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Looking for a Real Legacy to Sept. 11
Published on Wednesday, November 14, 2001 in the Toronto Globe & Mail
Looking for a Real Legacy to Sept. 11
by Naomi Klein
On the weekend, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf asked the United States to show a little love in return for his co-operation. Specifically, he is fixated on some F-16 fighter jets, sold to Pakistan and then withheld because his country was developing nuclear weapons.

It's the kind of back-scratching diplomacy we've come to expect since Sept. 11: an aid package here, a loan there. And then there are all the smarmy understandings that Washington will look the other way when the Chinese or Indonesian militaries beat back liberation movements within their borders, since all state repression seems to be part of the war on terrorism now.

Are these backroom payoffs and gentlemen's agreements going to be the only legacies of Sept. 11, or is there more that the world community could be demanding during this most multilateral of moments?

Facing an enemy that respects no border, the Bush administration has made many demands of the world community since Sept. 11: military support, intelligence information, police co-operation, and the collaboration of financial institutions. It has asked for the harmonization of border controls and airport security. It has requested land bases and airspace and that its allies put their citizens' lives on the line.

Surely there is more that our governments could be asking in return. Some may think it crass to talk quid pro quo when a nation is still recovering from the horrors of terrorist attacks, and is now struggling with fresh trauma after the crash of American Airlines Flight 587.

But what about the kind of quid pro quo that might actually help to fight terrorism -- before and after it happens? Such mechanisms exist, but they require political will, particularly from the U.S. And it won't come without a fight.

Many who support the bombing of Afghanistan do so grudgingly: For some, the bombs seem to be the only weapons available, however brutal and imprecise. But this paucity of options is partly a result of U.S. resistance to a range of more precise and potentially effective international instruments.

Like a standing international criminal court, which the U.S. opposes, fearing that its own war heroes might face prosecution. Like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapons, also a no-go. And all the other treaties the U.S. has refused to ratify, on land mines, small arms and so much else that would have helped us cope with a heavily militarized state such as Afghanistan, especially as the Northern Alliance takes Kabul.

So why, post-Sept. 11, are so few world leaders willing to use the limitless demands being made by the U.S. as an opportunity to insist that international co-operation is a two-way street? Not one of the European leaders -- previously so outraged by George W. Bush's abandonment of the Kyoto pact on global warming -- has made co-operation contingent on concrete changes in U.S. attitudes toward internationalism. Neither, most negligently, has United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Behind the scenes, some European leaders say they believe the terrorist threat has taught the U.S. a lesson: No country, no matter how strong, is an island. Some quietly predict that Sept. 11 will usher in a new age of international co-operation on everything from AIDS to aid, from nuclear disarmament to fairer trade.

But with so little being done to turn this optimistic vision into reality, an opposite scenario is rapidly unfolding. Instead of a new era of global co-operation, the U.S. is engaging in the same buffet-style internationalism that was its hallmark before Sept. 11.

For example, in Marrakesh last week, countries came to an unprecedented consensus on implementing the Kyoto Protocol. With dependence on oil leading to both environmental and political instability, the need for action is urgent. Yet the U.S., the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, wasn't even at the table.

In Doha this week, the U.S. was at the table, but seemingly not to negotiate. Its delegation to the World Trade Organization made it so clear that Washington had no intention of heeding developing countries' demands on drug patents and agricultural dumping that Indian Trade Minister Murasoli Maran called the meeting "a mere formality," adding: "We are being coerced against our will."

The tragedy is the missed opportunities. Sept. 11 could be a turning point for international human rights and common security. Many Americans already view themselves as part of a world community in a way unseen since the Second World War. But if that feeling is to translate into equitable and lasting international agreements on arms, trade and environmental sustainability, it can't be politely hoped for; it has to be negotiated.

The U.S. made it clear from the start that it wouldn't negotiate with the Taliban. What about the rest of us?

Copyright © 2001 Globe Interactive


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