Editor's Comments

Non-refereed Journal Article

Burgess, J. Peter (2002) Editor's Comments , Security Dialogue 33(2): .

Editor's Comments

J. Peter Burgess

AS THIS ISSUE of Security Dialogue goes to press, the news horizon is dominated by the most comprehensive and violent Israeli incursions into the West Bank since the Six Day War of 1967. Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have grown with the number of suicide bombings in the most recent intifada. The uprising – provoked by the breakdown in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Autumn 2000 and definitively ignited when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made his symbolic walk on the Temple Mount on 28 September 2000 – has taken the level of violence in the region to new heights. Sharon, surrounded by very few moderates and bolstered by the increasingly fervent support of the Israeli public, has vented political anger through air and artillery attacks. The assassination of Israeli Minister of Tourism Rehavam Ze'evi by Palestinian militants on 17 October 2001 provided Sharon with additional political capital to order discretionary assassinations of suspected terrorist leaders. Since then, suicide attacks have become almost daily news items. The attack on 8 March in which 45 Israelis civilians were killed proved to be to the final Palestinian act of provocation for Sharon, who ordered the invasion and reoccupation of the territories with the alleged aim of systematically ransacking Palestinian cities in search of suspected terrorists. Fighting has been fierce, and hundreds of Palestinians, both armed and unarmed, have been killed. Concern for humanitarian norms and principles have been more blatantly disregarded than at any time since the original 1967 occupation.

It is not at all clear, however, what military or security goals can be attained from the current Israeli operation. It is not even obvious whether the incursions are called for in terms of military or informational strategy, or whether they are merely an expression of Sharon's ire. On a purely political level, Sharon has failed to fulfil his mandate of stopping the bomb attacks and making peace. Yet the campaign goes on, fully supported by an Israeli electorate exhausted by anger and fear. The cost of 'cleansing out the terrorists' among Palestinian civilians is the lives and dignity of the non-militant population, often living in primitive conditions and at the behest of the occupying military forces. In the Palestinian territories, there are only civilians – though some of these are armed militants – for there is no Palestinian state. Even the designated Palestinian territories have been corrupted by occupation and military incursions, the inhabitants subject to the everyday humiliation of being denied access to their own resources. There are no state-based rights, no rule of law, no freedom of movement, no diplomacy and no conventional military forces. The territories are already occupied, at least in part; they are already speckled with Israeli settlements characterized as illegal by a number of United Nations resolutions.

The Israeli incursions are being carried out in the name of security. Their nominal aim is to secure Israel's borders, to protect Israeli citizens against the threat posed by further Palestinian terrorist bombings. In this regard, Israel's Palestinian policy taps fortuitously into the anti-terror zeitgeist, in which politics is equated with security, and security with anti-terror. It has been a decade since International Relations theory popularized the concept of securitization. 9/11 has debased it to the sphere of pop culture, where any and every constituent of the global public sphere is threatened by the symbolic violence of terror and the panic of security. The dark cycle of conceptualization will be complete when dignity itself and the value of life again become the objects of securitization. Any Israeli, when asked what all the fighting is about, might reply in terms of principles, such as freedom, dignity and welfare, in terms of their right to survive and their historical right to statehood – exactly the same terms that are used by the Palestinians to express their interests and motives.

Yet, in parallel with the now popular securitization of global, national and regional interests, one might speak of the terrorization of the political other. The perceived or real need for widened security measures in the wake of 9/11 has been expanded from concrete measures to ward off the possibility of imminent attack on US soil to changes in legal standards, reduction of civil rights and changes in immigration practices. More dramatically, the blanket concept for US foreign policy has become 'war on terror'. Few policy priorities are formulated without some reference to the logic of terror and the war against it. The discourse of foreign policy is gradually transforming itself into a discourse on terror policy. Like the USA's own cultural identity, the US security identity is more and more closely intertwined with terrorism. It is no surprise, then, that the transformation in the concepts, norms and standards of the 'global war against terror' in US foreign policy goes hand in hand with the changes in norms and standards for foreign policy throughout the world. The 'war against Palestinian terror' is but one example where the US discourse of threat, security rhetoric and legitimate response is brought on board in a foreign security environment in order to lend authority to particular policy goals that have little to do with the USA.

