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Global Perspectives on Terrorism - 2002-04-13


The United States has received help from many countries since last September in its war against terrorism. But, the international community does not always see eye-to-eye with Washington on how that war should proceed. In Chicago recently, statesmen from three countries led a discussion about the war on terrorism.

Singapore's representative to the United Nations, Kishore Mahbubani, told a full auditorium in downtown Chicago that his country understands terrorism is not just a concern for Americans in the wake of the September 11 attacks. "I do not know how many of you are aware that the second biggest [terrorist] operation after Manhattan was supposed to be in Singapore," he said.

Ambassador Mahbubani says terrorists planned several large explosions in Singapore late last year, but officials discovered the plot in time.

In addition to Ambassador Mahbubani, the discussion included the director of the French Institute of International Relations, Thierry de Montbrial, and Karl Kaiser of the German Society for Foreign Affairs in Berlin. All three agreed the war on terrorism is an important global concern, but one in which the United States should work with other countries in waging that war.

Mr. Kaiser said the recent flare-up of Palestinian-Israeli violence only complicates the matter. "Unless we achieve progress on the Palestinian-Israeli issue, progress on the fight against terrorism is going to be very, very difficult," he said.

Just a few weeks ago, the Bush administration had harsh words for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whom the U.S. accuses of trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. The Israeli-Palestinian violence has made it less likely any action will be taken against Iraq in the near future, and Mr. de Montbrial of France said the United States should not take unilateral action against Iraq. "If it appears that it does not work so well, which is not totally unlikely, then, ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry to say that the United States would have the entire world against her," he said.

But Mr. Kaiser of Germany said the world cannot afford to ignore Iraq forever. He said the possibility that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction is a serious matter. "Because if that connection comes into being, between terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, it need not be a nuclear weapon, just radiological material. Manhattan becomes uninhabitable for decades with that combination," he said.

He said Europe shares the United States' concern about Iraq, but favors building a case for action against the government in Baghdad, such as demanding Iraq allow United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country.

Singapore's Kishore Mahbubani said in the long-term, the fight against terrorism will be won by paying more attention to what he called "failed states," like Afghanistan or Somalia, where the lack of a functioning government makes it easy for terrorist groups to operate. He said too often, the international community ignores these states until there is a crisis. "Decisions that affect the global community are not made on the basis of global considerations but on the basis of national interests," he said.

Mr. Mahbubani said it is also important to maintain an economic and possibly military presence in places like Afghanistan after terrorist groups are defeated. He said walking away would result in only a short-term victory over terrorism.

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