Response Ability


Worse than a Crime: a Mistake

War is an instrument entirely inefficient toward redressing wrong; and multiplies, instead of indemnifying, losses.

- Thomas Jefferson


by Michael Lind

Washington - Regarding preventive war, the Bush administration has announced that it reserves the right to invade countries and topple regimes that pose speculative - not imminent - threats to the United States.  This repudiates centuries of international diplomatic and legal custom, which permit countries to pre-emptively defend themselves against imminent attacks, but not to attack other countries merely on the chance that they might be threats in the future.  It is not clear whether the Bush administration regards preventive war as a prerogative of the United States alone, or as a newly recognized right of all countries.  If the former is the case, then the United States is claiming that it is exempt from the rules that govern other nations.  If the latter is the case, then Pakistan could wage a preventive war against India today, on the grounds that India might be a greater threat in a decade or two.

The distinction between wars of defense and aggression would collapse entirely if the United States, alone or along with all other nations, had the right to wage war on the basis of speculative future threats.  And it is deeply troubling that the Bush administration has now adopted, as its own strategy, a "Pearl Harbor" strategy for which Japanese war criminals were hanged by the United States after World War II.

Regarding the the "war on terror," the conceptual confusion of the Bush administration is at its worst and most dangerous in its approach to terrorism.  This administration has used the vague term "the war on terror" to treat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to "rogue states" like Iraq and North Korea, and anti-American terrorism by non-state groups like al-Qaida, as one phenomenon instead of two.  The argument that states might give terrorists weapons of mass destruction remains tenuous, despite many attempts by the Bush administration to connect Iraq and al-Qaida.

In addition to lumping together a variety of anti-American states with different goals and capabilities, the Bush administration has used the trite phrase "the war on terror" to obscure the differences between al-Qaida - a transnational Muslim terrorist group with members from many nations that targets the United States and Western European countries - and Hamas and Hezbollah, militant groups targeting Israel.  If Hamas and Hezbollah are treated as America's enemies, even though their quarrel is not with the United States, why aren't the Irish Republican Army Basque terrorists in Spain, Chechen terrorists in Russia and Tamil terrorists in Sri Lanka part of America's "war on terror," too?

Repudiating the aberrant Wolfowitz-Bush Doctrine of quasi-imperial global hegemony, the United States should return to its post-1945 policy of leading consensual great-power alliances (not rag-tag collections of bribed and dependent satellite states) against genuine common threats.  Repudiating the idea of preventive war, which undermines the very distinction between war and peace in the global state system, the United States should reassert the distinction it has long drawn between wars of defense and wars of aggression, while reserving the right for pre-emptive wars to forestall imminent attacks on the United States or its allies.

Finally, the term "war on terror" should be abandoned by policymakers and commentators alike.  In the interest of moral clarity and intellectual rigour, different terms should be used for unrelated subjects, such as the campaign against al-Qaida and the disarmament of Iraq.  Then, and only then, will the United States once again have a national security strategy that protects American interests without subverting American ideals.

Michael Lind, the Whitehead Fellow at the New America Foundation, is director of the American Strategy Project

Source: United Press International, The New America Foundation's American Strategy Project

Iran Says US Pressure Over Nukes Will Backfire

by Parinoosh Arami

Tehran - Iran warned Monday that foreign pressure over its nuclear capabilities, branded a threat to peace by Washington, would backfire and harden Iran's position.  Since its rapid conquest of Iraq, Washington has tightened the screw on neighboring Iran, which it accuses of sheltering al Qaeda fugitives, backing terrorism and developing nuclear arms.  "Excessive pressure on Iran would untie the hands of those who do not believe in dialogue," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi.  "Even those who favour constructive talks would not accept the language of force and threat."

The United States and European Union are divided over Iran.  The EU favours a policy of encouraging embattled reformers around President Mohammad Khatami, while Washington argues this is a waste of time since he has no real power to affect change.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) accused Iran of failing to comply with safeguards to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and sent a team of inspectors to the country Saturday.  Asefi played down the visit, which comes a week before IAEA chief Mohamed El Baradei formally presents his report on Iran's nuclear ambitions to agency governors in Vienna on 16 June.  "The visit was planned months ago and has nothing to do with the agency's report," Asefi said.  "The visit proves Iran's transparency and close cooperation."

Fresh from war in Iraq over banned weapons, the United States described the report as "deeply troubling."  Since the Iraq war, US administration hawks have raised the specter of military action against Iran, but President Bush, who put Iran in an "axis of evil" with pre-war Iraq and North Korea, has denied he has plans to attack it.  Even so, many in Iran suspect the Islamic Republic may be next on a US hit-list of regimes to be overthrown.  "We hope Iran's constructive cooperation with the agency and other countries makes the international community better aware of America's evil intentions," Asefi said.  "We are always alert about America's policies... but we have no doubt the Americans won't be deluded into mistaking Iran for Iraq.  Such a mistake would be irreparable," he said.

Source: Reuters Mon 9 June 2003

What Now?

