America's Priority at the U.N.: Taking on Terror

Report Global Politics

America's Priority at the U.N.: Taking on Terror

February 26, 2002 9 min read
Ambassador John Negroponte

If I may respond to that kind introduction with a little reciprocal flattery, no institution has done more than the Heritage Foundation in recent decades to analyze and defend U.S. global interests. I would particularly like to commend you on your publications and Web presence, a masterpiece of creative outreach. Recent speeches and articles by Brett Schaefer and Joe Loconte are examples of what I mean.

Today I'd like to speak to you in some depth about the war against global terrorism and what we are doing through the United Nations to win it. As President Bush has said, global terrorism cuts across too many U.S. interests not to be the first and last subject addressed each and every day. If we don't defeat global terrorism, we cannot prevail in promoting free trade, economic growth, human rights, and democracy worldwide. In other words, we cannot achieve the vision of peace, prosperity, and freedom for which the Heritage Foundation itself is an unflagging champion.

To begin with, I'd like to say something that seemingly flies in the face of the attacks of September 11 but is true nonetheless: The world loves New York! It loved New York before September 11, and it loves New York even more afterward. I want to make this point because I don't think we should be on the defensive about worldwide anti-Americanism, and New York is one big reason why not. It's always the top destination selected by young foreign leaders we invite to tour the U.S. It's a city with the world's faces on its streets, the world's ideas in its minds, and the world's languages in its voice--a symphony of races and ethnicities, and it's home to the United Nations.

On September 11, the U.N. community in mid-town Manhattan recoiled along with all other New Yorkers in the face of tragedy. Twenty-four hours later the Security Council, the General Assembly, and the Secretary General had raised their voices in condemnation of what they and the world had just seen. This was no instance where the United States had to lobby for votes. Among all the issues and problems the U.N. confronts, global terrorism clearly was the new priority. Humanity was appalled; solidarity was complete.

But the questions presented themselves in quick, confounding order: What do we do? How do we fight back? How do we prevent what happened in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania from ever happening again?

As you know, the U.N. and the Security Council had been wrestling with events in Afghanistan for some time. Like the United States, the U.N. didn't recognize the Taliban regime nor could it accept its practices. But now an even worse reality loomed above the Taliban's repression of women, its discrimination against non-Muslims, its general violation of human rights. The Taliban and al-Qaeda had turned the phrase "state-sponsored terrorism" on its head. No longer were we dealing with state-sponsored terrorism but rather with a "terrorism-sponsored state."

That is a nightmare for an organization that comprises 189 members. Admittedly, Afghanistan was in a weakened, vulnerable condition when al-Qaeda moved in. But there are scores of weak, vulnerable states in this world. How could we protect them? How could we protect ourselves?

The U.N. Responds

The single most powerful response the U.N. could take came on September 28 when the Security Council passed Resolution 1373, instructing all member states to review their domestic laws and practices to ensure that terrorists could not finance themselves nor find safe haven for their adherents or their operations. The Security Council further set up a committee to monitor compliance with Resolution 1373, ably led by the British Permanent Representative to the U.N., Sir Jeremy Greenstock. Since September this committee of the whole Security Council has been--and will remain--fully engaged.

President Bush himself makes it crystal clear: terrorism cannot function without money. That's why the front organizations that raise this terrorist money, the financial institutions that convey it, and the entities that hide it have to be shut down--with no ifs, ands, or buts.

Now, if this policy makes sense--as I hope you will agree it does--a related issue arises that is worth mentioning. We sometimes read that terrorism is bred in poverty, that poverty is its root cause and conveyor belt, and that the best palliative would be substantial transfers of money from the developed to the developing world. I think we should be wary of this argument.

There are many good and compelling reasons to work with the developing world in maximizing its economic potential based on its natural and human resources. The United States will be pursuing such a course at the upcoming U.N. conference on Financing for Development in Mexico in March. In a demonstration of the U.S. commitment to work in partnership with developing countries, last week President Bush announced that he would travel to Monterey to participate in the conference.

But the fact is that the man who led al-Qaeda was fabulously wealthy, and the global terrorist network has moved freely through the modern world's commercial pipelines--its airlines, its hotels, its telecommunications systems--unrestrained by expense. Terrorism as we have known it over the past forty years hasn't been a poor man's game. Time and again we have seen terror manifest itself in well-financed organizations with middle-class and even upper-class leadership that have cleverly hijacked the impoverished, perhaps, but only to achieve self-centered and cynical ends.

People do not suddenly lose their moral compass because they are poor, and terrorism does not represent or benefit the poor. One look at what terrorism did to Afghanistan's people and economy demonstrates exactly what might be called the terrorist's ethic of social and economic justice. We are not talking about Robin Hood and his men stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Al-Qaeda used its wealth to purchase protection for itself in Afghanistan, not prosperity for the Afghan people. It built training bases and safe houses, not schools and hospitals. Doctors and professors had to become day laborers to survive. Businesses went bankrupt. Economic and social opportunity vanished.

