Sign Up

Middle Eastern Realities — and Western Obligations

What is the most effective strategy for fighting new "jihadist" terrorism?

February 13, 2004

What is the most effective strategy for fighting new "jihadist" terrorism?

Democratizing the Middle East has emerged as one of the great international challenges of the early 21st century. The United States has plunged into this task headfirst with its invasion and occupation of Iraq. But in this excerpt from a recent speech, Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warns that the Middle East cannot be modernized through security-related policies alone.

Notwithstanding the controversy about the war in Iraq, we have long shared the view that — following September 11, 2001 — neither the United States nor Europe and the Middle East itself can tolerate the status quo in the Middle East any longer.

For the Middle East is at the epicenter of the greatest threat to our regional and global security at the dawn of this century, namely destructive jihadist terrorism with its totalitarian ideology.

This brand of terrorism does not only pose a threat to the societies of the West, but also — and above all — to the Islamic and Arab world.

We cannot counter the threat of this new totalitarianism by military means alone. Our response needs to be as all-encompassing as the threat. And this response cannot be issued by the West alone.

If we were to adopt a paternalistic attitude, we would only inflict the first defeat upon ourselves. Instead, we must formulate a serious offer based on genuine cooperation, an offer to work together with the states and societies of the region.

This jihadist terrorism is not strong enough to achieve its political aims, i.e. the destabilization of the Middle East, by a direct route.

It is therefore attempting to embroil the West, and above all the United States, in a clash of civilizations — the West versus Islam — and to provoke it into overreacting or making the wrong decisions, thereby bringing about the destabilization of the entire Middle East.

To this end, terrorism and asymmetric warfare are pursued with two aims: first, to wear down the forces deployed in the region — not to mention the general public in the West. And second, to drag the region down into chaos.

Precisely for these reasons, we must consider every step in the fight against terrorism very carefully — and we must develop a common strategy with which to prevail over the jihad terrorists.

September 11 and Al Qaida’s homicidal terrorism are the reason why NATO is today in Afghanistan to secure the reconstruction and stabilization of the country on the basis of the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) mandate issued by the UN.

Germany presently has some 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, of whom 1,800 are in Kabul and 200 in our reconstruction team in Kunduz.

We have also taken a lead role in reestablishing civilian police structures. In addition, Germany is one of the largest donors of reconstruction aid in Afghanistan.

By the middle of 2004, we will have made available some €280 million, thereby exceeding our pledges.

Nevertheless, if we are to win the fight against jihadist terrorism, we will have to take a much broader and further-reaching approach on the Middle East. For behind the new terrorism lies a profound modernization crisis in many parts of the Islamic Arab world.

Our concerted efforts to foster peace and security are doomed to failure if we believe that only security issues matter. They certainly do — but security is a much broader concept in this fight against terrorism.

Social and cultural modernization issues, as well as democracy, the rule of law, women’s rights and good governance, are of almost even greater importance. The European Security Strategy — adopted by the EU in December 2003 — is based on this realization.

Unfortunately, it has been barely possible, up to now, in the countries of the Middle East to shape globalization in a way that is even remotely positive. The region has not yet found any answers to the pressing challenges of the 21st century.

It is largely unable to meet the expectations of a predominantly young population — more than half of those living in the region are under eighteen. The latest figures show that investments are falling in the Middle East.

We should also be alarmed by the current Arab Human Development Report issued by the United Nations Development Program.

In response to the shortcomings in this region, the report puts forward the strategic vision of a knowledge society in the Arab world.

Its cornerstones are democracy and the rule of law, equal rights for women and their integration into public life, the development of strong civil societies — as well as of modern education systems and of the economy.

This is a generational task. And the initiative cannot only come from the outside. It must, first and foremost, come from within. The key to successful reforms lies in the region.

Anyone who now thinks that all of this is nice to know but has little or nothing to do with security policy is very much mistaken.

The question of whether NATO engages in Iraq or not is of less importance to our common security in the 21st century — even though I certainly do not underestimate the importance of this question.

Rather, the key questions is whether finally we — America, Europe and the countries affected in the region — strategically tackle this challenge of modernization and stabilization in the Middle East.

In order to succeed, the European Union, the United States and Canada should, in view of this major challenge to our common security, pool their capabilities, assets and projects to form a new transatlantic initiative for the Middle East.

Such an initiative could open up a completely new perspective to the countries of the Middle East: enhanced cooperation and closer partnership in the fields of security, politics, the economy, law, culture and civil society.

Of course, such a joint transatlantic initiative depends on the fulfillment of two conditions.

First of all, this initiative needs sustainability — and must be based on a long-term perspective. Second, the key regional conflict — namely the Middle East conflict — should neither be set aside nor allowed to block this initiative from the outset.

All of this would indicate that America and Europe should now draw the right conclusions from their differences of opinion concerning the Iraq war.

Following these conclusions, they should develop a perspective and strategy for the wider Middle East together with our partners in the region. I am talking about a common strategy here — not a “toolbox” approach.

An initiative in two stages would seem appropriate. Both NATO and the EU already have cooperation arrangements in the Mediterranean.

A first step would therefore be a joint EU/NATO Mediterranean process. A second step could then be a “declaration on a common future,” which addresses the entire Middle East region.

Whether the Mediterranean becomes an area of cooperation or confrontation in the 21st century will be of strategic importance to our common security.

The cooperation should focus on four main priorities: security and politics, the economy, law and culture — and civil society.

Developing and integrating hitherto separate national economic areas could play a decisive role in supporting the process of political and social change.

Why should we not vigorously pursue the ambitious goal of creating a free trade area together by 2010 to embrace the entire Mediterranean area?

What is more, Europeans and Americans can create incentives for cooperation within the region by opening our markets precisely for goods produced transnationally.

The partnership in law and culture, the third priority, should include the development of institutions based on democracy and the rule of law, as well as free media and cooperation in education and training.

Similarly, the dialogue between the religions, an intensive exchange and close cooperation in the cultural sphere and a partnership of tolerance in culture and education would be of central importance here.

The fourth focus would have to take in strengthening and integrating civil society and the entire NGO sphere. A strong civil society is indispensable for democracy and the rule of law and at the same time is essential for any process of renewal.

Let me now turn to the second phase of the initiative — the “declaration on a common future.”

This declaration offers all states involved a partnership based on equality and comprehensive cooperation for a common future. The treaty should contain a number of principles to which the countries subscribe.

First, the signatories commit themselves to peace, security and the renunciation of the use of force, to democracy and economic cooperation — and to arms control, disarmament and a system of cooperative security.

All participants pledge to support the joint fight against terrorism and totalitarianism.

Second, the signatories see the decisive response to the challenges of the 21st century in a policy of political, economic and social reform of state and society. They support the integration of their economies.

They are all striving for good governance committed to human rights as well as law and justice, for participation of the citizens in the political decision-making processes, for a strong and independent civil society in their countries — and for equal rights for women and their involvement in public life.

Third, the signatories pledge to grant all citizens — men and women — equal access to knowledge and education. The aim is to build knowledge societies in the region. This goal mirrors the central strategic task identified in the Arab Human Development Report.

Excerpted from Mr. Fischer's February 7, 2004, remarks at the 40th Munich Conference on Security Policy in Munich. Click here to read the full text.