Redistribution of Groong articles, such as this one, to any other
media, including but not limited to other mailing lists and Usenet
bulletin boards, is strictly prohibited without prior written
consent from Groong's Administrator.
© Copyright 2001 Armenian News Network/Groong. All Rights Reserved.
A Nation and a World at Unrest Armenian News Network / Groong September 24, 2001 By Richard Giragosian and Khatchik Derghoukassian The aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, have left most Americans convinced that the country will no longer be the same. Such sentiment is also true for much of the world. Had these attacks occurred in any other country the impact would certainly not be as global. But by hitting the world's only superpower at the very heart of its most important institutions, the attacks have rocked the very foundations of global stability. The ripples of the morning of September 11th continue to resonate throughout the global financial markets and threaten the stability of the world's political-military system. Yet, much of the changes that are still to come will depend on how Washington will define and pursue its leadership in the world. Meanwhile, the real challenge rests neither in discovering who is behind these attacks, nor in the retaliation against those responsible. The real challenge lies in the imperative to ensure international security while minimizing and containing new threats to global stability. Washington at War: A Three-Stage Response Although unilateral retaliatory action by the United States seems imminent, the Bush Administration is engaged in a serious multilateral effort of coalition building. This coalition building, in the hands of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, represents the first of three stages in the U.S. government's response to this crisis. This first stage stresses the need to assemble a broad and diverse coalition of nations, assembled within the commonality of threat, to foster legitimacy, justification and reassurance for U.S. leadership in restoring stability and security to the international system. The coalition building already includes new overtures to previously polarized nations, such as Iran for example, and seeks to build on the global momentum of repulsion and insecurity in the wake of these attacks. The second stage reverts to the more traditional pre-crisis model of the Bush Administration: unilateralism. This second stage, the actual launching of the retaliatory campaign, is to be led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, with an emphasis on coordinating the campaign with supplemental economic, political and diplomatic offensive components. This second stage would be the longest of the three, with a duration only questioned by constraints of political and financial will. The test of effectiveness here is the comparison with the "war on drugs." If this second stage campaign against terrorism falls into the quagmire of the misguided effort against drugs, the campaign is doomed to fail. If, however, the campaign can address the issues of the cause for such instability and threat, there is a greater likelihood of effectiveness and support. The third stage in this evolving strategy centers on the aftermath of the campaign, emphasizing the need to develop the conflict zones traditionally home to the instability, inequality and poverty that serve as the "breeding ground" for the terrorism industry. This stage would involve redirected foreign aid, measures to support, or even replace, the failed states that are a hallmark of such conflict zones. The Bush Administration's mantra of democracy and free markets would be loudest here, but would also be a true test of Washington's overall commitment to reconstructing international stability. This third stage would be as complicated and challenging as the other two stages, but its potential reward would be well worth pursuing. A Country Forever Changed For the average American the atmosphere that followed the attacks in New York and Washington was certainly quite surreal, with the entire U.S. military complex placed on full alert, fighter aircraft assigned to combat patrols in closed airspace over major U.S. cities, secret service, and the deployment of highly visible National Guard units. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the situation more closely resembled that of countries facing a daily threat to security and order, states under threat such as Colombia, where security can not taken for taken for granted and the population resides in a virtual state of alert. The impressive coordination and sophistication of actions was matched by an odd simplicity of weapons and means of mass destruction, utilizing the ultimate in asymmetric warfare. Such innovation added to the unprecedented nature of the terrorist attack, shockingly direct yet baffling in terms of comprehension. Most Americans are still unable to process the implications posed by attackers intent on ending their own lives. Much more dangerous than one in disregard of the lives of others, the mind of this attacker is guided by an additional will for death. The implications are rooted in history, as it is clear that it's nearly impossible to completely stop those willing to die so readily in pursuit of destruction. Afghanistan: Bin Laden and the Taliban The Bush Administration can not ignore the overwhelming need for response, both for domestic considerations and to