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The Role of Religion in U.S. National Security Policy since 9/11 - Conclusion: The Way Ahead
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Article Index
The Role of Religion in U.S. National Security Policy since 9/11
Historiographical Projections on Human Conflict and Religion
The Power of Islam
Demographic Surveys
Religion as a Paradigm in National Security Policy
Conclusion: The Way Ahead
Glossary of Key Islamic Terms
All Pages

Part IV. The Way Ahead


Part I of this paper has shown that religion matters and will continue to matter in national security challenges for the foreseeable future. Toffler, Fukuyama, Huntington, and Kaplan may point to different root causes of future conflict, but all emphasize religion as a critical component in policy that would address those challenges. This is all the more true because religion frequently reflects the fullness of human aspiration against the sobering reality of the human condition.

The analysis of the power of Islam in part II of this paper has revealed an Islam that is far from monolithic. Islam today is manifested in many forms, reflecting multiple perspectives on how the faith is to achieve its universalization, on what jihad means, and on when, if ever, terrorist tactics are justifiable in defense of Islam. Traditionalist conceptions of Islam maintain the continuing applicability of Shari’ah as state law, and the potentiality for jihad as warfare, with an average of over 20 percent of Muslims in Muslim-majority nations finding terrorist acts at times to be justifiable in defense of Islam. Liberal and post-modern reformists, on the other hand, generally condemn violent jihad and seek peaceful relations with the West. An accurate assessment of Islam as power will inform that grand strategy and strategic vision on which effective national security policy rests.

A review of the national security policies of President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama in part III has demonstrated the incredible difficulty of bringing religion to bear within national security policy. Weighing the alternative paradigms of Religion as Freedom, Religion as Unity, and Religion as Ideology, I have suggested that the last paradigm offers the greatest utility. It calls for a strategic vision that comprehends the power of Islam, it enables a nuanced understanding of Islamic groups based on their behavior, it facilitates a diversified continuum of policy rewards and consequences based on that behavior, and it refrains from violating the American tradition of the federal government neither advocating for nor judging a religion.

Certain practical matters will need to be addressed if religion is to gain currency within national security policy. If we move closer to the paradigm of Religion as Ideology, it will be important to head off any erroneous public perception that the United States is shifting to a negative strategy toward Islam. U.S. officials will need to state emphatically that America has no policy for or against any religion, that we promote full freedom of worship, and that we seek partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect with people of all religions. Actions will need to follow these words. The United States will need to reach out with renewed vigor through diplomatic summits and multilateral engagements with the Muslim world to build consensus wherever possible. Certainly this would include partnership in the continued defense and support of peaceful Islamic governments against terrorist violence.

To support a more robust role of religion in national security policy, United States combatant commands should consider ways to include religion in all campaign design and planning. Campaign design activities include framing and reframing the operational environment, problem, and operational approach. Designing with religion in mind will help combatant commanders better understand their actual environment, grasp the deep roots of complex problems, and create opportunities to provide enduring solutions.

Campaign planning should also include vigorous consideration of religion. In current overseas contingency operations, religion contributes directly to stakeholder identity, power, strategic alignment, and operational outcome. To strength planning, one option would be to integrate religion as a phased line of effort (LOE) in addition to current LOEs defined by political, military, economic, social, infrastructure, and informational (PMESII) systems.216 This would raise religion’s operational significance, but might risk reducing its human significance if religion were to become merely a manipulated element of power. Another option would be to add religion as a supporting objective under both the political and social LOEs.

This would again raise religion’s operational significance, but might additionally elucidate its human significance within political and social systems. Religion must be understood as a power directing, guiding, and living through the behavioral choices of its adherents across formal and informal political, social, and cultural systems.

An issue of supreme importance will involve calculating the strategic room needed for various conceptions of achieving the universalization of Islam. As part II of this paper has argued, the critical issue for Islam today is determining how the faith will achieve its final vision of unity. Various positions within Islam answer this question differently—radical Muslims through the mechanism of militant jihad, conservative Muslims through the vision of a united ummah living under Shari’ah, neotraditionalist Muslims through an updated integration of Islamic tradition within their respective societies, reformed Muslims through a determination and application of enduring Islamic principles to enable Muslim life in modern societies, and secular-state Muslims through a private and community practice of Shari’ah that excludes the power relations of government. In all cases, policy makers will need to understand the conceptions of universalization to which various Islamic positions aspire. Even more, policy makers will need to determine how much active support or passive space the national interests of the United States can afford or allow toward the fulfillment of those aspirations. Knowing the parameters could amount to a national security imperative.

Finally, that religion will continue to matter, and matter a lot, in the national security challenges of the United States may be a bitter pill for secularist western liberals to swallow. Certain political advisers, academics, and senior leaders of the professions of arms may find it difficult to believe that many 21st century people are still motivated by religion, and that some are even willing to fight and die for their beliefs. Their incredulity is easy to document. National security policy statements, academic texts on cultural frameworks, and even military manuals on counterinsurgency doctrine can discuss their subject matter without examining religion as a power which motivates human behavior. I encourage all to rethink their assumptions and reengage in these critical arenas.

About the Author
Jonathan E. Shaw is a U.S. Army Chaplain (Colonel) currently assigned as Command Chaplain, Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  His service began in 1974 in the U.S. Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, and has included civilian parishes in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Virginia.  He has served continuously since 1984 as a U.S. Army Chaplain, serving in military units from Battalion to Department of the Army, with deployments to Honduras, Panama, and Iraq.  His academic work includes B.A., Political Science, (Wheaton College, IL, 1978); M.Div., Pastoral Theology, and S.T.M., Systematic Theology (Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, 1984 and 2004); B.A., Ethics (Vanderbilt, 1999); Ethics Instructor for U.S. Army Officers (1999-2002); Diploma (U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2003), and M.S.S. (U.S. Army War College, 2010).  He has published extensively in professional journals and in military publications in the areas of U.S. Army religious support doctrine, world religions, ethics, liturgics, homiletics, exegesis, and systematic theology.  Additionally, Chaplain Shaw is a founding editor of the journal Gottesdienst (1990), and has served as Chairman of the Board, District and Congregational Services, of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, his Department of Defense Ecclesiastical Endorsing Agency.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 11:22