Constructive thoughts

two weeks after September 11


PressInfo # 130

 September 25, 2001 


By Jan Oberg, TFF director and Jorgen Johansen, TFF associate


Continued from PressInfo 129



Global brainstorm on a humanity-oriented Western policy

Imagine that we begin a global brainstorm where people of all walks of life can contribute their opinions freely on questions such as: how can the United States, and the West in general, make a more efficient contribution to a world in peace, justice and human development?

What new forums do we need -- in the fields of politics, religion, education, culture, etc -- to balance the globalisation in the economic sphere? How must we re-structure the world system to promote global democracy and democratic governance (for, by and with the peoples) to benefit all and not mainly Western people?

We are talking about a new global policy for us all and not just for the biggest countries. We are talking about taking the idea of a global human family seriously when making decisions at home. We are talking about reducing the violence done to other people, other cultures and to Nature by Western countries. If the West could show the way to global reform it would encourage others to also reduce those types of violence and create a more humane, benevolent and mutually respectful world.

And we are talking about developing unity in diversity and not about unity through standardisation or Westernisation. To try to shape the world according only to Western/US values and norms is a deeply provincial and parochial idea, as bad for the world as nationalism is for a country.

Is it only the West that must change? Of course not! Lots of problems are caused by certain leaders and policies outside the West. But if we believe that the West is both strong and civilised, there should be nothing to fear if the West invites the rest of the world to comprehensive and sustained dialogues about real global reforms aiming at developing a much more tolerant, participatory, just and non-violent world.


There are many ways to defeat terrorism

It is highly likely that the US will strike and strike very hard against what its leadership considers the culprits. (So far no evidence has been presented). If so, we are not with the United States leadership -- but neither are we with the terrorists as George W. Bush would have us believe. One can be against private small group terrorism as well as state terrorism. It can be argued that counter terrorism by (or on behalf of) the civilised, strong and rich is more ugly than terror by (or on behalf of) the weak and poor.

A very measured, moderate and proportional strike would be wiser and more acceptable to the world. Meeting the one-time use of four civilian planes on a part of one country with hundreds of war planes and thousands of strikes against one whole or several countries will be out of proportion. It will be neither legal, moral or thoughtful; it will be abhorred by millions including friends of the U.S., and it will create martyrs and future terror. The wisest, in a long-term perspective, would be a reform in the overall foreign and security policy of the United States.

To put it crudely: do not devote that much energy to conducting a military "re-action", spend far more resources and human creativity on developing ideas and concrete steps the United States must take together with its allies to contribute to the reduction of hate.

TFF associate Richard Falk, Princeton University, defines terrorism as "political violence that lacks an adequate moral and legal justification." We believe that terrorists can only be defeated and disarmed by means that, in the eyes of the world, have moral and legal justification.

Neither counter-terrorism and covert operations nor the planned "war against terror" that is likely to kill thousands of innocent civilians fall in that category.

Those who argue that it is psychologically understandable that citizens of the United States want to see some kind of forceful reaction (NATO's leaders among them), owe us a clear answer to the question: what is acceptable and what is not? The psychological build-up during the last two weeks tells us that the risk is extremely high that we are about to witness a disproportionate over-reaction.

The authors advocate non-violent, and political measures only. In our judgement they will be most productive in the long run for the United States itself and for the world. A military "war against terrorism" without a simultaneous American initiative to open a global dialogue about the root causes behind terrorism and how the US and the West in general must contribute to prevent it, lacks every political and moral justification.


Imagine what the U.S. would do if it had much less military power: suggest political changes

Imagine that the United States had a "normal" defence apparatus, that it did not have nuclear weapons, enormous numbers of fighter planes, naval aircraft carriers, C3, a global base system and a world-wide intelligence and covert operations apparatus. What would it do then? What would we hear a responsible American president say then?

It would force decision-makers to think in completely different terms. If you have the arsenals of violence at hand, it is the easiest thing in the world to meet violence with (more) violence. But if such arsenals are not at hand, one is forced to stop and to think.

Here follow some proposals - - for anyone to discuss, develop and expand on - - of what the United States could do to politically undermine terrorism. Everything cannot be done at once. Even single changes may take years to prepare and implement. What is important right now is a declaration that the United States, its citizens and leaders, are willing to discuss with the rest of the world how to take steps such as these:

- pay its dues to the United Nations and, until something better exists, respect this organisation as the only "international community";

- sign and ratify a number of international treaties (catchwords such as land mines, Kyoto and biological weapons);

- scrap the national ballistic missile defence (BMD) system and spend some of the saved billions of dollars on researching and implementing solutions to some of the major global problems;

- take the first step to abolish nuclear weapons and work for no-first-use of nuclear weapons also within NATO;

- reduce and finally abolish its exports of bigger and smaller arms, torture technology, etc;

- accept another mediation process and another mediator, the UN, in the Middle East conflict;

- lift a series of sanctions, particularly those which hit innocent citizens and are therefore comparable to mass-destructive weapons and terrorism;

- in general, adjust to and support the emergence of a multi-polar and multi-cultural global community, give more space to others in international organisations and see the United States as one great nation among others, and not as the only one or number one with rights different from all others. (Number 1 usually believes he has nothing to learn, whereas Number 2 or 3 know they have always something to look up to);

- promote mutual learning and co-operation and symmetric bonds rather than centre-periphery structures;

- sign and ratify the treaty establishing an international criminal court;

- withdraw from a series of bases which are no longer necessary and cause harm to the local people; this applies in particular to bases in the Middle East which is a thorn in the sides of so many;

- take steps to share wealth, offer debt relief and pursue a policy of basic human need satisfaction for all, before we, the already rich, continue our materialist life-styles. We cannot hope to combat terrorism in a world where 58 individuals own as much as the poorest half of humanity.


September 11 can be a turning point for a better world, if…

A United States/West that wants to lead must listen more actively. Its foreign and security policy elite must lead by compassion, creativity, diplomacy and by setting a good example. It has by far the largest arsenals of violence and can safely take the first steps toward a much less violent world. The rest of the world will increasingly see America as an anachronism if it believes that might-makes-right and rules by counter-terrorism, by militarism and arrogance. Its immense wealth, its cultural and scientific power must be employed to radically reduce global human suffering and increase human welfare, not warfare.

Historically, empires dissolve through a combination of over-extension, over-militarisation, decreasing legitimacy and loss of relative economic strength. If the U.S. chooses a predominantly 'hard' policy that increases hate, insecurity and various types of violence, September 11, 2001 could well imply an acceleration of such a dissolution process.

The events of that date can also be met with humility and soul-searching, with political and legal means, and in a 'soft' mode. Rather than being hated by more and more and rapidly decaying, the United States would then be respected and admired by many around the world.

Due to its global power, the United States - - more than any other actor -- has global responsibilities. September 11 undoubtedly marks a historical turning point, either toward rapid descent into chaos or towards a new sensibility, a new more humble way of thinking - - indeed a new deal with the rest of the world.


25 September 2001


 © TFF 2001



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