Fighting Terrorism

Will it be the US or the Global War?

Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

As George W. Bush starts his second term in office (as a war-time president), the world, with bated breath is seeking answer to the single important question: Will it be the US’ war or a global war on terror? Early indications are not so encouraging. Bush and his team are unapologetic about the fact that the US search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has officially ended without a trace of them. In its editorial, the New York Times has rightly called this search as the biggest non-event of the 20th century. The war in Iraq continues unabated, and most Americans, who till recently believed that Iraq indeed had deadly weapons, now feel that Bush may end his second term without concluding the Iraq war. Moreover, the neo-conservatives reign supreme in the Bush team. The only notable ouster is Gen. Colin Powell, the proverbial round peg in a square hole.

The president and his vice-president have already indicated that Iran is next on their radar screen. North Korea, however, will not be far behind. The other two Bush priorities, connected with his war on terror, will be proliferation and ballistic missile defence. Within proliferation, the US-inspired Proliferation Security Initiative (which allows interdiction and seizure of weapons of mass destruction material on the High Seas, and appears aimed at North Korea) has acquired legal teeth by UN Security Council resolution 1540, obliging all governments to adopt stringent domestic control to prevent trafficking in nuclear weapons materials and delivery systems. Both India and Pakistan, who have not signed the PSI, and like most of the world, swear by the UN, have endorsed new export-control mechanisms under the resolution.

This leads to another related important question: Will the UN mean as much to the US as it does to the rest of the world? The answer here as well is not so hopeful. The US is still unhappy with UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, who at the height of the Iraq war had declared it illegal. He is also under tremendous pressure over the oil-for-food scandal, where Saddam Hussein is estimated to have siphoned off almost five billion US dollars. There is also no US reaction on how it views the report of the high level panel set up by Kofi Annan for UN reforms and importantly, to make the war on terror a global one. Whatever else happens, it is almost certain that the US will not endorse more veto-wielding powers in the UN Security Council. The US is expected to maintain its dominant position in the world, at least militarily by three methods: non-proliferation measures, militarisation of space and ballistic missile defence. Moreover, with cosmetic adjustments, the war on terror is expected to continue on the defined trajectory. Should it happen, international stability will suffer, which in turn will weaken non-proliferation, as the two issues are linked. Even as Bush travels to Europe in February to assuage feelings there, a lot more will need to be done.

For example, there is a need for India-suggested convention on international terrorism to be adopted by the US general assembly. 9/11 has demonstrated an entirely new kind of terrorism by non-state groups which have a vast network, sufficient resources and hence do not need assistance from any national government. To counter this terrorism, the world community has to work together, through the UN, and their intelligence services, without sharing their sources, have to build a common database, and conduct joint or parallel coordinated operations. For all this to happen, it is essential that the world move towards multi-polarity which would help remove mutual suspicions. Indicators are that this will not happen. While maintaining its dominant position in the world, the US will, at best, seek new alignments for its war on terror. This will work to the advantage of terrorists and proliferators. Even as the US homeland security may or may not get strengthened, the world at large is likely to be in turmoil in the days ahead.


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