Is terrorism an inevitable evil of democracy
Freedom and Armageddon
What happens when terrorists have weapons of mass destruction (WMD)? These technologies are getting smaller and cheaper; It is becoming increasingly difficult for states to control information about the production of WMD. Miniature nuclear weapons that can be transported in a suitcase are already technically feasible. Terrorism is inexorably moving beyond the conventional towards the apocalypse.
Since the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, the international order has been dependent on states having a monopoly over the legitimate means of violence on their territory and this monopoly being recognized by other states.1 The international order was based on the fact that states alone had the ability to wage war and the holders of state power could rely on other holders of state power to refrain from aggression if they were credibly threatened with violence. Since 1945, this model of deterrence has won important victories for international stability. Nuclear weapons have never been used again since August 1945.
But the era of successful deterrence could now come to an end. It is true that only two states still have the resources to produce nuclear weapons. But highly enriched uranium was stolen from nuclear factories in the former Soviet Union. We do not know whether terrorist networks were able to get hold of the material, but it is possible. As soon as these networks have the material, the necessary know-how can be easily obtained. They are already in contact with nuclear weapons specialists, scientists and engineers, some of whom have been trained in the Pakistani nuclear program.2 As far as biological weapons are concerned, terrorist cells have been arrested in Great Britain trying to produce substances suitable for mass killing, such as ricin.3 Relatively inexpensive, Miniaturized WMD could soon be available on the illegal international arms market. 4
Not all terrorists are equally dangerous because not all terrorists cannot be dissuaded from their plans. Terrorist means are mostly used in the struggle for liberation from occupation or foreign rule. These terrorists may not worry about their own lives, but punitive actions against their own people could dissuade them.
Terrorism, on the other hand, which is perpetrated by individual perpetrators or small groups without a support base, does not have to expect any consequences for their own side. Therefore, they may never be dissuaded from their goal. Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City. The anthrax attacks that killed four people are likely the result of dissatisfied American technicians or scientists.5 The true nihilist - the loner who is indifferent to fame and who wants to destroy everything and everyone, including himself - remains the main threat. There should be no shortage of these perpetrators. They are still limited to the USA. Now the weapons of choice are rifles with telescopic sights. But in the future, acquiring weapons of mass destruction may no longer be beyond the capabilities of a highly educated and well-funded psychopath. Then democracy will face a truly inevitable threat. It would be a terrible irony if the nemesis of Western individualism came in the form of a loner armed with weapons of mass destruction.
The third type is embodied by Al-Qaeda. In contrast to “self-determination terrorists”, al-Qaeda's support is not limited to a specific population who would fear retaliation after an attack. The fact that Afghans suffered the consequences after the 9/11 attacks had no visible restraining effect. As soon as Afghanistan fulfilled its function as a base, the land was dispensable for al-Qaeda. Since the goal of this terrorist group is not to gain power but to punish the USA and its strategic allies, neither political negotiations nor “appeasement” can stop them.
Unlike political groups whose goal may be national liberation, these cults cannot be attacked politically, and as a closed and conspiratorial group they are difficult to infiltrate and render harmless. The deterrent logic that kept state violence at bay to some extent does not work with loners and the cult leaders of global terrorism. They promise their followers eternal life and thus have followers who are not deterred by anything.
Terrorists arguably need territorial refuge and weapons. States often provide both - which can be punished and thus prevented from pursuing their plans. Libya was the base for terrorist activity until western states decided on a concerted program of international sanctions and isolation. However, many of the refuge for terrorists can be found in weak or failed states that have no real control over their territories. The challenge for the liberal democracies coincides with a crisis of the state order: of the over 190 states of the global state system, between ten and fifteen are unable to refuse refuge to international terrorist groups because they are weak, poor and corrupt or because they are through internal conflicts are torn apart, which terrorists can exploit for themselves.6 The walls of the state that once enclosed their monopoly of force have collapsed. Evil has escaped from the prison of deterrence.
One could argue that 9/11 is unlikely to repeat itself as security measures have since been tightened. But even if every one of Bin Laden's followers is tracked down, the example of the 9/11 attacks will remain an inspiration to others. In addition, the international factors driving terrorism - the power of America, the existence of Israel, corruption and the decline of the political order in the Arab and Islamic world - are likely to continue to exist as well. Terrorism remains a threat to liberal democracy simply because it cannot distance itself from a world which, rightly or wrongly, blames it for its misery.
