International Cooperation vs. Unilateralism
‘Unilateralism’ is a pejorative term. It is the current malediction of choice in application to the Bush administration, both at home and abroad, for having conquered and occupied Iraq over the objections of France, Germany, Russia, and most other nations.
-Crispin Sartwell, 2007.
Terrorists should not be regarded as basic thugs or simple, uninformed gangs; rather, many are learning that the fundamentals of business are as important to their future as field stripping a Kalashnikov is today. .. they form alliances and initiate agreements. These alliances demonstrate a new dimension of the terrorism phenomena: maturity. The initial step toward maturity for these independents requires them to network with larger, like-minded organizations. Such organizations may have different ideologies, goals, adversaries, or sponsors, but they have a compelling reason to cooperate with less mature groups: growth. (Desouza & Hensgen, 2007:595).
Many argue that this is exactly what the United States is not doing. Terrorist organizations are maturing, they are growing, and they are allying themselves with one another, and availing themselves of one another’s strengths, contacts and resources. The unilateral policy of the Bush administration has put the United States well below the curve in this respect. Consider America’s invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq: not only did the United States initially reject Allied offers to assist it in Afghanistan, it then defied the United Nations Security Council when it invaded Iraq. To this day, the United States insists on going its own way in dealing with the problem of terrorism, much to its own disadvantage:
Although NATO now maintains a sizeable operation in Afghanistan, Washington initially turned down the alliance’s offer to help in toppling the Taliban, dealing a blow to the spirit and form of transatlantic solidarity. For the vast majority of Europeans, taking the war on terror to Baghdad was both unwise and illegitimate. And Americans and Europeans have embraced different views of the source of Islamic extremism and how best to combat it (Kupchan, 2006:80).
Kupchan (2006:80-1) continues by pointing out that “Europe’s resistance to U.S. policy has for the most part taken the form of ‘soft balancing’-attempts to isolate the United States diplomatically, as occurred over the Kyoto Protocol and the ICC.” Furthermore actions by France, Russia and Germany “to block the invasion of Iraq constituted a far more serious form of resistance,” not just a refusal to participate but “a determined and successful campaign to deny the United States the backing of the UN Security Council.” Kupchan argues that in so doing, these nations “imposed considerable costs on the United States in terms of both resources and lives.”
In Europe, the French are no longer alone in calling for the EU to act as a counterweight to the United States...surveys reveal a troubling increase in the percentage of Europe’s citizens holding an unfavorable view of the United States. Moreover, many Europeans see America’s presence in Iraq as posing a greater threat to international peace than Iran’s theocratic regime” (Kupchan, 2006:81-2).
President Bush claims that “the survival of liberty at home increasingly depends on the success of liberty abroad.” But as Rich Lowry points out: “This is overly broad. How does Burma’s dictatorship affect our liberty? Or Putin’s steps toward authoritarianism? Or the progress, or lack thereof, of liberty in Africa? They don’t” (Lowry, 2006:24). But the Bush administration’s policies of unilateralism and military hegemony are restricting the freedom and autonomy (i.e., the liberty) of those abroad. In fact, most people in Britain and Germany believe that President Bush’s actions increased the danger of terrorism in their country (Carter, 2003).
Furthermore, fate’s ironic sense of humor presents itself yet again. By alienating the United States from the rest of the world, including most of the West, President Bush is demonstrating his own lack of maturity. Meanwhile since 9/11, when Bush insisted on taking the offensive (against some very wise council) and attack al Qaeda on their territory:
Al Qaeda appears to have transitioned from a territorially based, centrally directed structure to a more decentralized, mission-driven organization. Suddenly, a series of attacks erupted that were all attributed to or related to Al Qaeda. A series of terrorist attacks occurred in Turkey, Morocco, and even Saudi Arabia—which was once thought to be the one place such events would never take place. Many groups, in a variety of countries, proclaimed their connections to Al Qaeda, including: Islamic Group (Egypt), al-Jihad (Egypt), Armed Islamic Group (Algeria), Salafist Group for Call and Combat (Algeria), Abu Sayyaf Organization (Philippines), Harakat al-Mujahideen (Pakistan), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Army of Aden (Yemen), Asbat al-Ansar (Lebanon), al Ittihad Islamiya (Somalia), Jemaah Islamiya, and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (Desouza & Hensgen, 2007:595).
