Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bin Laden Made News Not History

The West faces a host of urgent tasks — the first being to reassert diplomacy's place in international politics
By David Miliband
A Pakistani man hangs photos of Osama Bin Laden
  A Pakistani man hangs photos of Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden taken by Pakistani photographer Mazhar Ali Khan, displayed at National Press Club in Islamabad, Pakistan.(AP)
Ten years after September 11, the instant history is being written. In the French newspaper Le Monde, a highly intelligent commemorative supplement dubbed the period The Decade of Bin Laden. But is that right?
In the ten years since September 11, the combined GDP of Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRICs) rose from 8.4 per cent of the global economy to 18.3 per cent. Anglo-Saxon-style capitalism crashed.
Moreover, it was the decade when internet access went global — from 360 million people in 2000 to more than two billion people today. It was a time when the war in Iraq divided the world, but also when a civilian surge for freedom finally hit the Middle East, as millions of Muslims turned for inspiration to democratic governance, not global jihad.
None of this was the doing of Bin Laden. To be sure, Al Qaida was (and is) a new and serious kind of threat. Born of 30 years of tumult in the Muslim world, Al Qaida has a worldview, not just a local view. It aspires not just to change, but to revolution.
The notion of a ‘war on terror' in reply was misguided in part because it allowed people to think that Al Qaida was just another terrorist group like the IRA, the Baader-Meinhof gang, or the Red Brigades. It wasn't — and isn't. But it also aggrandised Bin Laden's claims to be a history maker.
I don't see any alternative to our determination, in 2001, to drive the Taliban from control of Afghanistan. The tragedy is that, once that battle was won, the peace was lost. The Bonn conference of December 2001, called to draft a new Afghan constitution, excluded the vanquished. Whereas America built its own democracy from below, on federalist principles, Afghanistan had imposed upon it one of the most centralised states in the world — despite being one of the world's most decentralised societies.
Tragically, the signals from former Taliban in their southern Afghan stronghold of Kandahar — a demand to be left alone in exchange for staying out of politics — were misread. They were driven into Pakistan, where they reconvened.
The West faces urgent tasks — the first being to reassert diplomacy's place in international politics. The late US statesman Richard Holbrooke once said to me that America since September 11 has suffered a ‘militarisation of diplomacy.' We now need the opposite. In a world of asymmetric threats, we should follow the US defence department's field manual: in counterinsurgency, politics require primacy. Second, the West must rethink its notions of a balance of power, because they no longer concern just states, but also peoples. As the Arab Spring has shown, the ubiquity of information means that future coalitions need to be formed at the micro-level, in villages and valleys of Afghanistan and Pakistan, rather than only at the macro-level, in terms of how we manage the global system.
Third, we are entering an era of resource scarcity. Aside from the atomic bomb, this is the most dangerous security development in two centuries. If you think the blame game in Europe over Greece is bad, just wait for arguments about who is causing drought and food-price inflation. These are not just ‘environmental' questions. They are questions of justice and responsibility, and stronger regional and international institutions are needed to address them.
Finally, the West must rediscover the joys of multilateralism and shared sovereignty. That is tough when, in Europe, nobody wants to pay Greece's bills. But multilateralism is a global insurance policy against abuse of power by any state. The problem is not that the European Union and other multilateral institutions are too strong; it is that they are too weak. Indeed, regional institutions in the Arab world, Africa, Latin America, and East Asia are still in their infancy — and need to grow up fast.
Over the past few centuries, there have been three systems of international order: economic and military domination; a balance of power; and shared sovereignty. They can coexist, as they more or less did in the years after 1945 in various parts of the world. But America today is on the back foot, economically and militarily. New powers like China and India are rising, not risen, mixing assertiveness with emphasis on their continued ‘developing' status. Europe, where shared sovereignty has been embraced, is struggling to solve its own problems, never mind becoming a global player.
A century ago, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Angell argued in The Great Illusion that economic security enables military expansion, not vice-versa. In fact, neither is achievable without political vision. That is the most important lesson of the post-September 11 decade.— Project Syndicate, 2011
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 10/11/2011
-David Miliband, Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom from 2007-2010, is a British member of Parliament

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