If terrorists were given weapons of mass destruction, we could move from a pattern of more frequent attacks with low losses to a pattern of less frequent attacks with catastrophic losses. Against this it will be even more difficult to defend yourself. Terrorists will rightly assume that no state, however vigilant and well-organized, can remain vigilant always and everywhere. By their very nature, democracies are less capable of surveillance than authoritarian regimes. Sooner or later a security guard will fail to check or overlook a container, passenger or bag - and an attack could succeed.
Liberal democracies are thus confronted with an enemy whose demands cannot be appeased, who cannot be dissuaded from their plans and who does not have to win in order for us to lose. If the terrorists have chemical, radiological, bacteriological or nuclear weapons, they only need to be successful once. So we could lose too.
What would a defeat look like? It would bring about the dissolution of our institutions and our way of life. Weapons of mass destruction would kill thousands, leave devastated areas and destroy the existential security on which democracy depends. We could find ourselves in a state with closed borders, where constant identity checks and internment camps for suspicious foreigners and rebellious citizens may be part of everyday life. We would survive but no longer recognize ourselves or our institutions; exist but lose our identity as free peoples.
So what can be done? Since the terrorist threat is directed against our political identities as free peoples, our essential resource must be precisely that identity. We can only prevail against an enemy if we know who we are and what we want to defend at all costs. If the automatic response to terrorism with massive casualties is to strengthen a secret government, that is wrong. The right thing to do is to strengthen the open society. No strategy against terrorism can be sustained without help and cooperation from the general public. Despite their security systems, democracies need to be no less decisive than authoritarian regimes, and democratic institutions have the advantage that they can call on the wisdom, experience and talents of the general public rather than relying on the small number of a closed elite.
Belief in democracy doesn't have to blind us to its mistakes. Because our democracies are not as successful as they could be in the fight against conventional threats, and it is to be feared that in the face of a terror with WMD they could prove to be even less capable. The media have played their part in disinformation to the public, and judges have shown their governments excessive deference. The parliaments often lacked the courage to subject the risk factors to a clear examination. Ministries have restricted the freedoms of foreigners and minorities. Such failure of democratic institutions results in bad politics. Parliaments passed laws giving the police powers they don't need and the public supporting actions that do not improve their security; under these circumstances it can happen that the secret services take the law into their own hands. A war on terror started in this way by secret agents, a war between civil servants working on the verge of breaking the law or beyond, and doing so on behalf of depoliticized citizens who might remain in the dark about what is going on on their behalf end up with irreparable damage to democracy. We don't want a war on terror waged on behalf of societies that are only apparently free. But we need a revitalization of the institutions of freedom, a government well controlled by these institutions, open forms of critical justification before courts, parliaments and the press.
Export democracy, better control markets
Apart from the need to renew democracy at home, the war on terror can only be successful if states also work for a renewal of democracy abroad. Global terrorism using weapons of mass destruction challenges the stability of the state order, and no single state, not even the United States, can cope with this challenge on its own.
Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, the failure of a state was viewed as a humanitarian tragedy. Mass casualty terrorism leads liberal democracies to view them as potential threats to national security. Since apocalyptic nihilism thrives on political desperation, it is in the rational self-interest of wealthy countries to invest in the democratization of authoritarian states like those of the Arab world - even if that were to bring Islamic parties to power.7 For 60 years, Western states stood in latent Civil war between Arab societies and their governments on the wrong side. It's time to switch to the right side. It is certainly risky. But it is even riskier to hold on to discredited regimes. 8
We must prevent precarious states that have nuclear weapons from failing altogether. Given the extent to which al-Qaeda has benefited from Pakistan's failure as a state, strengthening Pakistan's state power must be a central goal of any counter-terrorism policy, but without steering the country in an openly authoritarian direction.
