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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism > Releases > Remarks > 2003

Terrorism -- A Threat to World Peace?

Marie T. Huhtala, U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia
Remarks to the Rotary International Dinner Forum
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
February 22, 2003

Good evening. I'm delighted to be here this evening and have the opportunity to address an august group, Rotary International, which is so highly regarded for its good works around the world. I understand that this evening's gathering includes a number of Rotary Clubs from the Kuala Lumpur area.

I'm honored to share the speaking duties this evening with our moderator Datuk Paddy Bowie, my esteemed diplomatic colleague, the Ambassador of Germany Jurgen Staaks, and with Razak Baginda, whose writings and presentations I have followed with great interest during my time in Malaysia.

The question before us this evening is whether terrorism is a threat to world peace. Obviously, if we look at how the world has changed in the last 18 months, the answer is a resounding "yes."

There is still a debate in some quarters over exactly what constitutes terrorism, though many of us "know it when we see it."  I'd like to offer a definition of terrorism, drawn from a new U.S. counter-terrorism strategy announced in Washington last week, that perhaps we can all agree on: "Terrorism is premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents."

Premeditated. Politically motivated. Noncombatant targets. Done by someone other than nation states -- those are the key elements to our definition.

It would be difficult to overstate how the events of September 11, 2001 have changed the United States. What happened that day has caused us to take a hard look at our foreign policy and national security objectives around the world. Moreover, with the creation of the new Department of Homeland Security, the United States has undertaken its largest government reorganization since World War II.

But, Americans know that terrorism did not begin on September 11, 2001. Regrettably, its history is long and all too familiar. The first major terrorist attack on New York City's financial district, for instance, did not occur on September 11, or even with the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center. It occurred on September 16, 1920, when anarchists exploded a horse cart filled with dynamite near the intersections of Wall and Broad Streets, taking 40 lives and wounding about 300 others.

Starting with the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, American history in the 20th century was punctuated by terrorism. Some of the most terrible events were the attack by Puerto Rican nationalists on the Capitol Building in Washington (in 1954), a string of aircraft hijackings beginning in 1961, and the downing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, when all 259 aboard were killed.

U.S. Embassies and diplomats were frequent targets -- our Embassies in Tanzania, Kenya, Beirut, Athens, Moscow, and Kuwait were all attacked in the 1980s and 1990s and many diplomats, there and elsewhere, were either kidnapped, murdered, or both. We also suffered terrorist attacks on military facilities, such as the bombings of the Khobar Towers residential area in Saudi Arabia in 1996 and the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

And we are painfully aware that we are still vulnerable. You will all have seen that America is bracing itself for more terrorist attacks right now and, based on credible threat information, we have gone to Level Orange, which means that the U.S. Government believes there is a high possibility of imminent terrorist activities in the United States.

Americans also understand that we are not alone in the struggle against terror. Terrorists have left their mark in some way upon every country in the world. Too many nations around the world have had the fundamental fabric of their societies torn by endemic terrorism. Colombia and Sri Lanka are only two examples.

It is important to remember that citizens from some 90 countries died in the attacks of September 11. Moreover, last fall's bombings in Bali brought home to all of us that terrorism is lurking in Southeast Asia as well. As Secretary of State Colin Powell recently stated: "In the global campaign against terrorism, no country has the luxury of remaining on the sidelines. There are no sidelines. Terrorists respect no limits, geographic or moral. The frontlines are everywhere and the stakes are high."

Although terrorism is a centuries-old scourge, it has adapted itself to our new, globalized world. Al-Qaida exemplifies how terrorist networks have twisted the benefits and conveniences of our increasingly open, integrated, and modernized world to serve their destructive agenda.

The Al-Qaida network is a multinational enterprise with operations in more than 60 countries. Its camps in Afghanistan provided sanctuary for years, and its bank accounts served as a trust fund for terrorism. Its global activities are coordinated through the use of personal couriers and communication technologies emblematic of our era -cellular and satellite phones, encrypted e-mail, Internet chat rooms, videotape, and CD-ROMs. Like a skilled publicist, Usama bin Laden and al-Qaida have exploited the international media to project his image and message worldwide.

How do we respond to such a nefarious opponent? First, by defining who and what we are fighting. The enemy is not one person. It is not a single political regime. Certainly, it is not a religion. Rather, we fight those who, regardless of their specific secular or religious objectives, strive to subvert the rule of law and effect change through violence and fear. We fight those who share the misguided belief that killing, kidnapping, extorting, robbing, and wreaking havoc to terrorize people are legitimate forms of political action.

