"Responding to Terror"
Address by Gareth Evans to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, 21 September 2001
RESPONDING TO TERROR
Address by Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group, to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, 21 September 2001
None of us anywhere in the world have remained untouched by the horror of 11 September. But the shock and loss have been profound beyond measure for Americans, not least the many thousands who have suffered directly and personally the loss of loved ones and friends and colleagues, and I offer my deepest and most heartfelt condolences to you.
The scale of the horror is still only just beginning to sink in. One way of quantifying it is to make the point that the US suffered more casualties to terrorism in a single day than Israel and Ireland have suffered in fifty years. But it’s the impact in human terms that’s hardest to grasp. Even after days of watching it all on television, for me it was really only when I walked in Union Square in New York the other night - among the sea of photographs of those missing pinned up by their loved ones on every available inch of wall space and bench space and lamp posts and tree trunks. It was haunting and harrowing, and made even more so by the first faint but unmistakeable scent of death on the breeze coming up from downtown.
So too has it been hard to immediately grasp the enormity of the change in the way the weapons of terror have been applied. None of the old verities seem to apply: “In a hijack, stay calm, let the plane land, wait it out, negotiate.” Nor do any of the familiar profiles of the suicide-terrorist seem to count any more : “someone young, manifestly institutionally brainwashed, with no direct experience of living in the West – let alone in suburban motels and bars – with no ties of marriage, and no ties of children to bond him or her to this world.” We can’t help but ask ourselves the question: if this is what twenty hijackers willing to commit suicide can do, how much more havoc could be caused by twenty suicide-terrorists with a briefcase each of nerve gas?
It wouldn’t be surprising if all this had induced, in public and official reactions, either total paralysis, or perhaps more likely, a blind, irrational, uncontrollable rage. It is a measure of the maturity of this country, deeply impressive to an outsider, that the reactions to date have overwhelmingly been of a different kind – gritty, determined, measured, and recognising very clearly that the response just had to be cooperative and multilateral, not just a unilateral one with the US going it more or less completely alone.
If US anger and shock can continue to be so channelled, the terrorists’ triumph will be shortlived indeed. What was a massive attempt to expose American vulnerabilities will have served only to prove beyond doubt this country’s extraordinary strengths – both as a democratic country and as a global power for good.
That said, it’s not going to be easy for any government to go on getting it right. It’s a matter of steering a very tight course between neither over-reacting nor under-reacting. Leaders have to capture the mood of their people and, in particular, be seen to be not just talking but acting in ways that are responsive to that mood. But at the same time time they have to somehow guide that mood, and that action, down paths that are productive, not counter-productive. That’s not at all easy, because there are some real tensions between some of the objectives that have to be simultaneously pursued, both domestically and internationally, if the response to the alarming new world in which we now find ourselves is indeed to be productive.
It may help to clarify the issues to distinguish five separate objectives which, in my judgement at least, have to be simultaneously pursued if the response to last week’s horror, and the potential horrors awaiting us in the future, is to be adequate, and the tightrope between over-reaction (in the sense of counter-productive action) and under-reaction is to be walked.
(1) Strengthening Internal Security There’s an obvious issue of principle here, with which the Congress is now beginning to wrestle: how much liberty can you sacrifice in the name of security without losing the very identity and character of the nation that the attackers have set out to destroy?
But there are also some hard practical questions. There are massive security precautions now being taken all over the country: I’ve never felt safer in taking one of the first transatlantic United Airlines flights to resume, or the American Airlines flight from Washington to Chicago. But the sound we’re hearing all over the country right now is really of stable doors being beautifully and comprehensively bolted: what we really all have to be worrying about (and what Governor Ridge as the head of the new Office of Homeland Security has to be particularly worrying about) is the next kind of attack – in particular of a chemical or biological kind – which we presently haven’t even begun to get our heads round how to deal with.
(2) Bringing the Perpetrators to Justice The pressure for action here – including, as necessary, robust military action – against the perpetrators of these crimes, and those who aid and abet or harbour and shelter them, is obviously immense, and President Bush’s speech to Congress and the nation last night was as tough an expression of determination to so act in this respect as anyone across the spectrum of public question could possibly wish for.
In recent days many key administration figures have seemed to be trying to dampen expectations that enforcement actions of a military kind could be swift or decisive. There were some passages in President Bush’s speech last night which reinforced that kind of message – that this was not a war like any other, and with the targets as elusive as they were, it could not be expected to be won quickly, or in the familiar way, by the overwhelming application of military force.
But the President’s primary purpose last night was clearly to give a very clear message indeed to the Taliban government of Afghanistan, and to others believed be willing to accommodate suspected terrorists on their soil, that they risked sustained military attack – “sharing the terrorists’ fate” - if they failed to cooperate in every possible way. It is very understandable indeed that he should want to have concentrated minds in this way. But in doing so he unquestionably ratcheted expectations right up again - thus creating the problem of delivering on those expectations if the responses of the governments in question are seen to fall short.