Terrorism is also an extremely important reason for the revival of all forms of multinational and multilateral cooperation. September 11, 2001 actually seemed to herald a change in this regard. All UN member states condemned the attacks and passed resolutions promising to confiscate the cash payments and weapons that make terrorism possible.9 Ever since international terrorism has existed, it has been dependent on the complicity of rival states States destabilized. In the face of terrorism that can cost a multitude of victims, virtually all states have recognized the dangers of this ancient complicity. This has less to do with moral outrage than with vital national interests. However different they may be in religion and ideology: All states have a common interest in keeping WMD under lock and key. The small club of nuclear-armed states is keen to ensure non-proliferation, even if it is difficult to prevent other states from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Allowing individuals, criminals, or terrorist groups to acquire WMD is quite another matter, however. This can be done in three ways. In the mistaken belief that their use against the enemies of the state is dirigible, rogue states could sell weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. Second, the blueprints for making such weapons could be stolen and sold on the black market. After all, scientists could pass on weapons technologies or secrets to groups working internationally. All three forms of proliferation threaten the monopoly of states. All responsible states therefore have an interest in keeping these weapons and manufacturing skills under their own control.
Rogue states can also see the dangers posed by terrorist groups in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Libya, a notorious sponsor of terrorism, has been punished for its role in the Lockerbie attack, and extensive international diplomatic isolation has resulted in a change of heart.10 Rogue states could be controlled if they were prevented from trading lethal technology in the world market float. When the illegal arms market was limited to conventional weapons, states tolerated the development of an international arms trade.11 We are now on the threshold of a market in weapons of mass destruction. Now this complicity is no longer an embarrassing matter, but a danger to vital state interests
Liberal democracy depends on the existence of free markets, but a free market for plutonium, anthrax or ricin is a direct threat to its survival. Globalization could become the means of our destruction unless states, companies and international institutions intervene to regulate. Otherwise neither the free market nor the liberal state will survive. But no single state, not even the global superpower, has the resources to oversee a world market for lethal weapons. Consequently, all states have an interest in developing effective mechanisms of multilateral regulation.
Transnational cooperation is most likely to emerge in the areas that threaten the prosperity and order of liberal states: crime, drug trafficking and terrorism. Global control in these fields has become a matter of common survival and will include some obvious lesser evils. One of them is a more resolute regulation of market transactions of all kinds. We will have to expend a lot to regulate, inspect or even ban that small part of world trade that threatens our survival. Governments will have to invest in better controls over the global flow of money, goods and people, and transnational corporations will have to invest in delivery systems that guarantee the safety of cargo from the place of manufacture to the point of sale.13 This is the price that the global economy and international tourism must pay in order to achieve Terror to be sure. In addition, there are stricter international systems that limit the power of a sovereign state to deal with these technologies at will. To legitimize this, everyone, and not just rogue states, must consent to a determined inspection of their ability to manufacture lethal weapons. Where international agreements are possible, they have to give up production and storage altogether.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, while lacking funding and resources, has developed considerable expertise in the regulation of civilian nuclear programs and should also be able to establish a reliable international inventory of plutonium and other materials and logs for their transhipment, theirs Enforce replacement and deactivation.14 It is obvious that this is less easy to do with chemical and biological agents. However, it should be possible to persuade transnational companies that can manufacture chemical or biological warfare agents to stop selling their technologies to rogue states and, as far as possible, to prevent terrorist groups from infiltrating their distribution and sales networks. At least the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq managed to clarify the European origin of chemical agents between 1992 and 1996. This suggests that international trade in agents and technologies used to manufacture weapons of mass destruction should be monitored.15 States should also increase security in all commercial, government, and military laboratories that work with these agents. Knowingly contributing to the manufacture of weapons for terrorists should be a criminal offense. 16
One of the lesser evils perhaps necessary is tighter regulation of scientific research. The US Patriot Act already requires every scientist who works with certain biological agents to register with federal authorities. The transport of such active substances and any scientific contact with a country that is on a list of banned states is also punishable. American university laboratories are prohibited by presidential decree from employing foreign students in research in the field of biology that enables the use of weapons. Scientific journal editors have accepted that they should not publish scientific results if they could be used by terrorists, or if the “potential harm of a publication outweighs the potential social benefit” .17
A tightening of the safety regulations for laboratories and an examination of the reputation of all persons who work with sensitive active ingredients appear to be appropriate. Provided that security remains in the hands of free institutions that direct the research. The same principle should apply in determining what types of scientific research or publication pose a threat to national security. This decision should also remain in the hands of scholars, and the basis for legal self-censorship should be precisely defined to allow free publication except for the most obviously dangerous research. Danger must be defined as an imminent reality rather than a distant, speculative possibility, as it is impossible to predict exactly what forms of basic scientific research could lead to dangerous applications. The preservation of a free exchange of scientific ideas is essential for science and democracy in general.
