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"Tunnel at the End of the Light: A Critique of US Counter-terrorist Grand Strategy"

Journal Article, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, volume 15, issue 3, pages 549-563

October 2002

Author: Ivan Arreguin-Toft, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 2002-2009

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security


For many Americans, the columns of smoke and dust that rose to obscure the New York skyline on September 11th 2001 recalled the oily black smoke leaking from America’s broken battleships on 7 December 1941, when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on US naval forces at Pearl Harbor. But the parallels between the events are more apparent than real. Although both attacks were surprises and both resulted in a declaration of war by the United States on its attackers, an appreciation of why the two events are different in kind and in scale provides important insights into why the current US reaction to terrorism—its counter-terrorist grand strategy—will fail.

This essay introduces a theoretically grounded critique of US counterterrorist grand strategy in reaction to the destruction of the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York and a portion of the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on September 11th 2001. This critique has two parts. First, I explain why the United States has responded as it has and why its current response will fail. Second, I explain what is needed—in terms of military and political strategy—to defeat terrorists who continue to seek to harm the people and interests of the United States and its allies in Europe and abroad.

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For Academic Citation:

Arreguin-Toft, Ivan. "Tunnel at the End of the Light: A Critique of US Counter-terrorist Grand Strategy." Cambridge Review of International Affairs 15, no. 3 (October 2002): 549-563.

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