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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
War Views: The really hard work is yet to come
Former diplomat Dame Pauline Neville-Jones says that even after any military action, the hard work will only just be beginning.

Since the end of the Cold War, Western societies have regarded themselves as living in a world which was somewhat disorderly but basically safe.

The main preoccupation of Western policy makers has been conflict prevention and resolution, which has been attended by only limited success in such places as the Balkans.

There have been a number of reasons for this, including the intractability of the issues leading to the conflict in the first place;

Governments have displayed lukewarm commitment to resolving conflicts

the reluctance of Western governments to get involved at stages early enough to give conflict prevention a real chance; and, for all the rhetoric about state sponsored terrorism, the failure to develop effective policy responses to terrorism, and the related activities of money laundering, drugs and gun running, which have both exacerbated and exploited local causes of conflict.

Instead, attempts have been made to resolve conflicts on a localised basis, without tackling the externally led threats which have helped keep conflict going.

Lukewarm commitment

There has been a deeper-seated cause for the indifferent success of policy over the last decade.

It lies in the lukewarm commitment of many of the governments to the task in which they were engaged. This is above all true of the United States.

11 September changed things permanently

It is not accurate to accuse the United States, as is often done in Europe, of isolationism. But it is fair to say that, historically, the American frame of mind has been to regard deep involvement in the world beyond its shores as a periodic unfortunate necessity and the ideal state as being one of disentanglement.

Thus the Americans have gone home after the First World War, after the Second World War and again, at least psychologically, (it being the "End of History"), after the end of the Cold War.

11 September changed all that - this time permanently, though the full implications have probably not yet sunk in for all Americans. It has been shown, in the most horrific manner, that the continental United States, hitherto apparently invulnerable, no longer of itself provides total security.

Intelligence and diplomacy

A great coalition is being put together dedicated to fighting terrorism. The need to use policy instruments going beyond military force, including intelligence co-ordination to provide the information on which terrorist networks can be destroyed, and diplomacy to tackle the issues which give rise to support for terrorists and to disaffection from the West, has rightly been emphasised.

The hard bit comes in phase two

The first phase of the campaign will shortly reach its climax with military action in Afghanistan - assuming no last minute change of heart on the part of the Taleban.

So far, considerable skill and sureness of touch has been shown by the governments concerned.

The harder bit will come in phase two - deriving advantage from and controlling the aftermath of military action as well as setting policy on a sustainable path for the long term.

A lot of the subsequent steps will involve tedious and unglamorous intelligence work and a way will have to be found of releasing enough information from such sources so that action taken by governments against terrorists, their networks and supporters is seen to be evidence based. The world will not take things on trust indefinitely.

Pulling together

An issue for NATO governments is how well the Alliance will pull together. This has wider significance since, if the transatlantic Alliance does not provide much of the momentum, the broader anti terrorist coalition is unlikely to endure.

The last, seemingly threatless decade has seen considerable drift within NATO punctuated from time to time by disagreeable backbiting over responsibility and burden sharing for peacekeeping.

So-called asymmetric warfare has not received the attention it deserved. The current threat to free and open societies should restore the sense of common purpose and determination which has been lacking.

Will it? A lot will depend on whether there is agreement across the Atlantic on three issues:

  • the post military action management of the situations in Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • policy towards Iraq, and
  • policy towards the Middle East.

    The second two are already fault lines in European - American relations and the resolution of Arab-Israeli conflict is a key issue international issue for this decade.

    While it is true to say that that the terrorist movements exploiting the Arab-Israeli conflict have no interest in ending it, it is equally true that terrorism will not be brought to an end, or even under control, in the absence of a settlement.

    This is one of a series of differing opinions on the War on Terror which we shall be publishing in the coming days. You can send your view about this or other articles by using the form below.

    Your comments

    Pauline Neville-Jones has a great knack of presenting thoughts concisely on screen. She is obviously well informed, and she avoids the condescension associated with her retired male colleagues.
    Leslie, UK

    Although it is true that the US likes to pull out of conflicts quickly, I would disagree that it is isolationist. It is far from it. Away from the public eye they do shady deals with disreputable governments and fund "freedom fighters", which later turn against them. The current disaster is a prime example. Perhaps it would be for the best if the US truly became isolationist and recalled its corporations and their security systems back home.
    Andrew Hall, US

    These remarks by Dame Pauline Neville-Jones are the most cogent, well reasoned, and articulated comments that I have seen by anyone. She impresses me with a profound understanding which encompasses the whole spectrum of the security/human problems facing us today.
    Edward Williamson Mullins, US

    The Dame is right in saying that the US foreign policy towards the Middle East should be guided by impartiality and honest brokership.
    KJM Ibrahim, Dubai/U.A.E.

    Dame Pauline has her finger on the heart of the problem.
    I N Dyson, UK

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