assure its international credibility as the sole superpower. Coercive capacity and political will constitute the first components of the effective leadership necessary for systemic stability. As new evidence confirm the hypothesis of an attack masterminded by the shadowy Saudi figure Ousama Bin Laden, purported to have engineered the attacks directed against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as against the naval destroyer the U.S.S. Cole while at dock in Yemen, the details of the crisis and the nature of the enemy are becoming clearer. The focus on Bin Laden now threatens the fragile Islamic government of the "Taliban", ruling three-quarters of Afghanistan, now under pressure for its long standing support and hosting of Bin Laden. Opposed by Iran, Russia and the West, the Taliban is neither truly a government nor Islamic. Even Iran sees their primitive and ultra-fundamentalist interpretation of Islam as too radical, and their tribal-based governance is at best a system of clans and militia controlling divergent counties and regions. The Taliban remain locked in a long military struggle by a rebel coalition, the "Northern Alliance," that enjoys the backing of Russia, Iran and China. The sole source of support for the Taliban comes from the military dictatorship of Pakistan, making that country extremely vulnerable to U.S. pressure as well. In fact, it was the Pakistani military intelligence services, with the help of the CIA, that mobilized the Taliban movement and directed its march on Afghanistan from bases along the Pakistani border during the internal conflict among the various rebel groups after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from their ill-fated invasion attempt of the country. The only chance for the Taliban of Afghanistan to avoid a harsh U.S. retaliation is to extradite him. Some initial signals indicated that the Bin Laden-Taliban alliance might be facing some difficulties. Such tension will only now be greatly exacerbated, especially in the event that the U.S. opts to support this rebel Northern Alliance as an effective means to further coerce the Taliban. Ironically, immediately following the assassination of the commander of the Northern Alliance, long time CIA asset Shah Massoud, by Bin Laden followers, the Taliban government sought to relaunch fresh attempts at international recognition and legitimacy through secret overtures to the United Nations, positioning themselves as Afghanistan's rulers. Such recognition, from the Taliban perspective, would be crucial for the resumption of international food relief so critical for the Afghan people after repeated droughts. Most likely, those in the Taliban government that are dealing with this foreign policy issue realize that any international recognition would impose a certain degree of socialization necessitating conformity within the international system. In other words, in order to be recognized as a member of the state system the Taliban would be required to introduce significant changes in its domestic and foreign policies. An inevitable rapprochement with the West, and with United States in particular, is crucial to the very survival of the Taliban and the price for such a change is the extradition of Bin Laden. But such an opening was squandered in the Taliban government's insistence that Bin Laden is not responsible for the bombings. Either the alliance with Ben Laden is far too important for the Taliban or the cost of an internal split is apparently so great that the Taliban prefers to risk the brunt of U.S. retaliation. Therefore, a retaliating strike against Afghanistan seems imminent and only a matter of time. Although undoubtedly emotionally satisfying for the United States, such a retaliation would also be counterproductive. The Clinton Administration's exercise of cruise missile attacks on Bin Laden bases in Afghanistan in 1998 only revealed that retaliation does not inherently result in dissuasion. There is also a strong chance that the Bin Laden organization, as well as much of the Taliban leadership would be undaunted by such military response. In fact, it may even serve greater recruiting efforts, especially given the uncertainty of Bin Laden's precise location. Meanwhile, bombs on Kabul would provoke what precisely Ben Laden and the Taliban hope: more anti-U.S. anger. According to U.S. planners, the real success, in the initial period at least, would be the seizure or confirmed killing of Bin Laden himself. As the limits to military technology in such a rugged and foreign terrain suggest failure, the manhunt and related scenario of military intervention, meaning ground invasion, remain practically inevitable. The unilateral option, with all its inherent risks, is that the United States goes it alone. One possible alternative, attractive in its promise, may be in the engagement of neighboring countries, with Russia and Iran being the most reliable candidates. Such collective engagement would also foster a deeper U.S. foreign policy based on cooperation from common threats, and would suggest greater coordination with Iran and Russia, and even China, in other key areas of contention. "The First War of the 21st Century" Washington's "war against terrorism," formulated by President Bush as the "the 21st century's first war," would certainly not end with any hypothetical neutralization of the Bin Laden threat. In fact, despite the rhetorical appeal, the war against terrorism