States to fight to retain its leadership global.
Released on the 17th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the document suggests that Russian and Chinese interests could see both countries supporting more authoritarian governments in the developing world, which in turn could foment violent extremist opposition movements.
The report clearly tries to avoid any political partisanship or outright criticism of President Donald Trump, whose administration has consistently moved closer to authoritarian leaders at the expense of traditional US alliances.
The authors were led by former Republican New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, who chaired the 9/11 commission, and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, who was the commission’s deputy chairman. The authors are a bipartisan group appointed by Congress.
“The time has come for a new American strategy,” the report suggests. Rather than focusing primarily on the defense of American soil, “the priority of American policy should be to strengthen fragile states – to help them build their resilience in the face of the alarming growth of violent extremism within their own societies,” the authors write.
Where extremist groups once targeted the United States from abroad, militants are now trying to usurp governments and become full states, as illustrated by the rise of Islamic State— drawing on the frustrations of oppressed citizens and maligned ethnic or religious minorities.
Such frustrations will only grow as Russia and China increase their influence in what the report calls “fragile states.” Aid from Moscow and Beijing does not come with any strings attached to human rights or government transparency, meaning leaders are likely to become more authoritarian to maintain power over their oppressed population.
The report uses the example of Nigeria, which was denied US Cobra attack helicopters due to human rights concerns. But Russia then stepped in with an offer of Mi-35M helicopter gunships to fill the void, and even offered to train Nigerian troops.
While the report notes that Russia is Africa’s biggest source of arms, China is its biggest trading partner and creditor. When countries default on their Chinese loans, Beijing can take control of large swathes of infrastructure, as happened in Sri Lanka, for example. This occupation on credit is causing serious concern in US military circles.
Tuesday’s report is the first of two planned documents. The first explains why a new approach to global extremism is needed, while the second, due in 2019, will offer a straightforward strategy.
But the first installment offered some early suggestions on how to stem the tide of extremism, some of which clearly contradict the foreign policy pursued thus far by the Trump White House.
The report advises the US government to partner with other states to create a unified approach to the threat. Trump’s presidency has so far been characterized by his opposition to international cooperation, even through loyal diplomatic bodies such as NATO and the United Nations.
The document also highlights the importance of working with other governments to improve human rights, uncover corruption and strengthen national institutions. Without this work, he says, states will be vulnerable to malign external and internal influences. Given the Trump administration’s own struggles with corruption, transparency and human rights, such advice seems likely to fall on deaf ears.
The authors suggested that the United States needs to put in place a long-term strategy, noting, “We cannot solve the problem of extremism during the tenure of a single presidential administration.”
In conclusion, the researchers warn that time is running out. “For a preventive strategy to succeed, it will have to preempt attempts by extremist groups to undermine fragile states. Now is the time for a preventive strategy.”