Cutting off global terrorism's money makes sense because it does have money--lots of it--and without money global terrorism possesses neither wings nor weapons. It can't fly; it's grounded, and we can move in more easily to seize it. That's the genius and importance of Security Council Resolution 1373. It is designed to turn every domestic law enforcement agency, every department of the treasury, every telecommunications ministry, and every transportation authority against terrorism's money and movement anywhere and everywhere in the world. It thus attacks a worldwide scourge and makes it more difficult for those states that still see terrorism as a political instrument to use it.

Restoring Independence to Afghanistan

With the Taliban and al-Qaeda having destroyed Afghanistan, our coalition for freedom has had to do more than simply fight back. As Secretary Powell has said, "We have an enormous obligation--not only the United States, but the whole international community--an enormous obligation not to leave the people of Afghanistan in the lurch, to not walk away as has been done in the past." At the U.N. we also have focused on several critical aspects of restoring a people and a nation to self-sufficient independence.

First, Afghanistan continued to need vast quantities of humanitarian aid on an emergency basis. Taliban pilferage notwithstanding, this is something the U.S. and U.N. had long provided. The U.S., of course, was Afghanistan's largest aid donor even before September 11. Since October alone we have increased our aid by providing $187 million for food, shelter, blankets, and medical supplies.

Next, Afghanistan had to have, also on an urgent basis, a restoration of legitimate government. This was--and remains--a complex task. We do not wish to determine who rules Afghanistan in peace--that's for the Afghans to decide--but working in the U.N. context, we have been gratified to see an interim government established under Chairman Hamid Karzai. This was accomplished as a result of effective, U.N.-organized negotiations in Bonn, Germany, under the guidance of the Secretary General's personal representative, former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi. I cannot overstate the value of Mr. Brahimi's contributions to this process. He has been brilliant in mastering one challenge after another.

No fledgling government could possibly provide security in Afghanistan at a time like this. With Security Council backing, the British therefore have coordinated the creation of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in order to provide sufficient stability in Kabul for the interim government to function. The issue of long-term security for Afghanistan is a serious one. President Bush made the decision that the U.S. would engage in training an Afghan army. We, along with our allies and the Afghans themselves, are discussing a security architecture for Afghanistan that includes not only a national army but a viable police force.

Finally, we have just cosponsored in Tokyo a major fund-raising conference designed to provide the Afghans with the money needed to begin rebuilding their ravaged country. The U.S. pledged $297 million for 2002, a substantial sum given the costs we have borne in conducting the military operations that freed Afghanistan of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Due to the urgency of Afghanistan's need and the short lead-time before this conference, most large donors focused on pledges they could make for a one- or two-year time frame.

The Europeans pledged $500 million in the first year. The Japanese pledged $500 million over the next three years. And the total came to more than $4.5 billion. These are substantial funds. They exceed the World Bank's estimate of required resources for the coming year and will go a long way to putting Afghanistan on its feet under the permanent government called for by the Bonn accords.

Breaking the Back of Global Terrorism

All these efforts notwithstanding, we still are far from finishing the job. As President Bush said in the State of the Union address, "So long as training camps operate, so long as nations harbor terrorists, freedom is at risk. And America and our allies must not, and will not, allow it." Global terrorism is so named because that's what it is--terrorism that spans the globe, terrorism that has put down roots in the developed and developing world alike. Afghanistan was its headquarters, if you will, but we know that it secretly worked its way into Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa. Operating like organized crime, it built up a broad array of illicit relationships and alliances. Crime itself, in fact, has been an important source of terrorist funds. As the U.N. reported last May, "Funds raised from the production and trading of opium and heroin are used by the Taliban to buy arms and other war materiel, and to finance the training of terrorists and support the operations of extremists in neighboring countries and beyond."

We therefore will continue to work intensely at the U.N. to help raise worldwide counterterrorism standards, through implementation of Resolution 1373 and subsequent resolutions including the most recent, 1390, which continues the restrictions of the sanctions regime on al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

And I would emphasize again this heartening fact: We do not stand alone in this war against terror. More than 80 different nations lost citizens on September 11. NATO, the OAS, and ANZUS quickly invoked their treaty obligations to support the United States. Seventy-six countries granted landing rights for U.S. military operations. Twenty-three countries agreed to host U.S. forces involved in offensive operations.

These major commitments and demonstrations of solidarity came about because global terrorism destroys global interests. As the President said, "The attack took place on American soil, but it was an attack on the heart and soul of the civilized world." When it is not safe to fly, or do business in a trade center, or educate a little girl, the community of nations must act as one.

It's as simple, and painful, as that. Yes, we have to deal with many other challenges, but this one comes first. Fortunately, the President's decisive stand against global terrorism makes achieving those additional goals more feasible. U.S. effectiveness at the U.N. rests on the clarity and purpose of U.S. leadership in the world. It enables us to advance our interests in the context of tangible commitment; it persuades others that we mean to defend our values and interests with real strength.

And right now, there can be no doubt where the United States has focused that strength--on making sure that history records the fact that global terrorism had its back broken in the early years of the 21st century.

That's our priority, and we'll get it done.

Ambassador John D. Negroponte is the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations.


Ambassador John Negroponte