Is the relentless bombing of Afghanistan justified? My answer is no.

I must immediately couple that answer with my belief that the criminals who committed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 must be apprehended and brought to justice. But that goal does not justify killing innocent people and destroying the infrastructure of a country that already has a million refugees.

The alternative to bombing is to send in ground troops to comb the countryside and all the caves to find Osama bin Laden and his fellow-plotters. This is not done because the U.S.-led coalition fears that troops would be killed by the mines planted throughout Afghanistan.

Thus, air attacks have been chosen as the response to terrorism. The response is unworthy of nations that pride themselves on upholding international human rights. For, as the Kosovo bombing of only two years ago showed, even “smart” bombs cannot distinguish between military targets and civilians. The human misery left in the wake of a bombing campaign is horrendous.

The world must move beyond the tears, grief and anger of Sept. 11 and finally establish a just and stable foundation for international peace and security.

Let it not be said that I am insensitive to the thousands of lives lost in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I went to New York a week ago, took the subway down to the financial district and saw the World Trade wreckage with my own eyes. The devastation was overpowering. Mounds of debris, six stories high, assaulted the eyes. People were stunned, just looking at such a grotesque sight.

I then went to the United Nations and talked with Jayantha Dhanapala, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, who said that, bad as this tragedy was, it could have been worse.

“Consider if weapons of mass destruction had been used by these terrorists. We need urgently to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction because they could fall into the hands of terrorists.”

The UN leadership wants rapid progress on eliminating nuclear weapons and is preparing to debate a draft convention suppressing nuclear terrorism. But unless Canada comes out four-square opposing all nuclear weapons — which will offend the U.S. — our words about keeping nuclear weapons from terrorists will be empty.

I am concerned that the path of militarism is leading the world to even greater dangers. Nuclear terrorism is only a matter of time.

We have been attacked. Our first response is to attack back. Public sentiment, driven by a culture that still sees war as the means to peace, seeks retaliation. In this climate, militarism expands constantly.

But Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, sees the needs of peace and fighting terrorism differently. While the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution expressing “its readiness to take all necessary steps to respond to the terrorist attacks,” that is not carte blanche to bomb at will.

The bombing has gone beyond the intent of the resolution, but Annan cannot stop the use of such military might once unleashed. What he has done — and what Canada must insist upon — is to include in the implementation of this resolution other means to combat terrorism. This includes political, legal, diplomatic and financial means.

Another Security Council resolution spelled out a host of actions ranging from police work to cutting off funding to new communications technologies that must be taken. Rather than assenting to a bombing campaign, it would be better to concentrate Canada’s resources on security and anti-terrorism measures. The extra $250 million announced yesterday by Foreign Minister John Manley announced should be only the beginning. These steps will be far more effective in rooting out the terrorist cells in many countries than bombing in the hope of cutting off the head of a terrorism that has tentacles spread around the world.

It is both ironic and disingenuous to couple the bombing with dropping food and medicine. This is a chaotic and ineffectual way of meeting humanitarian needs that are mounting by the hour. Rather, the international community should be mounting — with the same vigour displayed in the bombing campaign — a massive assault on poverty. It is the inhuman conditions that so many millions of people are subjected to that breed the conditions that terrorists exploit.

Also, as Annan has urged, there must be a “redoubling” of international efforts to implement treaties to cut off the development of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction before terrorists get them.

Militarism is not the answer to terrorism. The building of an international legal system that promotes social justice is.

*Douglas Roche is an Independent Senator from Alberta and the author of “Bread Not Bombs: A Political Agenda for Social Justice.” Senator Roche also serves as an advisor for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.