Is the threat of nuclear terrorism realistic?
- Archive server of the University of Erfurt
Carl seventh step
Terrorism - the threat to modern societies
Lecture as part of the lecture series at the University of Erfurt "Violence and Terror", November 5th, 2002
Dear Sir or Madam, dear students and members of the faculty of the University of Erfurt, dear guests,
Thank you for allowing me to speak to you this evening as the representative of the American Embassy. I would also like to thank you for the honor of being the first speaker in your lecture series. First of all, I ask you to excuse my German. The Siebentritts came to America one hundred and fifty years ago from a place near Nuremberg, so they now have to endure my strong Middle Franconian accent!
Tonight I am going to speak about the third greatest challenge to peace and freedom in the western world as well as the world since the end of World War II in 1945. In my own relatively short career, I have experienced all three challenges so far and I would like to share some of my personal experiences with you during this discussion. The first challenge was the cold war and the confrontation of two ideologies: the democracies, represented by the United States and the free states of Europe, and totalitarianism, represented by the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries.
The center of the dispute was exactly where we are today: near a border that divided Germany for more than forty years: as a young American army officer, I sat in Frankfurt in the early 1980s and planned to defend the Fulda gap against the armies of the Warsaw Pact. I knew Erfurt very well from my maps, because our strategy was to use artillery and air forces to prevent the Warsaw Pact troops from joining an attack on Western Europe from the east via Erfurt. The calculation was terrible but simple: we counted tanks, artillery, planes and Warsaw Pact soldiers and tried to analyze their strategies, tactics and intentions. We made plans for heavy combat using large formations supported by heavy weapons. Erfurt would have been in the middle of such a struggle. I remember a visit to Erfurt after the fall of the Wall in 1991, when I visited the beautiful, restored old town and was grateful that we had been spared another major war in Europe - possibly linked to the use of nuclear weapons. As President Bush said during his visit to Berlin last May, our generation has been the first in 100 years to neither expect nor fear the next war on European soil:
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In 1991 the Cold War was over and Western societies awaited a large peace dividend. America and Europe began to disarm. Germany turned its attention to the daunting task of integrating the eastern federal states, where economic development and human aspirations had been subjected to Soviet rule for forty years. It wasn't long, however, before another challenge began to require the attention and resources of the United States and Europe: ethnic conflicts in the Balkans and Central Asia, sparked by the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of powerful bloc states.
Violent conflicts and ethnic cleansing - first in Bosnia and later in Kosovo - caused thousands of people to flee. Many of these refugees came to Western Europe. Germany generously took in many of these people, but the flow of refugees did not stop. After failed negotiations and failed efforts, the ethnic cleansing was finally stopped thanks to the commitment of the United States through the use of diplomatic and military means: the refugees are gradually returning to Bosnia and most are back in Kosovo. The international criminal court in The Hague is now hearing the masterminds and others responsible for the crimes against humanity.
The last time I spoke to university students and faculty members was when I was in the Transylvanian city of Cluj during the Kosovo crisis. I explained our reasons for our military intervention in Kosovo to the multiethnic audience from Romania and Hungary. I knew very well what I was talking about. Before the bombing began, I was on a diplomatic mission in Kosovo and saw how the Albanian ethnic group suffered under the apartheid policy. I also visited refugee camps where the Albanians lived after they were expelled from Kosovo in the spring of 1999. I knew that our intervention was justified, even if many Europeans were skeptical of the bombings, which were intended to prevent the mostly Albanian population in Kosovo from being wiped out.
Conflicts between different ethnic groups are now a problem in many parts of the world, for example in the Middle East, in Central Asia, as well as in the Far East and Africa. Thousands of NATO soldiers, including many Germans, are still stationed in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia to prevent the outbreak of violence and to support the still uncertain attempts to create democratic institutions in these regions. Conflicts between peoples are also the cause of terrorism in many parts of the world.
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Just as the Berlin blockade in 1948 marked the beginning of the Cold War and the siege of Sarajevo was the culmination of violence between peoples, the events of September 11, 2001 marked the beginning of the latest, broader and incredibly direct threat to our way of life.
On that day, 19 terrorists flew passenger planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed another plane with its passengers in a field in Pennsylvania. As a result of these events, more than 4,000 people from hundreds of different countries, ethnic groups, religions and other nationalities perished. Several dozen German citizens also lost their lives in these attacks. The physical and economic damage, the effects of which we can still feel today, has contributed to the slow economic recovery in Europe and the United States from a downward trend that began in 2000.
