On Terrorism and Iraq

"These terrorist attacks are a further, horrifying indication of the pervasiveness of threats to people's safety, rights and lives. As the international community faces the implications of these tragic events, we must recognize that innovative international approaches are needed to address growing sources of global insecurity, remedy its symptoms and prevent the recurrence of threats that affect the daily lives of millions of people."

By Lloyd Axworthy | 2002-10-01 12:00:00

The above statement, unlike many of the outpourings of feelings and official statements in the dark days that followed September 11, was not a rousing call to arms seeking retaliation or revenge.

It did not uphold the right of an aggrieved country to protect its sovereign national interest. It did not assert the need to strengthen borders or amass overwhelming military power.

Instead, it recognized the widespread nature of the problem and called for innovative, international answers. Most important, it put the threat to people -- the risk to individuals -- as the central issue.

This was the statement of the Human Security Network, an association of 13 countries founded in 1999 out of an initiative by Norway and Canada. Its purpose: to collaborate and co-operate on concrete human-security matters on the international agenda at the time, such as a small-arms treaty, the International Criminal Court and the protection of children.

This group of like-minded nations worked from the premise that the basic right of people to live in freedom from fear was challenged equally by two overwhelming threats: the uncontrolled forces of state-inspired violence, and the newer, murkier dangers arising from a global underworld of human traffickers, arms traders, criminals, and terrorists.

As we all know, such advice was not heeded. The war on terrorism has become the dominant and over-arching objective of the United States and its allies. It has given licence to a variety of interventions, a massive increase of expenditure on arms, a justification for severe limits on human rights and a cover for all kind of nasty suppressions of various groups and interests around the world.

As practised by its chief proponent, counter-terrorism is the new crusade. It is the litmus test of loyalty to the faith: you're either for us or against us. It's primarily a military response, non-collaborative in approach and defiantly opposed to most forms of international efforts at alternative solutions, as witness the recent attempt to undermine the International Criminal Court.

Try Common Sense

Giving renewed vigor to the apostles of realpolitik -- bringing out of the shadows all those who find notions of humanitarian co-operation, international justice, and the rule of law to be anathema -- this "war" is leading inexorably into further crisis, expanding the orbit of danger and accelerating the cycles of violence. Witness the impending attack on Iraq.

I want to make the case that this approach is a mistake. If we want to successfully combat the terrorists -- and all others who threaten the security of innocent people, whether they be commuters on a plane to Los Angeles, children in Northern Uganda, bomb victims in the Middle East, or kidnapped civilians in Columbia -- we need to apply the common sense and pragmatism of a human-security approach.

If we don't, any attempt to deter global criminal activity is doomed to failure. And unless and until we can strike a better balance and forge a different pathway based on human-security principles, we also face a serious regression in the level of international co-operation on a myriad of crucial global issues and the receding of hope of a more peaceable, secure world.

Attempting to beat terrorists into submission through military action cannot be effective. There may be a momentary restriction on the activities of terrorist organizations -- it may send them further underground and may eliminate some of their human resources. But the global reach and religious fanaticism that defines terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda make a successful, persistent military deterrent unlikely.

More importantly, there are too many pre-existing tensions which military attacks exacerbate rather than quell. Military responses feed the anger, poverty, rhetoric -- the climate of grievance -- that create and sustain terrorist intentions.

Terrorism will never be eliminated, but its attraction can be significantly diminished by addressing causes: poverty, despair, disenfranchisement, religious fanaticism, absence of effective, meaningful democracy, etc. Some of these efforts have already been undertaken. They are complex, resource-intensive and require innovative international co-operation.

Furthermore, building an effective global network of law enforcement and justice that applies the same capacity for collaborative action that terrorists themselves often employ can substantially deter terrorism. Efforts to dismantle or ignore collaborative action only strengthen the terrorist ability to undermine an effective international response.

I don't come to these conclusions from any lofty philosophical heights. I write as a former practitioner, a survivor of 27 years in elected politics and 12 years as a minister of the Crown -- not occupations that usually lead to the kindly contemplation of the incongruities of life. As Canada's foreign minister for close to five years, I had to deal with the hard realities of living in a world of war, genocide, ethnic cleansing and premeditated violence. I was party to decisions on whether to engage in enforcement actions -- I'm no stranger to that dilemma.

