About Security First

This book does not harp about past mistakes, but lets out a new agenda for the US foreign policy and that of its allies. It argues that the time has come to drop the misbegotten notion that the U.S. can democratize the Middle East--or, for that matter, scores of other nations--and to determine which leitmotif is to become the new guiding light for U.S. foreign policy. This book shows that the Primacy of Life serves well a moral rationale for a Security First foreign policy that is both principled and realistic. At its core is the recognition that the most basic right of all people is to be free from deadly violence, maiming, and torture.

The book spells out the implications of a Security First foreign policy for conflicts with rogue states (especially North Korea and Iran), for dealing with failing states (especially Russia), for the 'reconstruction' of newly-liberated states (such as Iraq and Afghanistan), and for assessing under what conditions armed humanitarian interventions are called for.

Instead of assuming that democratization will provide a political outlet for resolving conflicts of competing values and interests and thus for putting an end to major forms of destabilizing violence, a Security First foreign policy is centered on precisely the opposite assumption: democratization requires security first. And, rather than assuming that democratizing rogue states will exorcise their aggressive inclinations, the U.S. and its allies should accept that democratic regimes which evolve gradually in traditionally non-democratic lands will look different from our version of democracy; and the U.S. should let regime change come, if it comes at all, from forces internal to these nations--provided these states cease to develop or amass nuclear arms, stop supporting terrorism, and do not commit genocide or ethnic cleansing.

The book shows that most people--including most Muslims!--are Illiberal Moderates. They abhor violence but do not necessarily accept liberal democracy or the American preferred list of individual rights. If we insist that only supporters of liberal democracy can be our allies, we shall find that they are far and few in between. If we recognize that most people prefer peace and social order to violence, we shall find most people of all civilizations are on our side. Among those, we would do well especially to welcome religious believers of all stripes who renounce violence and extremism, rather than try to apply the separation of church and state overseas.

Finally the book shows that not all security concerns can be attended to; we need to set priorities. The one that now gains least attention must get the most: nuclear terrorism. This in turn requires a whole new forms of global policing.

A major part of this book is dedicated to the role of religion in U.S. foreign policy [see especially Parts III and IV]. A detailed examination of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam shows: (a) that the main fault line does not run between belief systems but through each of them. It divides those texts and interpretations of texts that extol violence ("an eye for eye," "I bring not peace but a sword") from those that extol peace and seek to rely on persuasion rather than coercion. Islam, the book, shows, is not different on this account from other major religions. (b) Drawing on public opinion polls and other evidence the book finds that a majority of Muslims favors moderate, nonviolent interpretations of Islam. (c) However many of these moderates are devout and do not embrace Western liberal democracy or many of the rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The author calls them "Illiberal Moderates." The book argues that if the West contiues to reject these Illiberal Moderates on the ground that only supporters of democracy are safe allies, the West will be isolated. In contrast, if the West should form an alliance of all moderates, liberal and illiberal, it will effectively curb international and domestic violence, preparing the ground for advancing democracy and human rights by non-lethal means. (d) The book spells out the role moderate religions have in providing a new moral culture for newly liberated nations, and the kind of educational systems most suited for this goal.

An overview of the book, as published in The National Interest in March/April 2007 (PDF)