“The fourth is freedom from fear. . .anywhere in the world.”

For FDR, who had experienced two world wars, freedom from fear meant a worldwide reduction of armaments and the building of a collective security mechanism. Collective security, along with human rights and economic cooperation, was one of the three great pillars on which FDR based his concept of the postwar world order— elements that found their way into the United Nations charter, taking concrete expression in global and regional institutions that remain with us today.

FDR wanted to create a world where no nation would be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against a neighbor—hence his commitment to building a new international organization designed to manage world affairs and prevent catastrophes like World War II from recurring.

According to FDR’s vision, all UN members, whether large or small, would undertake common commitments to settle their disputes peacefully and refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of other nations. Four countries—China, Britain, Russia, and the United States—would put their forces at the disposal of the UN to keep the peace and in turn would receive the special privilege of the veto (with the addition of France, these became the five Permanent Members of the Security Council).

For many years, FDR's vision of a postwar world order held some promise. Interstate conflict declined dramatically in the latter half of the twentieth century, although intrastate and ethnic conflicts flared at a rapid rate, especially after the end of the Cold War in 1991. Ongoing humanitarian catastrophes and the events of 9/11 have led many to question the UN's effectiveness. Can states work together through the UN to respond to new kinds of threats, or has the system grown too cumbersome? In the view of Bush administration officials, the collective security mechanism provided by FDR and other post-WWII visionaries no longer suffices to meet the security challenges of a world where networks of stateless civilians have unprecedented capabilities for inflicting harm.

Others have argued, however, that for all its imperfections, the UN is the best potential peacemaker the world has, and thus should be restructured and reformed to confront the combined threats of terror and poverty. As Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently declared: ”[T]he world does need a forum for collective decision-making and it needs an instrument of collective action. Our founders intended the United Nations to be both those things. Our task is to adapt and update it so that it can perform those functions in the twenty-first century.”1

New Security Blueprint

One year after 9/11/01, the Bush administration presented a National Security Strategy document embracing prevention and preemption as strategies for dealing with rogue states and terrorists. The doctrine rests on the premise that traditional approaches to security are no longer acceptable. The rules have changed since the attacks of September 11, as the circumstances under which we define the lawful use of force no longer exist. Given its overwhelming military might, the United States is unlikely to be engaged in conventional warfare with another nationstate. Rather, it faces a new class of enemy consisting of non-state actors who flout the conventions of war by targeting civilians—and who are threatening to use nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Reflecting these changes, we need new criteria for the use of force and the handling of enemy combatants.

Notably, Norman Rockwell portrayed “freedom from fear” by showing American parents tucking their children safely into bed during the 1940 Battle of Britain. In so doing, he called on Americans to be thankful that the war was not being fought on their soil. Now that terrorists have attacked American cities, does this give the United States justification for rewriting the rules governing the use of force?

For sure, the Bush administration's shift to a preventive war strategy has had profound consequences for world affairs. First and foremost, it paved the way for the United States to act in the name of self-defense against Iraq in the spring of 2003—absent an actual, or even imminent, armed attack from that country and absent the approval of the UN Security Council. The argument was that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that it could pass on to terrorists. Thus the risk of inaction was greater than the risk of action—even if that action had to go forward with only an ad hoc “coalition of the willing.”

The UN Security Council, however, rejected that conclusion, and their recent reform report, “A more secure world: Our shared responsibility,” argues that the institution can meet threats from non-state actors—and hence can be effective in the twenty-first century. As stated in the report's executive summary: “The Security Council has the authority to act preventively, but has rarely done so. The Security Council may well need to be prepared to be more proactive in the future, taking decisive action earlier.” The report proposed two new models for reforming the Security Council, along with measures to strengthen the Secretary- General's role in peace and security.

Revisions to the Geneva Conventions

The Bush administration's security strategy also paved the way for revisions to the Geneva Conventions as they apply to “unlawful combatants.” Here we return to FDR's first freedom, freedom of speech and expression. As Michael Smith explained at the March Eckerd meeting, Bush administration officials looked for a way to circumvent international legal norms so that the president could “essentially declare any of us in this room to be an enemy combatant and lock us away without giving us access to a lawyer, or indeed without charging us with anything.” In other words, “military necessity” could overrule the Geneva principles.

The Supreme Court has since declared this policy to be illegal. Meanwhile, evidence has been cropping up of the mistreatment of prisoners by American soldiers—ranging from extraordinary rendition (delivering terror suspects into the hands of foreign intelligence services without extradition proceedings) to allegations of prisoner torture and abuse in Afghanistan, Guantánamo, and Iraq.

President Bush has claimed that Abu Ghraib was an aberration, the work of a “few bad apples.” A number of observers have disputed this claim, however, on the grounds that the administration approved the policies that led to the torture procedures used in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. 2 Smith expressed concern that the only people to have been punished for the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses were a handful of military personnel at the bottom of the command chain. “American society has reached a point, it seems, where disclosure and an expression of horror are considered to be an adequate substitute for genuine accountability— accountability being a key norm for democratic societies,” he remarked.

