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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.

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