Central Africa
Sierra Leone

Afghanistan / Pakistan
Central Asia



Latin America

Middle East

Customise the Homepage
Subscribe to ICG newsletter

"International Responses to Islamist Extremism"
Remarks by Gareth Evans to National Institute for Research Advancement (NIRA) Colloquium, Tokyo.

The international policy challenge that the US has been set by 911 is fantastically difficult and complex, and so far it has been handled extremely well indeed. State, the Pentagon and the White House have got their act together, never an easy thing to do, articulated sound and measured objectives, and effectively advanced them.

But every day is a new day, and with things in Afghanistan generally falling into place, backburner issues like what to do about Iraq will very quickly come to the frontburner, and the potential for policy missteps remains very high.

It may help to clarify the issues to distinguish five separate objectives which, in ICG’s judgement at least, have to be simultaneously pursued if the response to 911, 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 – and if short term objectives are not to work against longer term ones.

(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.

Apart from the practical questions, there are obviously big issues of principle involved , with which the country is juste 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 four 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, 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

: this condition was pretty well satisfied in Afghanistan – but new issues will arise with Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Phillipines, Indonesia

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 follow through punitive action in principled way. There is a real issue here about the way in which the U.S. is refusing to acknowledge those it captured as ‘prisoners if war’, as they clearly seem to be under international law, and the way theyt are being treated at Guantanamo bay. Further questions will arise about the courts or tribunals under which they are tried – all of them adding further weight to the argument for the international community establishing, and the U.S. supporting, an international criminal court.

Fourthly, you have to make commitment to rebuilding countries in question, and not make the mistake of Afghanistan last time round – walking away when the immediate problem was resolved. To its credit US and interntional community – with Japan playing an excellent leadership role – have clearly recognised that.

The Challenge of Iraq

With Afghanistan on the way to resolution, pressure will obviously build for action against Iraq, and there is obviously a lively debate going on within US Administration right now about just that.

There is no question that Iraq poses a huge problem, above all in its undoubted WMD capacity and its demonstrated willingness in the past to use it. It may or may not have had a hand in 911, and the later anthrax attacks, but as yet there is no compelling evidence.

Some action is going to be necessary on the WMD front – with the need to establish a new inspection regime there being absolutely compelling – but the question is what and when, and whether the military option makes any sense. On this front there are some obvious caveats:

- However much Iraq is detested by its Arab neighbours and Iran – it still has an extraordinary capacity to win support if it can paint itself as oppressed, as we have seen in the playing out of the sanctions issue.

- The evidence of responsibility for past attacks or planned future attacks would need to be very strong.

- It cannot be assumed that any military victory would be easily won, result in the collapse of the Saddam regime and anyone likely to be as bad, and be sustainable: there will be a repeat of the dilemma of 1991 – what does the dog do when it catches the car?

- The views of Turkey – which has suffered grievously (to the est tune of some $30 billion dollars economically since the Gulf War, with its subsequent trade embargoes) – would have to be taken closely into account. In particular the often favoured military/political approach of a three way split of Iraq into Shiite south/ Sunni middle and Kurdish north is seen by Turkey as a nightmare scenario – reviving all its worst anxieties about separatist Kurdistan sentiment within its own territory.

(3) Building Front Line 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 strategies systematically pursued over time.

Building capacity means in the first instance building basic physical capacity. In Afghanistan, an absolutely critical part of the process is the rebuilding of the country from zero, or zero minus – in terms of establishing security, creating effective governance, managing immediate humanitarian assistance, rebuilding economic and social infrastructure and establishing viable economy. That process is off to an excellent start with the donors’ conference here in Japan this week, but nightmarish problems ahead, not least in ensuring that donors meet their present and future commitments, and that aid delivery is effectively coordinated – for example, as ICG recommends, through World Bank trust funds.

Building the will means essentially building political support, but it important that this not be bought at too high a price. ICG has been much emphasising this negative constraint 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.. 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.

Political support is impossible, whatever the will, without the capacity to deliver that support. 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 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, ‘root cause’ 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.

(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. Part of the enterprise here must also be to encourage, by all available means, the expression of moderate Islamic voices.

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 – Osama bin Laden is himself living proof of that – but there is every reason to believe it must help, as must efforts both internal and external to improve the quality, and responsiveness to its people, of national governance.

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 world in between.

Home - About ICG - Terrorism Menu - Publications - Press - Contacts - Site Guide - TOP - Credits

Back to the homepageBack to the Homepage
Latest Reports
"International Responses to Islamist Extremism"
Remarks by Gareth Evans to National Institute for Research Advancement (NIRA) Colloquium, Tokyo.

23 January 2002
"The world after 11 September: a balance sheet"
Address by Gareth Evans to the Academy of International Business Conference, Sydney, 19 November 2001

19 November 2001
"Building sustainable international defences against terrorism"
Presentation by Gareth Evans, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC, 14 November 2001

14 November 2001
"The UN's poisoned chalice"
Comment by ICG Board Member William Shawcross, Evening Standard, 11 October 2001

11 October 2001
Responding to Terrorism: Where Conflict Prevention and Resolution Fit In
Address by Gareth Evans at Johns Hopkins University (SAIS), 9 October 2001

9 October 2001