Terror in the US: The Murky Road to War?
Mary Kaldor

Introduction On September 11, 2001, two hijacked passenger planes destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Shortly afterwards a plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington and shortly after that, another plane--believed to be headed for the Washington area--crashed in rural Pennsylvania. The reverberations of these terrorist atrocities are still resounding across the world and will continue for some time. Recrimination and retribution are on the lips of politicians and generals worldwide.

Professor Mary Kaldor, Programme Director for the Centre for the Study of Global Governance, at the London School of Economics and Political Science, argues that the world in 2001 is radically different to the world in 1941, when the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor. Interviewed two days after the 2001 attack, she argues that this was a situation masterminded by criminals who must be dealt with as such and to commit to war in the traditional sense would only exacerbate and perpetuate the bloody cycle of violence these terrorists have initiated.

Many commentators have used the rhetoric of "attacks on democracy and freedom" in describing the horrific attacks on the US. Do you think this kind of rhetoric is useful for understanding the situation and what caused it?

Mary Kaldor: This is obviously an attack on democracy and freedom because democracy and freedom are dependent on non-violence. On the other hand, the way in which it has been presented by President Bush, is that somehow democracy and freedom is represented by "us", the United States, and that there are others who don't have democracy and freedom and don't like us for it. We now live in a world where there is more and more interdependence and you can't any longer separate the free democratic parts from the unfree violent parts. To do that is actually very dangerous, because it assumes that the US has been attacked by some foreign enemy that can be identified instead of by a bunch of criminals.

There is democracy and freedom in all kinds of places and I think there are uncivilised people in all kinds of places. Who knows who attacked the World Trade Centre? Everyone is saying that it is Osama Bin Laden. But what mystifies me is given that the CIA has been studying Osama Bin Laden for the last five years, how come they didn't know it was happening? Is it not more likely that it was some insider, somebody like Timothy McVeigh? That it was some crazy guy frustrated by the end of the Cold War; furious with the US military; somebody who knew how American Airlines worked; somebody who knew how to fly planes; somebody who knew how to evade radar?

I say this, not because I necessarily believe it was one of those guys, but I think it is just as likely. What is dangerous at this moment, is that there is "us" and "them." There is "us" who are democratic and free and "them" who are not. Who knows? I think "us" and "them" exists side by side in America and in Afghanistan. There are undoubtedly democrats in Afghanistan even if they are not free to speak their views.

What is the significance of invoking the 1949 NATO charter citing the mutual responsibility and response to any attack of the signatory nations?

Kaldor: You could see it in two ways. You could see it in a very positive sense. The US is recognising that the only way we can deal with this, is in a co-operative and collective way. It can't act unilaterally and it has to respond together with NATO and its allies. If you interpret it in that positive way, then there is a chance that European leaders will be able to ensure that the response to this attack is appropriate.

There is a dangerous way that you could interpret this, which is that Bush and his cohorts want to bomb Afghanistan and they want to legitimise it through NATO support. That would be very dangerous. But I think if European leaders say : "OK we agree. This was a hideous attack on democracy and freedom. But we don't think the way to deal with it is militarily." Then it could be very positive.

Is there a possibility that America will resort to traditional warlike tactics? Is this a situation where it is unclear if a state is involved and which might require political foreign policy solutions? What would your advice be?

Kaldor: I think that is a very important question. I think that America has not come to terms with the fact that classic war between states has become an anachronism. And it seems to me that the real significance of the end of the cold war was that this was the last great global clash. We live in a world now which is very interdependent, where states don't depend on military power to determine their relationships with each other any longer, where what matters is a political process involving states, companies, and non governmental organisations.

At the moment, the problem with the Bush administration is that they haven't quite got that message. They think they live in a world, which is still determined by a conflict between the good guys and the bad guys and that America is the leader of the good guys. And they still think that can insulate America from the rest of the world. They still think they can take a lead in attacking the bad guys. That is very very dangerous because what it leads to are these wars at a distance where they use bombs and missiles, which makes America feel good. They are supposed to be very precise but there is always what they call "collateral" damage and the result is to create a whole generation of people who see the United States as imperialist, dangerous: who hate America.

So a military response of that kind, which would be the most likely kind, could be very dangerous. It would just set in motion a process of violence, which just keeps getting more and more exacerbated.

There are strong indications from US politicians that they are preparing the ground for an unconditional attack. Would this be effective and what could the response be?

Kaldor:This is a world in which the traditional inter-state conflict is over. Nevertheless we have new kinds of war, which are very horrible. If you look at what is happening now in Israel and Palestine or what is happening in Macedonia, it is actually a very similar type of violence. It is violence in which neither side can gain advantages militarily. You can't do what you did in a classic war which was to capture territory by invading. You use violence, not to capture territory militarily or to gain a military victory. You use violence to increase your political power.

You do that by attacking civilians. You do that by terror. You do that be sowing fear and hatred. And I think what you will see throughout the Middle East and the Balkans is the sense that: "now, at last the United States knows what it feels like to be here." The United States is going on building its missile defence believing that it can insulate itself from the problems of the world. I think there will be a strong feeling in large parts of the Middle East and the Balkans of "Look. You're not invulnerable either. You have to experience what we've experienced."

As we could be looking at diffused, cell-like terrorist groups the retaliation could be very difficult to manoeuvre. Has military technology moved from the failures of "smart bombing" and "smart technologies" since the Gulf war and the Kosovo war?

Kaldor: We are dealing here not with a military enemy but with a criminal . In the case of the second world war, when Pearl Harbour happened, you knew the enemy was Japan. In this case we have no idea who the enemy is and the enemy isn't really an enemy . It is not a state, it is not a collective organisation . It is an individual or a group of criminals and the normal way you deal with that is you try to track them down and catch them and bring them to justice.

That seems to me the only possible way to deal with it. Now that is obviously very difficult: the intelligence isn't good enough. However, to try to hit terrorists when you don't even know who they are, you haven't got evidence that they did this, is a sure fire disaster. I think what would be really important is if the United States got the message that actually this is a new kind of violence which you cannot deal with in a military way. You can only deal with it in a legal and political way.

How can international relations theory cast light on situations like this?

Kaldor: International relations theory is moving away from the traditional realist assumption that states are the actors and that military power is an important factor in international relations. Of course there is a big debate in international relations theory, but there are a lot of people who are saying that this is fundamentally changed by globalisation and that the nature of violence has changed. That is what my own work is about. Traditional wars were very much a feature of traditional international relations.

These new wars are very much a symptom of globalisation and that is a perspective that allows us to see where the rhetoric of the past is actually quite dangerous. There is a famous passage in Marx which says that when men make history they don't do it in their own clothes, they dress up in the clothes of the past. And that is exactly what people tend to do. They always dress up in the clothes of the past. They always say "this is pearl harbour" and that can be very problematic.

In a way the job of the critical theorist is to look at the world and distinguish what is relevant from the past and what isn't. We are looking a different world and we can see why the rhetoric no longer applies.

This feature was taken from an interview held at the London School of Economics and Political Science on Setpember 13, 2001. Copyright The London School of Economics and Political Science.