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CCADD Conference 2003

Bellem, Belgium, 29 August– 2 September




General impressions from the conference were positive. A main advantage of the conference as a whole was the wealth and breadth of knowledge and experience of the participants and the diversity of their backgrounds. The fact that we were able to spend so much time together in pleasant and relaxed surroundings meant that people had time to get to know each other and to exchange ideas and attitudes.


Participants included representatives from the military, diplomacy, parliament and other government agencies, international organisations, the clergy, academia and NGOs. Also, the geographical breadth covered Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Slovakia, Slovenia, the US and the UK. A broad range of topics included:


·               The Future of NATO and European Defence

·               Just War Theory

·               International intervention

·               Multi- vs uni-laterlism

·               Nuclear non-proliferation

·               And biological and chemical weapons


Within this broad context, much of the discussion over the weekend, both inside and outside the official conference forum, emanated from a topic unsurprisingly at the forefront of many people’s minds at the time: the aftermath of 11th September, the implications of the war on terror and the allied invasion of Iraq. Dominant themes centred around new global security threats – notably of Weapons of Mass Destruction, rogue states and particularly Islamic terrorism – as well as possible responses to these, not least the tension between multilateral and unilateral approaches to intervention.


From a European point of view, it was very important to hear some American views: when discussing international security issues amongst Europeans, it is all too easy to ‘preach to the converted’ and blame all problems on the one remaining superpower when there are no American voices to explain things from their perspective. Having said that, however, given the recurrence of Islamic terrorism as a focus of discussion throughout the weekend, it would have been very useful to have some Muslim representation to balance and stimulate the debate.


This report focuses on two papers from the conference covering the central themes of future threats to international peace and security and possible responses to them. First, Vic Alessi’s paper on future security threats frames the focus of the conference and also illustrates some of the points raised above, as it proposes an American security perspective and makes some quite controversial points regarding Islamic terrorism. Attention then turns to Brian Wicker’s paper on policing Al Qaeda.


Vic Alessi: How Perilous is the 21st Century? The Threats and Perceptions of Danger


Vic Alessi’s vision of what are the main threats facing the human race as we embark on a new millennium centres on the dangers presented by terrorism, rogue states and weapons of mass destruction and in particular, the unpredictability of the threat. Thus, we are heading into an era for which we are ill-prepared.


There are few means to stop terrorists who are prepared to die for their cause. Meanwhile, the availability of materials from the former Soviet Union increases the likelihood of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of proliferating states and terrorists.


Such developments undermine traditional methods of defence centred on sophisticated armed forces, diplomacy, alliances, and treaties. Beyond this, issues such as the unpredictable implications of the accelerating technological revolution in information technology and communications, and biotechnology, as well as who will emerge as the world’s great powers in the 21st century, exacerbate uncertainty.


Many nations, including even its allies, fear US hegemony in a unipolar world: the so-called pax-Americana. But, a tension emerges between corresponding demands for America to apply its unique strength to intervene in situations where world peace, stability, and human rights are threatened. This leads to familiar debates over to what extent Washington should consult with or be empowered by international groups such as the UN: for instance, while many countries opposed the recent invasion of Iraq, at the same time there were great demands for US intervention in Liberia. What is clear is that most American allies will prefer multilateral rather than unilateral action. Meanwhile, states which disagree with America’s view of international security imperatives are perceived in Washington as obstacles to peace. 


In regions like the Middle East, Washington is unwelcome not least through its ties to Israel, although access to oil reserves ensures continued American interest in the region. On top of such political and economic realities, a religious and ideological tension exists, where fear of the spread of a perceived decadent US culture throughout Islamic homelands spurs a fundamentalist view of Islam.


What are the Threats?


Beyond the continuation of conventional wars, unexpected threats will demand measures beyond traditional national security policies and capabilities, in particular weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists. Weapons of mass destruction are easy to disguise and the availability of such weapons systems to sub-state terrorist organisations adds another dimension to the problem, complicated by the willingness of some terrorists to die for their cause, making deterrence much more difficult. Also, new types of weaponry are aimed at infra-structure rather than people, attacking communications systems and other technology upon which many modern governments are heavily reliant. Scientific advances will bring new threats in the form of new weaponry, such as through advances in biotechnology.


Certain salient observations emerge from this paper:


·               The future security of the world is dominated by uncertainty rather than predictability; 

·               While trends of terrorism and threats to critical infrastructure are likely to grow, our capacity to counter them is highly doubtful.

