Responding to Terrorism: Where Conflict Prevention and Resolution Fit In
Address by Gareth Evans at Johns Hopkins University (SAIS), 9 October 2001
Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC
September 11 - and how to respond to it – is not an easy issue to deal with in a measured, analytical way. The scale of the horror, in which the US suffered more casualties to terrorism in a single day than Israel and Ireland have suffered in fifty years, is still only just beginning to sink in. None of us anywhere in the world have remained untouched by the attacks. Even in faraway Australia: some 60 of my countrymen and women were killed. But the shock and loss have been profound beyond measure for Americans, both because of the many thousands who died and the terrible sense of violation and insecurity 11 September produced throughout the country. For those of you, particularly, who have suffered directly and personally the loss of loved ones and friends and colleagues, I offer my deepest and most heartfelt condolences.
It would hardly be surprising if 11 September 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, most reassuringly of all for the rest of the world, multilateral rather than unilateral. In just about every one of the different dimensions in which a response is required – and later on I will spell out five kinds of response which I think are crucial - things so far have been handled very well indeed, with a high measure of understanding of the issues at stake being evident right across the community.
There has certainly been evident, in both the official and public response, a good grasp of the essential nature of terrorism, as involving an enemy harder to define than any previously fought, and a war against it like no other previously fought. The computer literate generations have understood quickly enough that what is involved here is not so much any clear-cut hierarchy, or even set of hierachies, but rather multiple groups operating like the discrete but interconnected nodes of an electronic network. Those less computer literate have been able to grasp a more traditional metaphor, as enunciated by Pakistani President Musharraf among others: that individual terrorists are like the leaves of a tree, and just as easily replaceable; while terrorist organisations are like its branches, separate but connected to the larger organism, and able to be chopped off, but likely to grow again so long as the tree has roots. The virtue of these metaphors is that they convey a sense of the complexity of the task, and the need for a patient long haul: there has been a hunger for military strike action, and massive support for it, but there is no great anticipation that this will produce a quick fix, and that is healthy.
The one area where I’m not so sure that a clear consensus exists, or that the balance of opinion has got it right, is the subject of this forum: the question of just where, in responding to terrorism, conflict prevention and resolution fit in. The notion that terrorism has roots certainly has a toehold, as I have just acknowledged, and there is a general acknowledgement that at least one of those roots involves the conflicts and policy issues that generate grievance. But there is a considerable reluctance to follow the reasoning through, and squarely confront the implications of it for American foreign policy. Even to raise the issue of the relevance of the unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict, or the lingering grievances left over from the Gulf War – to suggest that addressing conflict issues more constructively and successfully might be at least part of an appropriate response strategy - is to walk on eggshells. “You want to reward the terrorists”, you’ll be told; you are accepting that there was something defensible or legitimate about their actions; you’re “blaming America” itself for the terrible evils worked upon it
Sometimes the point is made elegantly, as for example by Harold Evans in last weekend’s Independent: “What [Americans] cannot stomach is the vapours of moral relativism from across the Atlantic, from all those in Europe who seek to explain the depravity of 11 September as somehow related to anger created by American foreign policy.” And sometimes it’s made rather less elegantly, as in this email I received recently after a report appeared in the Chicago Tribune summarising what I had thought was a very cautious and measured speech of mine on these themes to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations: “I have read your comments in the above referenced article”, my correspondent wrote. “You have numerous suggestions for America and ‘the West’. I have but one for you. GET THE F… OUT OF AMERICA YOU F…ING COMMUNIST PIECE OF S…”
I think the only way to move the debate forward in a rational fashion is to put the whole issue in its proper context, and to make crystal clear what is being argued or suggested and what is not. My own approach is to argue that we do have to address the conflicts and policy issues that generate grievance, but only as one of five inter-linked but conceptually quite distinct kinds of objectives that have to be simultaneously pursued if the response to terrorism in general, and 11 September in particular, is to be effective.
One of those objectives is primarily internal in focus, but the other four are external – and of these, one is essentially short-term in approach, another is medium term and two are long-term. Some of the objectives are in real tension with each other, and it’s not easy for any government anywhere to get the balance right – steering a tight course between neither over-reacting, in a way that is counter-productive, nor under-reacting, in a way that is unresponsive to the mood of the people. For the most part, I think the right balance is being struck at the moment, and if US anger and shock can continue to be channelled as productively as it has been so far, 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.