Since then, more bombings have been carried out, including on a Tunisian synagogue. German and French tourists were terribly killed in the devastating fire. Only recently was a French oil tanker again the target of an attack off the Yemeni coast. Almost 200 holidaymakers were killed in the bloodiest bomb attack to date in a holiday resort on Bali since September 11th. No doubt more attacks will be committed. The victims will be innocent men, women and children who may be encountered anywhere in the world in their home, work or play.
This is the third big challenge since the end of the Second World War. In contrast to the previous ones, however, it is hardly about comprehensible geographical borders and not about large armies, paramilitary groups or militia troops. It is not easy to identify perpetrators or victims in advance. Terrorists operate in a shady and shadowy world. They disguise themselves as students, business people, refugees or workers and use the advantages of free and open societies for their movements, the financing of their activities, the acquisition of weapons and training and thus plan their devastating attacks.
They are not so-called "freedom fighters", even if they often choose this disguise in the hope of legitimacy and to avoid arrest. It is not poor and downtrodden people who want a better life, even if they often pretend to represent these unhappy people. In this way they also take advantage of their need. The modern terrorist is well educated, has gotten off well or is even wealthy, patient, determined, and cold-blooded. While they often justify their terrible acts as acts in the name of God, in fact they have neither morals nor scruples. Your targets are the innocent and unsuspecting. It is their goal to terrorize entire societies and force them to give up democratic freedoms and human rights in favor of theocratic or other forms of dictatorship. They hope to arouse self-doubt in people and undermine entire countries.
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What is even more frightening about terrorists today is their desire to source more destructive weapons than just rifles and conventional explosives. We know that today's terrorists seek weapons of mass destruction. These are deadly chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons. Our operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and in other countries have confirmed that these terrorists are actively seeking to obtain such weapons and that they actually want to use them. Our experience with the anthrax attacks in the United States last year showed that biological weapon attacks resulted in relatively few casualties.
However, the panic that such attacks trigger in the population is beyond the capabilities of law enforcement agencies and medical staff. They also cause serious economic damage in large areas. A single dirty bomb using conventional explosives to disperse radioactive substances over a large area would cause relatively few immediate deaths, but would render a large urban area home to tens of thousands of people uninhabitable for years. Terrorists know that their attacks do not necessarily have to cause massive deaths in order to panic and terrorize a large part of the population.
What weapons must modern societies use against such new threats? Large armies, planes and tanks are not enough, even when used to destroy terrorist camps, eliminate armed groups that support terrorists, or neutralize weapons of mass destruction that are available to terrorists.
Conventional armed forces can also be used to prevent broken states from becoming terrorist bases, as was the case in Afghanistan. There are many other necessary and available tools for modern societies. Law enforcement and intelligence services are at the forefront when it comes to deterring terrorism in our democratic societies and in other countries. However, law enforcement and intelligence services need to be given the tools they need to fight the terrorist threat. This also includes sufficient powers; to investigate terrorists; so they can be arrested before they strike. In the United States, the patriot act has given the police, the FBI, and the intelligence services better ways to fight terrorism. You have thus also received the mandate for closer cooperation.
In a similar way, the two so-called security packages of the German federal government, which were passed by the Bundestag after September 11, serve to expand the scope of the law enforcement authorities by strengthening and strict cooperation between the services and the federal and state authorities Relax data protection laws. Extremists and would-be terrorists can no longer hide behind religious privileges and the association law guaranteed by the German constitution. The new section 129b in the criminal law also allows German authorities to prosecute members of foreign terrorist organizations if they live in Germany. The Federal Republic has continued to take important steps to enable the authorities to investigate and prevent the financing of terrorism; that terrorists use German financial institutions to collect, hide and pass on funds for their activities.
The German government and the Bundestag noted that the very liberal legal system of the post-war years needed some substantial changes when it became clear that terrorists had abused the meaningful protection of the right to free speech and assembly in order to prepare for their horrific acts. I am convinced that Germany has made many necessary legal changes without sacrificing the freedoms and privileges that are essential for a democratic society.
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Other measures must be taken at the domestic level in order to counter terrorists and acts of terrorism on our home soil. Terrorists hide as immigrants in the midst of millions of law-abiding and hard-working immigrants in our society. Terrorists can benefit from the privileges and rights granted to asylum seekers and refugees in our countries. Immigration and border guards must have the necessary powers to separate legitimate immigrants from those who want to harm us. New and improved technologies such as biometrics can help us ensure that ID and travel documents, including visas, are not forged. These technologies are not, of course, a panacea, but true safety can only be ensured by well-trained officials who use sensible and effective procedures.
