What Must Be Done

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

We have declared war on terrorists and the states that harbor them. No place to hide. This idea underlines the importance of the sovereign nation-state, an entity with the capacity to govern and therefore to be responsible for what takes place within its borders. This emphasis on the sovereign state dramatizes a shift in international relations that is perceptively under way today.

The monstrous acts of Al Qaeda have now made the principle of state accountability the law of nations. After the bombings of our embassies in 1998, the Security Council stressed "that every Member State has the duty to refrain from organizing, instigating, assisting or participating in terrorist acts in another State or acquiescing in organized activities within its territory directed towards the commission of such acts." On December 29, 2000, the council strongly condemned "the continuing use of the areas of Afghanistan under the control of the Afghan faction known as Taliban . . . for the sheltering and training of terrorists and planning of terrorist acts." Then, after September 11, 2001, the council accepted the position pressed by the United States and Great Britain recognizing the inherent right of self-defense, stressing "that those responsible for aiding, supporting or harboring the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of these acts will be held accountable," reaffirming that every state is duty-bound to refrain from assisting terrorists or acquiescing in their activities.

"As states have appeared weaker, terrorists have moved in on them."

The legal basis for the principle of state accountability is now clear, and the right of self-defense is acknowledged as an appropriate basis for its enforcement. Actions now must make that principle a reality.

Thus the war to hold terrorists accountable for their evil acts, and to hold states accountable for acts of terror that originate within their borders, compels us to look closely at the foundation of order and progress in the world. We live in an international system of states, a system that originated more than 300 years ago. The idea of the state won out over other ideas about how to organize political life because states gave people a sense of identity, provided a framework for individual freedom and economic progress, and over time proved able to cooperate with one another for peace and mutual benefit.

The state has made its way in the world by beating back one challenge after another. In the nineteenth century, nationalism tried to take over the state and turn it into an instrument of aggressive power. In the twentieth century, communism in Russia created a monstrous totalitarian tyranny. The Nazis took power in a state, convinced they could transform it into a "thousand-year Reich," an empire based on pre-state fantasies of racial purity.

In our time, the state has been challenged by global currents that have eroded its authority. Information, money and migrants move across borders in ways far beyond the traditional means of state control. Nonstate entities encroach on state responsibilities from below while international organizations draw sovereign state powers from above. Too often, nation-states have themselves taken the easy way out of a problem: blame globalization, punt to the United Nations and blame it for any misfortune, blame "hot money" for problems originating in poor national governance. All this amounts to defining multilateralism as participation in—sometimes virtual abdication to—international organizations and loose understandings.

As states have appeared weaker, terrorists have moved in on them. Many states in response, and in the false hope of buying time or protection, have taken damaging actions that only further diminish their own authority and legitimacy. States in every part of the world have avoided accountability when it comes to terrorism, and now we are paying a heavy price.

Some states have made tacit deals with foreign terrorists, allowing them offices in their cities in return for a pledge of immunity. Some states have tolerated, subsidized, and facilitated homegrown terrorist groups with the understanding that those groups will not attempt to overthrow national leaders, creating a kind of grotesque protection racket. Some states pump out huge volumes of propaganda against other states in an effort to direct terrorists within their borders toward external targets. Some states, in a desperate search for legitimacy, have invited religions that foster terrorists to take over substantial sectors of governmental activity on condition that some functions, such as foreign affairs and defense policy, will be left alone. And some states secretly, but undeniably, support terrorism directly as a matter of state policy.

"If we falter in the war on terrorism, more and more states would make accommodations with terrorists. The consequences would be catastrophic."

Every one of these deals between states and terrorists is an abdication of state accountability to its citizens. If these deals are not reversed, the states that make them and ultimately the international system of states will not survive. That is why the war on terrorism is of such importance.

For although the realities of globalization have drained authority from the state, no other basic entity of international life can replace it. The state is all we have to order our international existence. Other forms may challenge but none can replace its most important function: achieving representative government and protecting individual rights.

So if the pendulum has swung against the sovereign state in past decades, it is long past time to swing it back, to hold states responsible and to help strengthen states against our common enemy, terrorism. For make no mistake, terrorism is the enemy of the state, out to destroy the state or to commandeer it for evil purposes.

When we set out to revitalize the state, we are giving international cooperation and international organizations a new lease on life. To strengthen the state is to strengthen the ability of responsible multilateralism. Remember

that international organizations—such as the United Nations—are the organizations of their member states. International cooperation takes place through the interaction of states. International organizations do not work well when they are regarded as rivals of, or alternatives to, the states; that is not how they were designed to work. International organizations flourish when healthy sovereign states use them as vehicles for reaching common goals.

"Every deal between states and terrorists is an abdication of state accountability to its citizens. If these deals are not reversed, the states that make them and ultimately the international system of states will not survive."

Today the war on terrorism is led by the United States and our friends among our fellow sovereign states. That effort is backed by strong U.N. resolutions that were voted by states and that recognize the indispensability of the state in this vital cause. If we persevere in this approach, we can revitalize the state and the international state system as expressed in our common international organizations. In doing so, we will lay a firm foundation for international relations not only to maintain peace and security but to move all peoples toward greater freedom and prosperity.

If we falter in the war on terrorism, more and more states would make accommodations with terrorism.

Ultimately, the consequences for world peace, security, and progress will be catastrophic.

But if we are creative and resolute, more and more leaders and citizens will regard our determination as an opportunity to clean up and liberate their own societies and to reconstitute the principle of accountability in their states.