March 23rd 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The US steel decision

Ansett's collapse highlights failure of deregulation

Government's currency gamble goes bad

Straws in the Wind: All you need is love / What's in a name?

NSW Anglican Bishops support stem cell research ... but not at the cost of human life

Media: Courageously un-PC / Sudden 'enthusiasm' for Crean

Captive market (letter)

Misdirected (letter)

US steel (letter)

Show trials (letter)

Adult stem cells: the better option

Comment: Enron's collapse - the net widens

ASIA: How should the West respond to the terrorist threat?

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How should the West respond to the terrorist threat?

by Sharif Shuja

News Weekly, March 23, 2002

The horrible attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 has compelled its leaders to undertake a profound assessment of their nation's defence and foreign policies. The virtual world unanimity of sympathy for America and condemnation of these terrorist attacks may prognosticate, hopefully, for a change for the better in world affairs.

When President Bush addressed Congress on September 20, he spoke for 35 minutes. There were 25 standing ovations. The Democrats in Congress scrapped their traditional speech in reply to the President. Instead, the Democrat minority leader declared:

"Tonight there is no Opposition Party ... We stand here as Americans ... Now we must pull together ... Tonight the President said all the right things ... We will fight for freedom here and all around the world."

The US, along with other affluent democracies, is considering increasing its surveillance and security. It declared a 'war on terrorism' and started a bombing campaign in Afghanistan in order to crush terrorist cells and to prevent such acts in future.

The fundamentalist Muslim clergymen called to unite against the United States and its allies to wage a holy war, but the majority of people in the Muslim world are not listening.

The rest of the world is far too ready to equate Islam with terror and radical fundamentalism while, at the same time, the voices of the Muslim mainstream continue to go largely unheard.

Today extremists lure adherents from among the poorly educated and unemployed by preaching a return to the true religious values of former times. But they have misrepresented the teachings of Islam and have deceived their followers - and the non-Muslim world.

The religion they preach is a cover for advancing their political agenda and their lust for power, an ideology more akin to Fascism and Marxism than to the Islamic faith. Fanatics are perverting the Koran's message of tolerance.

The Muslim moment of truth has arrived, because if they continue to be hijacked by the vested interests of fanatical terrorist and extremist elements, then the future is bleak.

The events after September 11 provide an opportunity to Muslims from different backgrounds to shun all such acts which promote ignorance and extremism. They should unleash a learning process in key areas of human development so that the gap, which one can see between them and the Western world, is narrowed.

It is this very gap which has served the interests of Muslim radicals so well. Islam, it is often said, is the religion of the marginalised. Radical leaders have become adept at exploiting those many millions who are indeed marginalised both politically and economically.

Illiteracy, poverty and a lack of development in much of the Islamic world have combined to produce an enormous underclass, increasingly open to the divisive rhetoric of those who seek to harness its numbers for their own political ends.

For many of those trying to foment unrest, the war in Afghanistan has come as a welcome opportunity.

It is, of course, true that many Muslims regard Washington's policies in the Middle East as plain wrong and view its bombing campaign in Afghanistan as delivering misery to millions of innocent civilians. The West will need to take a greater interest in the Muslim world if it is to check growing anti-Western sentiments.

The September 11 attacks reinforced fears that the biggest threat to the US is now from terrorists and "rogue states". From the narrower security perspective, there is no doubt that the attacks could have been much worse if weapons of mass destruction had been used, or if nuclear sites had been targeted.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush used the term "Axis of Evil", and accused Iraq, Iran and North Korea of developing such weapons, and implied that all three sponsor terror.

The assumption is based on the notion that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the greatest threat to global stability comes from a number of "outlaw nations" or "rogue states", which have noted the end of superpower rivalry and stand ready to exploit international complacency and threaten the new pillars of global order.

Washington considers these rogue states a threat to world order. These nations share a siege mentality.

In the first place, the leaders of these countries are portrayed not only as undemocratic, but as fanatical or crazy. In the case of Iraq, a probable clue can be found by questioning the sanity of Saddam Hussein; in the case of Iran, the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism has been invoked to stress the rejectionism and impenetrability of the Iranian leaders and people.

The evidence from Iraq and North Korea in particular suggests that these countries have, indeed, embarked on acquiring nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles and delivery systems.

Saddam Hussein's governments are known to be working on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Iraq is trying to rebuild its missile industry, and United Nations arms inspectors still have not been allowed back into the country, despite Washington's pressing for the return of the UN inspectors.