However difficult the task may be of communicating this in a way that does not deliver mixed or confused messages, it really is crucial over the period ahead that there be a continuing acknowledgement of the constraints which must apply in the exercise of robust military force. There are three in particular that America’s friends and allies, and many voices in this country, have been properly emphasising over and again:
- first, there has to be a strong evidentiary foundation for any action: if you act without that, the support of friends and allies will fall away, and – even more importantly – the possibility of creating a generally cooperative international enforcement front against terrorism in the future;
- secondly, the killing and maiming of the innocent has to be avoided at almost all costs: if that happens, you just create a whole new generation of people fearing and hating the West and everything it stands for, a new breeding ground for a whole new generation of fanatics;
- thirdly, you have to avoid at all costs (and the Administration is clearly now acutely conscious of this, and acting accordingly) characterising the response as a crusade against any particular brand of religion: it must be a war against deeds, not against beliefs. If you don’t distinguish sufficiently clearly between deeds and beliefs, you fall into the same trap as some of the tough-minded leaders in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia that my organisation, the International Crisis Group, has been reporting on recently, who have cracked down on moderate Islamic movements and political opposition generally, and in the process have created a whole new movement becoming more and more genuinely Islamist/extremist in reaction.
(3) Building International Defences against Future Attacks The first line of international defence – moving beyond internal security – must be in the countries of origin of the terrorists themselves. The CIA, FBI and US military can never be as good as the Taliban in dealing with Osama bin Laden, or as the Syrian government in dealing with the Hezbollah; Mossad and the Israeli Defence Force – as tough and competent as they may – can never be as effective as the Palestinian Authority in cracking down on the fanatics of Hamas and other extremist groups.
To strengthen these international defences you have to build the capacity and above all the will for these countries and authorities to act. The policy challenge for the West is to do that by whatever combination of carrots and sticks is required – taking into account the necessity for the response we are encouraging to be intelligent and measured, not counterproductive.
The negative constraint here is that it is not enough to uncritically embrace regimes whose principles and methods are alien to the very values we are trying to protect. There are plenty of governments and authorities only too happy to crack down on dissent of any kind for regime survival purposes, and it has to be remembered that frustration with local leaderships that are repressive or inept or both is very much part of the problem.
The positive point to make is that if we want, as we must, strong local action against terrorism, it is important to do our best to create environments in the countries in question in which there is more community support for cracking down on terrorism. And that in turn means that it is important to adopt, as at least part of the repertoire of responses to terror, strategies designed to address the problem at source – addressing the policy issues that we know generate grievance, and the social and economic conditions that we know generate despair.
These are themes that have not featured very largely so far in the public debate in America. For perhaps understandable reasons - that he didn’t want, for example, to dilute the core message of tough ultimatum – they didn’t feature at all in the President’s speech last night . But in the judgment of a great many of America’s friends and allies abroad, as well as observers here, they need to feature, and it is to them that I now turn.
(4) Addressing the Conflicts and Policy Issues that Generate Grievance To begin to drain the swamp in which terrorism breeds, there has to be a major effort made to address some of the avoidable sources of grievance - the unresolved conflicts and policy issues that help create the environment in which terrorism can grow and flourish. There just has to be a renewed commitment and focus on the kind of conditions that help to create individuals able to believe that killing thousands of civilians is not only acceptable, but heroic.
Maybe my judgment here is a little affected by my role as head of the International Crisis Group, an organisation dedicated to preventing and containing deadly conflict . But my strong belief is that the task of fighting terrorism cannot be separated from the task of preventing, containing and ending conflict. All too often the places that generate terrorism – along with drug trafficking, and health pandemics, and refugee outflows, and international environmental disasters – are shattered societies where grievance, greed, repression, poverty and prejudice have, in various combinations, fed violence, utter despair and extremism. Think not only of the Middle East and Central Asia, but of Northern Ireland, the Sudan, Colombia, the Caucasus. In none of these conflicts, or a dozen others, has the conflict stayed local.
It won’t be easy to win domestic consensus on all of this. Many Americans can already be heard saying, understandably enough, that “This is what we get for sticking our noses into so many problems around the world that are not our business.” Another variation on this theme has been spelt out in crystal clear - and to my ears at least, extremely disconcerting – terms by Robert Kaplan in a recent interview:
The first thing no-one has realised yet is that these attacks mean the end of Wilsonian idealism. Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda are all off the charts, assigned to the sepia-toned 1990s. We can only afford to do good works abroad when security at home can be taken for granted.
The answer that Kaplan and people reacting like him must hear from their leaders is that, like it or not, what seem so often to be dirty little wars in faraway places are America’s business, and the business of the whole international community, simply because their impact so often reaches globally. To try and address these conflicts and crises is not a matter of Boy Scout good deeds – of doing good works abroad; it is a matter of hard-headed national interest, and hard headed domestic security interest.
Of all the countries in the world, the US is the most able – because of its diplomatic, military and economic resources – to play a role for good in ending deadly conflict. What America’s friends and allies want more than ever now is for the US to play that role – and not disengage.
