- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2001

Make no mistake about it. As we prepare to wage war against Osama bin Laden, the next test of U.S. and allied security will not come from terrorism or terrorists, but from other nations. Indeed, Russian, Chinese and terrorists states' reticence to support fully our fight against terrorism today gives us fair warning of what's in store an increasing alignment of nations for and against the promotion of liberal democracy. Full recognition of this point requires that we not only be more circumspect about what we do today, but also much bolder and more ambitious in our preparations for the challenge ahead.

In this and in the current fight, a democratic India has no problem offering temporary military staging bases to American special forces, but a dictatorial Pakistan does. NATO and allied nations, meanwhile, as well as the democracies of Latin America, can all back U.S. military action and differ only over what kind of military or economic contribution each should make in support. Russia and China, on the other hand, are more niggardly, publicly denigrating the need to lend any specific assistance. Finally, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea, Libya, all terrorist states those most worried about being hit are insistent in denying any responsibility.

Battle lines, in short, are being drawn. States anxious to preserve or promote liberal self-rule understand that cowardly acts of violence against the best of them are attacks against them all. Those states that have misgivings about limited, liberal self-government, meanwhile, are much more willing to wait and see, or to play both sides against the other. Finally, Stalinistic and dictatorial states, along with countries that have succumbed or are succumbing to the tyrannical religious distortions of Islamic radicalism, will hope and work for the ruin of liberal democracies.

This clearly is not the post-Cold War world of the last decade, a period in which the democratic wave seemed inevitable. Back then, the United States believed that all that was necessary to complement liberal trends was international investment and occasional, limited military operations against the world's Haitis, Serbias and Sudans. Now, getting to the end of history seems more arduous. Certainly, whichever way Russia or China go democratic or despotic can no longer be taken for granted. Nor can the United States continue to deal with tyrannical terrorist states, such as North Korea, Iran, and Iraq, as though they were already contained and developing in our direction. In each case, regime change for the better is something United States and allied policies now must consciously pursue.

In fact, America cannot hope to wage, much less win, its current war against terrorism unless it is willing to defeat the purposes of the terrorists it is fighting. And these aims are clear: to defeat the world's leading liberal democracy in hopes of promoting an anti-liberal alternative to it. The specific, limited alternative Osama bin Laden and his sympathizers are promoting, of course, is Islamic radicalism for the Middle East. Yet, if we let bin Laden succeed in achieving this, the other enemies of liberal democracy will pile on with additional alternatives of their own. And, make no mistake, the key actors in this rivalry will not be sects but nations, which given our lax past efforts to stem weapons proliferation, will increasingly be armed with strategic warheads and long-range missiles.

Although this new competition will be daunting, it has direct bearing on how we should approach our crisis today. Specifically, we need to make clear that our current battle is not against terrorism per se, but against terrorists and their state supporters, whose aim is to undermine liberal democratic self-rule. Our actions against such terrorism must be tailored to gain the support of democratic and democratic-leaning nations rather than that of illiberal states, like Iran and China, who are unlikely to champion liberal democracy, and will almost certainly encourage us to compromise our principles to keep them on board.

We must reduce the risks of not prevailing against future state supporters of terrorism by redoubling our efforts against strategic weapons proliferation. This not only means getting much more serious about nonproliferation, but also deploying defenses against missiles, which, in these states' hands, might otherwise keep us from acting against them. We should employ public diplomacy now to isolate illiberal sects and states that favor using terror against us or their own people, in order to gain as much advantage as we can for the larger struggle ahead.

Finally, we should keep our military as far from domestic law-enforcement tasks as possible, and be vigilant against domestic authorities violating our essential civil liberties, lest we fail the next test before we pass the first.

Henry Sokolski is executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington and author of "Best of Intentions: America's Campaign Against Strategic Weapons Proliferation."

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