So an era of terrorism with WMD forces us to choose lesser evils that did not exist in the era of conventional threats: regulating the free market in technology, technology transfer, and ideas. It cannot be done by governments alone; the task must be structured in such a way that a maximum of critical examination is possible. All parties involved - companies, universities and government agencies - must examine such proposals in an open discussion and ensure that the authorities themselves are controlled. A careful balance must be struck between the freedoms - the freedoms of trade and those of ideas - necessary for the survival of free peoples and security in the era of WMD-equipped terrorism.
In addition to regulation, leadership is also necessary. It can only come from the USA - not only because this country is very powerful, but also because it is the main target of terrorists, the most important location for weapons research and thus a possible source of criminal scientists. Even the US, which does not appreciate interference with its sovereign rights, should understand that it can hardly regulate the world market for lethal technologies on its own. Multilateralism is no longer just desirable. It is a matter of life and death. The states will either learn to cooperate or suffer the consequences separately. This means banning the production, transport and sale of weapons, the development of international compulsory inspections in states that do not comply, and, as a last resort, the use of preventive force to authorize the sale or distribution of such weapons to non-state actors prevent.
Not in, but only after due doubt for violence
Preventive military strike, the last of the lesser evils to be discussed here, poses three different problems. How to control a pre-emptive strike in a democracy, how to determine when it is justified, and who should authorize it internationally? Two forms of preventive strike immediately come to mind: strikes against individuals or training camps to prevent imminent attacks from being carried out. And military action against states that harbor terrorists or produce WMD.
The problems in the case of preventive war have something to do with the democratic control of the powers of heads of state. In the twentieth century of wars and the fight against terrorism, the executive power was strengthened at the expense of the legislative powers of control. The authority conferred on a leader to wage war should be counterbalanced by the right of parliament to declare war. Over the past 60 years this legislative regulation has weakened. Presidents waged war without authorization from their parliaments, or they did not seek authorization until fighting was already underway.18 Controlling a preventive war would be even more difficult for parliament and the sovereign. The justification of such a war will always have to be based on unsecured knowledge of the intelligence services, which often require confidentiality. Assessing their credibility is extremely difficult. Our political leadership will not be able to convince us of a preventive strike as a lesser evil in the future by simply assuring us: "If you only knew what we know ...". The factual situation is perhaps not as uncertain and the truth ex ante not as clear as it should be ex post. But we have the right to get unvarnished information about a state's real capabilities to produce WMD, as well as clues as to whether terrorists would have access to it. Preventive war is a justified lesser evil only when supported by evidence that can convince open societies.
Since the risks of action are easier to assess than the risks of inaction, and since the facts about the threat will never be clear, citizens are more likely to oppose preventive war. This helps to deter the political leadership from acting excessively and unwise. But an attitude is not the same as a good reason. We must be open to the possibility that preventing the transfer of WMD from states to terrorist groups is a lesser evil in order to prevent a greater evil.
Unless rogue regimes with a history of state oppression and external aggression fail to acquire and pass on lethal technology, nothing will dissuade them from their plans. Once they have weapons of mass destruction, they can pass them on to terrorist groups with impunity.
While pre-emptive strikes are well-founded when there is a viable military strategy to prevent rogue states from transferring lethal technology or preventing terrorists from acquiring it, there must be evidence of an imminent threat. Otherwise, the preventive strike turns into aggression, which, in contrast to acts of self-defense, is outlawed under the UN Charter. It is therefore essential to answer the question of how imminent the threat is and what signals of hostile intentions are discernible.