I don’t want to suggest in all of this that there is some simplistic connection between political grievance redress and terrorist threat reduction. Clearly not all terrorist violence is based on this kind of grievance, with for example the World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks clearly being planned at a time when optimism about the Israel-Palestinian peace process was at its height. But equally there can be no doubt that backward steps in this and other peace processes do inflame sentiment in the streets, and make it that much harder for governments in these regions to crack down on domestically generated terrorism, and especially for them to cooperate with the West in all the ways that are crucially necessary.
(5) Addressing Underlying Social, Economic and Cultural Issues that Generate Grievance Any comprehensive response to terrorism has to address the reality that not all the festering grievances that breed it have a rational, or semi-rational, foundation in unresolved or badly-resolved conflicts, or other policy issues of this kind. Clearly a significant part of the story is a blind hatred of modernisation, of the impact of globalisation and the greater interaction and interdependence countries, and the new cultural currents associated with that (in particular those relating to greater freedom and opportunity for women) – which are all undermining, particularly in the way they are being embraced by young people, old family and social and economic and governmental values and institutions.
The unhappy reality is that the US is the natural international target of this kind of resentment. This country’s role in the global economy, its perceived political influence – and above all its perceived cultural influence everywhere – mean that trouble is bound to follow it, through whatever walls its citizens may be tempted to build around themselves. Jessica Stern of Harvard put it well a couple of days ago: Part of the fury is that the US is the sole remaining superpower, and we are the magnet for hatred. People feel deprived. They feel that their lives have not gone the way they should. We are a convenient symbol of the ‘other’.
This is the hardest of all the underlying causes to address, not least because the phenomenon of globalisation and everything that goes with it is so obviously irreversible, and because the cultural dimensions of it – the freedom and opportunity associated with modernisation and global interaction – are so obviously attractive to so many people.
But even though there are no easy answers, part of the response must be to try to gradually diminish the envy and sense of both absolute and comparative economic disadvantage that are significant parts of the problem – to make a sustained effort to improve social conditions, reduce disparities of wealth, create more and more economic opportunity, and above all to create more and more educational opportunity. There is growing evidence, in countries like Pakistan, that religious parties and groups – including those inclined to extremism – are attracting more and more support by offering, through the mosques and associated madrassas, low cost education which millions of poor families simply cannot obtain for their children in any other way.
Responding to social and economic deprivation with thoughtful and generous development assistance proposals is not again, a matter of good works appropriate for the good times when we have less to worry about internally. As with addressing political grievances, it’s all part of the process of draining the swamps in which grievance and despair breed.
It’s just no coincidence that the countries from which most terror appears to have sprung have been those with collapsed or faltering economies, in which either most people have no wealth at all, or where there are very great disparities of wealth, and where the population at large feels left out, with no sense at all of being beneficiaries of the great wealth-generating bonanza of globalisation.
Again one must not be too simplistic about any of this. There is no iron law that wealth or education will diminish fanaticism or hatred of the West – Oslama bin Laden is himself living proof of that – but there is every reason to believe it must help.
Of all the objectives in responding to terrorism I have identified, the one most closely associated with the International Crisis Group is the prevention and containment and settlement of deadly conflict – both internal and cross border, our motive being not only the moral and humanitarian one of avoiding catastrophic human misery, but also to avoid the international spillover effects of that conflict - economic, environmental, human, criminal and (as we are all now so horribly conscious) in terms of terrorism.
ICG began in 1995 as a response to the policy failures of Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda and elsewhere. Our core mission is conflict prevention and containment, and our methodology is field-based analysis, strong and practical policy prescription and high-level advocacy. We now have projects in nineteen coutries or entities across four continents, advocacy offices in Brussels, Washington, New York and Paris, a full-time staff of 60 and a budget (based on support from governments, foundations and private individuals) now heading over $7 million.
Had there been no September 11 I would have made the focus of this presentation the problem of deadly conflict and the role and responsibility of the international community in preventing it. For present purposes I simply mention that much of what we are doing is squarely related to addressing some of the key breeding grounds of terrorism, and that much of our work has been specifically focused on political grievance with an ethno-religious (and often specifically Islamic) foundation – for example in the Balkans, in Central Asia, in Indonesia, in Algeria and most recently in the Sudan.
In all these problem areas, and others as well, a constant theme of our advocacy is that the West in general, and the US in particular, does not have the luxury of disengagement, whatever the popular pressure from time to time to do so. And a further theme of that advocacy is that any such engagement has to be intelligent – analytically soundly based.
In addressing all these issues it is extraordinarily easy in government – I know because I’ve been there for 21 years as a parliamentarian, and thirteen of them as a Cabinet minister – to yield to the popular pressure of the moment, and either do nothing at all, because attention is distracted by other priorities, or – under the pressure of the moment to be seen to be doing something – to do something which is counterproductive.
We in ICG are in the business of trying to mute or rechannel that kind of reaction – by the quality of our analysis, our policy proposals and our advocacy. Intelligent, well-informed, thoughtful and measured – and engaged - foreign policy is a cause to which I am well aware the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations has been committed throughout its long history, and it has been a great pleasure and privilege for me to have had the opportunity to speak to you today.