An effective US response to the September 11th terrorist attacks – one that improves US and global security – must be moral, legal, and thoughtful. It must place higher value on protection of Americans on US soil than on vengeance abroad, not taking more innocent lives. It must uphold the rule of law sanctioned by the United Nations, and seek to understand what grievances against us are legitimate.
To meet these criteria, the US can and should implement seven policy steps in order to increase both domestic and global security.
1. Improve intelligence, and take far stronger preventative security measures. We must understand why our intelligence services failed to prevent the September 11th attacks. Why were known associates of Osama bin Laden not effectively tracked by US intelligence services? Why did the arrest of a known associate of bin Laden for suspicious behavior at a flight school weeks before the attacks not alert the FBI?
2. Act multilaterally to bring the attackers to justice, under UN auspices and existing international treaties on terrorism and sabotage. Since the September 11th attack was an international crime against citizens of some 80 countries, perpetrators should be brought before an International Tribunal established for this purpose and tried for crimes against humanity.
3. Prevent weapons of mass destruction from being used by terrorists. The US must give top priority and full funding to efforts to prevent chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons attacks against population centers, whether via ground vehicles, crop dusting planes, or other suspected means of delivery.
4. Bring all nuclear weapons and fissile material in the world under control and move quickly toward banning these weapons under international law, as the US has already agreed to do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In the short term we must reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world to controllable numbers, on the order of 100 weapons per nuclear weapon state, to keep them out of terrorist hands. We must institute an international inventory of all nuclear weapons, weapons-grade materials and nuclear scientists, and increase financial and technological support for Cooperative Threat Reduction programs that strengthen non-proliferation efforts in the former Soviet Union. Planning should begin now for controlling Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in the event of a government takeover by extremists.
5. Immediately deploy military protection for all nuclear power plants in the US and rapidly phase out these plants. Nuclear power reactors are dormant radiological weapons located in the proximity of major US cities. Currently the NRC has them on “heightened alert,” but has no meaningful way to repel terrorist attacks on them. Flying an airplane into a nuclear reactor or waste storage site, or introducing explosives through intakes, could result in a Chernobyl-type release of radioactive materials with unimaginable consequences. Until shut down, operating nuclear power plants should be patrolled by National Guard troops and protected by anti-aircraft weapons. Radioactive waste sites and spent fuel stored at nuclear power plants, should also be guarded, as should shipments of all radioactive materials that could be used for nuclear or radiological weapons.
6. Learn to listen. We must ask why the United States is so hated that terrorists are willing to die themselves to murder us. Is it, as President Bush said, that they hate freedom and democracy itself, or that they hate US policies – US military presence in the Middle East, our conduct of the Gulf War and economic sanctions against Iraq, our support of a despotic Saudi regime, and our ongoing economic and military support for Israel? As recently as the 1960s America was admired throughout the Islamic world precisely because it was seen as a beacon of freedom and democracy, and an opponent of autocratic colonialism. A few decades of US policy changed all that. Although our policy cannot be dictated by terrorism, short-sighted policies that fuel deep-seated and widespread hatred can and should be amended. Without considering our policies that engender such hatred, no security measures will be able to protect us from future attack.
7. Use our power to uphold security, justice and dignity not just for ourselves and industrialized countries allied with us, but for the world, recognizing that true security is cooperative, and in the long run life in America will be only as secure as life on the planet as a whole. Some 35,000 children worldwide die quietly each day from malnutrition and preventable diseases, while America has systematically reduced foreign aid and UN funding commitments. The UN has the tools to promote justice, human rights and sustainable development, but it can’t do so without American commitment and leadership.
Since September 11th, the world has arrived at a crossroads. America will play a major role in determining its future path. Will we resort to old instincts of applying crushing military force, intensifying hatred toward the US without substantially reducing the threat of terrorism against us? Or will we take the above steps towards making the US and the world more secure in all respects?
*David Krieger, an attorney and political scientist, is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.