(1) Strengthening Internal Security
The first objective, or necessary element of any response, is overwhelmingly internal in character, and to that extent I won’t dwell on it here.
Getting this part of the response right involves, for a start, hard practical questions. Airline and airport security are obviously crucial, but the sound we’re hearing all over the country right now is not only of cockpit doors but 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.
There are also obviously big issues of principle involved , 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?
The internal response cannot be wholly insulated from the external: some kinds of internal responses do have a real capacity to resonate beyond the country in a way that can either help or hinder the larger cause. It is crucial in this context that policymakers remember, as to their credit they overwhelmingly have done so far, that this is a war against deeds, not beliefs; and that there are huge downside risks, in terms of winning the sustained cooperation of other countries, in engaging in any form of negative religious or racial profiling. As an Australian, whose country was justly seen as a pariah among the third world until the late 1960s when we finally abandoned our appallingly discriminatory “White Australia” immigration policy, I am acutely sensitive to just how much damage can be done to a country’s reputation, credibility and effectiveness, by this kind of insensitivity.
(2) Bringing the Perpetrators to Justice
There can be no doubt about America’s moral and legal right to take immediate action – including, as necessary, robust military action – against the perpetrators of the 11 September crimes, and those who aid and abet, or harbour and shelter them. In international law, the self-defence provision in Article 51 of the UN Charter is itself sufficient justification.
What is crucial, however, is that there be a continuing acknowledgement of the constraints which must apply in taking such action – not just as a matter of law and morality but of hard-headed national self interest. There are two constraints, in particular, that America’s friends and allies, and a great many voices in this country, have been properly emphasising over and again as necessary to ensure the effectiveness both of the short-term action against the perpetrators of 11 September, and the long-term fight against further such acts.
First, the targets of the action have to be credibly identified. The stronger the response, and the wider the range of targets, the stronger the evidentiary foundation has to be if the support of friends and allies is not to fall away, and – even more importantly –a generally cooperative international enforcement front against terrorism is to be capable of being maintained in the future. The case against Osama bin Laden personally has I think been made strongly enough for these purposes: as presented publicly so far, it would probably not be enough to convict him in a Western or international court, but it would certainly be enough to bring him before one. As the former ministerial head of my own country’s equivalent of both the CIA and FBI, or MI6 and MI5, I have a more acute sense than most of the weaknesses as well as strengths of unrevealable intelligence sources, but on this occasion – bearing in mind the non-hierarchical character of terrorist organisation, the nature and extent of the influence that bin Laden has unquestionably been exercising, and now the chilling character of his own statement on television last weekend, I am not inclined to be too sceptical.
And although a considerably higher evidentiary hurdle has to be jumped before an all out war is launched on a sovereign country, the case is also compelling for targeted action against those of Afghanistan’s Taliban leadership who are now so clearly and unashamedly continuing to protect and defend Oslama bin Laden and his followers.
The second constraint is that the action must be proportionate. In particular, the killing and maiming of the innocent has to be avoided at almost all costs. If that happens, not only will the present coalition of the willing – still extremely fragile at its Islamic edges – fall apart, but we will 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;
In this context, it is impossible to make too often the point - of which this Administration is clearly now acutely conscious - that whatever else you do, you must not allow either the short term response against the 11 September perpetrators or the long term war against terrorism generally, to be characterised as a crusade against any particular brand of religion: it must, again, be a war against deeds, not against beliefs. Similarly, it is critical in the present context that any military action directed against the Taliban leadership be characterised as just that – not a war against Afghanistan and its people. The unprecedented simultaneous focus on food aid and humanitarian relief while the bombs are still dropping is an important way of making that point and should be continued.
There is just one other precautionary note that must be sounded, highly relevant to this forum’s focus on conflict prevention. One just hopes that with all the attention now being focused on destroying the Taliban, just as much attention is being devoted to how a new and more credible government can be constructed from the ground up – whether through the mechanism of a loya jirga convened by the former king or otherwise – that will be more credible, and successful in addressing the country’s and region’s problems than its predecessors.
This point leads naturally to the third major objective I want to identify as a critical part of the 11 September response strategy, one with an external and medium-term focus:
(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, should it have chosen to be, or Saudi Arabia or Sudan before them, in dealing with Osama bin Laden; 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; neither the Indians or anyone else could possibly be as good as the Pakistani government and military in curbing, if it chose to do, the terrorist fanaticism that continues to tear apart Kashmir.