·               Terrorists’ willingness to die in support of their cause exacerbates the threat and complicates traditional responses to it.

·               The possibility of the spread of WMD to rogue states and terrorist groups is enhanced by the on-going situation in the former Soviet Union, where the legacy of its huge weapons programs remains unprotected and unsafeguarded.

·               Much of the responsibility for military intervention will fall to the US, either unilaterally or multilaterally.

·               In this regard, the US must maintain a long-term commitment beyond simple military victory against mismatched opponents, as instability in Afghanistan following the allied war in that country testifies. The key to an effective commitment lies in a more concerted effort to build coalitions, for which the US needs greater flexibility and understanding in dealing with views and experience from other countries.

·               Meanwhile, efforts must be directed beyond an exclusive military response to incorporate social and political solutions directed at the root causes of discontent. 


A concluding remark of this paper asks whether it is possible to moderate terrorists without their abandoning core Islamic views? Elsewhere, it is argued that resentment against US influence drives millions of Muslims to applaud terrorist attacks such as the 11th September as acts of religious virtue and that American methods to address the problem of the ‘Islamic world’ will be controversial, not least in Europe where rapidly growing Islamic populations will make it increasingly hard for Europeans to support intervention against sources of Islamic terrorism as the Muslim population grows toward a majority.


While such viewpoints were not necessarily characteristic of the CCADD conference, one of the key advantages of the conference, that is the breadth of perspective and opinion involved, is undermined by the absence of an Islamic voice to challenge such solutions and responses to the perceived major contemporary security threats.


Some of the assumptions made in the paper are highly contentious: such as that millions of Muslims support terrorist attacks against Western targets; or that military intervention is an accepted and valid response to Islamic terrorism; or that Muslim populations are heading for numerical dominance in Europe. All these points hint that terrorism is something fundamental to Islam and that a natural tension exists between Islamic and Western populations, while the accepted response of military intervention is controversial not because it can be challenged fundamentally, but because Islamic influence will undermine European support for it.


This is not to suggest that controversial statements went uncontested. Sir Hugh Beech, in responding to this paper, pointed out the limitations in the US policy of benign intervention, highlighting continuing problems in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo as a case in point. However, I still feel that an Islamic point of view would have been helpful.


Brian Wicker: Policing Al Qaeda


Brian Wicker’s paper focused on reconceptualising military responses to contemporary challenges to peace and security within a framework of maintaining law and order. This paper takes a much broader outlook contextualising the problem within a wider framework of modern international society and appropriate responses to insecurity. It centres on the premise that contemporary approaches to international security are mistakenly based on out-dated concepts of warfare as military contests between nation-states. Continued pursuance of this policy can only lead to chaos. What is needed is a redefining of both warfare and responses to it within a global policing paradigm. 


States’ inability to apply military force justly brought about a central premise of the United Nations that warfare is only allowed under the authority of the Security Council or when used in self-defence by a state in imminent danger from another. The failure of the US and the UK to argue convincingly that the war in Iraq was a self-defensive response to an imminent threat to themselves emanating from Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction has made that intervention highly controversial. Redefining warfare outside a conventional understanding of military action between states to a concept of the UN acting to maintain international peace and security brings it into the realms of law and order. Thus, contemporary warfare – seldom an inter-state affair based on notions of self-defence – is really international police work, into which comes the notion of peacekeeping.


In reality, however, states have continued to fight between themselves, most recently framed within the context of the war on terror. A more sensible approach would be to abandon the war on terror in favour of a policy of pursuing criminals bent on crime.


Processes such as intelligence-sharing and co-operation between states in making local arrests point towards existing measures to develop an international police structure. The point here is not to distinguish between police and military in terms of their firepower. Access to sophisticated weaponry by modern criminals – including perhaps biological or chemical weapons – means that UN-authorised ‘police’ may require appropriate hardware to tackle them. Similarly, the level of violence involved in arresting such criminals may make police action resemble military. The crucial distinction is the objective: that is, not military victory, but taking control of a situation, arresting perpetrators, and re-establishing law and order. While some activities undertaken by soldiers may already resemble police-work, such as taking and holding prisoners, this is still distinct as the objective in taking military prisoners-of-war (not ‘war criminals’) is to eliminate them from the contest, so that the war can be more easily won, rather than bringing them to justice.


Adopting a law-and-order approach to international security demands the establishment of a broader global justice system so that suspected criminals can be properly tried and prosecuted. While the fundamental aspects of such as system, such as the International Criminal Court, already exist, they need to be elaborated to the extent that they can act effectively against criminals as powerful as al Qaeda and its allies.