From: Freeman Dyson
Date: 25 September 2001

The events of 11 September brought to mind a vivid and uncomfortable memory.  I am 16 years old, lying in bed at my home in London on a noisy night in September 1940.  I am violently hostile to the British Empire and everything it stands for.  I hate London, the citadel of oppression, with its grandiose buildings sucking the wealth from every corner of the world.  I lie in bed listening to the bombs exploding and the buildings crumbling.  What joy to hear, after each explosion, the delicious sound of buildings falling down, the great British Empire audibly crumbling.  The joy far outweighs any fear that my own home might be hit, or any pity for the people in the falling buildings.  How many 16-year-olds all over the world are now seeing on tv the pictures of the World Trade Center buildings collapsing, and feeling the same joy that I felt in 1940?  I find it easy to imagine the state of mind of the young men who so resolutely smashed those planes into the buildings.  Almost, I could have been one of them myself.

The only wisdom that I can extract from these memories is that the problem of terrorism is not a military problem.  It is a problem of people's hearts and minds.  Attempts to solve it by military means will only make it worse.  I don't pretend to know how to solve it.  A good way to start would be for our country to stop telling the rest of the world how to behave.  We must learn to live with the world as it is, not as we want it to be.  We must treat our enemies with respect, so that we do not appear to be trampling on their cultures and traditions.  The ultimate goal must always be, not to destroy our enemies but to convert them into friends.  And meanwhile, do whatever we can to defend ourselves without killing more thousands of innocent victims.

From: Karl Sabbagh
Date: 20 September 2001

Violence of the sort we are trying to avoid is not, in the end, caused only by American power and oppression, Israeli occupation, religious antagonism, the evils of capitalism.  Such grievances are necessary but not sufficient.  After all there are many people who endure these without strapping explosives to themselves or bombing buildings.  There is always an additional factor, almost too trite to mention - the willingness of a person to use physical violence against other people with whom he disagrees.  To reduce violence we need to understand this.  And, in various ways, we do already.  There almost certainly exist important and useful research findings from different academic disciplines that might not be generally known to other academics or to the world at large.  In particular, there may be practical measures, as yet untried, that could be taken to reduce violent behaviour at every level from the individual to the state, starting in childhood.

It may well be that violent behaviour - man against man, man against woman, man and woman against child, men against other men within their society, one race against another, one nation against another - has common roots at whichever level it operates.  Those roots may well lie in the way individuals react to threat or perceived threat either from the object of their violence or elsewhere.  Thus, even international conflict may have its roots in the personal responses of statesmen and the interaction of those responses with the psychological makeup of the individual members of the state.  If such common factors exist, they will more easily become apparent through the exchange of views of a wide range of academics, the wider the better.

The insights we need do not necessarily require new research findings.  Neuroanatomy and physiology, sociobiology, experimental psychology and psychiatry, anthropology and sociology, political science, and analytical psychology - all of these disciplines have traditionally looked at the roots of violent behaviour and there are research findings which can enlighten us.

There are many questions whose answers might help:

bulletNeuroanatomy and Neurophysiology - Where are aggressive impulses located in the brain?  Are there differences in anatomy and physiology between normal and abnormally violent people?  What do we know of the mediators of anger and violent behaviour in the brain?  Are there ethically justified ways of reducing violent behaviour, both pathological and non-pathological, using this knowledge?  Is it significant that the sexes differ in aggression?
bulletSociobiology - Does inappropriate violence against members of the same species exist in other animals?  What can we tell about violent behaviour from animal studies?  What is the evolutionary history of aggressive behaviour?  Has it evolved because it has a function?
bulletPsychology and Psychiatry - Are there "criminal types" or only criminal behaviour?  What makes a violent criminal and how can it be prevented?  What are the origins of intrafamily violence, a major contributor to the toll of murder in developed societies?  What are the mechanisms that operate in the case of child-batterers, rapists and wife-beaters that are absent in the rest of us when faced with similar temptations?  What links are there between childhood circumstances and subsequent violent behaviour?  Is there an innate tendency in humans not to harm others?  If so, what circumstances lead to a reduction or elimination of this tendency?  If not, is it only the law that stops everyone killing everyone else who stands in their way?  Are there experiments that suggest ways of modifying violent behaviour?
bulletAnthropology and Sociology - Is inappropriate violence against fellow-humans present in every society at a similar level?  What can we learn from those societies that are less violence-prone than ours?  What are the mechanisms that operate to allow representatives of one group (race, religion, political party) to exhibit and express hostility to another, often resulting in extremes of violent behaviour?  What role does the ability or inability to identify with the objects of our hostility play in enabling violent behaviour towards others?  Are there useful ways of resolving or preventing disputes?
bulletPolitical Science - Is there such a thing as a "national character?"  Are some nations more aggressive than others?  If so why?  Do some nations deal more successfully with the resolution of conflict than others?  Is there any correlation between the nature of different governing systems and the belligerence of the state?
bulletAnalytical Psychology - Are there links between the behaviour and personalities of statesmen and the aggressiveness and violence of the countries they run?  Does differential perception of threat play a part in people's threshold of violence?

Out of the answers to such questions, some known already, can emerge a consensus for action.  It would be too much to hope that what scientists say is likely to be true will automatically be accepted by politicians and the public.  It hasn't often in the past.  But perhaps a new mood born of need will operate to make that acceptance happen in this case, and lead to knowledge-based actions rather than knee-jerk responses.  It will be a slow but important process and won't lead to an immediate violence-free society.  But we might get a reduced-violence generation and eventually a low-violence society.

Source: John Brockman editor and publisher contact: © 2001 by Edge Foundation, Inc All Rights Reserved

I highly recommend the Edge site.  The participants often seem to pat themselves (and occasionally each other) on the back a bit more than I would like, but they generate meaty ideas on occasion.

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