Vidino (2007:580) argues that, far from hindering al Qaeda by destroying its base in Afghanistan, Bush did more to promote al Qaeda’s purposes than even bin Laden himself could have ever dreamed. Vidino quotes from the writings of Abu Musab al Suri, “one of Al Qaeda’s most important ideologues over the past fifteen years”:
Al Suri, who spent several years in Spain and Great Britain, often theorized that the role of Al Qaeda was much different, and far more limited, than what is commonly believed. In fact, he envisioned Al Qaeda as almost a temporary entity, whose very existence was only propaedeutic to the creation of independent Islamist groups throughout the world. “Al Qaeda is not an organization, it is not a group, nor do we want it to be,” explained al Suri in a lecture he gave in 2000. “It is a call, a reference, a methodology.”
Paul Pillar (2003:143) agrees that the ‘terrorist threat to US interests in the next few years will come increasingly not from al-Qaeda itself but from its fragments or successors, or from other cells or groups within the wider Islamist network.” Vidino (2007:580) points out that this very strategy is growing more and more notable in West:
Various Western intelligence agencies, including the Dutch domestic agency AIVD (Algemene Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst), have noted that as result of this process, widely dispersed local networks with a merely ideological affiliation with Al Qaeda have emerged and taken up the banner of jihad.
As for making the world safe from Saddam Hussein and his WMDs, the US has created more-or-less the same effect as it did with al Qaeda. By toppling Saddam, and invading Iraq, the US has incited a backlash of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks that never would have occurred otherwise. “The Scuds of Saddam never caused as much psychological damage as the suicide bombers have.”
Daniel Byman (2006:769) points to the detention of European nationals in Guantanamo, without trial, as a major obstacle to European cooperation in the War on Terror. And Paul Pillar concurs: “Global cooperation against terrorism is already fragile.” What’s more, we’ve gotten ourselves into a war that we cannot possibly win. This applies not only to the war in Iraq, but also the war on terror itself. With the number of terrorist groups growing and multiplying at an alarming rate, we will never be able to defeat them all:
The government or occupier has far superior strength in terms of conventional military power, but cannot counterconcentrate in time because it has to defend all points, while the insurgent attacker can pick its target at will...in rebellions the insurgents win as long as they do not lose, and the government loses as long as it does not win. If al Qaeda can stay in the field indefinitely, they win (Betts, 2006:392)
Furthermore, Byman (2006:768) stresses the major importance of alliances in the U.S. War on Terror and observes that America has not adapted its allies to meet the threat of terrorism; a negligence that Byman describes as “unconscionable.” Given the absolute necessity of international cooperation, be it to attack the Taliban in Afghanistan or sniff out al-Qaeda operatives in Thailand, Byman warns that the simple oversight of a even a few key potential allies could have disastrous consequences; and having the “wrong allies may prove devastating.” Byman contends that Cold War alliances differ dramatically from those needed in a War on Terror. Today the U.S. needs allies that can provide aid to weak and failing states and/or intelligence to the U.S. on al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, enforce counterterrorism measures of their own, exert influence on terrorist groups or sponsors of terrorist groups and also in the Muslim world in general. Byman reasons that given these new criteria, certain allies will remain important (Canada, Britain, Saudi Arabia, France, Egypt, and Turkey), while others will become less important (China, South Korea and Japan), while still others will become significantly more important (Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Kenya and Nigeria). Similarly, just as states require allies to counter terrorism, and need to pool their resources and work together in order to be effective; the same principal applies to terrorist organizations as well:
All terrorist groups are limited by the three Rs: resources, reciprocity, and reach. Resources represent means, reciprocity represents the open and mutual exchange of ideas between parties, and reach represents an effective body of reliable, like-minded contacts. As with any group in competition for scarce resources, terrorists seek allies. Scarce resources can include money, technology, labor, and/or knowledge. By the mid-1990s, Osama bin Laden had formed an alliance between his group (Al Qaeda) and Aymar al Zawahiri, the leader of Egypt’s al-Jihad (Holy War) group. The attacks on the two U.S. embassies in Africa, in 1998, have been attributed to this collaborative alliance. It should be noted that terrorist groups must foster alliances between themselves and their immediate supporters lest they face conditions of a coup (Desouza & Hensgen, 2007: 594).
