Wagner discusses how the war on terrorism
has changed our world and the impact that unpredictability of future events
has on global politics and economics.
Asian Development Bank
In the 18 months that have passed since the events of 9/11, the world has
changed in many profound ways. A small band of terrorists, a tiny fraction of
a percent of the global population, have succeeded in changing most of our lives,
perhaps forever. Questions of security now permeate our lives. When considering
a business trip or holiday, we now routinely factor into the equation whether
a destination is considered ‘safe', what is the least potentially dangerous
route and method of travel to get there, and what additional time must be added
to account for the now ‘routine' enhanced security checks.
While the 'security apparatus' in place at airports is much more thorough
and sophisticated than it was two years ago, it is truly shocking how large
the gaps in security in other modes of transportation are, and how vulnerable
to attack we remain. There is virtually no meaningful security on trains and
buses, outside cities, or for 'soft' targets. And the 'cyber' risks to our civilian
and military communication networks are enormous, the impact of a successful
attack being too catastrophic to contemplate. These vulnerabilities will continue
to exist for the foreseeable future, for the costs associated with seriously
addressing the gaps are exceedingly high. No matter how good security becomes,
it will never be good enough to thwart all of the terrorist threats we face.
It is not just security procedures that have in some cases become more sophisticated.
Complicating the fight against terrorist organizations is their increasingly
sophisticated nature, not just from an operational perspective, but also in
terms of how they are funded. For example, Jemaah Islamiah—the Indonesia-based
terrorist organization—has created at least 50 commercial businesses in Asia
that provide a plethora of sources of finance for its operations. Hence, law
enforcement and intelligence agencies must now identify these sources of funding
in order to destroy their ability to operate.
Indeed, terrorist organizations have "harvested" the globalization process
to improve their methods of operation. They often refrain from using factory-made
explosives, for example, and instead use materials that can be easily obtained
from local sources (such as ammonium nitrate). And, ironically, locally-made
materials are being used with greater frequency to achieve terrorist objectives.
Perhaps the best example of this is the fact that Al Qaeda (AQ) used locally-sourced
American-made materials (Boeing airplanes) to destroy American targets on September
Going forward, there is an increased risk that smaller terrorist groups will
develop the ability to carry out attacks that will cause mass death. Coming
attacks are likely to be similar to those in Bali and Mombasa, and it is highly
likely that suicide attacks will be the preferred method of attack in the near
term in the United States and Europe. Complicating the landscape further is
the fact that so many tools of achieving mass death that were previously difficult
to obtain, are easier to obtain. For example, there are 22 million antiaircraft
missiles in existence, many of which are dated and are sold relatively inexpensively
on the black market. An unfortunate reality is that anyone who flies on a commercial
airplane is at risk, as the failed attempt to take down an Israeli aircraft
demonstrated in Mombasa.
The global reach of AQ is a source of great concern. More than 3,000 of its
members have been arrested in 98 countries since September 11, evidence that
AQ exists in at least half the world's countries. AQ's tentacles may, in the
end, reach into virtually all regions of the globe. It is questionable whether
the civilized world's law enforcement, intelligence, and military apparatus
will ultimately be successful in removing the AQ threat in the near term. On
a 5– to 10–year horizon, their chances are much better.
There is no doubt that we are at a pivotal moment in history. How the world's
civilized nations collectively fight against terrorism will determine the future
course of international relations. The stakes are extremely high in a war on
Iraq, for a variety of reasons. If the United Nations Security Council is unable
to reach a majority consensus on the best path for eliminating the threat of
weapons of mass destruction from Iraq, it stands little chance of achieving
the same where North Korea and other "problem" nations are concerned. That the
UN passed a series of resolutions demanding the disarmament of Iraq over the
past 12 years, that Iraq ignored them, and that there was no consequence for
having ignored them, raises the question of the relevance of UN-sponsored diplomacy.
As was the case in the 1990s, when the UN failed to impose an effective, acceptable
solution to the atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia, the organization risks becoming
irrelevant in determining the course of international affairs today.