Thus, in the Israeli case, the discourse of terror is deployed in two ways. On an implicit level, and without referring to the US 'war on terror', Sharon and others simply adopt precisely the same formulations of invasion and the cleansing of 'beds of terror' that are used by US media handlers. More explicitly, US statements expressing reservations over the Israeli invasion – by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who recently completed an unsuccessful peace mission in the Middle East, by President George Bush and by other members of his administration – are met with allegations of hypocrisy: if the USA is allowed to fight its war on terror, why shouldn't we be permitted to fight our own? To be sure, terrorism is real. Israel is under repeated attack by suicide bombers and has the sovereign right to defend itself against such attacks, as did the USA in the wake of the 11 September attacks. However, the question might be posed whether the concept of 'war on terror' is out of control, whether the use of force in Israel and elsewhere is disproportionate. There is no reasonable correspondence between the threat of terror and the level of response.

Bush finds himself in a difficult situation. The 'war on terror' train rolls on, staunchly supported by the US public, which also supports the actions taken by the Sharon government in its own battles in the 'war on terror'. News images of suicide bomb attacks in the modern high streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv still solicit more solidarity among US viewers than images of West Bank and Gaza residents killed or maimed by Israeli troops, or towns lain to waste, where water and medical care have been cut off.

In the midst of the turmoil, Sharon insists on a new round of peace talks, to begin with an international conference – excluding not only the EU, which has managed to earn Sharon's indignation, but also Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat himself. Yet, as Valérie Rosoux points out in a Viewpoint article in this issue, the condition sine qua non for any progress at all towards peace is a minimal recognition of the other. This includes not merely recognition of the political situations of Arafat and Sharon, but also the material situations of the two peoples.

In the long shadow of the 'war on terror', the number of confrontations along the North Atlantic axis only increases. The USA enjoys absolute superpower status, and its European counterparts – though incidentally united by the provisional success of the introduction of the common European currency – remain ineffective. With the Japanese economy ailing and the South Asian political landscape in disarray, the EU remains the forlorn, unrealized candidate for political dialogue in a heterogeneous global reality organized and governed by a homogeneous, monotone political field. According to the logic of utility, US actions are utterly rational, albeit cynical. The foreign policies of virtually all regimes on the planet are organized around reaction, of one kind or another, to the USA's unilateral action in the name of its national security interests. The onus of political responsibility lies on the shoulders of a dramatically immature European political class, which is so busy with the passionate throes of cultural Americanization that it remains aloof to the lost potentials over which it presides.

The divide between US and European perceptions, values, political agendas and, not least, political will and capability finds itself again reinforced. The nominal political endorsement forced upon Europeans by the Bush administration's bifurcation of global actors into those 'for' and those 'against' terrorism led to little military engagement on Afghani soil and, at least for the time being, little European political involvement in that country. The 'war on terror' was conceived and conceptualized, rhetorically armed and propagandized, and finally fought on the ground almost exclusively by the USA. The Europeans are once again lame – largely out of a lack of unity and political will, broadly out of a lack of economic and military resources, but also, though to a lesser degree, out of a real difference in values. The glaring question for the strategic destiny of North Atlantic security networks is whether shared European values have a place in the loop of the new global hegemony of values.

On the question of the Israeli incursions, the European Union did indeed put its prestige on the line in early April, calling for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces in observance of Security Council Resolution 1402 and for Europe-wide economic sanctions against Israel until it withdraws its troops. Israel scoffed at the threat, suggesting that Europe was irrelevant to the point of not being an appropriate participant in the proposed peace conference (though this picture is not complete until we add that Arafat was also considered inappropriate). Then, in a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on 15 April, the EU's official position was modified. Led by the Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Louis Michel, and at the behest of Germany and Great Britain, the EU ministers baulked. The economic cost of principled UN resolutions again showed itself to be the weathervane of global security. Political retreat was a fact, European irresolution and infirmity avowed.

Authors

J. Peter Burgess

J. Peter Burgess

Research Professor & Editor of Security Dialogue