- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

In the six months following September 11, some myths have become popular such as the one that the United States is better off fighting the war against terrorism alone rather than "by committee." Let us explore a few of these myths and expose them for what they are a danger to the success of our joint fight against terrorism and for a more stable and prosperous world.

First myth: The U.S. military should fight the war against terrorism alone, because "war by committee" is too complicated and not effective enough.

Here, the argument is that the NATO operation in Kosovo in 1999 suffered from troublesome consensus-building within the alliance. In reality, however, the allies effectively gave NATO military commanders a free hand over the entire spectrum of available weapons and targets. The problems which arose were, in essence, due to divergent opinions among various agencies in Washington, not to differences between the United States and Europeans. Operation Allied Force was nevertheless a success precisely because it was an allied effort and not an exclusive U.S. operation. If the United States had acted alone, Russia would not have become part of the KFOR peacekeeping operations and the Europeans would not have been prepared to shoulder the lion's share of the peacekeeping and reconstruction effort following the military campaign.

The United States benefited from coalition warfare. Today, the participation of allied forces in Operation Enduring Freedom demonstrates again that it pays for America to act with partners in a military coalition. In my view, things would look even better if more use had been made of NATO, which, after all, invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, an unprecedented step to help protect the United States.

Second myth: The United States does not need Europe because of the gap in military technology.

Nobody denies that a technological gap exists between the Europeans and Americans. And it is true that European defense budgets fall short of what some believe they should be. There can be no doubt that the Europeans must tackle the issue of their lacking military capabilities; a first step would be to pool their resources. But military technology is not the only tool for solving international problems. Europeans play a significant role in making this world a safer place through a wide array of political, diplomatic, military, and other tools.

In the Balkans, we provide more than 75 percent of the troops and civil-reconstruction aid. In Afghanistan, Europeans are providing more than 95 percent of the International Security Assistance Force and almost 50 percent of civil reconstruction aid. EU enlargement and some $120 billion (1990-2006) in economic support for the transformation in Eastern Europe enables the United States to concentrate on other parts of the world militarily. The EU provides 55 percent of international assistance worldwide and as much as two-thirds of the world's grant aid. Would the United States be willing and able to shoulder these tasks alone? Probably not. Europe remains the indispensable partner of the United States.

Third myth: International terrorism can be defeated by military means.

While we all believe in the importance and the ultimate success of Operation Enduring Freedom, it is important not to neglect the underlying causes of terrorism: religious fanaticism, mass poverty, illiteracy, despair, and frustration. Weapons are insufficient to tackle these problems. After World War II, America won the hearts and minds of the German and Japanese peoples, not through guns, but through generous economic assistance, through the ideals of democracy and human rights and through the promise of prosperity.

Today, Germany and Japan stand by the United States in defending these values. The challenge ahead is not only how to prevail in the next military confrontation, but how to help transform societies so they do not produce terrorists. We may win wars with the combined strength of our military forces, but we will win the peace only if we address these problems in a sustained and credible manner. This requires an ongoing, concerted U.S.-European effort and renewed emphasis on nation-building, crisis prevention, and foreign aid.

Fourth myth: Multilateralism is bad for American interests.

This myth questions the value of the United Nations, multilateral organizations and international treaties for the United States. After September 11, the Bush administration made a wise move by taking the issue of terrorism to the U.N. This was a crucial step in gaining international legitimacy. Acting alone, however, would harm American interests on several accounts. The unilateral use of power would invite other nations to gang up against "Mr. Big." And if the United States, as the world's leading power, were to reject limits on sovereignty, then other nations would claim unfettered freedom of action for themselves. If we, the major players, do not demonstrate our commitment to playing by the rules in a framework of multilateral agreements and organizations, how can we expect others to respect these rules? Leadership by example is required and no other nation can assume this moral leadership as convincingly as the United States.

History teaches us that power alone cannot guarantee a stable international order; accepted rules and legitimacy are just as important. Make no mistake, Americans would not like a world based on unrestrained rivalry for power, a world similar to that of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. We have seen the consequences, and we do not want to see them repeated. Let us not miss this historic opportunity to build a global coalition including Russia, China, and other countries in support of a more stable world based on the rule of law and effective international organizations.

We are at a defining moment in history. Jessica Matthews recently wrote: "When the U.S. and Europe see eye to eye, there is little they cannot accomplish. When they do not agree, however, there is little they can achieve." Now, after September 11, there is not less but more reason for Americans and Europeans to cooperate ever more closely. Let us act accordingly and let us not be sidetracked by myths.


Wolfgang Ischinger is the German ambassador to the United States.


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