Ted Lewis, Global Exchange
October 8, 2001
The September 11 attacks made Americans painfully aware of our own
vulnerability. The recognition of how exposed we are to attacks has led to a
great amount of understandable fear. But recognizing our vulnerability is not a
bad thing. If we are to make the world safe from terrorism -- and safety and
security are clearly the most important challenges we face -- then we must
acknowledge and grapple with our weaknesses and susceptibilities.
For most of humanity, vulnerability is a way of life. Poverty, hunger, civil war
and ethnic strife force billions of people to live at the whims of forces beyond
their control. Before September 11 most Americans, buffered by privilege,
had never felt that sort of insecurity. But now we do. Suddenly we know the
frailty of our place in the world just like those billions of people for whom
frailty is all-too-familiar. The hope is that our newfound sense of vulnerability
will lead to a kind of international empathy and solidarity. Such empathy could
be the cornerstone of a new spirit of international cooperation -- a cooperation
that provides the only way to ensure global security.
Future terrorist attacks will only be eliminated when all the peoples of the
world work together to isolate suicidal fanatics. Unfortunately, current US
policies are an obstacle to collaboration. The US's political, military and
economic policies have bred a seething resentment of the US around the
world. That resentment presents a very real barrier to international
cooperation. It is important, then, that we take our just-discovered sense of
vulnerability and use it to reflect on who we are as a people and how we want
to relate to the rest of the world.
The widespread, and in some places very deep, bitterness toward the US has
arisen not because of our values, but because we have abandoned so many of
our values when it comes to our foreign policy. We are a country founded on
the ideal of justice, and yet our policy makers have resisted calls to establish
an international criminal court. We pledge ourselves to freedom, yet one
administration after another has supported brutal dictatorships around the
world. And even as we talk about opportunity and the "pursuit of happiness,"
our economic policies propagate sweatshops and our national leaders refuse
meaningful debt cancellation that would create the opportunities for other
countries to pursue happiness.
The status quo has created a vast distrust of the US. Until we embrace
policies that truly reflect our values, we won't be able to disarm that distrust.
If we want the world to work with us to isolate terrorism, then we will have to
work with the rest of the world. For too long parochial self-interest has driven
our national policies. Now more than ever we need foreign policies informed
by enlightened self-interest. The requisite for global security is global justice.
How can we win the lasting goodwill of the world's peoples? It may not be
easy, but a few immediate steps come to mind. First, we should commit
ourselves to working collaboratively with other countries. That would mean
ratifying treaties like the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Kyoto
Protocol on global warming, and the international land mines agreement,
among others. Unconditional debt cancellation would be another way of
proving our commitment to real justice. Thousands of people in Africa are
dying of AIDS every day because their countries, which suffer under massive
debt burdens, can't afford the drugs or the medical services to treat them.
Canceling third world debt and showing that we care about such suffering
would win us many new friends. Finally, the US should promise not to support
any country, including allies such as Turkey and Israel, which violates
international human rights standards.
No country, not even one as powerful as the US, can go it alone in eliminating
terrorism. As September 11 showed, when it comes to the terror of suicide
attacks, we are all equally vulnerable, all equally human. Only by recognizing
that, and by working together, will we become safe.