There has already been a significant shift in bilateral relations between
the United States and Europe, Russia, and China as a result of the debate on
the war on Iraq. At issue where Europe is concerned is the fissure that has
arisen in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). France and Germany's opposition
to a U.S.-led war against Iraq has brought into question the very essence of
NATO. By thwarting NATO's ability to protect Turkey (a NATO member) against
attack in the war, France and Germany have broken a central tenet of the NATO
Charter—that an attack against one NATO member is an attack against all NATO
members. While attempting to create a counterweight to U.S. power, France and
Germany may succeed in shattering an alliance that the Soviet Union could not
destroy. This may have serious consequences in the West's ability to wage a
war on terrorism, and on future actions involving NATO. What is likely to emerge
as a result is an enhanced role for individual European countries in international
affairs, while the role of NATO could diminish with time.
Ultimately, the war in Iraq is less about oil and more about influencing
the course of events in the Middle East. The United States has historically
been forced to try to influence events in the region from the "outside"—relying
on diplomacy to deal with subjects such as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict
and the Kurdish question. This will change once Saddam is overthrown. The United
States will become the dominant military power in the region and will seek to
influence events through direct action, as well as through diplomacy. This could
result in a more meaningful impact on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the
resolution of which could, in turn, hold the key to a changed view of the United
States in the Muslim world.
The impact of the change in international relations in the region that is
likely to result from U.S.-led regime change in Iraq will be profound. Iran
will be flanked by a pro-U.S. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. Syria will be surrounded
by a pro-U.S. Iraq, Israel, and Turkey. Once the Iraq war is over, Iran and
Syria will find it more difficult to pursue policies that support international
terrorist organizations. In Iran's case, continued pursuit of its nuclear ambitions
could elicit a strong response from the United States. A question mark hangs
over the future of bilateral relations between the United States and these two
countries. Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, will be under increasing pressure
to revise their method of governing, whether from emboldened domestic political
sources or from direct pressure applied from a pro-U.S./anti-terror alliance
One very interesting question is what will happen with Pakistan. Pakistan
is currently a crucial ally in the war on terror, as made evident by its support
in eliminating the Taliban in Afghanistan and the recent arrest of Khaled Sheikh
Mohammed. However, elements of the Pakistani government support AQ and the United
States is finding this increasingly difficult to ignore. The United States will
ultimately have to address this issue head on. The ramifications are at best
uncertain. Given how close the Islamist parties came to achieving an electoral
victory in Pakistan's presidential elections last year, any future action taken
to reduce or eliminate governmental ties with AQ will need to be handled delicately.
This also implies a possible shift in U.S. foreign policy in the region—against
Pakistan and toward India.
The war against Iraq will also create a sea change in how prominent a role
human rights plays in America's future foreign policy. Both Russia and China
have benefited from the war on terrorism because it has granted legitimacy to
both countries' actions against indigenous opposition movements. In the case
of Russia, the United States is now turning a blind eye to Russia's ongoing
actions in Chechnya. The same is true of China's actions in the province of
Xinjiang, which the United States is now more inclined to accept as an internal
security issue. Russia is likely to benefit from an increased share of the global
oil market once the war is over. And China's growing international prominence
meshes nicely with the evolving United States view of the world. It will benefit
from enhanced political and commercial relations with the United States.
The real "wild card," in my view, is what happens on the Korean Peninsula.
Kim Kong Il may just be posturing with his latest nuclear antics. That is what
history would suggest. But the United States is less likely than before to succumb
to Kim's blackmail and Kim is probably more likely to lash out as a result.
His regime is increasingly desperate for cash and more restrictions will inevitably
be placed on North Korea's missile and weapons exports. Kim has already terminated
the nuclear monitoring regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency; he
has threatened to nullify the 1953 armistice ending the Korean War; and he has
restarted the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. Backed into a corner, with an increasingly
hungry population, fewer and fewer financial resources, more bellicose rhetoric,
and a raised ante, it is not inconceivable that Kim will cross the line and
elicit a harsh response from the United States. Should this happen, a very serious
situation would develop on the Korean Peninsula, which could turn catastrophic.
The war on terrorism has, in a very short time, changed the underpinnings
of the post-cold-war geopolitical arena. What is perhaps most significant about
the changes is the genuine unpredictability of future events, and the extent
of their significance on global politics and economics. We are witnessing a
structural change every bit as significant as what occurred in 1945 and 1989.
The difference is that these changes have already altered the way most people
in the world live, and they promise to impact our lives in ways we have not
1The views expressed
herein are the author's and do not reflect the opinions of Asian Development
Bank or any other organization.
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