(Speech in Washington, December 4, 2003)
Ladies and gentlemen,
First, I would like to thank the Heinrich Boell Foundation in Washington very warmly for organizing this visit and today’s meeting. The visit by the Working Group on International Politics and Human Rights of the Alliance 90/The Greens parliamentary group has become something of a tradition and is now an important forum for exchange between our respective political communities in Germany and the USA. But let me extend my welcome as well to those of you, who have not yet surrendered to Green ideas – it is never too late to change one’s mind!
I am pleased to have the opportunity this evening to talk to you about some aspects of transatlantic relations. In this context, two issues are of major importance and have led to significant irritation in the German-US relationship. It is my political aim to define this conflict as narrowly as possible to prevent the emergence of a generalised anti-Americanism in public German debate. In the wake of 9/11, Germany showed deep sympathy for and solidarity with the American people. During our many discussions over the last few days, we learned that despite the given differences our American friends are still our American friends. Bearing this in mind, I would like to share some thoughts from Germany’s Green political spectrum about the structural challenges facing international politics. In doing so, I shall be referring to three concepts which have been constantly recurring themes during our discussions in the USA, namely threats, priorities, and capacities. We have noticed that there is often an implicit and, indeed, an explicit assumption that we interpret the challenges facing us, and the instruments which we must deploy as an effective response to them, in the same way. But does this conform to the political reality in our two countries?
Is there a common perception of threats?
Let me start with the different perception of threats. Both the American National Security Strategy and the European Security Strategy agree that international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the existence of so-called failing states are the most important challenges to international security. It has been said many times that 9/11 had a shock effect on the USA. It was the first time that the USA was attacked on its own territory, and not just anywhere, but in the very heart of New York. The lesson learned from this attack was that the USA now faces a fundamental threat to its national security. The terrorist attack was a military assault which demanded an appropriate response. In Germany, we shared the view that a military component was necessary in combating international terrorism. It is especially necessary where havens for international terrorism have developed, allowing an efficient organization to develop unhindered. This was why Germany’s Red-Green Government took part – and is still involved – in the military operation against the Taleban in Afghanistan. Yet it soon became apparent that on their own, military measures can only achieve a limited amount of success. It was indeed possible to expel the Taleban from Kabul and thus destroy a strategically important base for the training and development of international terrorism. But the attacks over the last two years – whether in Djerba, Bali, Casablanca, or Istanbul, to cite just a few examples – have shown that terrorism is still able to strike. Why is this? Are these the final and peripheral rear-guard battles of a threat which is on the wane? Or does international terrorism genuinely present a strategic challenge to the West on a par with the East-West conflict, as some people claim?
A glance back at the past shows that drawing such comparisons – as is occasionally attempted – does not take us far. The key feature of the East-West conflict was the parallel existence of two lines of conflict: Alongside the socio-political conflict between disparate ideological systems, there was a power-political conflict between the West and the Eastern bloc. No such conflict formation exists today. While there is a socio-political conflict between a liberal democratic philosophy, on the one hand, and a religious and fundamentalist concept of society, on the other, this conflict is not adequately underpinned by power politics. Al-Qaida does not pose a physical threat to the territorial integrity of the OECD states. There is certainly no danger that the government of a mature democratic state could be toppled by fundamentalist movements. But this does not mean that we should trivialize the dangers – the terrorist attacks make that only too apparent. Terrorism is particularly good at one thing – namely wreaking chaos. The power of international terrorism to wreak havoc must not be underestimated. But if we look more closely at the history of terrorism, we see that as a rule, it cannot be overcome by military means. Combating terrorism requires the use of political tools. Every step in the war on terrorism must therefore be scrutinized to determine whether it benefits the political objective of combating terrorism. Against this background, we judged the course of action adopted by the USA and Great Britain in Iraq critically. The war against Saddam Hussein has not furthered the campaign against terrorism. On the contrary, it has undermined it.
One reason is that the Iraq war has shifted the priority away from a political and towards a military response to international terrorism. In our view, the political aspect of this campaign has three objectives:
- Isolating the terrorist groups: Terrorist groups rely on a broad “sympathetic environment” which allows them to plan and carry out attacks and provides them with protection from persecution afterwards. In the absence of safe spaces provided by the state, there must be a high degree of consensus between the sympathetic environment and the terrorist actors. The traditional method of combating terrorism is therefore based on the notion that a key strategic task in this campaign is to drive a wedge between the terrorists and their sympathizers. This aspect of the struggle is primarily ideological. It does indeed aim to win people’s hearts and minds – just as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld demanded in his now famous memo.
- Identifying a political alternative for the Middle East: Contrary to some assumptions, the terrorist groups do express political objectives which they are seeking to achieve. Their brand of terrorism may be indiscriminate, but it is not aimless. Al-Qaida’s political demands relate to the removal of Western influence in the Arab-Islamic world – not only the West’s, and especially the USA’s, military presence in the region, but also the West’s undoubted cultural and economic influence.
- Stabilising and ending the Middle East conflict: The current situation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict benefits all the movements which use hate as a mobilizing force. This applies especially to international terrorism. For this reason, it is in the anti-terrorism coalition’s crucial interests to help defuse tension and demilitarize this conflict. But this can only succeed if the conflicting parties are willing to engage in compromises which will demand great sacrifices from them. Making such sacrifices voluntarily may lend weight to, and hence guarantee, the credibility of their desire for a peaceful solution.
The Iraq war has jeopardized all three of these objectives: Firstly, the Iraq war has resulted in mobilization against the West in the Islamic world. Especially disturbing with respect to this mobilisation is a possible amalgamation of the hostile ideologies of secular Arab nationalism and religious Islamic fundamentalism. Secondly, developments in Iraq are anything but a model for the region. What use is the ability to conduct military campaigns successfully if the subsequent efforts to build peace fail? Thirdly, in the shadow of Iraq, there has been a further escalation in the Middle East conflict. Palestinian terror groups are continuing their suicide attacks while the Israeli Government is massively obstructing the implementation of the Road Map by constructing the security fence.
An attempt to take stock
So, let us take stock of the situation a good two years after the start of the campaign against international terrorism. The record is mixed. On the one hand, the broad international support essential for this campaign has been successfully maintained. On the other hand, reviewing the tangible advances in the campaign against international terrorism is a sobering experience: The main theatres in this war – especially Afghanistan – have certainly not achieved lasting stability. So far, it has proved impossible to crush Al-Qaida or eliminate the threat posed by the Taleban. Quite the contrary: Recent events suggest that these groups are increasing in strength again. This is also a result of the West’s inadequate response to the transformation of the war from symmetrical to asymmetrical conflicts. Asymmetrical conflicts can at best be curbed, but not ended, by military means. So, a fundamental question arises here. How, if at all, can we combat warlords, guerrillas, terrorists, and organized crime? In other words, how can the democratic state under the rule of law respond to the use of violence without jeopardising the future of the open society?
If military measures are inadequate, political action must be taken. We should take the political demands made by international terrorism seriously without fulfilling the expectations of the terrorist groups. These demands can be summed up briefly in terms of the following common denominators:
- Ending support for Israel, and
- Ending Western influence in the Arab-Islamic region.
It goes without saying that neither of these two demands can be fulfilled. There is no alternative to supporting the Israeli state. But this does not mean that we cannot try to bring greater influence to bear than before on the Middle East conflict, which is constantly having to serve as ideological justification for terrorism. This influence must aim to achieve a secure State of Israel which exists alongside an equally secure Palestinian state. The viability of the two states is a key prerequisite here. This means that the contentious issues which have obstructed the peace process for so long must finally be resolved. In this context, we specifically welcome all the initiatives which come from civil society actors on both sides and which are intended to resolve these contentious issues. The recent Geneva initiative deserves to be mentioned. It proposes a pragmatic approach to resolving the conflict and is therefore a useful supplement to the Road Map.
The second demand made by international terrorism – ending the Western influence in the Arab-Islamic world – also cannot be fulfilled. The process of globalization cannot be reversed. Yet it is this demand which, in my view, reveals the real cause of international terrorism. What we have here is the expression of a profound and far-reaching crisis of modernization and transformation in the Arab-Islamic world. This is borne out by numerous economic and political indicators, but also by the UN’s studies on the state of development in Arab societies. So, what contribution can we make to overcoming this crisis? First, we should not offer any further opportunities for the societies in question to be diverted from the endogenous causes of the crisis. We will not be able to end international terrorism, but we can offer our assistance with the process of social transformation.
The limits of engagement: Do we have the necessary capacities?
This raises the question why there has been a lack of success. One reason, in our view, is that this year has been dominated by the Iraq conflict to the exclusion of almost everything else. Sadly, it is now apparent that the warnings voiced by many experts and some governments – including Germany’s – about the risks of opening a further, and in our view unnecessary, front in the campaign against terrorism were more than justified. Iraq is increasingly emerging as a theatre of conflict, tying up significant military, political and economic resources which must be diverted from other activities. So, priority should now be given to other aspects again. If the political and economic dimensions of this campaign can be reasserted successfully, it may still be possible to achieve the objectives which have been outlined. To this end, three factors must come into play: Firstly, the military pressure should be maintained to prevent the emergence of safe havens and training bases for terrorists, such as those which previously existed in Afghanistan. Secondly, a political alternative must be identified which supports the transcendence of Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism; but this cannot be implemented from outside. Thirdly, the political pressure on the Palestinians and Israel to implement the Road Map must be intensified.
How much of this can we achieve through joint action? What it means in specific terms, among other things, is that Germany will continue to engage militarily in the fight against international terrorism. However, the focus will change. The expansion of the ISAF mandate beyond Kabul has send out a signal here: In future, greater efforts will be made to deploy non-military instruments. Hopefully, the process of rebuilding Afghanistan will gain fresh impetus because of the elections which are due to take place next year. The German engagement in Afghanistan aims at constructing a stable society and building a nation that is not hostile to the West. These are of course heroic tasks, that can only be achieved by a broad international effort, if at all. Whether we like it or not: Coping with asymmetrical threats requires sustained political and economic efforts with respect to crisis prevention, post-conflict peace building and establishing a just and sustainable global order based on international solidarity and empathy. In this regard, the West can and has to do much better than it did in the past.
But it is also important, at the present time, to demand that the Arab-Islamic world distance itself unequivocally from, and engage pro-actively against, international terrorism. Let me make one comment in this context: Whenever Islamic spiritual leaders are asked about this issue; they distance themselves from the position that terrorism is legitimized by the Koran in some way. In my view, this is a credible but no longer sufficient response. Islamic spiritual leaders – from the highest ayatollah to the lowliest imam – should make it clear, pro-actively and publicly, to the Islamic world that terrorism violates the fundamental values of Islam. We should demand this of its clerics while helping to ensure, at the same time, that there is a more receptive audience for the Islamic forces which endorse this position. All the social and public institutions in the USA and Germany, especially the political foundations at civil society level, are therefore called upon to expand their dialogue with the Islamic-Arab world. However, this dialogue cannot be indiscriminate and unconditional. It must be linked to conditions, and that means, above all, that the partners must distance themselves, unreservedly and credibly, from all forms of terrorist violence.
Finally, we must also abandon what may be excessively ambitious goals. The difficulties in Afghanistan and Iraq prove that the international community’s capacities are limited. Against this background, plans to redesign the entire Middle East from the drawing board, for example, are potentially counterproductive, as they threaten to overstretch our resources. In an age of globalization, societies cannot be built by outsiders. Instead, this process must rely on a consensus among stakeholders acting in line with their own interests. So, it must be made clear that in some respects, there is a global identity based on common interests, such as combating terrorism. But at the same time, the West must also accept that in other respects, there is no such common identity. The economic sphere is a classic example, as the recent collapse of the WTO negotiations at Cancun demonstrated. The same could be said of the socio-political models chosen by different societies. We cannot expect Western standards to be accepted universally and unconditionally, and they certainly cannot be imposed from outside. So, the West will have to learn to be modest and patient. But I do believe that by appealing to Islamic spiritual leaders to take a more pro-active role in terms of their responsibility within their culture, and by appealing to ourselves to moderate our demands to some extent, we can help ensure that we no longer suffer from “overstretch”, while others will no longer be burdened by our excessive demands. I think this could help to de-escalate intercultural relations and ultimately contribute to the demise of international terrorism.
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to a stimulating discussion.