To strengthen these international defences you have to build the capacity and above all the will for these countries and authorities to act, both internally and in close cooperation with the wider international community. Intelligence has to be supplied, financial supply lines broken, logistic support offered and common stratregies systematically pursued over time. The electronic network metaphor is helpful here in reminding us of the extraordinarily complex nature of the continuing challenge: as some of the ‘netwar’ theorists have put it, “the West must start to build its own networks and must learn to swarm the enemy, in order to keep it on the run until it can be destroyed.” [Ronfeld and Aquilla, quoted in David Ignatius, ‘The Adversary is Fundamentalist Networks, not Islam Itself’, International Herald Tribune, 8 October]
Building those networks – through building the necessary capacity and will in all the relevant countries concerned – is a huge policy challenge for the West, to meet 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. An excellent start has been made in this respect over the last few weeks, not least in Pakistan: the huge challenge will be for the new international defences to be sustainable. . There is one important negative constraint here, which ICG has been much emphasising lately in the context of the Central Asian republics, and in particular Uzbekistan: whatever the short-term benefits, in terms of active cooperation, that might be seen to follow from doing so, it is not wise 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, but it has to be remembered that frustration with local leaderships that are repressive or inept or both has been very much part of the terrorist problem. Some of the tough-minded leaders of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia have cracked down heavily on moderate Islamic movements and political opposition generally, and are only too keen to have the support of the West in continuing to do so: but in the process they have produced a whole new movement becoming more and more genuinely Islamist extremist in reaction, and the danger is that that movement will become stronger still.
It is in the context of building sustainable international defences against terrorism that I think the issue of tackling the so-called root causes of terrorism – including addressing unresolved conflicts and political grievances – has its most immediate and obvious relevance. The point is simply that if we want, as we must, strong local action against terrorism, we have to go all out to create environments in the countries in question in which there is more community support for cracking down on terrorism, and in which insecure governments like that of Pakistan, and many others in the region, will feel more confident in doing so. 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.
(4) Addressing the Conflicts and Policy Issues that Generate Grievance
So far as the motives for terrorist action are concerned, it is obvious that no simplistic connection can be drawn between political grievance redress and terrorist threat reduction. Clearly not all terrorist violence is based on this kind of grievance, and the Israel-Palestinian conflict in particular must not be seen as the root of all Islamist extremism: indeed 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. Tom Friedman and others beating hard on the ‘Don’t blame America’ drum are at pains to emphasise these points, and they are right.
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. To begin to drain the swamp in which terrorism breeds – or to cut out the roots of the tree, or to break some of the inter-nodal network connections, whichever metaphor you prefer – I believe that 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. To do this is not to ‘reward’ terrorist behaviour: it’s to answer it.
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 our 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 of 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. This Administration is off to a better start now in this respect than anyone could have dreamed possible a month ago. The trick will be to make sure, when the dust from 11 September settles a little more, that that effort continues.
(5) Addressing Underlying Social, Economic and Cultural Issues that Generate Grievance
Any comprehensive response to terrorism has to, finally, 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 modernity, 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. It is a magnet for the hatred of those who feel themselves deprived. 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.
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. We know that, in Pakistan in particular, 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.
There is a need to respond to social and economic deprivation with thoughtful and generous development assistance proposals, and the US has an enormous capacity to do so, even in economically stressful times, when one remembers that US foreign aid is now down to an all time low, and an internationally rather embarrassing, 0.11 per cent of GDP. This is not again, a matter of good works appropriate for the good times when we have less to worry about internally. It’s a matter of the hard headed pursuit of national interest. 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.
Trying to help a create a better policy response to these dilemmas is all that any of us in the policy community can do – whether as government insiders, or as academic or think-tank or NGO outsiders, or somewhere in the beltway world in between.
This is not the occasion - as it might have been without 11 September - to give you a commercial about ICG, and all that we have been doing and hope to continue to do (including now in the Middle East and West Asia) in the field of conflict prevention, containment and resolution, employing all the resources of field-based analysis, practical policy prescription, and high-level advocacy available to us.
It’s appropriate for me to simply acknowledge the credibility and effectiveness of the organisations that sponsor this forum, and to say what a pleasure and privilege it is for me to be able to join my distinguished friend and colleague Lee Hamilton in speaking to this very high powered, distinguished and thoughtful group gathered here today.