Paddy Ashdown: The wrong war

Share

We have understood for some time that lawlessness in one state can affect the peace of states and peoples, not just in the region, but across the globe. Our failure to finish the job and establish stability in Afghanistan, after the Soviets left, was paid for in blood and terror on the streets of New York just over a decade later.

What we have not so far fully realised is that the challenge of lawlessness does not just apply to states, but to the global space, too. Al-Qa'ida knows this. They use the global space as their space. Satellite broadcasting, the internet, international financial institutions, the networks of international travel - these are their chosen logistical structures. Al-Qa'ida no longer has physical bases in the military sense of the word. It has little or no structure, and only a tiny tangible physical presence. It has deliberately given up most of the attributes of physical form. Its most powerful weapon is its ability to remain an idea, an ethereal concept, floating in the global space, where it can morph, draw recruits, plan operations and execute them without any of the cumbersome and vulnerable paraphernalia of a conventional military structure. It materialises in the moment of the attack and vanishes again into the global space the moment after.

We cannot follow it there, because this space is as trackless and as lacking in effective governance by the rule of law as any desert in Africa or mountain fastness in Afghanistan. Malign global forces now have the power to destabilise and capture weak states and deal heavy blows to strong ones.

Paradoxically, our failure to bring justice to the global space also presents us with an equal and opposite threat - the possibility that globalisation will fail, leading to a plunge back into protectionism and regional competition.

The collapse of the Doha trade-liberalisation talks and the rise in protectionist sentiment in countries ranging from Europe to Latin America are all indicators that, for some at least, the struggle for the future is not how to liberalise global relationships for the benefit of all, but how to raise walls high enough to protect yourself.

And so, finally, we are being forced to confront the fact that, contrary to all the sunny predictions at the time, the end of the Cold War did not usher in a more stable world. It has brought us a more unstable one. Far from being "The End of History" as suggested by Francis Fukuyama, history is alive and kicking - and kicking rather hard at the moment. Far from being more tranquil, our global village is looking increasingly troubled. Among the issues that have come to haunt us, or come back to haunt us, are some very old geo-strategic cultural antagonisms, like the ancient struggle between Christendom and Islam, and some very new challenges such as globalization and resource competition. These were either completely invisible or on the very margins of debate a decade ago. Today, they are full-blooded, front and centre, and demand our attention.

We have very difficult decisions to take if we are to preserve our fragile living space, share out diminishing resources and cope with rising aspirations in the developing world. These decisions would be tough enough in stable times. But we are going to have to take them against the backdrop of fierce resource competition, a massive shift of global power away from the nations and economies of the West and rising radicalism in the world of faith.

Meanwhile, we in the West are facing a crisis of confidence in our own institutions and a lack of belief in the mores and creeds which used to act as a reliable and understood framework for the way we live our lives. Our leaders seem to lack both conviction and vision.

What we are involved in here is not a "War on Terror" - still less a "clash of civilisations". But a campaign for civilisation - a struggle for the values of tolerance and humanity that lie at the heart of all the great religions - all civilisations - against a new medievalism, whose proposals are those of darkness and ignorance. Our problem is that we have chosen the wrong battlefield, the wrong weapons and the wrong strategies to win this campaign. We have chosen to fight an idea, primarily with force. We seek to control territory; they seek to capture minds. We have presumed that predominant force gives us the right to impose our systems on others, when the only justification for the use of force is to assert justice and establish freedom, so that people can choose for themselves. We have responded to a self-declared global jihad, by asserting a self-declared global hegemony - the hegemony of Western models - as though there were no others. We have adopted methods which undermine the moral force of our ideas.

And so, in a battle of concepts, we have strengthened the concepts of our enemies and weakened our own and elected to fight on a battlefield where they are strongest and we are weakest.

Force has a part to play in this struggle - regrettably it nearly always does. But this is, at its heart, a battle of ideas and values; unless we realise that and can win on that agenda, then no amount of force can deliver victory.

Ashdown is a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, and was the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from May 2002 until January this year

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement