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Europe and Transatlantic Futures

Is multilateralism the best way to combat the global problem of terrorism?

November 26, 2003

Is multilateralism the best way to combat the global problem of terrorism?

Global terrorism requires a comprehensive strategy to counter it. Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer — in this Globalist Document excerpted from his November 2003 speech at Princeton University — maps out a joint strategy for the United States and Europe that relies on common values, multilateral institutions and joint actions.

A new totalitarianism — Islamist terrorism and its inhumane Jihad ideology — poses a threat to peace and stability, regionally and globally.

Its goal is to upset the existing power system in the Islamic Arab world, especially in the Arabian Peninsula and in the Gulf region, and to destroy Israel in the long run.

Its instruments are suicide attacks and the terror of brutal, cynical force.

Its tactic is to create bloody chaos, while its strategy aims at the withdrawal of the United States and the West from the entire region.

At present, this central threat to our security does not come from an individual state. It comes from a new totalitarian movement — a movement which, following the loss of Afghanistan, no longer has another state as its power base.

In contrast to the German Reich under the Nazis, the Japanese Empire in the Second World War or the Soviet Union during the Cold War, this threat is not directed at the strategic potential of the United States and the West.

Instead, it wants to undermine their morale and trigger reactions which strengthen — rather than weaken — support for Islamist totalitarianism.

This new threat is comprehensive. It is no longer a question of opposing systems.

That was the case in the fight against the traditional totalitarianism of the 20th century.

Today, we are faced with an even greater danger, aimed at a religious and cultural clash of civilizations between the Islamic Arab world and the West, led by the United States.

Our response to this must be as comprehensive. Since September 11, we know that our security in the 21st century no longer depends solely on the successful globalization of the free transfer of goods.

It depends even more on the globalization of fundamental values, such as human rights, respect for life, religious and cultural tolerance.

These also include equality of all human beings, equality between men and women, the rule of law and democracy — and a share of the blessings of education, progress and social security.

Positive globalization is the real strategic response to the deadly challenge of a new totalitarianism.

In political terms, this positive globalization must lead to a reorganization of the international system of states.

It must lead to a new world order, one in which six billion people, more than 190 states and the many religions and cultures can live alongside each other relatively peacefully.

It also entails the creation of a fair world trade system, answers to climate change — and preservation of the global environment. Let us not forget the fight against poverty and AIDS, support of human rights and continued development of international law and its institutions.

For that, we need more than strong democracies based on a stable foundation of values.

We also need strong multilateral institutions — first and foremost a reformed United Nations — which are able to enforce and uphold this order in keeping with international law.

Such a world order must be based on effective multilateralism, able to impose peace and security.

This effective multilateralism requires the participation of both the United States, as a world power, and the UN, as a framework institution recognized by its 191 member states — and therefore indispensable.

Despite all its shortcomings, the UN is the only international organization with global legitimacy. In the 21st century, security through cooperation, integration, participation — and progress — will be just as important as security through deterrence and containment. […]

Following the end of the Cold War, the world order underwent a radical change. The global confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union created a simple one-dimensional world order, which had influenced nearly all conflicts.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, this central conflict disappeared and left a diffuse structure which led to a three-dimensional international reality.

The major powers and their alliances sit atop the highest level of this three-dimensional model.

On the second level, regional powers operate and carry out their regional conflicts. The failing states, civil wars and the breeding grounds of non-state violence and terrorism make up the basement of this international system.

Today’s world still has a central power — the United States — but it no longer has a central conflict that imposes an international order. The structure of these new threats is also of great importance.

Religious hatred, nationalist confrontation, weapons of mass destruction and terrorism — each of these elements is dangerous enough in itself and, in the present day, often the cause of dangerous crises and wars.

However, if these four elements combine and aggravate each other, then we really will be faced with a new strategic threat. September 11 turned the discussion of a new order following the Cold War into a fundamental question for regional and global security.

We cannot put off our response to this any longer, if we want to avoid an irresponsibly high risk to security.

The answer to the new world order question must therefore also be given top priority in the transatlantic relationship.

Perhaps we made a vital mistake when we failed to begin this transatlantic discussion immediately after September 2001.

Maybe this would have spared us disputes within the alliance. […] Europe and America depend on each other in their fight against this new threat.

We are in the same boat because we want to defend the same thing: the freedom and security of our citizens, as well as our open democracies and human rights.

These are the goals we are both pursuing. These are the values we share. Therefore, I am firmly convinced we can overcome the upcoming challenges only if we work together.

However, this also means we have to agree on how to respond to this threat and do so as equal partners. […]

America and Europe can master the challenges of the 21st century, only if they act together. In doing so, we must take into consideration three fundamental elements.

They are crucial if we are to stand firm against — and successfully counter — the dangers of the 21st century.

The first element is the unconditional commitment of the Western democracies to their own fundamental values — freedom, human rights, tolerance, democracy, the rule of law and the social market economy.

The second element is the commitment to and respect for an international order based on shared values, the law, consent, cooperation and participation — not an order based on force.

This order enables the greatest possible number of states and their citizens to participate — politically, economically, socially and culturally — in the shaping of the globalized world.

And the third element is the political determination and military strength to avert new dangers.

Both components are necessary to destroy once and for all totalitarian networks and ideologies built on hatred.

The road to success for us, the Western democracies, should lie in combining these three elements, which determine effective multilateralism.

These principles, in my view, will guide us in making our joint contribution toward a peaceful, just and democratic world order. We both believe in it, America and Europe.

This Globalist Document is excerpted from Joschka Fischer's November 19, 2003 speech at Princeton University. For the full version of his speech click here.