Today's date:
Winter 2002


Engagement Is Not Liberal Mush

Chris Patten is External Relations Commissioner of the European Commission. The last British governor of Hong Kong, he also served as chairman of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland in 1998 and 1999.

London-When I was a junior minister in the Northern Ireland Office, I used to get sent to Washington to lobby Congress and successive administrations against private American funding of Irish terrorism. While I am not sure that I ever achieved very much, I always got a polite hearing.

I argued vehemently that free societies had a duty to defeat the evil of terrorism. I strongly defended the actions we took as a government on the security front. But if I had tried to deny that there was any political, cultural or social context for the violence in Ireland, I fancy that I would have been shown the door pretty smartish. Only a fanatic fringe argued that politics wholly explained or justified the murder of the innocent; but there was a general perception that Irish terrorism could not be defeated without a political, as well as a security, response. And so it proved.

If there is one thunderingly obvious lesson to draw from that in the global campaign against terrorism, it is that carefully and steadily applied force is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for victory.

The military campaign in Afghanistan under American leadership, with 17 allies committing their forces to this theatre, is entirely justified. Let no one pretend that other credible options were available.

That campaign needs to be pursued with a grim determination until the job is done. European soldiers have been fighting alongside their American, Canadian and Australian comrades. Britain has just announced a further, very substantial deployment. It may be that the coalition will need to fight elsewhere, too, before we are through.

But four other things are required if the courage-and sacrifices-of our soldiers are to deliver a safer world in the long term.

First, the defeat of terrorism requires international cooperation to enhance the effectiveness of policing across borders and to cut off the funding of violence. Since September 11, the United States and the European Union have worked closely to achieve this.

International cooperation demands international agreements, conventions, rules, arbitration and policing. So we must work to enhance the prestige and credibility of the United Nations and other institutions of global governance.

Second, we now know, to America's terrible cost, that failed states do not just threaten their own citizens and neighbors. Afghanistan has exported more than terrorism: Ninety percent of the heroin on the streets of Europe comes from that region.

Nine months ago, most people had no idea what was happening in Afghanistan, and no interest either. They worried about state-sponsored terrorism, but not about terrorist-sponsored states. Alas, they do now.

We can see similar problems from the Balkans to the Congo; from Sudan and Sierra Leone to the cocaine-producing criminal haunts in parts of Latin America.

Mr. Blair was much jeered for making a passionate speech along these lines at his last party conference. But he is right. While we cannot rid the world of original sin, we must do more to combat some of its consequences, with different countries sharing the diplomatic, economic and security burden according to their competence and their previous involvement in regions of danger.

Is it really impossible to put the Congo back together again, or Sudan or Somalia? Embarrassed, even humiliated, and threatened by bloody disaster on our own doorstep, we have managed laboriously to restore greater stability and hope to the Balkans, though much still remains to be done. And we are starting on the expensive and hideously complex task of building a government and civil society in Afghanistan. Some, with a curl of the lip, dismiss all that as "social work." To which the obvious response is that it is a pity there was not more social work after the eviction of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The third requirement is to work coherently and aggressively for a settlement in the Middle East on the basis of the Mitchell plan and the recent Saudi proposals. The bloody feud between Israelis and Palestinians directly fuels the doubts, suspicions and hostility in the Islamic world directed against America and Europe. This mood was reflected in a recent sobering Gallup survey, which took the political temperature in nine Islamic countries.

There is a particularly important role for Europe in preventing Samuel Huntington's thesis about the "clash of civilizations" from becoming self-fulfilling. We must put more energy and political commitment into our contractual partnership with the countries of the Southern Mediterranean and develop our relationship with the Gulf States and Iran, whose reformist government deserves hard-headed engagement.

Fourth, the approach and involvement of the rich nations will be taken by developing countries as an indication of whether we have any conception of how the problems of security and terrorism look to them.

Poverty and environmental degradation do not cause or justify terrorism.

Nor are the poor more wicked than the rest of us. But just as poor people are the major victims of crime in rich societies (and impoverished neighborhoods the main criminal battlefields), so political instability and violence are most prevalent in the poorest countries.

This is scarcely surprising. Deprivation makes it more difficult to sustain decency. Moreover, not only does one-fifth of the world take home four-fifths of the world's wealth, but the impoverished four-fifths suffer from ills that range from epidemic disease to crime and drugs. And we cannot protect ourselves from the consequences, as though we were residents in fortified suburbs. It is good news that President Bush announced a big increase in America's aid budget, and that EU leaders agreed in Barcelona to raise aid budgets steadily over the coming decade.

Walls are not the answer to global woes. But engagement is-with more help for the poor, more access for them to our markets and more commitment on their part to improve their standards of government in return for our more generous help.

Liberal mush? Actually, no-just a more comprehensive and effective way of beating the current generation of bin Ladens and preventing the development of new ones.