Wanted: Global Politics
Four weeks on and it feels as though we are living in a black hole. The "new war on terrorism" has invaded our lives and sucked in all our usual activities. Even before the start of military action, television, newspapers, e-mail and everyday conversation had all been overwhelmed not just by grief and mourning but by the new global coalition, troop deployments, intelligence efforts, the Afghan crisis and on and on. Normal debates about issues like education and health, climate change and biodiversity, corporate responsibility and debt reduction, not to mention the Balkans or Central America, have been suspended--unless, that is, these issues can somehow be related to September 11. The crime against humanity that took place on September 11 was so horrific and so shocking that this reaction is perhaps understandable (although the world did not shut down after the genocide in Rwanda or the fall of Srebrenica). Nevertheless, it is the wrong reaction. Normal debate is exactly what is needed. If we are to confront what Michael Ignatieff has described as "apocalyptic nihilism" in a serious, sustained way, then we need politics, especially global politics. Not as a substitute for catching the perpetrators and bringing them to justice, but as a central part of the strategy for eliminating their activities.
In the past decade, since the end of the cold war, we have witnessed the emergence of something that could be called global politics. The cold war can be regarded as the last great global clash between states; it marked the end of an era when the ultimate threat of war between states determined international relations and when the idea of war disciplined and polarized domestic politics. Indeed, this may explain why we became conscious of the phenomenon known as globalization only after the end of the cold war. Nowadays, as September 11 demonstrated only too graphically, we live in an interdependent world, where we cannot maintain security merely through the protection of borders; where states no longer control what happens within their borders; and where old-fashioned war between states has become anachronistic. Today states are still important, but they function in a world shaped less by military power than by complex political processes involving international institutions, multinational corporations, citizens' groups and, indeed, fundamentalists and terrorists--in short, global politics.
The end of old-fashioned war between states does not mean the end of violence. Instead, we are witnessing the rise of new types of violence, justified in the name of fundamentalism of one variety or another and perpetrated against civilians. President Bush is perhaps right to call what happened a "new kind of war." But this is not the first "new war," although it is more spectacular and more global than ever before and, for the first time, involves large-scale loss of American lives. Wars of this type have taken place in Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans and Central Asia, especially in the past decade. And there are lessons to be learned that are relevant to the new "new war."
These new wars have to be understood in the context of globalization. They involve transnational networks, based on political claims in the name of religion or ethnicity, through which ideas, money, arms and mercenaries are organized. These networks flourish in those areas of the world where states have imploded as a consequence of the impact of globalization on formerly closed, authoritarian systems, and they involve private groups and warlords as well as remnants of the state apparatus. In the new wars, the goal is not military victory; it is political mobilization. Whereas in old-fashioned wars, people were mobilized to participate in the war effort, in the new wars, mobilizing people is the aim of the war effort, to expand the networks of extremism. In the new wars, battles are rare and violence is directed against civilians. The strategy is to gain political power through sowing fear and hatred, to create a climate of terror, to eliminate moderate voices and to defeat tolerance. And the goal is to obtain economic power as well. These networks flourish in states where systems of taxation have collapsed, where little new wealth is being created. They raise money through looting and plunder, through illegal trading in drugs, illegal immigrants, cigarettes and alcohol, through "taxing" humanitarian assistance, through support from sympathetic states and through remittances from members of the networks.
These wars are very difficult to contain and very difficult to end. They spread through refugees and displaced persons, through criminal networks, through the extremist viruses they germinate. We can observe growing clusters of warfare in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus. They represent a defeat for democratic politics, and each bout of warfare strengthens those with a vested political and economic interest in continued violence. The areas where conflicts have lasted longest have generated cultures of violence, as in the jihad culture taught in religious schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan or among the Tamils of Sri Lanka, where young children are taught to be martyrs and where killing is understood as an offering to God. In the instructions found in the car of the hijackers in Boston's Logan Airport, it is written: "If God grants any one of you a slaughter, you should perform it as an offering on behalf of your father and mother, for they are owed by you.... If you slaughter, you should plunder those you slaughter, for that is a sanctioned custom of the Prophet's."
What we have learned about this kind of war is that the only possible exit route is political. There has to be a strategy of winning hearts and minds to counter the strategy of fear and hate. There has to be an alternative politics based on tolerance and inclusiveness, which is capable of defeating the politics of intolerance and exclusion and capable of preserving the space for democratic politics. In the case of the current new war, what is needed is an appeal for global--not American--justice and legitimacy, aimed at establishing the rule of law in place of war and at fostering understanding between communities in place of terror. There needs to be a much stronger role for the United Nations and serious consideration paid to ways in which legitimate political authority can be re-established in Afghanistan. Thinking through how this should be done needs to be the responsibility of the new United Nations Special Representative to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, in consultation with neighboring states and a range of relevant political and civic actors. There also needs to be a clear demonstration of evenhandedness in places like the Middle East, and real support for democratic and moderate political groupings--in other words, an alternative network involving international institutions as well as civil society groups committed to similar goals. What this entails in concrete terms has to be discussed and debated. In this crisis, there has been much handwringing about the need for better human intelligence. An excellent source of human intelligence and guide to evenhanded policy-making are pro-democracy, human rights and liberal Islamic groups in the Middle East and among exile communities.
Political action has to be combined with serious attention to overcoming social injustice. Of particular importance is the creation of legitimate methods of making a living. In many of the areas where war takes place and where extreme networks pick up new recruits, becoming a criminal or joining a paramilitary group is literally the only available opportunity for unemployed young men lacking formal education. Where some progress has been made, as in Northern Ireland and the Balkans (and it is always slow and tortuous, since these wars are so much harder to end than to begin), what has made a difference has been the provision of security, including the capture of criminals, support for civil society and for democrats, and efforts at economic reconstruction.
Such a political strategy is not an alternative to military action. Indeed, military action may be needed in support of alternative politics. But in these wars there is no such thing as military victory; the task of military action is to create conditions for an alternative politics. Thus military action is needed to catch war criminals and protect civilians--to establish areas where individuals and families feel safe and do not depend on extremist networks for protection and livelihood. Devices like safe havens or humanitarian corridors, effectively defended, help protect and support civilians and establish an international presence on the ground.