Americans Still Fearful?

So has the administration's attempt to direct all major policy toward winning the “war on terror” resulted in less fear? Ironically, as Joel Rosenthal pointed out in his Eckerd College address, post-9/11 trauma lingers, and many Americans remain paranoid about their personal safety. Michael Smith concurred with Rosenthal's assessment and said that this “culture of fear” should be attributed to the “schizophrenic” way the U.S. government has approached security since 9/11. “On the one hand, we see the president and the people in his administration talking about the importance of freedom and democracy. On the other hand, we have a sort of underside to that policy, resting on what appears to be a Hobbesian philosophy…the notion that we have to behave even more badly than our enemies because that is the only way to command their attention and respect.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's instruction to the military to “take the gloves off” when questioning prisoners epitomized this attitude.

According to Smith, the administration’s confused policy has been “counterproductive in very deep ways.” It has spread fear and distrust of America's motives among its traditional allies, many of whom do not share the Bush administration's new criteria for intervention and hence have come to see the United States as part of the problem, not the solution, to the threat of terrorism. Crimes committed by American troops, along with the practice of depriving the Guantánamo detainees of the right to liberty without due process of law, strike very deeply at the core of what a free country is supposed to represent. Is the United States becoming the kind of country it had always claimed to oppose?

Smith remarked that the Bush administration's single-minded focus on taking preventive military action has kept the United States from engaging in the kind of “old-fashioned, hard-slogging police and law enforcement work” that in the long run catches more terrorists. This latter approach requires cooperation from one's allies as well as information-sharing. It also requires winning the trust of people in places that support terrorists.

He further noted that the Europeans, with their long experience of terrorism by the Irish Republican Army, Basque separatists, and other groups, tend to view terrorrism as a matter for law enforcement, security, and intelligence agencies. In general, they have not been receptive to American-style measures such as detention and coerced interrogations of suspected terrorists, and have favored greater cooperation. Particularly after the London bombings, some Europeans as well as 30 Ethical Dimensions to American Foreign Policy Americans are persuaded that the war in Iraq is fanning broader flames, increasing the threat of terror attacks by suicide bombers, in Western countries.

In contemplating the status of “freedom from fear” in today’s America, let us give the last word to FDR, who as far back as 1928, called for “a newer and better standard in international relations.” In a Foreign Affairs article, he wrote: “Single-handed intervention by us in the affairs of other nations must end; with the cooperation of others we shall have more order . . . and less dislike.” Later, in his first inaugural address of 1933, he declared, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”


1) Can the UN be reformed to respond to threats from non-state actors like al-Qaeda?

2) Can there ever be any justification for the torture of prisoners? When such abuse occurs, what is the proper government response?

3) When is there a just ethical argument for preventive war in violation of international law—what is the ethical threshold?



Bacevich, Andrew. The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War. Oxford University Press, 2005.

Danner, Mark. Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror. New York Review of Books, 2004. Introductory chapter available at http://www.amazon.com.

Greenberg, Karen J., and Joshua L. Dretel, eds. The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib. Cambridge University Press, 2005. Full text of Memo 1 is available at http://www.amazon.com.

Levinson, Sanford, ed. Torture: A Collection. Oxford University Press, 2004.

The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. White House, September 2002. Full text available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html.

Report of the Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change: "A more secure world: Our shared responsibility." UN General Assembly, 2 December 2004. Full text available at http://www.un.org/secureworld/.

Rosenthal, Joel H. "New Rules for War?"Naval War College Review, Summer/Autumn 2004.

Edited speech transcripts on CarnegieCouncil.org

Flynn, Stephen. "America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism." Merrill House Programs, 2005.

Ignatieff, Michael. "The Lesser Evil: Hard Choices in the War on Terrorism." Merrill House Programs, 2004.

Malone, David M., Kishore Mahbubani, and Ian Martin. "The UN Security Council: From the Cold War to the 21st Century." Merrill House Programs, 2003.

Nichols, Thomas M. "Conflict and Order in the New Age of Preventive War." Young Associates Program, 2005.

Posner, Michael, and John Hutson. "Ending Torture and Secret Detention in America's Name." Merrill House Programs, 2005.

Other Carnegie Council resources

Clark, Wesley. "Waging Modern War." Morgenthau Memorial Lecture, 2003.

InPrint Supplement: "The Carnegie Council Covers the New War." Summer 2003.

Roundtable: "Evaluating the Preemptive Use of Force." With Chris Brown, Michael Byers, Richard K. Betts, Thomas M. Nichols, and Neta C. Crawford. Ethics & International Affairs 17.1 (Spring 2003).


1. Annan made these remarks at a 10 February 2005 London forum on the UN's future.

2. According to documents collected by journalist Mark Danner, a fierce argument broke out within the Bush administration over whether al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners were protected by the Geneva Conventions and how far the United States could go in interrogating them.