Vol. 2, No. 17 9 February 2003
Deterrence in the Era of Terrorism and
After the Cold War, a New Conflict
Throughout its history, Israel has built a conventional army that has been quite successful and has served as a deterrent to those who sought to attack it. The neighboring Arab governments and armies know from their experience in the wars of 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982 that it is very difficult to win a war against Israel on the battlefield.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, many Americans thought that the West had won the Cold War. The Western system did win in every material aspect, but it did not win a clear victory in the realm of ideas. There are other people who have a different view of the world, a different Weltanschauung, as the Germans call it. These people see a powerful America or Israel as something totally unacceptable to their norms, ways of life, and goals. The concept that once America was seen as the only superpower, the era of conflict would be over, has proven to be wrong. The conflict has simply moved on to other areas, and remains a very powerful and emotional factor in the minds and hearts of many people who are looking for alternative ways to fight the West.
The world today is being confronted with non-conventional, indeed, "supra-conventional," weapons for nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare. It also faces what is called "sub-conventional" threats involving terror and low-intensity conflict. We have now seen these two developments on the battlefield. The United States has invested billions of dollars in building a very powerful army, and the Soviet Union did the same for decades. Along comes Osama Bin Laden, invests $2-3 million, and causes the greatest damage ever to America on its own soil. The huge American army, with its missiles, submarines, jets, and satellites, could not stop him. Bin Laden has even continued his warfare in Yemen and in Bali. What does a superpower do when it finds itself in a situation where it might have won on the conventional battlefield, but the war does not end and there are new challenges and new battlefields?
A Policy for Rogue States with Non-Conventional Weapons
The threat of non-conventional weaponry involves, first and foremost, the danger that nuclear weapons will come into the hands of rogue states that do not play by the rules. What do you do with such a state that is building non-conventional weapons or is building a nuclear capability? What strategic and political theory allows for preemptive measures to prevent a rogue state from becoming nuclear?
Prime Minister Menachem Begin developed such a theory twenty years ago. He saw Iraq becoming nuclear and he knew that Iraq's declared goal was to destroy the State of Israel. This was not a dispute about borders or territories, but whether Israel should exist. Saddam Hussein openly declared his intention to destroy Israel, and Begin saw that other countries did nothing about it. Some of them even helped build the Iraqi nuclear reactor. So Begin made a decision in June 1981 to knock out that reactor. About a year ago, when I met Vice President Dick Cheney in the prime minister's office, he said he was grateful for Begin's decision in 1981, because otherwise the Gulf War in 1991 would have been much different. Today, the theory and policy being offered and implemented by the American administration and some European nations, such as Britain, follow Begin's policy.
Now the world faces the problem of North Korea, another country that openly says it is developing nuclear weapons, a country that does not play by the rules. What will America do about North Korea?
And what will it do about Iran, which also openly states that the destruction of Israel is its goal? For Iran, it is not a question of borders, nor is it a question of Jerusalem. In their eyes, Israel should not exist. Similarly, there are reports from the United States that Libya is developing nuclear weapons; Libya also says that Israel should not exist. Syria is another country that has produced chemical weapons that threaten Israel. Syria is believed to have about 100 missiles with chemical warheads. What do we do about this?
Today, the United States is alone at the top of the world order. If it has a responsibility to the world as such - and if America assumes this responsibility - it needs to do something, militarily, economically, and diplomatically. To think that matters will fall into place if nothing is done, is a mistake.
The Super-Empowered Individual
Classical "deterrence" is described as: "If you attack me, I'll attack you, and you're going to suffer more." As long as people are rational, this form of deterrence will work. However, in the realm of "sub-conventional" terrorism, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has referred to the phenomenon of the "super-empowered individual." The individual has been empowered in an unprecedented way to do things he could never do before. Someone can sit on an island in Indonesia and, with a computer, can access the world's knowledge, conduct international commercial transactions, or issue orders. In previous times, countries fought countries. Now groups fight countries, individuals fight countries; it is a different type of game altogether.
The "super-empowered individual" could be a hacker in a Paris basement interfering with the subway system in New York and causing the death of tens of thousands of people, without leaving a trace. Or someone sitting in Austria or Norway can send an envelope with anthrax germs to Indonesia. The world really is a global village in a very dangerous sense. The villains have the potential to do more damage than they ever had before in history.
A Combination of Force and International Cooperation
In the modern world we must be concerned with the combination of terror by groups or individuals together with non-conventional weapons. In response, we have armies, security services, laws, and an international community preparing to meet the threats as they develop.
Without using force, we will never be able to win this war against terror, but at the same time, force alone will never do the job. Nor can one country, even the United States, do the job alone. The war with Iraq is important in American eyes, but it is not a war on terror. It is a war against non-conventional weapons in the hands of a rogue state.
How do you fight a war on terror? America has been able to pull down the Afghani regime and it will do the same in Iraq, helping to impose a new democracy there. But is this the end of the war?
If there is a war in Iraq, it would be naïve to think that once the war is won, everything will fall into place. It will be necessary to create international charters and conventions to achieve the international order and security we seek.
It is incumbent upon all countries to see to it that no terrorists operate from within their territory against any other country. It is imperative that countries get together and create a convention in which no country will allow terror to develop - whatever the reason, whatever the justification. Whatever the cause, it must be forbidden to intentionally target civilians in order to achieve political objectives. Those countries which will not abide by or join such a convention should be made outcasts in the international community. They should not be part of international commerce or part of international relationships - no tourism, no landings, no take-offs.
With Iraq, the United States now faces the same problem Israel has when it goes into Jenin or Nablus. We know we need to go in because, if we don't, the terrorists there will kill us, but we also know that if we go in and many people are killed, we will have more terror in the future - more hatred, more problems.
The "good guys" of the world need to lead in two ways: through the possible use of force, if needed, but without the illusion that force will solve all the problems and with the understanding that it can provide only a partial solution. Furthermore, we will need to seek greater cooperation from the international community than in the past if we want the world to go on living.
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Dan Meridor is a minister in the Prime Minister's Office. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on 30 December 2002.
Dore Gold, Publisher; Lenny Ben-David, ICA Program Director; Mark Ami-El, Managing Editor. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Registered Amuta), 13 Tel-Hai St., Jerusalem, Israel; Tel. 972-2-5619281, Fax. 972-2-5619112, Email: email@example.com. In U.S.A.: Center for Jewish Community Studies, 1616 Walnut St., Suite 1005, Philadelphia, PA 19103-5313; Tel. (215) 772-0564, Fax. (215) 772-0566. Website: www.jcpa.org. © Copyright. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
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