There is hope that the world could eventually emerge from the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in a more peaceful, stable condition.
The reasons for hope are found in the efforts of many states to overlook their differences with the United States and one another in order to cooperate in the global effort against terrorism. China and Russia have both tempered their criticism of American military policy and agreed to assist the United States in anti-terror operations. Sudan, often viewed by Washington as a hostile state in the past, has promised to share valuable intelligence information on global terrorist networks. Most important, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to cooperate to reduce the level of fighting between them.
For its part, the United States has also taken steps to remove obstacles to better relations with other countries whose assistance it seeks to secure. For example, Washington has agreed to lift economic sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan in response to their 1998 nuclear weapons tests. Washington will also provide aid to Pakistan and other states adversely affected by the struggle against terrorism. And the U.S. Senate voted to pay some of the back dues owed to the United Nations.
It is dangerous, of course, to rest much hope on these very tentative steps. Much could happen to sour relations between the United States and its new allies, or to open up new divisions in the world community. But there is reason to believe that these steps are more than temporary measures, and could lead to further improvement in the international environment.
The United States cannot destroy the bin Laden operation in Afghanistan and eradicate associated terror networks elsewhere without the support of countries around the world -- including some, like Pakistan, Sudan and Russia, which have not been especially friendly to Washington in the past. This is so because of the remote location of bin Laden's training camps, and because many of his associates are hiding in places where U.S. intelligence agencies will have difficulty operating unless they are aided by local authorities.
Washington cannot expect to receive all the assistance it requires for these operations unless it is prepared to be more sympathetic to the concerns of the states involved. However willing they may be to provide valuable assistance at a time of crisis, they naturally seek assurances that the United States will not revert to a hostile stance when the threat posed by bin Laden has been eliminated.
All of this means that the Bush administration will have to abandon the hawkish, unilateralist stance it adopted during the first six months of its tenure -- a source of much friction with our European allies and with Russia and China -- and adopt a more internationalist posture, similar to that advocated by the current president's father. It also means cultivating better ties with states once shunned by Washington, such as Iran and Syria.
Americans can view this, of course, as little more than a pragmatic response to extraordinary circumstances -- the need for global assistance in fighting an elusive enemy. But one can perceive a deeper significance: a sense that terrorism is an attack on all civilized societies, and on the values of civility and tolerance that make modern life possible.
All those who are at risk from terrorist violence have a common interest in strengthening international anti-terror mechanisms and in fighting those who espouse or engage in attacks on civilian populations. Much of this is of a practical nature: sharing intelligence data between national police and security agencies, and interception of international money transfers between one terrorist cell and another, for example. But it also means strengthening the bonds of friendship and solidarity between the targets of violence, and working together to isolate and discredit the proponents of violence.
Looking at the situation from this perspective allows us to envision a world in which the nations of the earth have set aside or resolved their most intractable divisions in order to participate in a common defense against terrorism. Such a world would also enjoy much tighter controls against the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the illicit trade in conventional weaponry. This would be accompanied by a greater reliance on international institutions, such as the United Nations, the International Criminal Police Organization and the World Health Organization.
This world would be a much safer and saner place than the one we inhabit today. The stresses and divisions in today's world may be too great to be overcome by any of the measures described above. But if we hope to come out of this distressing situation with any prospects for a better life, it is essential that we strengthen the trend toward global accommodation.
In the end, the best monument we can build to those who perished on Sept. 11 is a world of greater peace and civility.
Copyright: Pacific News Service