might well resemble the "war against the drugs" if focused solely from a military perspective. In this case, and contrary to an anti-drug struggle, the coercive component of the strategy is necessary but not sufficient. Once again, as some in the Bush administration do not hesitate to declare, the U.S. may very well go it alone. That signifies an international policing mission involving the use of the military in searching and destroying terrorist organizations throughout the world. Such a militarization of law enforcement on a global scale, no matter how initially appealing, is quite worrisome. Such a development would bring the United States in potential conflict with virtually every nation judged unable, or unwilling, to prevent terrorism. Not only are the domestic costs of this option too high, but also poses a great risk of destabilizing the world and may contribute to a possible alliance built in opposition to the perception of U.S. hegemony. And although the overwhelming international support for the U.S. at this particular moment greatly encourages Washington, there are limits to such support if the U.S. reacts as a hegemonic power and alienates other states that inevitably would perceive such hegemony as a threat in turn. The alternative is the patient coalition building to provide the emergence of a truly international regime to combat terrorism. Engaging other states in such a new effort in alliance formation, enforcing the cooperation between the intelligence communities and reserving the military force as ultima ratio would be the very pillars of such a multilateral strategy. Of course, skeptics would argue that this alternative is either too naove, too inefficient, or both. There is a basis in fact to the contention that such broad cooperation would necessarily imply a somewhat intrusive and problematic focus on practically every problem facing the participants in a coalition. Furthermore, Washington can not realistically expect such broad and continued international cooperation in the fight against terrorism while ignoring the logical linkages of international treaties, controversial U.S. pursuit of a National Missile Defense project, and other important areas mandating a multilateral approach. But the advance of international security and stability, complete with the long overdue modernization of the international financial system closely tied to global stability, is well worth consideration. And this is where prudent U.S. leadership is most needed. A Need for More than Strategy Obviously it is not enough to have a good strategy to win the war against terrorism. In fact, no war can be truly won without a proper plan for the post-conflict period, i.e. an "exit strategy." Resting on a mere component of strategy in the fight against terrorism would only perpetuate a virtual cycle of a state of war, void of clear objectives and without an apparent conclusion. Without a deeper understanding of the very causes of violence, and a subsequent revision of the foreign policies determined to be contributing to such terrorism, the strategy will remain incomplete and unfulfilled. Moreover, the catalysts of the violence must be met, seeing the tremendous frustration of people and countries marginalized from the global economy and engaging in the vicious cycle of perpetual conflict. If a restoration of overall stability is the main objective of Washington's leadership, a deep revision of decade long - perhaps even longer - U.S. foreign policies is vital, therefore, to achieving the reality of this so-called "new world order." The U.S. must reconsider and redefine its policies, with a focus on evaluating their effectiveness and their global implications. The Small State Perspective: Armenia The population of Armenia (and the Armenians throughout the diaspora) is not immune from the insecurity and instability of these shifts. In fact, Armenia's geopolitical position makes the country even more sensitive to any redefinition or redirection in alliances. For Armenia, of course, we cannot expect it to play any active role in the process of designing the new international structure, nor should we have it pretend to do so as the strategic alliances in the region will not be substantially altered. The proper course for Armenia, however, is to avoid any political moves that would try to recast such a global shift in terms of a "clash of civilizations." Such a scenario would only bring fatal consequences to both Armenia and to the different Armenian communities throughout the diaspora, with the dangers of transforming the current vulnerability into a seriously untenable position caught between East and West. On the contrary, Armenia's diplomacy should actively advocate multilateral cooperation for the sake of international stability, capitalizing on its unique role as a bridge between East and West, as interlocutor between the Islamic and Christian worlds. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Richard Giragosian was a professional staff member with the Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress specializing in international relations and economics in the former Soviet Union and China. He is the author of the monthly newsletter, "TransCaucasus: A Chronology." Khatchik Der Ghougassian is a Ph.D. student of International Relations in the School of International Studies, at the University of Miami. He has written as a political analyst in the Armenian and Argentinean press.