From yesterday’s speech by Tony Blair as reprinted at Opinion Journal, with thanks to LGF. It is all worth reading, but in this excerpt I have zeroed in on Blair’s characterization of the two main views of the terrorist threat:
The characterization of the threat is where the difference lies. Here is where I feel so passionately that we are in mortal danger of mistaking the nature of the new world in which we live. Everything about our world is changing: its economy, its technology, its culture, its way of living. If the 20th century scripted our conventional way of thinking, the 21st century is unconventional in almost every respect.
This is true also of our security.
The threat we face is not conventional. It is a challenge of a different nature from anything the world has faced before. It is to the world’s security, what globalization is to the world’s economy.
It was defined not by Iraq but by September 11th. September 11th did not create the threat Saddam posed. But it altered crucially the balance of risk as to whether to deal with it or simply carry on, however imperfectly, trying to contain it.
Let me attempt an explanation of how my own thinking, as a political leader, has evolved during these past few years. Already, before September 11th the world’s view of the justification of military action had been changing. The only clear case in international relations for armed intervention had been self-defense, response to aggression. But the notion of intervening on humanitarian grounds had been gaining currency. I set this out, following the Kosovo war, in a speech in Chicago in 1999, where I called for a doctrine of international community, where in certain clear circumstances we do intervene, even though we are not directly threatened. I said this was not just to correct injustice, but also because in an increasingly interdependent world, our self-interest was allied to the interests of others; and seldom did conflict in one region of the world not contaminate another. We acted in Sierra Leone for similar reasons, though frankly even if that country had become run by gangsters and murderers and its democracy crushed, it would have been a long time before it impacted on us. But we were able to act to help them and we did.
So, for me, before September 11th, I was already reaching for a different philosophy in international relations from a traditional one that has held sway since the treaty of Westphalia in 1648; namely that a country’s internal affairs are for it and you don’t interfere unless it threatens you, or breaches a treaty, or triggers an obligation of alliance. I did not consider Iraq fitted into this philosophy, though I could see the horrible injustice done to its people by Saddam.
However, I had started to become concerned about two other phenomena.
The first was the increasing amount of information about Islamic extremism and terrorism that was crossing my desk. Chechnya was blighted by it. So was Kashmir. Afghanistan was its training ground. Some 300 people had been killed in the attacks on the U.S.S Cole and U.S. embassies in East Africa. The extremism seemed remarkably well financed. It was very active. And it was driven not by a set of negotiable political demands, but by religious fanaticism.
The second was the attempts by states–some of them highly unstable and repressive–to develop nuclear weapons programs, CW and BW materiel and long-range missiles. What is more, it was obvious that there was a considerable network of individuals and companies with expertise in this area, prepared to sell it.
All this was before September 11th. I discussed the issue of WMD with President Bush at our first meeting in Camp David in February 2001. But it’s in the nature of things that other issues intervene–I was about to fight for re-election–and though it was raised, it was a troubling specter in the background, not something to arrest our whole attention.
President Bush told me that on September 9th, 2001, he had a meeting about Iraq in the White House when he discussed “smart” sanctions, changes to the sanctions regime. There was no talk of military action.
September 11th was for me a revelation. What had seemed inchoate came together. The point about September 11th was not its detailed planning; not its devilish execution; not even, simply, that it happened in America, on the streets of New York. All of this made it an astonishing, terrible and wicked tragedy, a barbaric murder of innocent people. But what galvanized me was that it was a declaration of war by religious fanatics who were prepared to wage that war without limit. They killed 3,000. But if they could have killed 30,000 or 300,000, they would have rejoiced in it. The purpose was to cause such hatred between Muslims and the West that a religious jihad became reality; and the world engulfed by it.
When I spoke to the House of Commons on 14 September 2001 I said: “We know, that they [the terrorists] would, if they could, go further and use chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction. We know, also, that there are groups of people, occasionally states, who will trade the technology and capability of such weapons. It is time that this trade was exposed, disrupted, and stamped out. We have been warned by the events of 11 September, and we should act on the warning.”
From September 11th on, I could see the threat plainly. Here were terrorists prepared to bring about Armageddon. Here were states whose leadership cared for no one but themselves; were often cruel and tyrannical towards their own people; and who saw WMD as a means of defending themselves against any attempt external or internal to remove them and who, in their chaotic and corrupt state, were in any event porous and irresponsible with neither the will nor capability to prevent terrorists who also hated the West, from exploiting their chaos and corruption.
I became aware of the activities of A.Q. Khan, former Pakistani nuclear scientist, and of an organization developing nuclear weapons technology to sell secretly to states wanting to acquire it. I started to hear of plants to manufacture nuclear weapons equipment in Malaysia, in the Near East and Africa, companies in the Gulf and Europe to finance it; training and know-how provided–all without any or much international action to stop it. It was a murky, dangerous trade, done with much sophistication and it was rapidly shortening the timeframe of countries like North Korea and Iran in acquiring serviceable nuclear weapons capability.
I asked for more intelligence on the issue not just of terrorism but also of WMD. The scale of it became clear. It didn’t matter that the Islamic extremists often hated some of these regimes. Their mutual enmity toward the West would in the end triumph over any scruples of that nature, as we see graphically in Iraq today.
We knew that al Qaeda sought the capability to use WMD in their attacks. Bin Laden has called it a “duty” to obtain nuclear weapons. His networks have experimented with chemicals and toxins for use in attacks. He received advice from at least two Pakistani scientists on the design of nuclear weapons. In Afghanistan al Qaeda trained its recruits in the use of poisons and chemicals. An al Qaeda terrorist ran a training camp developing these techniques. Terrorist training manuals giving step-by-step instructions for the manufacture of deadly substances such as botulinum and ricin were widely distributed in Afghanistan and elsewhere and via the internet. Terrorists in Russia have actually deployed radiological material. The sarin attack on the Tokyo Metro showed how serious an impact even a relatively small attack can have.
The global threat to our security was clear. So was our duty: to act to eliminate it.