First International Round Table Report
Strategic Foresight Group organized an international round table on Constructing Peace, Deconstructing Terror at Hotel Taj Mahal, Mansingh Road, New Delhi on 19-20 June 2004. It proved to be a historic event because of the unusual confluence of scholars and practitioners from the Western and Islamic countries, as well as Asia and the Middle East. The participants were able to achieve collective intellectual breakthroughs in the current impasse of apparent conflict between the West and Islam. The roundtable deliberations resulted in the Delhi Declaration for Sustainable Global Security.
Mr Prithviraj Chavan, Minister of State for Prime Minister’s Office, Government of India, inaugurated the Round Table. In his address, he strongly emphasized the need to evolve common perspectives with regard to terrorism and related global security risk. He particularly stressed on the importance of democracy in responding to terrorism. He said, “Terrorism may have regional roots, but, armed with latest technology, it has now a global reach. For our part, we see a benefit in sharing experiences and perceptions with others similarly affected. I see this conference as serving not just as a forum for discourse but also of convergence of perspectives born out of different national experiences.
Democracies are the prime targets of terrorism, and are often vulnerable because of their open and transparent political systems. Freedoms enshrined in our constitutions are exploited to foment social and economic discord.
At the same time, democracies are also the best armed to take on the scourge of terrorism. Whether it is Jammu or Kashmir, or Punjab or the states of the North East, the Indian polity has shown its resilience. Bonding people separated by discord and healing wounds wrought by terror is not possible without the precept and practice of democracy. Affirmative action and a strong ethic of distributive justice, now firmly anchored in our system, create and sustain a fundamental stake in democracy for millions of our citizens…
…We need a macro level reordering of ideas on challenging terrorism, ideas of universal acceptability yet relevant to local conditions. The world was able to abolish slavery and to turn back colonialism. The time has come for terrorism to be dealt the same fate”
Mr Sundeep Waslekar, President of Strategic Foresight Group, explained in his Welcome Address that the round table was taking place at a time when three different worldviews were emerging. According to one view, the world of opportunity is unfolding with enormous potential of space, biotechnology, information technology and other areas of human endeavor. According to another view, the world of transformation is emerging with shifts in individual capacity likely to take place from Europe and North America to Asia by 2050, resulting in diversion of energy and investment flows. According to a third view, the world of risk is faced with a quantum growth in terrorism and related crimes, unemployment, fragmentation of human spirit and values in the next 10-20 years. Mr Sundeep Waslekar suggested that the challenge before the leaders was to transform the world at risk into the world of opportunity.
Summary of Proceedings
The emphasis of the discussion was on seeking convergence of ideas and approaches, breaking new grounds, and developing new concepts and strategies. The round table had tremendous success in this respect. The discourse had both analytical and normative value. The participants agreed on fresh perspectives to perceive and analyse the threat from terrorism. They also agreed on a normative framework comprising of principles, as well as practical proposals.
Shifting from general to specific
The participants suggested a shift in debate from terrorism to terrorist acts and groups. It is not possible to define terrorism, a complex phenomenon with a long history. However, it should be feasible to define terrorist acts and terrorist groups, and identify states that engage in or allow their intelligence agencies and other structures to provide support to terrorist groups. This approach can make the debate more practical, and devoid of emotions.
The participants were unanimous in separating terrorism from any particular religion. Empirical evidence shows that terrorist groups pursue religious, ideological and political causes. It is misleading to assume that they all have theocratic agendas. Currently the dominant school of thought tends to generalize terrorism as derived from one religious philosophy. A specific analysis of over 10,000 terrorist attacks in the last five years in the theme paper of the round table shows that more than 300 groups have been responsible for terrorist acts for religious, nationalist, sub-nationalist, ideological, ecological and other motives. Therefore, analysis based on specific acts of terror reveals complexity of motives going much beyond any one philosophy. This realization can help build trust between Western societies and other cultures, particularly between the Western and Islamic worlds.
Nature of future threats
The participants discussed state of play in the war on terror and concluded that the risks from terrorism in future were likely to be higher and more lethal than experienced so far. They identified two kinds of risks in the future. First, risks reflecting new strategies by groups such as use of weapons of mass destruction, attacks on critical infrastructure and economic assets, and diverse types of high impact events. The discussion focused on oil supply lines, food storage terminals, and container shipping as probable targets. The participants pointed out that security experts in the specific industries were seized with search for solutions to protect their specific corporate properties or industries. Some participants also referred to cyber-terrorism and narco-terrorism as significant future risks. Overall, there was a consensus that terrorists were in a position to use modern technology and means of communication for enhancing the sophistication of attacks in the future.
