THE WAR ON TERROR
Making the World Safer for Globalization

by Ninan Koshy

[Source: CCA News, March 2002. Presentation at a CCA staff seminar on February 20, 2002. Dr. Ninan Koshy is formerly Director, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, World Council of Churches and formerly Visiting Fellow, Human Rights Programme, Harvard LawSchool.]

The War on Terror - a War in Asia

It is likely that the present period of history may be called the period of the War on Terror. After the end of the Cold War commentators and historians were finding it difficult to give a name to the period of history and simply called it the post-Cold War period. Many Western leaders have stated that the War on Terror (WOT) may be as long as the Cold War.

President George W. Bush made two declarations of war. The first one was soon after the September 11 events. He declared a war on terrorism. He did not name the enemies. He said that the immediate aim of the war was to bring Osama bin Laden to justice or bring justice to him. But he added that it would not stop with that. The second declaration of war was made by the President in his 'State of the Union Address' on 29th January when he spoke of the 'next stage' of the WOT against the 'axis of evil' including Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

For a body like the Christian Conference of Asia, it is important to take into account the significance of all these for Asia. There are direct consequences of the WOT for Asia. The first stage of the war was in Afghanistan, in Central Asia. It is followed by heavy military presence of the USA in Afghanistan, Pakistan and some Central Asian republics. This presence is likely to continue for a long time. The US military has moved into South East Asia, in the Philippines re-establishing its presence in the region. By including North Korea in the 'axis of evil' justification is sought for reinforcement of US military presence in North East Asia. Tensions have increased in all these regions of Asia. There has been heavy US military presence in West Asia for a long time.

There are other implications too. The WOT brought India and Pakistan almost to the brink of war. The continuing tension between these two countries possessing nuclear weapons is made use of by the USA, for intervention in the region. Russia and China gave support to the USA in the WOT mainly because of terrorism within their own borders. They were made to understand earlier that the US military presence would not continue after the war against Afghanistan. Now they realise that the US military presence in the region will continue indefinitely. China is specially concerned about the new developments.

It is most likely that the US had plans for intervention in Afghanistan for some time. It was known that the new Bush administration had already decided to make a major policy shift in order to have a strong military presence in Asia. The events of September 11 provided enough justification for these.

Understanding September 11

The WOT is sought to be justified as a reaction to the events of September 11, 2001. The terrorist acts of that day in the USA have to be condemned in the strongest terms. There can be no justification whatsoever for taking the lives of innocent people and causing such destruction.

The events of that day have to be seen in a historical perspective and with a sense of proportion. The attacks were on carefully selected symbols of the economic strength and the military might of the USA. They were the first attacks on the US soil. Security policies, threat perceptions, defence strategy and intelligence of the biggest military power failed. The events challenged many assumptions of the New World Order.

When the attacks occurred two claims were made. One was that it was an attack on justice, freedom and democracy all over the world. So the whole 'civilised' world had to respond. When something happened in the United States it was projected as a concern for all the world. But when atom bombs killed hundreds of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was a matter for the Japanese. The Rwanda genocide was a Rwandan affair. The East Timor massacres and pillage were only concerns for the East Timorese. The universalist claims of events in the USA seem to suggest that the destinies and tragedies of other nations and peoples are insignificant. There are serious ethical issues involved in such claims. Every human life is precious and every nation is under God's judgement. No special claims have validity.

The other claim was that September 11 began a new era in international affairs. Yet, Stanley Hoffman pointed out (New York Review of Books, November 1) that this is misleading. It did not change power relations. It was used to reinforce the military superiority and hegemony of the USA.

Who are the terrorists?

It is difficult to define terrorism or a terrorist. States revise their definitions of terrorism and the lists of terrorist organizations. The classical description that 'one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter' has a lot of truth in it. Former terrorists have become leaders of nations and some of them have joined the WOT.

In 1985 when organizations like the PLO and even the African National Congress were in the list of terrorist organizations for the US State Department, one morning a reception was given in the White House by President Reagan to a group of Afghan 'Mujahideen' leaders. Reagan described them as freedom fighters 'who uphold the ideals of the founding fathers of the USA'. In 1986 the CIA supported an ISI (Pakistani intelligence) plan to bring Islamic militants from different parts of the world to be trained and armed to fight with the 'Mujahideen' against the Soviet Union. Osama bin Laden was one of those who came. The USA thus was responsible for the founding of the terrorist organization which has now become its enemy No.1

Terrorism in all forms should be condemned. It is an act of violence aimed primarily at unarmed civilians. Terrorism does not promote the cause of freedom or liberation. When reference is made to terrorism it is usually about organizations and individuals. But states also indulge in terrorism when they exceed the legitimate use of force. This is 'state terrorism'. In fact more acts of terror have been perpetrated by states than by organizations or individuals.

How did the WOT become a war against Afghanistan?

The United States began bombing of Afghanistan on October 6. In an article in the 'International Herald Tribune', William Pfaff asked the question 'How did the war against terror become a war against Afghanistan? Not a single Afghan was involved in the attacks against the US. Those listed by the FBI were all Saudi citizens. There was no claim even by the US that they acted under instructions from the Taliban government.

