So, What's the Answer?
by Michael T. Klare
Like other segments of American society, the U.S. peace movement was in considerable disarray after the September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington. Some veteran peace activists succumbed to the wave of jingoism sweeping the nation, displaying American flags on their homes and supporting the call for military retaliation. Others organized vigils and called for a restrained, nonmilitary response to the attacks. Still others likened the September 11 attacks to the injuries inflicted on the Iraqis and others by the United States, implying somehow that we are the victims of our own misbehavior. In no way, however, did the peace movement succeed in articulating a coherent, morally sustainable position on the September 11 attacks.
If the peace movement is to emerge from this crisis with any influence and credibility in the months ahead, it must work overtime to develop a viable strategy for dealing with terrorism and associated issues. Like other Americans, we must recognize that everything has changed since September 11: It will never be possible to return to the policies, slogans, and tactics that constituted our standard repertoire in the pre-attack period. From now on, we will be measured by our position on terrorism.
This is a daunting challenge. Not since Pearl Harbor has the peace movement had to deal with a hostile attack on American soil, or with the loss of so many civilian American lives.
The September 11 attacks posed an excruciatingly difficult dilemma for many in the peace movement for other reasons, as well. Some of the grievances expressed by bin Laden's adherents--for example, the suffering experienced by ordinary Iraqis due to the U.S.-imposed economic sanctions and the agony suffered by the Palestinians at the hands of Israel--are also among the grievances of peace activists. On the one hand, we wanted to affirm the legitimacy of these grievances, but on the other hand, we needed to condemn the terrorist attacks in no uncertain terms.
We had no choice but to grapple with these challenges and to devise the best possible solution. As I saw it, this meant finding a way to embrace the anger and anxiety experienced by ordinary Americans over the traumatic impact of terrorism and to construct a response to it that was both credible and consistent with our values. We must be able to talk about terrorism without minimizing the threat it poses to the United States or trying to shift the discussion to our own programmatic concerns. This will not be easy, but it is something that we can and must do.
We needed to reject a purely American assessment of what is happening and what should be done. Instead, we needed to talk about internationalizing both the crisis and the response.
It was all too easy to view this crisis through an exclusively American lens, given the shock of four simultaneous airline hijackings over the eastern United States and the horror of more than 5,000 innocent people put to death on our land. President Bush called for an essentially unilateral American response. Most Americans have chosen to interpret the situation in a similar manner, talking of a new Pearl Harbor and endorsing Bush's powerful American counterstrike. The ubiquitous display of the American flag and the widespread harassment of people of Middle Eastern appearance are consistent with this outlook. So, too, is the intolerance of any criticism of the Bush Administration or of the preferred, Americo-centric response to the crisis.
But buying into this assessment of the situation, addressing the crisis and the military response in purely American terms, was a conceptual straitjacket: We became trapped in the "either-you're-with-us-or-you're-against-us" mode. Obviously, we could not endorse an American military response that was bound to produce numerous civilian casualties. At the same time, we should not have based our objections to such action on the sole grounds that American military intervention has had ugly consequences in the past; such pleas only fall on deaf ears. We had to find a response to terrorism that possessed some degree of credibility and yet eschewed reliance on unrestrained military action.
The way to do this was to endorse international moves to outlaw and combat terrorist violence along with accompanying efforts to address the hurts and inequities that give rise to terrorist behavior.
First, we must understand the nature of terrorism itself. The terrorist threats we face in the world today are not aimed exclusively or predominantly at the United States. Rather, they are aimed at a wide variety of targets in many parts of the world. Typically, they arise from the efforts of fringe elements of sectarian or insurgent movements to attract attention to their cause or to sow discord and despair in their enemy's ranks. In a strategic sense, they are intended to wear down the enemy's resolve to continue waging a costly and difficult struggle. Such efforts include, for example, the IRA's campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland and the Tamil Tigers' campaign to establish an exclusively Tamil state in northeastern Sri Lanka.
The United States has now been exposed to this sort of warfare through Osama bin Laden's efforts to drive the United States out of the Persian Gulf region. In particular, bin Laden seeks to rid Saudi Arabia of American troops so that he can overthrow the current Saudi regime (which depends on U.S. military support for its survival) and establish a Taliban-like system there. Lacking the military means to accomplish this objective, bin Laden chose to rely on terrorist attacks against us.
In justifying their actions, terrorists claim that they are acting on behalf of a higher political, moral, or religious purpose. They seek liberation from colonial occupation, national self-determination, freedom from religious persecution, and so on. Often, these goals are shared by a much larger segment of the population. For example, many of Northern Ireland's Catholics would like to see their enclave joined to the Republic of Ireland, while many Muslims would like to see the United States remove its troops from Saudi Arabia. But support for a cause is not the same thing as support for acts of terrorism, especially of the sort that results in the loss of human life. As I can attest from my visit to Northern Ireland, many Catholics support the eventual goal of unification with the Republic but abhor the violent tactics employed by the IRA.
