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Peace through our strength
By Charles Bloomer
"'Deterrence' means simply this: making sure any adversary who thinks about attacking the United States, or our allies, or our vital interests, concludes that the risks to him outweigh any potential gains. Once he understands that, he won't attack. We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only invites aggression." -- Ronald Reagan, March 23, 1983
Since the early 1900s, liberal Western democracies have placed a high value on negotiation and talk. The death and destruction of World War I led to an attempt to form a world conference, the League of Nations. The attempt failed, but the effort was resuscitated after World War II and led to the formation of the United Nations. Since that time, many more of these esoteric debating societies have been formed - NATO, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union. Some of these organizations are related to defense, others are for economic benefit. But in essence, they share a common characteristic: They all provide a forum for debating, discussing, negotiating, talking.
No doubt these organizations have provided some benefit. Trade wars and shooting wars have likely been averted because they provided a forum for opponents and antagonists to sit down and discuss thorny issues. Additionally, these organizations often provide for objective participation by other members not directly involved in the problem at hand in order to help lower the rhetoric and level of hostility.
Unfortunately, the increased reliance on negotiation and talk has caused a false sense of security. Western nations, willing to debate and discuss, have lost sight of the fact that many non-Western countries do not respond to talk and negotiation. This false sense that we can solve all our problems through negotiation has led Western countries to neglect the foundation of their freedoms and democratic ideals: The ability to back their words with actions.
Last week's attack on New York and Washington, DC can be seen as the result of trying to negotiate from a position of weakness. The United States has tried to negotiate with terrorists and with states that support terrorism. We have neglected our military readiness and have nearly crippled our intelligence gathering capability, all in the name of a "peace dividend", thereby gutting the foundation on which our ability to negotiate is based.
Negotiation requires a rational opponent that is willing to negotiate, willing to sit at the bargaining table and willing to make the concessions necessary to reach accord. One cannot negotiate with fanatics who will not budge from their positions, or who operate from a framework of irrational hatred. Yet in Pollyannaish stubbornness, the United States is negotiating with the radical government in Afghanistan in an attempt to effect the surrender of the terrorist Osama bin Laden. This despite the fact that the Afghanis have refused to turn over bin Laden for the past 8 years.
We fail to take into account cultural differences as we work on solutions to the problems that affect our national security. In the Middle East, there is a concept called "empty words", meaning that words are only words. One can say whatever one chooses, since words are meaningless. Actions count. This concept is at odds with the Western idea that words have consequences. As a result of our misunderstanding of the cultural differences, we accept Middle Eastern words as truth without reservation. Our opponents in the Middle East see our statements and threats as only empty words.
Radical fanatics in the Middle East respond to only one concept - strength. They do not care about world opinion, they do not take spoken threats seriously, they do not listen to the words we speak to them. When Western governments fail to deal decisively with terrorist acts, these fanatics see weakness. That perception of weakness leads to more aggressive, more destructive behavior.
Since the end of the Cold War, and especially since the Gulf War, the United States has rapidly disarmed. Our armed forces have been neglected and left with inadequate funding for equipment, spare parts, and personnel. This neglect of our defenses and our ability to protect ourselves sends an emboldening signal to many of our enemies. The perception is that we no longer have the capability to respond to attack nor to hold accountable those who chose to attack us. Fanatics that only understand strength perceive us as weak.
In addition, over the past 8 years, our responses to terrorist activity has been tepid and inadequate. Our response to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 was to send a few cruise missile to blow up empty tents in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. It was read correctly by the responsible terrorists as an empty gesture made to allow a president to posture and to deflect attention away from the troubles afflicting the president.
The cowardly terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 should be a wake up call to America. No longer can we be complacent about or apathetic to the threats that face us. No longer can we take the easy way out by insisting that our problems can be solved in the great debate halls of international institutions. Thousands of innocent American men, women, and children are now dead because we believed that we could talk our way out of trouble. We believed, without foundation, that words alone would protect us.
We cannot negotiate with terrorists from a position of weakness. We cannot talk fanatics into our way of thinking and behaving. A strategy of negotiating with words not backed by strength is doomed to failure because terrorists see no negative consequences for their behavior. We must have the power, the strength, the ability and the will to deter terrorism where we can, and to retaliate when we must. Not only must we have the ability to retaliate, that ability and the will to use it must be clearly visible. Any potential aggressor, any potential terrorist must realize that the price for attacking America will be high indeed.
Americans are among the most peaceful people in the world. Despite the blathering of the hate-America, blame-America crowd, we do not wish to impose our values or our way of life on anyone, nor do we wish to be hegemonic. We remain willing to discuss and negotiate, willing to teach and encourage in order to further democratic ideals and the benefits to be enjoyed in a free society.
But we are not willing to sit passively and be the victims of violent actions. We must have the capability and the will to strike effectively, decisively, and quickly. And we should be willing to do so unilaterally if necessary. Our national security should not be based on the opinions or approval of others. We should hold responsible those who would do us harm as well as those who would harbor them.
Only in strength can we deter violence and aggression. Otherwise, all we have are empty words.
Charles Bloomer is a Senior Writer for Enter Stage Right. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2001 Charles Bloomer
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