Editor's Comments

Journal article

Burgess, J. Peter (2002) Editor's Comments, Security Dialogue 33 (1).

Editor's Comments


REVERBERATIONS FROM the 11 September terrorist attacks on US soil continue to roll across the geopolitical map. Once again, this issue of Security Dialogue carries references to the upheaval in post-9/11 security thinking in nearly all its articles and in three commentaries. At the same time, several transformations can be seen in the nature of reactions and reprisals. Kabul has fallen, and the Taliban have been neutralized, killed, imprisoned or driven away. And, as though inevitably, the fallout from the attacks has been quickly coopted and redeployed toward diverse, more or less relevant, political purposes.

In the days and weeks immediately following the 11 September attacks, the Bush administration showed remarkable reserve and restraint. It made concerted efforts not only to build an Arab-based political coalition against members of the Al-Qaeda network but also to draw a clear distinction between Islam and the kind of religious fundamentalism that provided the moral platform for the attacks. The comprehensiveness of the coalition-building was unprecedented, and seemed for a moment to constitute a turning point for Israel, which was more than a bit uncomfortable at seeing the USA strengthen alliances with allies and supporters of the PLO. However, by late November the tables had turned, and the strange logic of ‘your enemy’s enemy’ had inverted itself in the occupied territories. Subsequent suicide attacks against Israeli civilians were quickly and effectively inscribed into the global ‘war against terrorism’, a campaign that had already permitted the USA to redirect public funds to a major military effort, to bolster racial solidarity and to curb civil rights, and whose categorical momentum had rendered it irresistible. The Israeli struggle against terror was suddenly more broadly and deeply sanctioned than ever before. For the time being, the result is more Palestinian and Israeli civilian casualties, a further humiliated PLO and a helpless Yasser Arafat, imprisoned in his home by a ring of tanks.

In the foreseeable future, the ‘war against terror’ will be the operative weapon for those nations equipped with media forces sufficient to shape the ebb and flow of political ideas. This is again exemplified by a collateral effect of the ‘war against terrorism’: the dramatic mobilization along the Kashmir border. A longstanding disagreement over the administration of Kashmir was exacerbated by a suicide attack on the steps of the Indian parliament on 13 December. By January, it was cynically relevant to deploy the logic of antiterrorism, in which all means of defence are justified and all aggression is recast as defence against the ubiquitous ‘global threat’. As Indian forces lined up along the Kashmir border, face to face with Pakistani forces, an emboldened Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was able to invoke the ‘war against terrorism’ and thereby suppress Islamic fanatical and/or fundamentalist groups by ordering the arrest of more than 1,900 Islamic activists in the course of a four-day roundup, which ended on 15 January. This was the second moment in a radical change of identity for Musharraf’s Pakistan. Before 11 September, it solidly supported the Taliban; after the symbolic attack on American soil, it rescinded under US pressure. The open question for analysts now is whether Bush and his team will attempt to continue the momentum gained in the successful campaign in Afghanistan. Hawks in the Bush administration insist that now is the time for a full offensive against Iraq in the name of the fight against international terrorism.

At the time of writing, the first Al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners are arriving at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Shackled hand and foot, blindfolded, wearing ear muffs to keep out sound and held in isolation, the prisoners wait in geographical, diplomatic and juridical no-man’s land. This seems to be the very purpose of this spooky extradition. Though they were arested in a ‘war’ against terrorism, the USA refuses them the status of prisoners of war, thus denying them the rights guaranteed by the Geneva Convention. Because they are not considered US federal criminals, they will likely never see a US civil court of law, nor enjoy the fundamental rights and privileges upon which the US legal system is constructed. They are not considered war criminals, and therefore not subject to the judgement and sanctions of the International War Crimes Tribunal. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and others have criticized US nonchalance over protecting the human – not to mention legal – rights of the Al-Qaeda prisoners.

