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Response by Ana Palacio

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The 21st-Century Challenge of Freedom and Security and the Transatlantic Relation
By Ana Palacio
Response to the Presentation of the Madeline and Bruce M. Ramer Award for Diplomatic Excellence. The American Jewish Committee International Leadership Conference.
Washington, May 7, 2004

Allow me to begin with words of gratitude which are by no means mere politeness. Firstly, I am grateful for the invitation to share in the work of the 11th International Leadership Conference and 98th Annual Meeting of the American Jewish Committee. As I have already said at a previous meeting, the AJC is unique in its dynamism, its credibility, its consistency, its breadth and reach, and its influence. I particularly admire its work in America, in the Middle East and in Europe. The AJC symbolizes much of what is best about America. Through its extraordinary commitment to pluralism and dialogue, and its constant willingness to tackle the tough issues, the AJC reflects the founding values of this country.

I am grateful also at having been chosen to receive the "Madeline and Bruce M. Ramer Award for Diplomatic Excellence" which symbolizes the concern for the values that characterize the AJC, defined by Condoleezza Rice as the "clear and consistent voice for human dignity and powerful force for freedom and justice around the globe, speaking up for rights in the public arena". Today, more than ever, the crucial battle is that fought in the arena of ideas and principles, the defense of the values of democracy and open society which we share on both sides of the Atlantic.

We are speaking here today about the values and principles that unite the citizens of the Western world - the values for which we work day in, day out: freedom and security. For 40 years democratic countries on both sides of the Atlantic coordinated their policies in order to defend them together. European security was symbolized by the dotted line drawn from north to south the length of our continent. On the right were the icons representing the Warsaw Pact forces - planes, tanks, rifles, ships, submarines, all in red. Facing them, in blue, the collective might of NATO which -thanks essentially to the commitment of the United States- we perceived as being superior. Security, a concept inextricably bound up with defense, was geared towards contending with a perfectly identifiable external enemy and was ultimately grounded on the threat of certain mutual destruction and also on both sides respecting a set of rules during the Cold War.

Today, having put behind us the mirage of 'History coming to an end', which many Europeans experienced after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we are gradually -and necessarily- realizing that the new, emerging world is defined, as far as security is concerned, by asymmetric threats. We face new threats, among them regional conflict, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, arms trafficking or the smuggling of nuclear materials. Doubtless they include also terrorism and its devastating power, which is on a par with that of nuclear weapons and is characterized by the total disregard for the rules of open society.

Even in today's new world where globalization, far from being an option, is a crucial part of all forms of analysis, geography still matters. Europe cannot ignore its proximity to 'the most volatile region on earth': the Greater Middle East of the new US policy, which is aimed at spreading and bolstering the values of open society in this region that lies on Europe's doorstep.

The nature of today's new threats, encapsulated in the threat of terrorism, means they must be tackled first and foremost in the arena of ideas and perceptions. Our common security depends on addressing four areas of well-established preconceived ideas:

  1. In Europe -particularly in continental Europe- more and more people are opposed to the hegemony of the United States, which they seek to contain by building an identity based on complementing and even confronting the USA. The process of unification has enabled Europe to put behind it centuries of war. The Union should deepen relations among its Member States, but it should not be viewed as an alternative to the transatlantic link. In Europe we are seeing the break-up of the traditional nation-state in favor of a new multinational entity. We believe that prosperity and security are bound up with the growing role of multilateral bodies such as the European Union and the United Nations. This cultural perspective is at odds with the American vision and makes understanding between both sides difficult. But we have to overcome these difficulties. As Europeans we are part of a historic community, one defined by principles and values and which extends far beyond the boundaries of our continent.

  2. It should be stated loudly and clearly that Terrorism with a capital 'T' and a small 't' does not exist. There is no distinction between international and domestic terrorism, no differences in substance according to the number of victims. Even less is there any moral differentiation between types of terrorism. In short, Al Qaeda, ETA and Hamas belong to the same realm. All of us are potential victims of these terrorist organizations, which use murder as a means to an end, namely, to undermine the foundations of our open society. We simply cannot accept views that resort to self-flagellating oversimplification in defiance of all reason to justify Al Qaeda terrorism on the grounds of social oppression by western countries, arguing that, ultimately, such terrorism is merely a modern-day version of the criticism traditionally voiced by the left. The main defining trait of Al Qaeda terrorism is the absence of any ideological association to a political message evidencing alleged socioeconomic discrimination. It is largely the product of an open battle that manipulates terror in order to pit Islam and the western world against each other in a simplistic and lethal dialectic. To seek explanations and causes where only hatred exists is an infirm reaction that dishonors the civilian victims, who are thus held to be indirectly responsible for the problem.

  3. This leads us to the popular notion that Al Qaeda terrorism is the visible manifestation of the clash of civilizations. Here the simplistic approach is propitiated by appearances. Islam is multidimensional and, first and foremost, a religion of peace. However, new interpretations of the Koran by obscurantist, fundamentalist thinkers have resulted in an aggressive interpretation of Islam. What should concern us therefore is not so much Huntington's 'clash of civilizations' vision but rather the Islamic fundamentalist vision of violent hostility towards western values. This obscurantism will be resolved only by the secularization of Muslim societies and through theological renewal leading to a spirituality, humanism and modernity based on strict equality between men and women; by accepting that the new values on which open society is based are not the preserve of one culture or civilization alone but are universal in nature. Wherever liberal democracy has prevailed, it has taken root with the blessing of those who have benefited from the new rights and obligations it carries. Japan, South Korea and Turkey are examples of non-western or non-Christian states where the development of democracy has earned broad support from the population.

  4. Throughout Europe there is a growing sentiment that it is the United States and Israel, with their active anti-terrorist policy, who are the real threats to international security. A more passive policy, it is alleged, would enable crises to be handled more effectively. The idea is also taking root in European countries that peace is a natural right and that it is endangered by armies. Thus, all military action becomes a high-risk political operation for parties in government. But terrorism cannot be tackled exclusively with the criminal law and due process. In today's asymmetric world, a response or preventive action might necessitate recourse to military force. The political-strategic aspects of possible military involvement in the fight against terrorism need to be examined carefully (rogue and failing states). This means abandoning the "realistic" paradigm that a nation's overseas action should be guided solely by the defense of a "national interest". The spread of liberal values and democratic regimes is the only means of guaranteeing a safer international order.

We are speaking here today about the values and principles that unite the citizens of the Western world - the values for which we work every day: freedom and security. On one side stand the democrats, those of us who respect human rights, chiefly amongst them the right to freedom. Against us, through their acts of asymmetric warfare, stand the terrorists and their supporters:

  • whereas we widen the framework of freedoms, terrorists seek merely to encourage the slavery of fear;

  • whereas we work in pursuit of the highest levels of unity and solidarity, they merely nurture the strategy of division and rupture;

  • whereas we construct, their sole interest is destruction;

  • whereas we yearn for a society that is increasingly just and compassionate, they dream only of imposing on us obscurantism of injustice.

The war we are fighting is one of ideas and perceptions. We must focus on putting across to our people the nature of the threats -especially terrorism-, the most realistic means of combating these and, above all, the need to remain united in the long term. There are no short-cuts for individuals or States, no way of shirking the issues. In this new international context, non-party organizations like the AJC are vital in coordinating positions and mobilizing public opinion. And the award I am honored to receive today will be a source of inspiration to me in my personal contribution to that battle.