As a neighbor and appreciative ally to the biggest kid on the block, I've also worked on numerous ways to co-exist and co-operate with the United States. I'm fully aware of the power of our partner on the North American continent to be a force for good. But I also come with a sense of apprehension about the present mood and dominant politics of that country.

It is because of that experience that I see the need to depart from conventional wisdoms and seek out new navigational guides to aid in the search for security. Not to replace the template of basic protection of national security, but to layer onto it new responses to global threats and risks which don't lend themselves to flexing biceps and going it alone.

This is especially critical in scoping out answers to the dark side of globalization. The same information networks that allow capital to move around the world in seconds or bring scenes of suffering into global living-rooms give international predators the capacity to establish integrated, world-wide connections that overwhelm the resources and capability of individual nation-states to protect their citizens. To give one example, drug-trafficking is a multibillion-dollar business that confronts police forces around the world with the most sophisticated tools of communication, transportation and organization.

Halting steps are being made at the UN, the G-8, OECD and other international forums to build a sense of teamwork to tackle such threats. But there is an opposite pull. The strong hold of beliefs in national sovereignty, and the increasing pressure of localism, generate substantial resistance from many governments to participate in multilateral co-operative ventures. The philosophy of "go it alone" is alive and well in the world, even in the face of a shared reality of common risk.

Human security is the lens through which this changing international scene should be viewed. The security risk to individuals must be the focal-point of a strategy that sees like-minded countries, partnering with non-governmental organizations, working toward new standards of international behavior based on protection of civilians.

What makes this idea of human security work is that it fits well with where we are as Canadians at the turnover from the 20th to the 21st centuries.

Canadian efforts to forge a new diplomacy inclusive of civil groups point the way to a new era of democratic decision-making at the international level. Our push for treaties and institutions based on humanitarian values could be the foundation of an international rule of law that respects and protects the rights of the individual. Our experiments with the use of "soft power techniques," such as the Internet, open up ways of enhancing the delivery of public goods and public policy. Our effort to mobilize a coalition of states dedicated to co-operative international efforts creates a force for reform in the global system.

One such effort is the International Criminal Court -- the cornerstone of a global judicial system incorporating co-operation on investigation, forensic evidence-gathering, police and enforcement action, and prosecution, and all done according to the precepts of respect for rights acting as a balance against the capricious use of force in the hands of leaders.

But the ICC is not a stand-alone example -- there are other initiatives under way. One of the most important is the report of the Canadian-inspired, global Commission on Intervention and Sovereignty, an attempt to rethink and redefine the meaning of sovereignty in light of the experiences of the last decade with acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing around the world.

Last December, the commission proposed that sovereignty be redefined as the responsibility to protect -- shifting the perspective from what it endows to the state to what it obliges the state to do. To quote from the report: "Such a responsibility implies an evaluation of the issue from the perspective of the victim, not the intervener; if a state cannot provide the protection or is the author of the crime, then it forfeits its sovereign right and the international community steps in, not just to protect, but to prevent and rebuild."

This fundamental shift of perspective to the view of the victim, not the intervener -- from the right of sovereign interest to the responsibility to protect -- has particular relevance as we contemplate the preparations for an attack on Iraq. This adventure is part of the emerging U.S. anti-terrorist policy which asserts the right of pre-emptive intervention at a time, place and target of its own choosing.

Protect Human Beings First

It is not enough simply to oppose, wring hands and wail, or rely on outdated and badly-crafted UN resolutions. There must be an alternative, based on the perspective of the victim -- in this case, the Iraqi people, who face double-jeopardy from their own sadistic government and now from the United States.

It's time to start fresh by asserting a strong interest by the international community in human protection. That can be done by abandoning the current sanctions regime against Iraq in return for weapon inspections, and applying a concerted effort on compliance, not pre-emption.

This is a human-security approach, not the scorched-earth strategy proposed by the US administration. And it must be clearly stated soon, in the councils of government and the UN. It is a chance to present an alternative, rather than exacerbating the cause of terrorism and creating further resentments in the Islamic world.

One year after the tragic events of September 11, there is an opportunity to go the human-security route and find solutions based on the rule of law and the practice of justice. This we should think about on this sad anniversary of a terrible atrocity against the rights of innocent people.

Lloyd Axworthy is a former Canadian foreign minister and senior Manitoba MP. He is now CEO of the Liu Centre for the Study of Global Issues at the University of British Columbia.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2002

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2002, page 14. Some rights reserved.

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