The USA says it invaded Afghanistan because the Afghan government refused to extradite bin Laden. After all, the declared aim of the war was to bring bin Laden to justice or bring justice to him. By the third week of October the aim became to dislodge Taliban from power and install a new government in Afghanistan. The aims of the war were changed from time to time. This served two purposes. One was that success against al Qaeda could be claimed even when bin Laden was not caught and success against Taliban could be claimed even when its leader was at large. The other purpose was to hide the real aims of the WOT. Equating WOT with war on Afghanistan helped to simplify the issues. The US military can tackle Afghanistan. It cannot deal with terrorism or its root causes.

The US interest in oil and natural gas in the region has been known for several years. America had no particular objection to Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan with the direct support of Pakistan. In fact it seriously considered recognizing the Taliban regime. The US corporation UNOCAL had negotiations with the Taliban government regarding pipelines for oil and gas from Central Asian republics through Afghnistan. The US government was involved in these as well as other negotiations with the Taliban government. At that time UNOCAL and the US government thought that Taliban had brought stability to Afghanistan. The situation changed with the attacks on US embassies in East Africa which the US believed were planned by bin Laden. Then it became necessary to replace Taliban with a pro-US government in Afghanistan. As was the case in the Gulf War the US eyes in the Afghanistan war were also on oil.

The war, the United Nations and International Law

Important issues in international law have been raised by the WOT. There is nothing in the UN Charter or Security Council decisions that make the US war on Afghanistan legitimate. The claim of the right to self-defence under Article 51 of the Charter is not valid in the absence of any attack or threat of attack from Afghanistan. There were two Security Council resolutions on the September 11 events and terrorism. Neither mentions Afghanistan. The letter given by the US Ambassador to the UN on 7th October, the day after launching the attack on Afghanistan said, "We are at an early stage of our inquiry. If necessary, we will take an action against other organizations and countries". This had nothing to do with self-defence. It was an open defiance of the UN and international law.

Was there another route the US could follow? Yes. The horrific attacks on September 11 were 'a crime against humanity'. If there was evidence it was committed by bin Laden he should have been brought to trial. A special international criminal court could have been established by the Security Council. If Afghanistan refused to extradite bin Laden, the Security Council could have taken action against Afghanistan. The action could have extended from total sanctions to use of force. Even the US could have been authorised to use force. For all these of course evidence against bin Laden would have been required.

At one stage, the US Secretary of State said that the government would publish evidence against bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The next day it was 'clarified' that it would not be made public but only shared with allies. The only 'evidence' given in public was a document the British government placed before the Parliament in October. The 'evidence' had seventy clauses. Only nine of them related to the September 11 events. What was significant was the opening statement of the document. "This evidence is not sufficient to bring Osama bin Laden to trial in a court of law". Yet it was sufficient to go to war against a country, resulting in the deaths of at least 3000 civilians. The US claimed that it could not release the evidence since it would endanger some of the agents who gave the information. The 'security' of a few agents was more important than the lives of thousands. This raises not only legal questions, but moral issues.

The WOT and the New World Order

It was Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister who actually spelt out the broader aim of the WOT. In his speech to the Labour Party Conference at the beginning of October, he said, "The war on terror should be a war for a wider new world order". Tony Blair in his speech to the Chicago Economic Club in 1999 had explained his views on the new world order. In that speech he linked the war on Kosovo to economic changes in the world and stated that globalization is not just about economics but also about politics and security. He defined security in terms of military security for globalization to be provided by the US led NATO. Consequently, NATO was extended to Eastern Europe as a guarantee of security for the big corporations which were moving in.

Globalization and militarisation are the two sides of the same coin. On one hand, globalization creates conditions for unrest and war by promoting injustice, inequality and insecurity. On the other, bodies like the WTO which allow massive subsidies for the weapons industry facilitate the production of the instruments of war. The enormous growth in arms industry in the US and several countries after the declaration of the WOT highlights this issue. The WOT is really about providing military security for globalization.

Until the Kosovo crisis, globalization was explained as a new form of colonialism without the conquest or even control of territories but with the capturing of the markets and the minds of the ruling elite. Kosovo showed that control of certain territories through US military presence was also necessary for globalization. The war on Afghanistan has reinforced the territorial dimension of globalization. It is significant to note that there are new doctrines justifying the 'occupation' or changing the regimes of some countries, to protect the interests of the US and big corporations.

From the time of the G8 Conference in Genoa, the proponents of globalization want to claim that those who are opposed to economic globalization are using violence. So when they say that globalization needs security, they also mean that they will use force against those who oppose it. In the wake of September 11 events many countries have introduced new 'anti-terrorist' laws substantially curtailing civil liberties. The aim is to ensure the climate for investment through 'law and order'. The new measures in the name of WOT are meant to make the world safe for globalization. Globalization is the main project of the new world order. Tony Blair is right, "the war against terror is a war for a wider new world order".