National security beyond al Qaida, according to Juan Zarate

     ON OCT. 21, 2009, in the first installment of the “Middle East Speaker Series,” Juan Zarate, who formerly served as deputy assistant to the U.S. president and as deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, spoke to students and others in the Wagner community. His lecture, entitled “Beyond al Qaida: National Security in an Age of Globalization, Terror, and the Internet,” outlined his views of the “new security environment”–post-9/11–in which the growing importance of non-state actors, impending resource crises, and the shift in U.S. hegemony toward a plurality of international voices, pose threats to the security of the United States. 
     While Zarat believes that Al-Qaeda’s power has diminished, it remains a powerful and salient model for other extremist groups and individuals to follow, he said. He stressed the danger and importance of “marriages of convenience,” wherein non-state actors collude with rogue or politically outlying states.

      Zarate described his work at the Treasury Department and the National Security Council, where he encouraged the use of smart financial sanctions to prod decision-makers in the banking and private sectors to cut off the flow of money to threatening groups. By identifying the financial trail of extremist groups posing a security risk, and blocking transactions that have to pass through U.S. banks, the United States can influence the ability and decision making processes of extremist groups worldwide, he said.

     Zarate’s talk explored the threats the United States is facing in Afghanistan.  He stressed the need to focus on what instability in Afghanistan means for the Afghan state and people, as well as for the region.  The current focus on troop levels exclusively fails to take into account the limitations of U.S. power.  He stated that human rights and women’s rights need to be included in the calculus of decision-making in Afghanistan, but added the U.S. needs to understand better the tribal nature of the country in attempting to foster development and stability.

     The ongoing Middle East Speaker series has been organized by NYU Wagner Visiting Professor Michael Doran, an historian and an expert on the international politics of the Middle East, and the author of the book “Pan-Arabism Before Nasser.”

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