The Common Good
January 2004

'War on Terror' or Real Security?

by David Cortright, George A. Lopez | January 2004

A just and viable alternative to the Bush doctrine.

This time last year, not many would have predicted that international relations—and, in particular, national security—would become an issue up for grabs in the 2004 presidential election. To combat the threat of international terrorism, the Bush administration has wielded the weighty tool of military force, waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq and threatening military intervention elsewhere. What would an alternative security strategy—one based on the "force of law" rather than the "law of force"—look like? The authors outline steps along a path toward a more just and secure future.

As we address foreign policy issues in the 2004 campaign, we must offer viable alternative means of responding to security threats and assuring justice. If we oppose war, we must have an answer to the questions that military action purports to answer. If we believe the Bush administration's "war on terror" is misguided, we need to have a better plan for countering terrorism.

Numerous nonmilitary options were available in Iraq, and are available generally, for addressing terrorism, weapons proliferation, and other threats to U.S. and international security. The war on Iraq was part of a new national security strategy developed by the Bush administration in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. The new strategy, released in September 2002, redefined the primary threat to U.S. security as the nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and the possibility of access to such weapons through failed states or "rogue" regimes.

The greatest danger was identified as the "crossroads of radicalism and technology," the fear that terrorists aided by tyrants would acquire and use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

The threat from terrorism is very real and compounded by the growing problem of weapons proliferation. A recent Pentagon study identified 12 nations with nuclear weapons programs, 13 with biological weapons activities, and 16 with chemical weapons programs. The danger that terrorists will buy or steal nuclear weapons materials and scientists from Russia remains acute. So defeating al Qaeda and like-minded terrorists is a legitimate, urgent priority for U.S. foreign policy. But while the Bush administration has devoted substantial energy to this task, it has undermined the cause by pursuing a strategy of unilateral pre-emption and launching a militarized "war on terror."

By focusing almost entirely on military solutions, the unilateralists of the Bush administration ignore the importance of cooperative strategies for advancing U.S. security interests. Cooperative or "soft" power lies in the ability to attract and persuade rather than coerce. It arises from economic and social influence and from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals, and policies. Coercive power will remain important in a world of nation-states jealously guarding their sovereignty, but cooperative power is increasingly important for dealing with transnational issues like terrorism. Defensive measures by themselves cannot eliminate terrorism completely.

Terrorism is quintessentially a transnational criminal problem, and it requires transnational legal solutions. A cooperative strategy is a policy that emphasizes multilateral approaches in international affairs. It advances efforts to combat global poverty and lawlessness. Such a policy emphasizes new synergies in global law enforcement, intelligence sharing, and efforts to thwart money laundering and terrorist financing. It advocates the use of U.S. power to strengthen those norms and institutions designed to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the biological and chemical weapons conventions, and the Missile Technology Control Regime. It emphasizes preventive diplomacy to quell conflicts before they erupt into major crises.

A successful campaign against terrorism will require a two-pronged strategy: coordinated international efforts to drive terrorist networks out of business, and the pursuit of foreign policies that address the grievances and conditions that motivate political extremism.

The metaphor of war should not blind us to the fact that suppressing terrorism will take years of patient, unspectacular civilian cooperation with other countries in areas such as intelligence sharing, police work, blocking financial flows, and border controls. Effective intelligence is one of the most important tools in the campaign against terrorism. The Bush administration compromised these capabilities in its efforts to justify war in Iraq, with the politicization and manipulation of intelligence damaging credibility and integrity. This damage will take time to be repaired.

But cooperative law enforcement and diplomatic strategies have proven effective in countering terrorism. In the wake of Sept. 11, the United States worked with more than 150 governments through the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Committee to coordinate international law enforcement efforts and to deny financing and safe haven for al Qaeda and other terrorist networks. Many nations have cooperated with the United States on these efforts, despite differences over Iraq, because it is in their national security interest to do so. As a result of this unprecedented multilateral collaboration, the operations of the terrorist network have been disrupted. To date, the world community has frozen more than $100 million in potential terrorist funding, and dozens of leading terrorist suspects have been arrested.