The distinction between warfare and law-and-order has profound ethical implications. In relation to in bello just war criteria, proportionality is applicable to policing work, since it is a general limit on the use of force in any circumstances. Discrimination in this context is different from warfare, however, since the objective in policing is to bring a criminal to justice; it fails in this if the suspect is killed, although there is still opportunity for so-called collateral damage if apprehending violent criminals.


The ad bellum criteria for just warfare also need re-examination. No special problem exists concerning right intention. Similar to war, policing can be aimed at establishing a just regime of law and order. Just cause is more problematic, however. Preventive war, intended to eliminate a more distant (i.e. not imminent) threat is very shaky in terms of just war criteria. However, prevention is fundamental to police work: preventive policing is permitted within the context of police work’s fundamental objective of not killing but catching criminals before an act is committed.


Regarding authority for global policing, the key lies in redefining the UN ‘military staff committee’ as a ‘policing staff committee’. A network of independent local police forces with a high degree of co-operation and inter-operability is needed beyond the co-operation between forces that already exist, especially at the intelligence level. The authority for deploying such forces would begin at the level of national government, but with the ultimate backing of the UN policing staff committee, subject to the vote of the Security Council. This admittedly cumbersome machinery is the best that can be envisaged at present.


These ideas have major implications for Philip Bobbitt’s concept that in today’s world sovereign nation-states are being replaced by what he describes as ‘market states’. Whereas a nation-state’s main objective is to protect the welfare of its people, a market state seeks to ensure the maximum opportunities from which its people may choose. The US, for instance, is a market state whose citizens’ welfare is already guaranteed; Israel, by contrast, cannot yet offer its people such luxury. Where market states have no clear territorial boundaries, so warfare in such a system is not confined to the defence of territory. Wars in this new state system will require new strategies and new laws, since international or UN law based sovereign nation states and their defence will no longer be appropriate.


Within Bobbitt’s envisaged system, the legal superstructure exists purely in the context of the economic, strategic and political order which it supports, moving beyond nation-state legal notions designed to promote justice to a situation where justice becomes a servant of the market. Market states are largely indifferent to norms of justice or a particular set of moral values provided that law does not impede economic competition. Thus, discussions of just or unjust war are not relevant to this view of the world. Rather, law is rooted not in justice but in strategy. To counter this conclusion, consideration must be given as to how to reinstate the principle that there is such a thing as justice by which to judge the actions of states. This can incorporate the idea that not all options offered by the market are of equal value, as some choices better serve people’s fundamental needs and some are bad enough to be termed illicit.






Summary of the Discussion period



        Comments on Alex Ramsbotham’s account of the conference included the following points:


1.      It was widely agreed that the absence of an Islamic voice or voices at the conference meant that the discussion of terrorism and how to deal with it tended to lack a balancing counterweight to the (largely American) views expressed.  But how to give voice to Islamic views is problematic because of the immense differences among Muslim groups and individuals.  An understanding of the history of Muslim societies is also needed, as well as a recognition that many Muslims present in ‘the West’ come from poor rural backgrounds at home.


2.      The global police forces envisaged in Brian Wicker’s paper must begin by being military in origin.  Only the military contains a ready ‘stock’ of available trained manpower.  Northern Ireland offers one kind of model of how to use the military in a policing role with some success.  But any use of policing to prevent conflict or crime must take account of the principle of ‘just cause’: you can’t just arrest people on mere suspicion. 


3.      Policing entails a good knowledge of the language of the society to be policed: and this is not usually available among soldiers.


4.      The absence of any overarching legal authority able to enforce laws on the global scale is a fatal weakness of the global ‘policing’ concept.


5.      The hawkish views on Islam (and earlier of the USSR) held by Richard Pipes, whose recent article was mentioned, is explained by his origins in Poland.


6.      Work needs to be done on Russian attitudes to Islam in the Caucasus and Central Asia.  The traditional policy of Russia towards Muslims has been to ‘buy off’ hostility to the West with big offers of high honours and status to Muslim leaders (eg being made generals in the army) while permitting Muslim life and institutions to continue without hindrance.


7.      The problem of terrorism needs to be dealt with by replacing the policy of ‘retributive justice’ (ie retaliation) with ‘restorative justice’ (the healing of relationships).


8.      Christians tend to resolve problems by mounting conferences and holding discussions leading to consensus.  Muslims tend to look to ‘fatwas’ issued by their leaders.