Second, we respond with a variety of methods. Of course, there is military action, which, for example, was necessary in Afghanistan to rip out by the roots the al-Qaida infrastructure that had been allowed to develop there and the repressive government that had shielded the terrorists. The United States believes, however, that most terrorist threats will be countered through patient, painstaking diplomatic, law enforcement and intelligence efforts and through the coordination of all these efforts with friendly and allied nations around the world.

Malaysia is a shining example of this. We have always had close law enforcement and intelligence ties with Malaysia but these have increased since September 11 to our mutual benefit. The fruits have been tangible.

To cite but one example, you will recall that last fall your government allowed U.S. agents to interview a Malaysian being held under the Internal Security Act, in connection with the prosecution of al-Qaida member Zacarias Moussaoui in the United States. We deeply appreciated that opportunity.
The United States and Malaysia have also worked well on the diplomatic front in the fight against terrorism. Our two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding on counter-terrorism when Prime Minister Mahathir was in Washington last spring. Subsequently, drawing from that text, the U.S. and ASEAN signed a declaration on counter-terrorism at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in August. The United States looks forward to co-hosting with Malaysia next month in Sabah the ARF Intersessional Meeting on Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime.

Finally, the United States plans to play a constructive role in the regional Counter-Terrorism Center which Malaysia has agreed to host. We are also encouraged by the highly constructive role that Malaysia has taken in cooperating with Indonesia in identifying and apprehending the Bali bombers. These examples illustrate that, while the U.S. and Malaysia do not always agree on all issues, we have found extensive common ground on counter-terrorism and will continue to seek ways to expand on this shared interest.

On the world stage, working with like-minded nations like Malaysia, we will deny further sponsorship, support, and sanctuary to terrorists by ensuring that other states accept their responsibilities to take action against these international threats within their sovereign territory.

UNSCR 1373 and the twelve UN counterterrorism conventions and protocols establish high standards that we and our international partners expect others to meet in deed as well as word. Together, UNSCR 1373, the international counter-terrorism conventions and protocols, and the inherent right under international law of individual and collective self-defense confirm the legitimacy of the international community's campaign to eradicate terrorism. We will use UNSCR 1373 and the international counterterrorism conventions and protocols to galvanize international cooperation and to rally support for holding accountable those states that do not meet their international responsibilities.

The United States currently lists seven state sponsors of terrorism: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, North Korea, and Sudan. We are firmly committed to removing countries from the list once they have taken the necessary steps under our law and policy. A checkered past does not foreclose future membership in the coalition against terrorism or in the world community, as some countries have demonstrated.

There is much talk these days of the "root causes" of terrorism. While the United States recognizes that there are many countries and people living with poverty, deprivation, social disenfranchisement, and unresolved political and regional disputes, those conditions do not justify the use of terror. Indeed, terrorism only exacerbates those problems.

However, many terrorist organizations that have little in common with the poor and destitute masses exploit these conditions to their advantage. The September 11 terrorists, for instance, came predominantly from the ranks of the educated and middle-class and served in an organization led by a millionaire murderer.

Our efforts to address underlying conditions that provide fertile ground for terrorists to plant their seeds have material as well as intangible dimensions. Ongoing U.S. efforts to resolve regional disputes, to foster economic, social, and political development, and to promote market-based economies, good governance, and the rule of law, while not necessarily focused on combating terrorism, contribute to the campaign by addressing underlying conditions that terrorists often seek to manipulate for their own advantage. Additionally, ameliorating these conditions requires the United States, with its friends and allies, to win the "war of ideas," to support democratic values, and to promote economic freedom.

Nowhere is this "war of ideas" more important than in the Muslim world, where the United States will continue to support moderate and modern governments that focus on meeting the needs of their own citizens. We will continue assuring Muslims that American values are not at odds with Islam. Indeed, the United States has fought to defend many imperiled Muslims in the past -- in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bosnia, and Kosovo, to name a few. The United States will work with such moderate and modern governments to reverse the spread of extremist ideology and to counter those who seek to impose totalitarian ideologies on our Muslim allies and friends.

Finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an essential component to winning the war of ideas. No other issue has so colored the perception of the United States in the Muslim world. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is critical because of the toll of human suffering there, because of America's close relationship with the state of Israel and key Arab states, and because of that region's importance to other global priorities of the United States. There can be no peace for either side without freedom for both sides.

America stands committed to an independent and democratic Palestine, living alongside Israel in peace and security. Like all other people, Palestinians deserve a government that serves their interests and listens to their voices. The United States will continue to encourage all parties to step up to their responsibilities as we seek a just and comprehensive settlement to the conflict. The United States can play a crucial role but, ultimately, lasting peace can only come when Israelis and Palestinians resolve the issues and end the conflict between them.

Perhaps the primary lesson from the events of September 11 is that threats to international stability and world peace cannot be allowed to fester and spread. Instead, they must be dealt with early so that the world community does not suffer the consequences of inaction. This is what guides U.S. policy on Iraq, an issue that I know is on all of our minds this evening.

This is not a new problem. There has been no rush to judgment. In the last 12 years, there have been 16 UN resolutions calling on Iraq to give up its weapons of mass destruction. Last fall's UN Security Council Resolution 1441, painstakingly negotiated for almost two months by Security Council members and then unanimously adopted, was only the latest resolution in this regard.

As Secretary Powell pointed out in his comments to the UN Security Council on February 14, Resolution 1441 was not about inspections. Iraq has not complied with 1441 just because it has once again allowed in inspectors. Resolution 1441 was about Iraqi disarmament -- full, voluntary disarmament of Iraq's horrific arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And this Iraq continues to refuse to do.

The lead UN inspector, Dr. Hans Blix, has reported improvements in Iraqi cooperation on several issues of process, but there has been no improvement on issues of substance. In the face of substantive non-cooperation by the Iraqi government, inspectors will never be able to use random inspections to find all of the weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, that we know Iraq has (because earlier inspectors found plenty of WMD before they were thrown out in 1998).

Remember, we are talking about 100 inspectors in a country the size of California. The burden is not on the inspectors to find WMD but on Iraq to come clean on what it has done with the massive amounts of anthrax, botulism, VX and other horrific agents it already has admitted to having.
For the United Nations to have any credibility, it cannot continue to allow Iraq to blithely ignore UN resolutions. In particular, the UN cannot allow Iraq to escape the "serious consequences" which 1441 clearly stated would be the result of Iraqi non-compliance.

The United States is quite willing to work towards another UN resolution, building on 1441, but the purpose of such a second resolution must be to make unequivocally clear to Iraq once again that the world community insists on full compliance and that the world community will resort to military force to force Iraqi compliance if Iraq continues to mock the United Nations.

We hope that member states of the Non-Aligned Movement will strongly make this point to Iraq during the ongoing NAM Summit here in Kuala Lumpur.

Nothing less than the credibility and future of the United Nations is at stake here. If a rogue state, with a loathsome human rights record and armed with the worst WMD, can defy the United Nations with no fear of serious consequences, then the United Nations risks becoming like the old League of Nations: a toothless debating society unable to respond to the crises of the day.

Let me conclude by returning to the theme of this forum: "Is Terrorism a Threat to World Peace?" I think we have all see that it is. How do we make it less of a threat? The United States, in concert with friends and allies, seeks to defeat terrorism by acting simultaneously on four fronts.

  • We will defeat terrorist organizations of global reach by attacking their sanctuaries, leadership, command, control and communications, material support, and finances; 

  • We will deny further sponsorship, support, and sanctuary to terrorists by working closely with our willing and able allies, helping willing but weak states, persuading reluctant states and using all the elements of national power to compel the unwilling ones; 

  •  We will diminish the underlying conditions that terrorists seek to exploit by enlisting the international community to focus its efforts and resources on the areas most at risk; and 

  • We will defend the United States, its citizens and interests at home and abroad by proactively protecting our homeland and ensuring we identify and neutralize the threat as early as possible.

Victory in the war on terrorism will be achieved when our children can live free from fear and when the threat of terrorist attacks no longer hangs over our daily lives.

As we all unite against terrorism, let us remember that although political violence may be endemic to the human condition, we cannot tolerate terrorists who seek to combine the powers of modern technology and WMD to threaten the very notion of civilized society.

The war against terrorism, therefore, is not some sort of "clash of civilizations." Rather, it is a clash between civilization itself and those who would destroy it. Thank you very much.


Released on February 22, 2003

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