It is also necessary to look at root causes and to develop policies that lessen the motivations for political extremism. Terrorism cannot be justified and must never be excused, but it is important to understand and eliminate the factors that spawn it. The campaign against terrorism must seek to reduce the grievances and hostilities that terrorists exploit. This will require U.S. global leadership and engagement, especially on issues of concern to Arab and Muslim societies. Terrorist leaders often come from societies where political expression is limited because of autocratic governments (as in most nations of the Middle East) or there is a sense of exclusion from political decision-making. Violent conflict is often associated with joblessness and the lack of economic opportunity among young men.

Facilitating a just peace in the Middle East, accelerating multilateral approaches to restoring Iraqi sovereignty, lowering the U.S. military profile in the Arab and Muslim world, promoting representative government, funding equitable development and poverty reduction efforts—these are among the policies that can mitigate anti-American resentment and enhance global security.

A key priority is and must remain U.S. support for a genuine peace process in the Middle East that provides security, justice, and economic opportunity for both sides. The U.S. should also encourage reform and modernization throughout the region, not through military coercion but through persuasion and incentives that reward regimes that become more open and democratic.

Working to extend representative government, freedom, and democracy can enhance security. Democratic nations with extensive trading relations tend not to wage war on one another. Democratic governments help to build more open and productive economies, empower women, and create a free press that will educate and inform citizens as well as hold governments accountable for failed policies. Fostering these conditions helps to create more representative and accountable societies that are less prone to political extremism.

Development aid, debt relief, and other forms of economic assistance can create jobs and increase opportunity and thus reduce the likelihood of armed conflict. Economic aid and trade incentives can also be important means of encouraging recipient nations to resolve ethnic and religious disputes and to uphold norms of democracy, tolerance, openness, and respect for human rights. The United States must help to build mutually beneficial trade relationships, increase foreign direct investment in the developing world, alleviate global poverty, and fight infectious diseases.

Following the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the United States, Japan, Iran, and other nations pledged more than $4 billion to assist the transitional authority in Kabul and provide economic opportunity for the Afghan people. The United States has undertaken a new and costly obligation for the reconstruction of Iraq. All of these pledges must be fulfilled. Similar large-scale economic development initiatives are needed in other nations and regions as a means of overcoming the poverty and despair that feed terrorism and armed conflict. British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has proposed a global Marshall Fund in which the world's wealthiest nations provide increased development assistance funding of $50 billion a year.

THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST terrorism is, in significant part, a struggle for hearts and minds, especially in Islamic societies. If America wins military battles on the ground but in the process loses the war over ideas, then the larger goal of producing a durable peace and real security will be lost.

In light of the new threshold the United States has passed as a result of the Iraq war, it is critical to recognize that safer, less costly, and ultimately more successful strategies are available for countering terrorism and proliferation dangers. Through cooperative engagement with other countries, multilateral disarmament, the strengthening of international institutions, and carrots-and-sticks diplomacy, the United States can protect itself against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and realize a more secure future.

These and other policy tools are part of a global security strategy that emphasizes cooperation over unilateralism, prevention over pre-emption, and peaceful diplomatic means over military force as the primary tools of influencing policy. These tools offer a strategy based on the "force of law" rather than the "law of force," one that relies on the power of trade rather than military might and that employs peaceful diplomatic means for achieving a more just and secure future.

When this article appeared, David Cortright, a founder of the Win Without War coalition, was a Sojourners contributing writer and president of the Fourth Freedom Forum . George A. Lopez was senior fellow and director of policy studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. This article is drawn from the Fourth Freedom Forum's "Secure America" report (www.secureamerica.us), which outlines alternative security principles for the United States and the world.

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