And yet it is too simple and too hasty to criticize the USA’s hard-handed juridical unilateralism without at the same time asking what are the available forms for understanding and acting within the new security paradigm. What are the alternative models, if any, for negotiating issues of national, regional and global security in the age of transnational warfare, in which the death of civilians and the destruction of national symbols and images – not to mention the sowing of latent terror – are the explicit objectives? What precedents do we have for dealing with security threats which obliterate the categories of national or (European) international law; national, transatlantic or European forces; and US–European alliances? The geopolitical and legal limbo in which the Al-Qaeda prisoners have been cast underscores as much as anything the need for a reorganization of concepts, a retooling of the categories available to us for thinking about not only war, crime and security, but also value, rights and law. If, as so many diagnostics claim, terrorism will prove not to be a passing or occasional form of violence in a globalized military complex, but rather the new dominant paradigm based on the fragility of the mighty powers, then the relation between national and international security and the ethical principles on which democracies rest must be rethought and updated. The violent history of the 20th century demonstrated again and again that security is not just about the nature of the wall built to shield us from the other. It is a complex, dynamic negotiation between the reality of the enemy without and the perception of the enemy within. Security is the very experience of this negotiation. The effort at securitizing against global terrorism is the ultimate form of this interplay. Burgeoning patriotism in the USA is the only natural response to the attack on US soil. Yet the paradox of the ‘global terrorist threat’ is that the threat is everywhere and anywhere. 11 September shows that actions undertaken to ensure security are often indistinguishable with actions that lead to insecurity. The terrorist threat surreptitiously reaches us through objects originally designed for our protection and wellbeing: defensive weapons, computer networks, and biological and chemical knowhow.

Since the New Year, the European political horizon has been dominated by the introduction of the euro into general circulation. By all accounts, the project has been a success: Europeans have taken to using the new currency in daily transactions at a rate far greater than expected. Already, nearly 90% of all cash payments in the 12 euro countries are made with the new currency. Yet the consequences for security are complex and unprecedented. The Common Foreign and Security Policy, one of the main pillars of European construction since Maastricht, remains in the shadow of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and its most treasured jewel, the circulation of the euro. The challenge for security analysts is to understand the link between the reality of EMU Phase III and the security politics that align themselves with the European monetary identity.

The EU has had many incarnations since World War II. Despite several concerted efforts to give it a community identity of one sort or another, the EU has evolved unevenly, persistently returning to the economic, and more recently to the purely monetary. In the history of the EU, the notion of European defence has shown itself to be more or less bound for failure. For reasons we have only begun to document, the European Community from the 1950s to the 1980s evolved in the direction of an economic community. This ‘economization’ of the early European construction, which began already in the Treaty of Rome in 1957, had an important side-effect in the area of security: it cultivated an entrenched dependence on the United States. The attempts by France to create a European Defence Community and later the Fouchet Plan were both too little and too late. NATO became the appropriate alibi for letting the project lie. Riding upon the impetus of the European economic construction, the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1991, establishing the European Union and announcing its five primary objectives, among them the ‘affirmation on the international scene of the European identity through the development of a common foreign and security policy’. Parallel to the launching of the Maastricht Treaty, the Western European Union – the conglomerate of EU nations that belong to NATO – made its own declaration of new principles, coining the expression ‘European Security and Defence Identity’ (ESDI). The ESDI is conceived as a link with the North Atlantic Alliance, and at the same time as an assertion of difference, of unique interests, aspirations and capabilities, also on the military level. The synergy between economic identity and security and defence identity will certainly continue to evolve in unprecedented ways.

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Some minor innovations in the appearance of Security Dialogue may be seen in this, the first issue of the 2002 volume. The most noticeable of these is the use of author-prepared abstracts at the top of each article, replacing article summaries included in the pages of the Editor’s Comments. More innovations are on the way, in both appearance and content, all in an effort to preserve and enhance the vitality and relevance of the journal in an evolving scholarly and publishing environment.

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