Clearly, the approach that is needed is one that prevents such alliances from being attractive. If terrorist organizations are not served (on a golden platter) ample justification for their actions, as the Bush administration has been doing, then popular support for terrorist attacks will wane. Without popular support for terrorist attacks, more moderate, socially acceptable groups will be much more hesitant to ally themselves with more extreme groups. It’s not brain surgery, it’s not rocket science, nor does one need an advanced degree in quantum mechanics to understand that the United States has to stop coming across as the villain. Our actions and our reactions are currently creating a backlash of terrorism, along with unprecedented popular support for the terrorists. We are currently on the offensive. But how long before that changes? If we can’t stop terrorism now, with all our armies and aircraft carriers and bombers, how do we expect to stop it once it is rampant on our own shores? Our foreign policy, and most likely very soon, our domestic policy toward terrorism, has to change. It’s no longer a question of if, but when; sooner or later something has to break. If our government does not change, it will be the backs of the American people. Because once that day comes, our government will not be able to protect us. “This, of course, is the age-old strategy of terrorists everywhere-to undermine public confidence in the ability of the authorities to protect and defend citizens, thereby creating a climate of fear and intimidation amenable to terrorist exploitation” (Hoffman, 2006:340-1).
Mere economic aid alone will not address terrorism. We can not simply throw money at the problem. In fact Betts (2006:398) warns that economic assistance “in an area where the political and religious impulses remain unresolved could serve to improve the resource base for terrorism rather than undercut it.” The ultimate solution has to address poverty as one of many factors, of course, but as Betts demonstrates:
A strategy of terrorism is most likely to flow from the coincidence of two conditions: intense political grievance and gross imbalance of power... Under American primacy, candidates for terrorism suffer from grossly inferior power by definition. This should focus attention on the political causes of their grievance.
What Betts is telling us is that we need to empower those who are most vulnerable to support or be recruited by terrorist organization. Sanctions are the opposite of what we should be doing. As Garfield (2002:104) points out, “comprehensive sanctions may violate more human rights than does war itself.” While Chester Crocker (2005:51) rightly states that it is “virtually impossible to ‘defeat’ terrorism- which is, after all, a tactic, not an adversary,” Fareed Zakaria (2007:26) has also aptly pointed out that “if we are not terrorized, then in a crucial sense we have defeated terrorism.” This is perhaps the most profound insight I have come across yet. What does it mean? Alex P. Schmid (2005:143-4) adopts a phrase from Karl Marx that aptly captures the essence of it: “if terrorists are ‘dangerous dreamers of the absolute,’ we need to know more about their dreams.” Yes, indeed we do.
Robert Gould and Patrice Sutton (2002:1) argue that we have to find a cooperative international solution to terrorism. They call the war on terrorism a “war without limits in time and space” that has “permitted an unbridled and increasingly unilateralist militarism to reign dominant among the American ruling class.” Gould and Sutton quote The Next 100 Years, a statement issued on December 11, 2001 by 110 Nobel laureates: “The most profound danger to world peace in the coming years will stem not from the irrational acts of states or individuals but from the legitimate demands of the world’s dispossessed...”
The best advice from the brightest minds overwhelmingly suggests that the Bush administration is burning too many bridges, not playing well with others, alienating itself from its allies, and pursuing a unilateral course that will ultimately undermine international law altogether. As much as the division over unilateralism, preemption, and military hegemony exists, there is a profound consensus in the view that an effective grand strategy for countering international terrorism needs to be grounded in a multilateral approach.
Quote from Ami Pedahzur, Professor of political science at Haifa University. (Hoffman, 2006:342).
Released at the 100th Anniversary of the Nobel Prizes.