However, security begins beyond our borders. The United States has greatly expanded its cooperation with law enforcement agencies in many other countries around the world, including those in Germany. We must cooperate with and support other countries to achieve stability and improve their ability to locate and stop terrorists in their midst before they can attack our countries. International law enforcement cooperation is just as important to catch and punish terrorists who have already carried out attacks. If terrorists can strike and then find shelter in a country that is unwilling or unable to pursue them, they will strike again and again.
Germany and the United States have always worked very well together in law enforcement. Since the 9/11 attacks, this cooperation has been even closer and more extensive. However, some points of conflict still remain, particularly with regard to the European attitude towards the death penalty in the United States. Nevertheless, Germany and the United States are working closely together and have made great strides in identifying and arresting members of the terror cell in Hamburg. This investigation has provided important information about how the 9/11 attacks were planned and carried out. They gave us insight into the organization of al-Qaeda and perhaps the means to prevent further attacks in the United States and Europe.
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The link between terrorists and weapons of mass destruction is problematic. We know terrorists seek access to chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. We believe that terrorists would use such weapons if they were in their possession. This underscores the importance of non-proliferation more than ever.
There are states that have weapons of mass destruction that they would make available to terrorists. This must be prevented. Existing regulations on export controls must be tightened, in particular to prevent the sale of so-called dual-use substances and goods in countries that are suspected of proliferation or are already known to do so. We are working with a new urgency on tightening export controls and other regulations on non-proliferation. Germany is a strong partner in this area and continues to help ensure that dangerous weapons and delivery systems do not end up in the hands of dangerous states and terrorists.
As you can see, democratic societies must fight terrorism far more actively within their borders than beyond them. The efforts of our societies can only be really effective and successful, however, if the people in the United States and in Germany really come to believe that they are threatened by international terrorism.
We became aware of this real threat on September 11, 2001 when we first witnessed a devastating attack on our soil by foreign terrorists. Prior to that, terrorism was viewed more as a problem for American officials, embassies, and armed forces outside the United States.We are now at the war on terrorism and we are using every means at our disposal to prevent future attacks on our citizens and our lifestyles.
Chancellor Schröder spoke for many German citizens when he spoke of unreserved solidarity with the United States immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Americans are really grateful for this statement and for the compassion and help that Germany is providing in the fight against terrorism - including the German soldiers in Afghanistan and other countries in the region.
But German and other European leaders also said after 9/11 that the attack on the United States was also an attack on themselves and that now all are Americans. These types of pronouncements go beyond solidarity. Germany and our NATO allies actually went beyond solidarity when they declared the alliance case.
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What does it really mean beyond solidarity? In my opinion, Germans and other Europeans go beyond mere solidarity when they acknowledge the fact that they are goals themselves. The signs that European nations and other democratic states are now - more than ever before - targets for terrorism are unfortunately very clear. With each new terrorist attack, they become clearer. Those in pursuit of missiles and terrible weapons are also familiar with the map of Europe.
A large number of German citizens were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center, along with victims of hundreds of different nationalities. German citizens died in the most terrible way in a bomb attack on a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia. German citizens were also among the innocent and mostly non-American victims of the terrible bomb attack on Bali a few weeks ago. Were these people just "in the wrong place at the wrong time"? I think the answer is no. I think the Bali bombing shows that citizens of Western nations are and will remain the targets of arbitrary attacks by international terrorists.
We have to accept the fact that we value the same values and share the same lifestyle. The United States ultimately got its fundamental values from Europe. We all share the values of freedom and democracy. All of us who enjoy the advantages of open societies and economies can become targets of the irrepressible fury of international terrorists.
By declaring their solidarity with the United States in the fight against terrorism and taking concrete action in law enforcement, Germans and other Europeans, as well as other democratic states, have made themselves vulnerable too: that is the sober conclusion that I am sharing with you this evening want to give the way. It's not a pleasant one, but it is realistic.
However, the positive aspect of this shared sense of vulnerability should be a greater determination to work together to fight the newest threat to world peace and stability. We are glad that we have a strong partner in Germany to master this challenge. Only together can we be successful; alone we are doomed.
Thank you for your attention. I am now ready to answer a few questions you may have.
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