The third aspect - who decides when a preemptive strike is warranted - makes this matter even more complex. According to the UN Charter, the Security Council should decide whether violence is justified. But the charter does not allow a preemptive strike. And even if their regulations could be circumvented by portraying the problem as a “threat to international peace and security”, no state that feels threatened and thinks about a pre-emptive strike will leave its right of self-defense to other states. The US has been criticized for its unilateralism. However, all states are likely to insist on a unilateral right to respond to a threat with weapons of mass destruction. Common sense suggests that every state should seek international legitimacy and as many allies as possible before using violence. However, he cannot relinquish his right to make final judgments about his national security to other states or international organizations. Even if a state cannot convince other states that a threat requires a preemptive strike, it would be justified to conduct it alone - but only if the threat turns out to be real, of course.
The intense debate about the legitimacy of the invasion of Iraq shows that the presumed universal interest of states in effective facilities against the proliferation of weapons is extremely difficult to translate into universal action. The United States simply did not agree with its traditional allies on the extent of the threat posed by Iraqi weapons programs. And while these allies were unable to prevent the US from using force, their opposition placed a considerable cost on American action. First of all, the war was perceived as illegitimate, and secondly, the costs of war and reconstruction were not borne jointly, but rather placed mainly on the American taxpayer. However, further unilateral action is inevitable when we consider the extent to which the United States remains the primary target for al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups
The number of states whose conduct could potentially justify preventive war is very small. Even states with imperial capabilities know that it is in their interest to respect the sovereignty of other states in the majority of cases, because the alternative is endless wars. As a result, there will seldom be a preventive war - but even if it were waged it would be a “lesser evil” because even if a dangerous regime can be eliminated and weapons of mass destruction confiscated, people will still be killed. As a lesser evil, preventive war should be subject to strict regulations. It must be legitimized under the conditions of a truly democratic public debate; States that want to wage preventive war must seriously try to secure multilateral support; and a preemptive strike can only be justified when peaceful means such as forced inspections or diplomacy have failed; after all, a preemptive strike cannot make things worse than they were when it was planned. A democratic regime must take the place of a tyrannical regime. Military action cannot trigger a broader war. These conditions may be sufficiently clear in theory, but a judgment as to whether they have been met depends on two extremely difficult factors: is the threat so real that the risk is justified, and will any future benefit of action be taken obvious short-term damage predominate? Trying to reach a right judgment and pass it in good faith puts any democracy at tremendous moral risk. The cost of making a mistake - if weapons of mass destruction were actually found - could be incalculable.
Burden and promise of morality
Terrorism is irritating to a liberal democracy because it seems to destroy the abilities and strengths that derive from its freedom. And because free peoples who are used to living in peace find it difficult to admit that they are actually confronted with evil. Why do we need to have moral debates like this? Morality is supposed to enable us to face the reality of evil without succumbing to its logic and to combat it with constitutionally regulated lesser evils without falling prey to the greater evils. Liberal democracy consists of more than institutional procedures and legal guarantees for assessing conflict and regulating violence. Otherwise, why should we keep faith in such a political system? We care about liberal democracy because its practices protect the rights of every person who belongs to it. We care about rights because we believe that all human lives are inherently deserving, protected, and preserved. The right to independent judicial proceedings is irrevocable in all circumstances. We believe that even our enemies deserve to be treated as human beings.
The challenge of a moral life in a democracy is that we as individuals fulfill the obligations of our constitutions and strive to keep these obligations towards each of our fellow citizens. It is also our job to ensure that each of us believes in our society as strongly as possible. In an age in which individuals, through the means of technology and the possibilities of freedom, have the monstrous power to plunge their fellow human beings into an Armageddon, we cannot look the other way if some of our fellow citizens or guests do not believe in liberal democracy, but rather cling to a variety of paranoid ideas. Like so many others, I am tormented by the specter of the most powerful loner as the cruel nemesis of the very moral care that our society gives to the idea of the individual.
It is a condition of our freedom that we cannot force anyone to believe in democracy. Either their qualities convince by themselves, or they are useless. They cannot be forced, and we violate everything we stand for when we do so. All that remains is the more urgent than ever obligation to convince each of us, whether citizen or guest, of two simple facts: We are obliged to respect their human dignity. And we'll defend ourselves if they don't respect ours. We have to be able to defend ourselves - with armed force, but also with the power of arguments. Because using weapons without arguments should be in vain. Since I believe in the unique ability of people to convince, change or even redeem through good arguments, I have no doubt that we will win in the end.
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