Second, the participants pointed out new risks of systemic nature, arising from changing nature of terrorist groups due to a sense of political, economic and social deficit in several parts of the world. In future, terrorist groups will not be necessarily commander-cadre organizations, which can be dismantled with determined effort, but are more likely to be mass-based youth organizations with several thousand members with a blend of social, political, economic and religious objectives and roles. The effort to demobilise them will require massive response. In this process there is a risk of shifting priorities from development to security paradigm, at times undermining human rights and human dignity. This can create a cycle of conflict driven by terrorism and counter-terrorism measures, with both sides progressively raising the threshold level of lethality of the means used. Such a vicious cycle will place entire societies at risk, transforming terrorism from a specialized activity practiced by a few into a mass process pursued by a large number of young people. In such a situation, it will be difficult to isolate individuals engaged in terrorist acts from the society at large. Any reprisal against a segment of the society will invite a chain reaction. The greatest conceptual challenge of the future is to make a breakthrough in this cycle.
The round table mirrored the global debate on root causes of terrorism, with the two opposite schools of thought on the issue.
According to one view, terrorism is to be traced to lack of development, justice and political space. Some participants also added lack of human dignity, resulting from foreign military occupation. According to this school, the solution lies in transfer of resources for social and economic development, accompanied by political reform. Smart bombs and missiles cannot end terrorism but actually foment it. According to counter-view, economic development and poverty alleviation are desired on their own merit, but not to deconstruct terrorism. There are many pockets of poverty and deprivation where people do not resort to terror. On the other hand, several of the terrorists belong to educated and relatively well off families, according to this view, poverty has persisted for a long time and economics cannot solve the problem of terrorism. Military and intelligence coordination is the only answer.
The round table did not have consensus in favour of either of the two schools of thought, which were both argued persuasively. Rather, there was recognition that the logic of the two contesting views creates a dilemma, which needs to be addressed. One area where the participants shared a common view was reform in education in a comprehensive way. But the sense of the house was that this is clearly an aspect that needs to be examined in all respects.
Global security architecture
The participants were unanimous in situating terrorism in the context of global security architecture. The current model of enforcement of security has not been helpful. Two and half years after 9-11, the world experienced M-11 (Madrid), not to mention many other terrorist attacks. Several participants recommended a new model based on the prevention of conflict and multiple stakeholder dialogue, in particular dialogue involving highest levels of decision makers. However, participants noted that dialogue would be impossible in some cases where terrorist groups believed in absolutist visions of the world. In such cases, it was necessary to have coordination among security agencies to ensure effective enforcement with appropriate endorsement from the United Nations. The participants were strongly in favour of a shift from unilateral approaches adopted in the recent past to multilateral framework under the aegis of the UN system. They also recommended that the Charter of the United Nations should be reviewed in the light of new threats to global security but with a clear objective of strengthening the UN and making it effective to address the global security challenges.
The participants very much supported continuation of the Westphalia system where the state has monopoly on the use of force. However, in a radical departure from the current thinking they also suggested that states with track record of supporting terrorism should not be allowed to have access to a particular kind of force - weapons of mass destruction.
The participants emphasized that the recent rise of terrorism had to be seen in the context of deteriorating global value framework. They recommended several ways for reform of education, promotion of tolerance and respect for all religions, and the need to develop understanding of other cultures, not only among young men and women belonging to countries from where terrorists groups are able to attract manpower, but also in the countries that are targets or theatres of activity of terrorist groups. The participants suggested that education reform and capacity building of young men and women had to be undertaken on a global basis.
Principles and proposals
Having reached a consensus on the analysis of the emerging threats and possible models of global security, the participants endorsed five principles of sustainable global security. It is in the nature of states to expand power and space purely in accordance with priorities and interests of each state. This approach can ensure the security of individual states, but it cannot guarantee sustainability of global security. However, there are times when states agree to a set of principles at the cost of their own pursuit of power. The adoption of the United Nations Charter was one such occasion. In the light of increasing lethality and complexity of the threat of terrorism, it is necessary to endorse additional principles specifically aimed at addressing the new threats.
The participants proposed five principles, which can not only deconstruct terror, but also construct an alternative paradigm of peace. These relate to ends as well as means of a sustainable global security framework. They have proposed principles that have very high operational relevance. In addition, they have proposed specific measures, which need to be examined by specialized bodies seized with the relevant issues. Finally, they have proposed a new initiative that can address some of the underlying and long term causes of terrorism.
The participants nominated a drafting committee to reflect on their deliberations and prepare a draft declaration for the consideration of the full house. The drafting committee accordingly presented such a draft declaration advocating certain principles and specific actions to be studied and implemented by the United Nations and other relevant organizations. The participants unanimously accepted the declaration, and titled it as the “Delhi Declaration for Sustainable Global Security”. They presented the first copy to Mr Shashikant Ruia, Chairman of Essar Group of Companies in India, in appreciation of his support to the round table. The participants have requested Strategic Foresight Group to disseminate the declaration worldwide and to formulate a follow up action plan in consultation with round table participants by electronic means.
Beyond the Round Table
The round table achieved a rare consensus among parliamentarians and scholars from the West, Asia, and the Arab world. Many of the recommendations made in the declaration can have far reaching implications for global political order, and international law. The consensus reached in New Delhi can be described as a common intellectual framework for sustainable global security. It can be the basis of collective political action. If considered separately, each recommendation has an applied value of its own. If considered as a compact, the declaration can lead to macro-level reordering of global priorities.