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Global Terrorism, Domestic Order, and the United States

Section 2


2. Globalization's Threat to Domestic Order

William Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, recently wrote in a newspaper opinion article on the new century of interdependence, "The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 were just as much a manifestation of this globalization and interdependence as the explosion of economic growth." How can globalization facilitate terrorism? [26]

Globalization defined: In its simplest terms, globalization refers to the increasing interdependence of citizens and nations across the world. In 2001, an international consulting firm, A.T. Kearney, reported the extent of "globalization" for fifty countries with "advanced economies" across the world based on data from 1995 through 1998.[27] Recently, the same firm revised its measures and updated its study with data for 1999 and 2000 while extending it to 62 nations.[28]

Briefly, the latest methodology involved using multiple indicators grouped into four dimensions:

1. Economic integration: trade, foreign direct investment and portfolio capital flows, and income from nonresident employees and from foreign assets;

2. Personal contacts: international travel and tourism, international telephone calls, and cross-border transfers;

3. Technology: number of internet users, internet hosts, and secure servers;

4. Political engagement: number of memberships in international organizations, participation in U.S. Security Council missions, and foreign embassies.[29]

A.T. Kearney's ambitious and laudable attempt to measure globalization may not be perfect, but it captures the concept rather fairly. The economic aspect of globalization, which early attracted wide attention, is represented by various indicators of "economic integration." The next two elements in A.T. Kearney's model--international indicators of "personal contact" and international applications of "technology"--extend the thinking behind economic integration to social integration. The last element-- "political engagement" in international bodies--seems to round out the concept. Taken together, these indicators all seem to reflect rather benign aspects of interdependence among people and nations.

Table 1 shows all 62 nations rank-ordered by their combined scores on the A.T. Kearney index of globalization. Although the United States, does not rank at the top of the list, it does rank twelfth, which puts it in the top 20 percent. The two Middle Eastern countries on the list (Saudi Arabia and Egypt) are in the bottom half.

Globalization was expected to present challenges to American government, but none that would leave thousands of citizens dead from an attack by non-state actors, in this case, an international organization of terrorists.

The dark side of globalization: Many of the benign aspects of globalization--economic integration, international travel and communication, and technological advances--open the most globalized nations to unanticipated, external, crippling attacks. Global societies are wide-open targets that, according to Homer-Dixon, are

easy prey because of two key trends: First, the growing technological capacity of small groups and individuals to destroy things and people; and, second, the increasing vulnerability of our economic and technological systems to carefully aimed attacks.[30]

Homer-Dixon argues that the destructive capability of small groups of individuals is steadily increasing, "driven largely by three technological advances: more powerful weapons, the dramatic progress in communications and information processing, and more abundant opportunities to divert nonweapons technologies [e.g., passenger airplanes] to destructive ends."[31] History has shown that authorities have found it hard to prevent, much less defeat, domestic sources of terrorism (e.g., in Northern Ireland, in the Basque region of Spain, in Egypt, and in Israel). The ominous specter of international terrorism poses huge threats to order in all nations in a global world.

Terrorism defined: Political actors whom one government might call terrorists (e.g., India's term for those who wage armed struggle against its authority in Kashmir), another government may call "freedom fighters" (which is how Pakistan has viewed the same people). For governmental officials, the actor's politics determines a terrorist versus a freedom fighter. For neutral scholars consulting the Historical Dictionary of Terrorism, terrorism is essentially "armed propaganda," which involves using violence to send a message.[32] The more widely the terrorist act is disseminated in the mass media, the more effective terrorism becomes as propaganda--which makes international terrorism well-suited to achieving political ends in a globalized world.

Although governments tend to judge acts of "armed propaganda" as much by their motives as their means, governments nevertheless need legal definitions of terrorist acts in their law books. Accordingly in late December, 2001, the European Union solemnly defined a "terrorist act" as

one of the following intentional acts, which, given its nature or its context, may seriously damage a country or an international organisation, as defined as offence under national law, where committed with the aim of
i. seriously intimidating a population, or

ii. unduly compelling a Government or an international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act, or

iii. seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation.[33]

Point iii was followed by a list of specific acts, including (a) attacks on a person that may cause death; (b) attacks on a person's physical integrity; (c) kidnapping or hostage-taking; (d) extensive destruction to a public facility or infrastructure (including an information system); (e) seizing an airplane or ship; (f) manufacturing, transporting, or acquiring weapons of any sort; release of dangerous substances that endanger human life; (h) interfering with water supplies; (i) threatening any above acts; (j) directing a terrorist group; and (k) participating in the activities of a terrorist group, including by funding or supplying information.

Note that the European Union avoided mentioning motives in defining terrorism, being content to define specific acts that threaten to destroy order.

Maintaining domestic order: the first purpose of government: Throughout history, government has served two major purposes: maintaining order (preserving life and protecting property) and providing public goods. More recently, some governments have pursued a more controversial third purpose: promoting equality. Terrorist attacks threaten order--the first purpose of government.

To the seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, preserving life was the most important function of government. In Leviathan (1651), Hobbes described life without government as life in a "state of nature." Without rules, people would live as predators do, stealing and killing for their personal benefit. In Hobbes's classic phrase, life in a state of nature would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." He believed that a single ruler, or sovereign--which he named Leviathan after a biblical sea monster--must possess unquestioned authority to guarantee the safety of the weak, to protect them from the attacks of the strong.

Most of us can only imagine what a state of nature would be like, but, from all reports, life in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 amounted to living in a state of nature. The disparate group of warlords and their bands of fighters that drove out the Soviets quickly fell to fighting among themselves in pursuit of territory, money, and even women, which resulted in pillage, murder, and rape. Indeed, ordinary Afghans (and even western countries at the time) came to welcome the radical Islamic Taliban movement for putting an end to the lawlessness. One story attributes Mullah Omar's rise as leader of the Taliban to his leading an attack on a group of warlords who had raped and shaved the head of a girl.[34] In establishing order, however, the Taliban functioned like a religious Leviathan, enforcing an extreme interpretation of Islamic law.

Maintaining international order: the need for a global Leviathan? In the first half of the twentieth century, people thought of government mainly in territorial terms. Indeed, a standard definition of government was the legitimate use of force--including firearms, imprisonment, and execution--within specified geographical boundaries to control human behavior. For over three centuries, since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ended the Thirty Years War in Europe, international relations and diplomacy have been based on the principle of national sovereignty, defined as "a political entity's externally recognized right to exercise final authority over its affairs."[35] Simply put, national sovereignty means that each national government has the right to govern its people as it wishes, without interference from other nations.

Some scholars argued strongly early in the twentieth century that a body of international law controlled the actions of supposedly sovereign nations, but their argument was essentially theoretical.[36] In the practice of international relations, there was no sovereign power over nations. Each enjoyed complete independence to govern its territory without interference from other nations. Although the League of Nations and later the United Nations were supposed to introduce supranational order into the world, even these international organizations explicitly respected national sovereignty as the guiding principle of international relations. The U.N. Charter, Article 2.1, states: "The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members."

As we enter into the twenty-first century, the principle of national sovereignty has eroded before the forces of globalization. For example, after the European Union defined terrorism for its member nations, it published a list of terrorist organizations that included Irish, Basque, Greek, and Middle Eastern extremist groups and required all member countries to freeze their assets and arrest their members.[37] Responding to the September 11 attack, the United States decided to act as policeman for the world, if not quite the world's Leviathan, to eliminate global terrorism, thus protecting itself and other nations against similar attacks.

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