We must begin with a basic, universal precept: The taking of innocent human lives is never justified by moral, political, or religious fervor. This precept is found in all religions and systems of law--the Islamic system no less than any other. This should be followed by a second basic principle: Acts of terrorism represent an assault on the entire human community, not just on the members of the particular group that has been targeted. It follows from this that the international community as a whole has a legitimate right to take common steps in protecting itself against the scourge of terrorist violence, just as the international community has a right and an obligation to take common steps against genocide and other crimes against humanity.
This means that the central locus of anti-terrorist activity should be the formal instruments of the international community: the United Nations, the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), the existing war crimes tribunals, and, eventually, the International Criminal Court, which has not been ratified by the United States. These bodies should be empowered to strengthen global defenses against terrorism, to actively frustrate the activities of terrorist organizations (for example, by denying them access to the international financial system), and to apprehend and prosecute those deemed responsible for terrorist acts.
I believe that we should have advocated the following: the establishment of an international tribunal in New York City that is empowered by the United Nations Security Council to indict, apprehend, try, and punish those deemed responsible for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. As in the May 1993 Security Council resolution (no. 827) creating the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, all member states of the United Nations should be enjoined to assist the tribunal by providing information on the identity and location of bin Laden's associates and by aiding multilateral efforts to arrest them and bring them to trial in New York City. As in Bosnia, multinational peacekeeping forces should be authorized to pursue indicted criminals wherever they may be hiding, even if this means overcoming armed resistance from the fugitives' supporters.
I know that many Americans would be reluctant to turn over responsibility for the anti-terror effort to international institutions. This is understandable. But in advocating this approach, we have a powerful argument: The United States cannot defeat terrorism alone; it must turn to the international community for support. This is so because bin Laden's associates are deployed in carefully prepared hideouts all over the world, often in places where it would be difficult for American intelligence agents to operate. No amount of bombing in Afghanistan and adjacent areas will smoke out and disable these confederates. Only through extensive cooperation with local police and security forces will it be possible to fully dismantle bin Laden's global terror network.
To obtain this assistance, however, the United States will have to act in an appropriate and principled fashion. It will have to acknowledge the primacy of the international effort against terrorism and match its actions to the strategies employed by the international community. This clearly means a focused drive against the actual perpetrators of terrorist violence, not a sweeping campaign against all those organizations and countries Bush considers hostile to the United States.
Obtaining the support of the international community also means becoming more sensitive to the concerns of other members of that community. The United States cannot expect to receive all of the help it requires at this time of crisis without promising to be more receptive to the needs expressed by other nations. For example, Muslim countries will expect a more vigorous effort by the United States to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians to the bargaining table. Similarly, Pakistan will need more help to revive its crumbling economy and to house the millions of refugees fleeing from Afghanistan. This is not to say that the United States should be expected to make a quid pro quo for every instance of support, only that it should be more responsive to the pleas for help coming from other members of the world community.
Ultimately, if the world is to eliminate the threat of terrorist violence, it must address the conditions that produce recruits for terrorist organizations. While Osama bin Laden himself may be driven by a megalomaniacal quest for power, many of his adherents believe that they are sacrificing their lives for a truly noble purpose. When killed or captured, these adherents can be replaced by others who share their beliefs--so long as the conditions that produce this sort of rage continue to exist. These conditions may include economic deprivation, the denial of basic human rights, religious or ethnic discrimination, and so on. Such conditions enable demagogues to exploit religion or nationalism for terroristic purposes. But when those who suffer from these conditions are able to express their grievances through legal, democratic processes, terrorism rarely occurs. It is usually when the sufferers are denied an opportunity to air their grievances--or when their pleas for help go unheard by the international community--that the most desperate or ideological among them resort to violence. Addressing these grievances is thus a matter of promoting international justice and protecting ourselves against future acts of terrorism.
A strategy based on internationalizing the campaign against terrorism still has much to offer the American peace movement. To begin with, it provides a credible response to those Americans who demand punishment for the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks and who desire greater protection from terrorist violence. Second, it allows us to call for something very positive: the strengthening of international institutions and law, a crucial steppingstone to global peace and stability. And finally, it allows us to raise important humanitarian and human rights concerns while supporting international efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism.
I believe that a strategy of this sort offers us the best opportunity to advance the cause of world peace while remaining sympathetic to the legitimate concerns of ordinary Americans. Terrorism is a threat to peace and freedom. We should be no less vociferous than other Americans in condemning the intentional slaughter of innocent civilians. But we should do so in a way that affirms our common interest in strengthening international institutions and in addressing the hardships and inequities that, if ignored, give rise to terrorist violence.
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and author of "Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict" (Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt & Co., 2001).