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October 7, 2002

The Six-Front War

Today's war on terrorism must be waged on six fronts:

1. In the world's hinterlands, where state authority has collapsed (as in Afghanistan), terrorist networks must be destroyed and nation building must follow.

2. In Western liberal societies, particularly Europe, years of benevolent unconcern about terrorist nests being built in their cities must be reversed through tough police actions.

3. Arab regimes must recognize their self-disabling practices (lack of freedom, suppression of women) as set forth in the recently released United Nations report. Arab states have used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a pretext for delaying democratic change. They must reform or go.

4. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process was destroyed when Islamist terrorism took hold in 2000; from that point on, no Palestinian leader could sign any agreement with Israel and live. For peace to be contemplated, the terrorists must be defeated. As that takes place, U.S.-led regional cooperation can help build the foundations for a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.

5. The war on terrorism must be conducted in the peripheral regions of the Muslim world where terrorists are trying to extend their presence. Here the United States can help, on a case-by-case basis, as in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Central Asia.

6. The war also includes "the axis of evil." North Korea, Iraq, and Iran make up a network dedicated to amassing weapons of mass destruction. Iraq and Iran act as obstacles to peace for Palestinians. All three commit human rights violations on a massive scale. Each represents an ideology that has chosen war with the international system of states: the communism of North Korea, the fascism of Iraq, and the Islamism of Iran.

All six fronts have one issue in common: the fate of the state. Thirty years ago, Joseph Strayer, a scholar of the origins of the modern state could write, "Today we take the state for granted." No more. This year, scholar John Gray notes that "a salient fact about our current circumstances is that in much of the world the modern state has collapsed."

Liberals want more from the state, conservatives less. But both could agree that the sovereign state, and the international system of states created to serve it, provides the only accountable, serviceable, and near-universal structure available. The 1990s saw damage done to this system, with no sustained effort to renovate it. New forces of globalization outpaced state powers. And intellectuals, bureaucrats, and activists disparaged the state as outmoded, calling for new forms of global cooperation beyond the reach of the old state systems like the European Union and the International Criminal Court.

For a decade now, the state has been undermined from below while ceding sovereignty to higher levels. Terrorists have been able to burrow within this weakened system. The task now is threefold: to reverse further deterioration to the state and its sovereignty; to recognize that international organizations can work when responsive to their members but not as near-autonomous entities; and to wage the war on terrorism until it defeats the Islamist ideology that defines itself against the modern state.