Preventing a new dark age

Oct 16, 2004 02:00 AM

by David Howell

The entire geopolitical system is now enmeshed with Middle East issues. Middle East stability is the absolute key to peaceful global progress, both economic and social, as well as to the future of many world leaders and their policies.
Conversely, the continued undermining of stability throughout the region spells more terrorism, more disruption worldwide and, certainly, a dramatic reduction in energy security, leading the major powers to compete with increasing frenzy for oil and gas supplies from elsewhere as they struggle to reduce Middle East dependence.

All this is immensely dangerous for global harmony and confirms how absolutely essential it is for all responsible nations to work together and play their full part in gripping the hydra-headed Middle East problem in all its fast-changing and baffling complexity.
If there are solutions, where do we start? Obviously the situation in Iraq must be stabilized, however long it takes. The Coalition forces, now re-labelled the Multilateral Force in support of the interim Iraqi government, must be reconciled to a long stay and many challenges. To pull out now would be to consign Iraq, and all of the Middle East, to unprecedented chaos, civil war and break-up. Iraq would certainly dissolve and be replaced by fearsome new warring factions in a vacuum of anarchy that would spread to Saudi Arabia.

And that is just one aspect. If the aim is to establish lasting Middle East stability and curb worldwide terrorist activity, which threatens every open society, then the situation must be tackled by the most comprehensive and globalised approach that the world has ever seen.
I see this approach resting on six different strategies or programs operating in parallel. The first three are in the context of "hard power" while the second three involve "soft power" deployment:

Strategy one:
We now require new degrees of intimate international collaboration between police, intelligence services and security forces worldwide to contain terrorist activities (including between authorities in the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, Egypt, Japan, etc.) to catch and punish killers and those identified as having been involved in any terrorist outrages.
If any listed, or suspected, terrorist applies for an air ticket on any airline, anywhere, or even tries to rent a motorcar, that fact must immediately be conveyed to the police and antiterrorist authorities in the country of destination.

Strategy two:
These procedures must be comprehensive to work. There must be no loophole states and safe havens if governments are to track and anticipate plots, conspiracies and the next strategic moves by al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Known leaders must be arrested and charged where possible.
Those states that refuse to comply must be pressured and, if necessary, coerced. Iraq was -- and indeed remains -- a terrorist-friendly zone. But at least now its official government is on the right side. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was a pillar of anti-Americanism and terrorist aggression. There may not have been a direct link between Hussein and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but Hussein, in 1999, declared open war, to be waged by Arabs and Islamics together, against Westerners. That above all was the case for knocking down the Hussein pillar.

Strategy three:
Security and defence forces in all democracies must be expanded and trained not merely to cope with terrorist emergencies (by then it is too late) but to deploy around and guard all institutions and public services.
After the Madrid railway atrocity in March, I was informed that Japan Central Railway, which had previously operated 90 surveillance cameras at Tokyo Station, raised this to 500! That is the kind of scale of surveillance and watchfulness now required.

Strategy four:
All the above assumes that one cannot negotiate with convinced murderers and killers. These new so-called apocalyptic terrorists have no goals except to kill the maximum number of innocent people. Against such psychopaths only well targeted and deadly force will be effective.
But when it comes to halting the flow of new recruits to terrorism and suicide, then dialogue begins to play its part. For example, work is vital at all levels, international and national, to associate with and encourage moderate Islam. It is the split in Islam itself that will ultimately constrain the extremist violence.

Strategy five:
The international community must deal diplomatically, vigorously and directly with all grievances that fuel (some say "justify") terrorist activities -- the Palestine/Israel conflict, Chechen autonomy, Iraq policy etc. -- as well as implement much more effective and relevant strategies for triggering growth and development in poorer societies (even though the 9/11 operatives were mostly well-off Saudis, and backed by wealthy Pakistani and Saudi businessmen).
In the Middle East context, we need to learn the point that the great T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) grasped from the start: that Arabs will reform if you work with them, arm in arm, not try to lecture them or impose order on them.

Strategy six:
On the homeland security front, advanced societies' enormous vulnerabilities to terrorist attack must be reduced substantially. This means reduced reliance on exposed global systems and networks for energy supply (oil and LNG), information and cyber-systems; much greater domestic alertness (as in wartime); and more decentralization, miniaturization and backup systems wherever possible.
The energy issue is central to the need for reduced vulnerability. Far from being less vulnerable to energy shocks and terrorist assault, the advanced world today is more vulnerable than ever.

The strategic hope shared by both security experts and environmentalists was that fossil-fuel dependence, both on the Middle East and in general, would steadily decline in the next 10 to 20 years. Regretfully, the opposite is happening: World oilconsumption is soaring (now 84 mm bpd), driven by China, India and the biggest offender of all, the United States. The sober predictions are for this figure to rise to 122 mm bpd by 2020. Consumption figures for coal and natural gas, which is slightly cleaner, are also soaring. More and more of the oil will come from politically unreliable sources.
Consequently, we face a frightening prospect of surging world energy demand and stagnant supply, which inevitably spells higher oil prices for a long while ahead -- all delivered by a fragile and complex global infrastructure that is wide open to terrorist disruption.

Much of the debate in America and Britain has been about weapons of mass destruction. But the grim truth is that current terrorist activity -- from 9/11 and Bali (October 2002) to Madrid, Jakarta and Beslan -- has been conducted without recourse to WMDs. For their kidnappings, hijackings, beheadings and suicide bombings in crowded places, all the killers needed were mobile phones, teletexting, aircraft, strap-on Semtex and, of course, the state of mind that encourages suicide.
There is no substitute, no magic political alternative, for the hard grind of detailed cooperation between agencies, armed forces, information and intelligence systems and operatives. The democracies and nation states must work intimately and effectively together at every operational level. If we fail to do so, then we are lost and the hyper terrorists will have won by ushering in a new dark age.

David Howell is a former British Cabinet minister and former chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. He is now a member of the House of Lords. This article is an extract from a speech delivered Oct. 5 at the Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo.

Source: The Japan Times
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