Tehran supports active militant groups, such as Hamas, and it is believed to be working on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile technology. Such efforts may be mainly defensive, driven by fear of a resurgent Iraq.

Iraq and Iran are bitter enemies; they fought each other in the bloodiest war of the 1980s, and North Korea has little in common with either of them. The only connection among the three nations in Bush's 'axis of evil' is that Iran has been buying missile technology from North Korea. Now it is trying to build on that base and develop its own missile industry.

Iran now has a relatively moderate government, headed by President Mohammed Khatami, and the U.S. administration hopes to encourage Iranian reformers by isolating hard-line Muslim clerics. Since most of the ruling theocrats are elderly, time would seem to be on the side of the moderates, who are strongly supported by the country's restless youth. Thus it hopes to strengthen the reformers.

North Korea has been criticised for missile development, as well as for alleged trading of nuclear technology to several Third World nations. Pyongyang is thought to have about 50 missiles, and enough material to make one or two nuclear weapons. Missiles and other weapons are about the only hard-currency exports in famine-ridden North Korea. The North Korean threat is a key justification for US military spending, the presence of US troops in Asia and a new theatre missile defence system.

The conventional view outsiders have of North Korea is that of a 'rogue' regime, irrational, dangerous, provocative or even aggressive. Pyongyang's invasion of South Korea in 1950, its maintenance of strong military forces near the inter-Korean border since then, its bizarre political and diplomatic practices, its refusal to liberalise its economy like its more dynamic neighbours, its missile and nuclear weapons program are all seen to affirm this conventional view. Kim Jong-il, like his father, Kim Il-sung, has run a ruthless government that has in many respects done its people terrible disservice.

During the past decade, Washington and Seoul have had some success in moderating Pyongyang's behaviour through negotiations. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il agreed to suspend its nuclear program in 1994 and its missile tests in 1999. In 2000 it formally promised to join in the fight against terrorism. The price for this improved behaviour included the promise of a dialogue with the United States and a relaxation of economic sanctions. No headway has been made in the dialogue since Bush took office.

Officials in Beijing do not want Pyongyang to continue as a dangerous rogue nation, giving America and Japan the excuse to beef up their military forces in the region. Nor do Chinese officials want North Korea to collapse, sending refugees to China.

Beijing wants to expand its diplomatic influence in the peninsula. It has followed a policy of maintaining friendly relations with the North while strengthening economic ties with the South. China's ultimate interest, one could argue, is to convince North Korea to reconcile with South Korea and sign a peace treaty. Such a development would end the 1953 armistice agreement and accelerate the withdrawal of US troops from the peninsula.

Why should the West and the other countries deal with such an unpredictable regime? The simple answer is that there is no sensible alternative. Engagement does not imply approval of the regime or its policies, merely a recognition that North Korea is an important part of Northeast Asia's security environment which we should not ignore.

Isolating North Korea would increase, rather than diminish, the risk of instability in North East Asia and worsen the already atrocious living conditions of ordinary North Koreans.

Dealing with North Korea will never be easy, however, dealing with the reality of the North as it exists and waiting for North Korea to change gradually could now be the only way to advance.

Homeland security

The US is embarked on building a system of National Missile Defense (NMD) intended to protect the cities and people of the mainland United States. We should note that the various plans for missile defence are the most prominent examples of a rather common strain in US thinking, which holds that the putative enemies of the United States can be deterred or overwhelmed by technology. In effect, projects like the NMD are attempts to deal militarily with a threat that would otherwise require a diplomatic response.

The argument was put most directly by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Hans A. Bethe, who observed the various experiments and research efforts from the beginning. He said:

"These people want to eliminate the danger of nuclear weapons by technical means. I think this is futile. The only way to eliminate it is by having a wise policy ... The solution can only be political. It would be terribly comfortable for the President and the Secretary of Defense if there was a technical solution. But there isn't any."

If nuclear attack by a rogue state were a real danger, it would be logical to develop a broad international response. As it is, the pursuit of NMD may cause damage, unless it is accompanied by skilful diplomacy. The risk is that, though it is intended to protect America from rogue countries such as North Korea or Iraq, it will antagonise China, whose relatively few nuclear missiles would be rendered impotent were an anti-missile shield ever to work.

The mere threat of deployment would play into the hands of those within Beijing's leadership that are looking for 'an American enemy' to solidify their own domestic political positions on the basis of uncompromising nationalism.

  • Sharif Shuja

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