Toward the Terrorist Anti-World

by Francis A. Beer

We have all watched in horror as hijackings, building implosions, and anthrax incidents have intruded into our comfortable world. These events have involved countless individual tragedies, including the victims themselves, their families, friends, and associates. We shall not easily recover from the physical and psychological trauma.

We are now searching for answers. Who did these things and why? What should we do now? One body of opinion suggests that World War III is upon us. According to this view, Western civilization itself is under attack. It is faced with radical evil and needs to use whatever force is required to eradicate it. The many people who die, innocent as well as guilty, civilians as well as soldiers, are the necessary cost of maintaining American freedom and Western civilization. The United States, to recall the words of earlier times, will pay any price, bear any burden, to make the world safe for democracy.

This vision is clear, but the path is uncertain. As United States military forces deploy for action across the globe, one wonders if vast military actions are likely to achieve their aims? Can all of the guilty be so easily located in the distant mountains and deserts of the world? Is bombing completely innocent civilians consistent with our values? Will we encourage our allies or repel them? Will we persuade the billions of people in other cultures that they want to be our partners? Do we wish to follow policies that risk escalating the already terrible losses toward the very much higher casualty levels of World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam? Though one could ask the same questions of those who undertook the attacks, we can, for the moment, only try to answer them for ourselves.

Another path lies before us. Taking time to gather our breath, we should deliberately survey the terrain. What are our domestic resources to deal with the situation? The Hart-Rudman Commission on National Security for the 21st Century recently presented a report that suggested setting up a special agency to coordinate United States efforts against terrorism. The creation of an Office of Homeland Security is a step in this direction. We hope that this office will focus the considerable American resources in this area, while simultaneously maintaining our civil liberties.

Our allies have already committed themselves to work with us. Many of these allies are concerned that the strongest medicine might make the disease worse rather than eradicate or contain it. We need to take seriously their views, working with them both individually and within the global web of international institutions. French President Jacques Chirac has suggested creating a special United Nations agency that would focus on international terrorism. A special UN conference on terrorism would also be important. The United States has recently weakened the international community on which it depends by withholding its UN dues. It has expressed intentions to withdraw unilaterally from agreements on the environment, international war crimes, and anti-ballistic missile defense. We have just started to turn this policy around by finally paying our long-overdue UN bill. We should further realign ourself with the consensus of world opinion in other areas as well.

While the United States should use appropriate force, this force should be strictly limited to what is consistent with rational objectives. Prior American use of cruise missiles on innocent people in foreign countries has unsurprisingly enhanced the very enmity that underlies terrorism. We are currently using non-military means ? diplomatic consultations, economic incentives, and appeals to shared humane values ? to deal with the situation. These non-military avenues should be expanded. We should also place the highest priority on reevaluating our foreign policy in the light of recent events. We must take seriously the way that our international trade, aid, and debt policies increase popular frustrations and terrorist recruitment in poor countries. In consultation with the international community, we should ask see how legitimate opposition grievances in other countries might be addressed in a more democratic context.

We need to place all these efforts in the frame of a larger strategic question: How will our actions produce a world in which terrorism is less likely to grow, a terrorist anti-world? We now focus narrowly on our immediate response to the terrorist attack. We also need to remain true to ourselves and our long-term vision for our own society. How do we work to create a more democratic, just, and peaceful future for ourselves and for all the other people on this planet? CP

Francis Beer is a professor of political science at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has just published a new book, Meanings of War and Peace.

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