Winning the war on terrorism depends largely upon our ability to attract and mobilize allies to support the American cause. Islamist terrorism is an enemy that transcends political and geographic boundaries, making it necessary to have the approval of foreign governments to operate on their territory along with the active support of their intelligence and law enforcement services. Terrorism also represents a common threat to most of the world's modern countries, both in the West and elsewhere. The United States, Spain, and Great Britain have already been targeted for terrorist attacks and evidence has been found suggesting attacks have been planned in France, Italy, and Australia. Terrorists have attacked Islamic countries as well, primarily those that have close relationships with the West, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia. While it might be comfortable for leaders in some parts of the world to assume that they are safe from this threat, this false sense of security may ultimately lull them into unpreparedness. Finally, the United States needs the support of other countries in the war against terrorism because of the high value placed upon coalition-building and international support in the world today. Winning the active support and tacit approval of the international community shows the people of the world that this is a just cause that will not and cannot be tolerated by civilized societies. Attracting international support relies heavily upon the American ability to leverage the tools of diplomacy, which also may help win vital concessions from states that may harbor or support terrorism.
1. The United Nations
The largest and most visible tool of diplomacy in the modern world is the United Nations. The UN includes many sub-organizations dedicated to preserving peace and promoting human rights worldwide, but its primary organs are the Security Council and the General Assembly. The General Assembly is a large body composed of all UN member states, in which each state is accorded equal rights to speak and to vote. The General Assembly is a forum for discussion and a tool for expressing the will of the UN and the international community through policy recommendations and statements of belief. The Security Council is a smaller body comprised of five permanent members (the United States, China, Russia, France, and Great Britain) and a small number of other states elected by the General Assembly. It hears issues bearing upon international peace and security conducts investigations, makes resolutions to help achieve a peaceful end to dispute, and sends UN peacekeeping forces when deemed necessary.
The UN is an important organization with a noble purpose, but it faces serious obstacles that make the achievement of its objectives difficult. Its primary obstacle is the lack of ideological cohesiveness within its membership. For example, countries with different historical or philosophical background interpret human rights in very different ways. Legal prohibitions on large families in China, restrictions upon female autonomy in Saudi Arabia, and poor working conditions for children in Southeast Asia are all defended as being squarely within the spectrum of human rights as interpreted by those countries. It is difficult, if not impossible, to reach an international agreement on human rights that is more than a collection of vagaries when no philosophical common ground has been established and this difficulty transcends this one issue to pervade many areas of UN authority. A second problem at the UN is the tendency toward corruption and cronyism within its bureaucracy. All bureaucracies nurture an idiosyncratic culture that protects its own members and resists external influence, but because the UN ranks are staffed heavily by individuals with close relationships to their local government and business elites, they often remain even further from national oversight. International accountability is even more elusive, as there simply is no single organization that trumps the UN in authority. And finally, the tendency for individual countries to use the UN as a tool for gaining prestige and inflicting revenge upon their neighbors greatly reduces its utility as an idealistic authority negotiating for peace. The speeches, votes, and actions of individual member states often show the great challenge of overcoming one's own domestic interests and seeking the greater international good.
Given these problems, some people suggest that the United States does not need the UN and that we should use it only to get what we want, but this view is as short-sighted as one that would have us sacrifice our national sovereignty to this international body. The UN is an extremely well-respected organization in many parts of the world, where it accomplishes its objective of providing humanitarian aid in a timely and effective manner. It is also, for better or worse, the means by which international legitimacy is established in the modern world. The UN stamp of approval signifies that a particular policy decision has the support of the international community. This does not make it any more correct or have any bearing upon its utility as a piece of domestic legislation or foreign policy objective, but may help avoid subsequent second-guessing. In short, the UN has no real authority to make its sovereign members comply with its objectives and resolutions and has only as much legitimacy as its members will give it. It is a deeply troubled institution. However, it is the world's best effort so far at creating a permanent structure to preserve international peace and stability and it enjoys the respect of much of the world. These factors mean that the United States will benefit from working within its channels and structures whenever possible.
2. Regional Allies
Because the war on terrorism is fought on several continents using a variety of methods, it is important that the United States build coalitions and promote alliances with countries that can offer geographic access and substantive assistance in our effort. The identity and contribution of these countries will depend heavily upon their location. The Middle East is obviously a major front in the war against terrorism and several countries have offered assistance in the American effort. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt that are frequently victims of terrorism have given some assistance, including intelligence about activities and individuals located within their borders. However, the assistance from Saudi Arabia in particular has not been entirely unqualified. While the Saudi government preserves very close ties to American interests, they also allow their citizens to fund an increasing number of ultra-conservative wahhabi religious schools throughout the world and will have done very little to allow the full enfranchisement of women in their political and social systems. While the American government values relationships such as these that provide exclusive access to the epicenter of Islamist terrorism in the world, our leaders must maintain a precarious balance between accepting their help and pushing for social reforms.
Europe is another region with key diplomatic significance in the war on terror. Several countries here have been targeted by terrorists, either through attacks or through well-documented planning for attacks. There has been an influx of Muslim immigrants into many European countries for years and these communities are rapidly growing, thanks to birthrates much higher than those of their Christian neighbors. Cities such as London have large and vocal Muslim populations that often take advantage of their political freedoms to voice their complaints with secular Western society. As a result, Europe faces the double threat of terrorism from outside and within its borders and has a vital stake in the outcome of the war on terror. Additionally, it shares a deep cultural and political connection with the United States that increases its common interest in seeing terrorism defeated. Many European countries have capitalized upon this common background and common interest to join America's cause for freedom. But others are skeptical of any international cause led by the United States and are uncomfortable with their changing role in international politics. For much of the twentieth century, the United States has been the predominant Western power, creating a dependency that Europe had never previously known. The citizens and governments of several European countries have not yet overcome this affront and are eager to wield their growing independence as a unifying European continent, rather than contributing to an effort instigated and led by the United States. Fortunately, as attacks continue and danger persists, these countries are gradually moving past their initial reluctance and joining the international war against terrorism.
3. Weapons Proliferation
Some aspects of the prevention and elimination of Islamist terrorism can only be achieved through diplomacy, including halting the spread of weapons. Preventing the illegal sale and transport of conventional weapons and discouraging the creation of new weapons of mass destruction involve a complex mixture of intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic maneuvering. It is vital that as many countries as possible be brought into the process, to increase the number of parties to any agreements and bolster their legitimacy. Once governments have agreed to participate in non-proliferation efforts, they then must work together to enforce them. This can involve vigilant border patrols, voluntary disclosure of weapons capabilities, potential subjection to inspections, and enactment and enforcement of domestic laws to support international agreements. Non-proliferation efforts may also require relevant parties to participate in negotiations designed to deter prospective weapons programs. The talks held between the United States and several Asian nations to stop the nuclear ambitions of North Korea were such an effort.
Non-proliferation programs can greatly help prevent terrorist acts. While some forms of explosives are readily available or easily made and attacks such as 9/11 show that terrorism may exist even without weapons as generally understood, the possession of firearms, powerful explosives, and weapons of mass destruction make a terrorist's job much easier and more deadly. Preventing the spread of WMD to terrorist control has long been a priority of the American government, for an attack by nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon would cause unparalleled damage and be immensely destabilizing in the United States. At the same time, we cannot ignore the rampant international illegal arms trade, for these are the weapons that end up in the hands of organized crime and terrorist groups. These can destroy a major building, knock a huge jetliner out of the sky, and hold many innocent lives hostage. Preventing their proliferation must continue to be an American priority.