Oct. 2, 2001:

Heading for a global police state?

By Fredrik S. Heffermehl *


The fall of two giant towers and a wing of Pentagon on September 11, 2001, taught the world a new lesson on security policy. Ideas the peace movement has been promoting for years, on the deceptions and limitations of safety through military power, were suddenly proven right. About as dramatic as the fall of the buildings, with stocks and economy following suit, was the depreciation of the superpower´s trillions of dollars invested in military weapons, forces and bases at home and abroad.

Even a US people in sorrow must confront some uncomfortable truths, soon, to be spared much greater suffering: Violence begets violence.

History did not begin on September 11. People do not become suicide pilots for no reason. Before seeking revenge the US needs to ask: what were the terrorists revenging? And even more hurting: the citizens of the USA should not seek abroad for persons to vent their rage against, but rather ask: Was it not the US policies of economic and military oppression of peoples all over the world that suddenly backfired with such immense and tragic loss of civilian lives?

In the last few years the US military industry has obtained a go-ahead to use astronomic amounts of taxpayers money for a missile shield, which any rational observer could see was worthless even in the unlikely event that it could have been made to work.

September 11 made it clear that under the protective umbrella, small knifes can turn a regular airplane into a weapon of mass
destruction and kill thousands of US citizens. Did no one of those the US people have elected to take care of their interests understand how many different attacks could happen under the shield? Or did the prospects of huge profits for the arms industry, jobs etc. stall the imagination and the tongues?

No group claimed responsibility or expressed a demand or message after the attack, but President George Bush was quick to draw and point the gun, say that the US was at war at Afghanistan. Fortunately he took time to rally friends and old foes behind him, and not least European statesmen must have talked him into holding his fire, and moderate his talk.

The initial language of revenge, of war or crusade and even "Dead or alive" lynch justice was very unfortunate, and no vigorous retraction can remove suspicion over the real motives behind military actions that may still come.

This is a case for courts.

Under the UN Charter and treaties, like the 1971 Sabotage Convention which is binding on both the US and Afghanistan, the parties have a legal obligation to settle the conflict without violence. And the use of military force - beyond what is needed for arresting
suspects - will undoubtedly be a very dangerous project with unforeseeable consequences.

Even in war it is a war crime to kill civilians and the loss of American civilians will be no excuse. In fact international law and the UN Charter prohibits all states from using military force, except in self defense, or with authorization from the UN Security Council. Since the attack is over, military force will now require authorization from the SC. The NATO decision of September 12 to consider the act of terror as an attack on all member states, releasing a common duty to defend, is obviously subordinate to the supremacy of the UN Charter and the SC.

The two resolutions passed by the SC on September 11 and 28 call on all states to join a common struggle against terrorism and take measures of various kinds, intelligence, freeze their funds etc. There was no mention, no specific autorization of military force, and thus no right to use military force.

The problem is that the US and NATO leaders have a long record of interpreting UN resolutions as they see fit and immediately claimed that use of force in self defense was now approved by the SC. Leading news networks relayed this incorrect position.

This opens up for disastrous perspectives, in particularly with the Iraq experience in mind. Since the original resolution failed to set a time limit, it has proved impossible, even after 10 years, to stop the sanctions and bombing. With a twisted understanding of the right to veto against initiating action by the UN, the US has blocked the SC from ending sanctions that have genocidal effects on the civilian population.

This makes it mandatory and a very serious responsibility for all member states in the SC to take an initiative to make it clear that any use of military force needs a new resolution from the SC, with express exclusion of nuclear weapons and specification of a short time limit which would require renewal from the SC every one or two weeks.

The prospect of the US (in collusion with all other nations with a "terrorist" problem) seeing itself as having a wide mandate to use force, choose the means, and for unlimited duration fight an unspecified enemy across all borders is, indeed, a chilling recipee for a global police state.

Are the September 11 atrocities heralding a new phase in economic globalization, where all people, poor and rich, realize that we live in one and the same world and where the deprived masses will insist on a fair deal. For the transnational corporations the world has been one and without borders for decades. Maybe this worldview now has reached the poor masses, who also realize that they live without rights in a global apartheid state and will no longer sit quiet and take it without protest.

After riots in Seattle, Washington, Praha, Gothenburg, Genova, the anger against the world economic order came to a head in the September 11 attack. People who suffer so much and are so desperate that they choose sucide cannot be fought with more force.
They need a hope.

After full reflection the US and President Bush should realize that the only war on terrorism they can win is the war on poverty,
inequality and lack of human rights and human dignity.

* Fredrik S. Heffermehl , a Norwegian lawyer, works with the International Peace Bureau. His latest book "Peace is Possible" (see http://www.peaceispossible.info/) is appearing in several languages.