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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

December 2001

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First published almost sixteen years ago, this essay retains elements of timeliness that we trust our readers will recognize, whether or not they agree with the author’s assessment and conclusions. Ed.

The unilateral United States Government action against Libya, in the name of anti-terrorism, apparently was well received by most Americans. Unfortunately, there is no reason to expect that the U.S. action against Libya will reduce international terrorism. Even PRESIDENT REAGAN was careful not to claim that it would when he announced the action. Instead, the action against Libya increases international tension and makes more difficult the development of peaceful solutions to Middle East problems. Solutions to these problems are a necessary precondition to a substantial reduction of terrorism by people from that region. It is important to look at the reasons the U. S. Government chose the actions it did and to explore some alternative actions.

The U.S. Government generally disdains a multilateral approach to dealing with international problems because it is so committed to the unilateral "enforcement" or power" approach to international problem solving. Unfortunately, the enforcement or power approach has seldom if ever worked in dealing with terrorism, ethnic conflict, religious wars, and other conflicts based on a people's identity or strongly held values. This is discussed further in the article in this issue by JOHN BURTON, and in the excerpt below from a paper by BRIGADIER MICHAEL N. HARBOTTLE, OBE, a retired British military officer who has been involved in and studied a number of conflicts. The paper was presented to the April 1986 International Conference on Peace Building sponsored by the Irish Peace Institute.

Outside Europe there has been an almost continuous manifestation of war where security interests—not only of the local states but also of the great powers—have been involved. In the Middle East, in Asia, in Central America, and in the South Atlantic, the machinery of war has been used to settle disputes: Vietnam, Suez, Afghanistan, Central America, and the FalklandslMalvinas. All these have been military attempts to settle disputes by force of arms; all have failed to procure a settlement to the dispute.

"Similarly the many internal security operations carried out by former colonial powers against guerrillas/freedom fighters seeking independence have all ended in inconclusive military situations. Most of the leaders against whom the operations were mounted have ended up heading the government of an independent state! The lesson which can be learned from the study of all these military actions is that enforcement does not bring peaceful solutions. Northern Ireland is a prime example. After 17 years of bloody confrontation, the military forces are no nearer achieving an end to military engagement than they were at the beginning.

"Why is it that the highly sophisticated, well-trained and equipped, numerically superior military forces of the 'elite’ powers are unable to defeat the irregular and numerically smaller opposition? It is because enforcement acts as a spur to the resolve and determination to resist, not only by the fighters but also by those who support them, feed them, and sympathize with their cause. The enforcement process deals only with the manifest violence, not with the structural social, economic, and elemental grievances which are at the root of the manifest violence. Enforcement attacks the symptoms and exacerbates the causes."

Other terrorism experts agree with BRIGADIER HARBOTTLE that solutions lie in dealing with the causes, not the symptoms. This suggests putting a great deal more energy and resources into working for solutions to Middle East and other regional problems. At this time [1986], the U.S. cannot serve as an objective broker in the Middle East and needs quietly to encourage a European or Third World government to take a more direct role.

Also needed is a U.S. non-public acquiescence in a stepping up of some of the existing private initiative (Track II diplomacy) to explore alternatives and to create a problem-solving environment . . . to replace the confrontational environment now prevalent in most Track I (governmental) negotiations or discussions on the Middle East. This could help get around the Israeli refusal to talk to the PLO. There can be no Middle East peace and no elimination of Middle East-sponsored terrorism without PLO participation in the peace process. There have been a number of a multilateral actions taken against terrorism, including the 1979 International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages and the December 1985 UN General Assembly resolution declaring terrorism "criminal." Elsewhere in this issue, we publish a resolution of the World Federalists which calls for additional multilateral action to deal with international terrorism. The Friends Committee on National Legislation in their May 1986 Washington Newsletter, which is devoted to terrorism, suggests the following additional multilateral anti-terrorism policy goals:

  • restrict the international sale and/or transfer of arms to terrorist groups and governments which violate basic human rights;
  • create a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to intervene where abuses of human rights have occurred, in order to deal with the grievances of frustrated minorities;
  • utilize North-South forums to identify and address grievances leading to terrorism.

U.S. credibility in the Third World, the source and locale of much international terrorism, would be increased if the U.S. Government were more supportive of the United Nations, especially the UN's efforts to find solutions to problems of importance to the poorer nations of the world. Thus, the U.S. Government could reverse its decision to boycott the UN Conference on Disarmament and Development, probably the most important UN conference planned for the International Year of Peace. The U.S. has precipitated a financial crisis in the United Nations by refusing to pay its assessed dues. According to the participation formula agreed to by the U.S. Government, the U.S. should be paying 28 per cent of the UN regular budget, but has agreed to pay only 25 per cent. Now [1986], with the Kassebaum amendment and additional cuts due to the Gramm-Rudman legislation, it appears likely the U.S. Congress will appropriate only $113 million out of $204 million assessed. Furthermore, the U.S. has been refusing to pay its assessments until the end of the year in which due, further exacerbating the UN's money flow problem.

U.S. Government policy and the viewpoints of many Americans seem to be based on a lack of understanding of the countries and cultures from which terrorism originates and an inability or unwillingness to try to understand why other people, particularly in the Third World, think the way they do. In his April 9, 1986, news conference, for example, PRESIDENT REAGAN responded as follows when a reporter asked why Americans are the prime target of terrorism: ". . . Maybe we're just the enemy because—sort of like climbing Mount Everest—because we're here."

This U.S. administration has emphasized using its military power because it perceived that a restraint in the use of power by previous administrations meant a loss of respect for the U.S. abroad. As one who has served in six countries and carried out work assignments in many more, I suggest rather that our belligerent actions generate fear, not respect. The government officials in most countries know and respect U.S. institutions. Many have drawn heavily from our Constitution and Declaration of Independence in establishing their constitutions. They respect us when we live up to our traditions and institutions, but not when we act as international vigilantes.

It is important to understand that many Third World leaders are aware that the U.S. with about six percent of the world's population uses well over one-third of its resources. The U.S. contribution to international development usually ranks twelfth among 15 Western industrialized countries, and a large share of the U.S. assistance goes to the relatively well off Israel and Egypt.

The goodwill Americans receive in response to their generosity to victims of droughts and other natural calamities is offset by actions taken by our government which result in much loss of life by other nationalities solely because of action or perceived threats against a small number of Americans—e.g., Grenada, Libya. The mass evacuation of Japanese-Americans from the west coast of the United States during World War II, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the bombings in Vietnam, and the legislation of trade restrictions against products of the Third World are all cited as examples of an American disdain for other peoples.

In this increasingly interdependent world, as the Chernobyl explosion recently demonstrated, national leaders need to recognize that national security can come only with global security. Global security will become a reality only when national governments work to reduce international tensions and fears, encourage their peoples to respect and learn about all cultures and nationalities, and become committed to institutions and activities that respond to the basic human needs of the world's peoples no matter where located or what type of ideology their government has. We all must stop searching for enemies to confront and start creating environments and institutions at family, community, national, and international levels which are conducive to communication and problem-solving. Then we will be building peace and fighting terrorism.


Republished by permission of the author from Peace in Action, March/April 1986, Vol. 2, No. 2, a publication of the Foundation for P.E.A.C.E.

Jim Roush was with the U. S. Agency for International Development from 1953 to 1978, with six overseas assignments in addition to Washington, D. C. He is a graduate of the U. S. Army War College. See his article in American Diplomacy, Vol. II, No. 3, Oct.-Dec. 1997.

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