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Publication Date: Wednesday, October 03, 2001

The elusive enemy The elusive enemy (October 03, 2001)

Stanford experts air thoughts on American response to terrorists

by Geoff S. Fein

An American response to terrorism must not lead to unrest in the Islamic world, and must not leave U.S. citizens with fewer civil rights, a Stanford panel of international relations experts said.

Officials must also question whether war is an appropriate response and ensure the U.S. is prepared to respond to biological attacks.

David Holloway, director of the Institute for International Studies (IIS), and the panel moderator, said a more complicated question to ask is whether the means the U.S. uses are compatible with and uphold the very values Americans wish to protect in fighting terrorism.

Holloway echoed a feeling shared by his colleagues when he said he wasn't certain whether the language of war is appropriate in the fight against terrorism.

"We need to focus on the ultimate purpose and what means will be used to achieve the purpose," he said.

Laura Donohue, a visiting fellow at the Center for International Security And Cooperation, said terrorists attacks force governments to react in multiple ways, including restrictions on civil liberties (curfews, detention and internment, increased wire taps) to instituting temporary measures that become difficult to repeal.

The only way to repeal such measures is to conclude that either the acts of Sept. 11 are acceptable or that terrorism is no longer a threat, she said.

"The first is unfathomable and the second is impossible to prove," Donohue said.

There are also risks involved with a U.S. response, including alienating minority groups and making futile attacks, she said.

She cited the U.S. response to previous attacks of terrorism: the bombings of Libya and Iraq, the 1998 bombing of Afghanistan and the bombing of a supposed chemical weapons facility in Sudan. That site turned out to be a pharmaceutical plant.

Christopher Chyba, co-director of the Center for International Security And Cooperation, queried his colleagues about another ominous threat: biological weapons.

He asked whether the U.S. is prepared to handle a biological weapons attack. He cited the attack in a Tokyo subway that killed 13 people and caused hundreds of casualties as well as attempts to release anthrax in downtown Tokyo. That attempted was foiled because the wrong strain of anthrax was used and the terrorists couldn't master distribution of the agent.

Along with the fear of a real biological attack are the increases in the number of hoaxes. In 1997, the FBI reported a single hoax involving anthrax. In 1998 there were 150 hoaxes, of which a third were against women's health clinics, Chyba said.

He added there are two ways to prepare for a biological attack: basing responses on mock scenarios or looking at historical examples.

"Scenarios are dangerous," he said. "You can always try a scenario that will defeat that level of preparation."

Scenarios also run the risk of giving potential how-to advice to terrorist groups, Chyba said.

The bottom line, Chyba said, is the U.S. needs to better prepare for a biological attack. One concern is that a biological agent can go unrecognized and undiagnosed because of its incubation time, which could be weeks or months, he said.

And, the U.S. may not be prepared for a widespread attack of biological agents.

Today, the U.S. has a stockpile of approximately 15 million doses of small pox vaccine. Small pox is the most likely biological agent that would be used in an attack, Chyba said. Worldwide, there are only 60 million doses of the disease stockpiled.

The country will need to think about biological terrorism in a different way than chemical or nuclear attacks.

"We talk about weapons of mass destruction as if they are all forms of the same weapon," he said. "but biological weapons are different because of the incubation time and for that reason the first responders will be doctors in private practice or emergency rooms, not military or fire units."

However nuclear weapons are a concern to officials, especially in rogue countries, said Scott Sagan, co-director of the Center for International Security And Cooperation. Pakistan could collapse and end up in the hands of radical forces.

Because of fear of civil unrest in Pakistan, the U.S.'s objective should not be revenge or retaliation, Sagan said.

"It should be to reduce and possibly eliminate the chances of future massively destructive terrorist attacks," he said. "The major danger would be to destabilize Pakistan with its over 140 million people and thousands of potential terrorists along the Kashmiri line of control and small arsenal of nuclear weapons."

Pakistan and India have been embroiled in a conflict over the territory of Kashmir that has led to both countries to develop and test nuclear weapons.

Sagan said the U.S. and its allies should provide economic assistance and military equipment to Pakistan and the region. The U.S. must also avoid provocative rhetoric, such as when President George W. Bush referred to the coming war as a "crusade."

"It was an unfortunate use of words that (Osama) bin Laden has now echoed to try to get Muslim brothers in Pakistan to fight what he calls the American crusaders," Sagan said.

Panelists addressed bin Laden's role as supposed mastermind behind the attacks on Sept. 11.

Coit Blacker, deputy director of the Institute for International Studies, said there is evidence to support bin Laden as the key figure behind the attacks. He cited a statement by bin Laden that the murder of any and all American males is just and right.

"In fact, he argues it is a moral obligation," Blacker said.

Bin Laden also believes that the U.S. will follow the same path as that of the Soviet Union when it invaded and eventually withdrew from Afghanistan, Blacker said.

"It is in (bin Laden's) judgment that the U.S. today is weaker than the USSR was when it fell apart," Blacker said.

The war against terrorism will involve of a variety of means: political, economic, military, paramilitary and law enforcement tools, Blacker said. Unconventional means such as freezing assets, disrupting information flow, compromising intelligence sources will all be used against terrorists and their supporters.

Blacker added that justifying war is easy. The country has the right to self defense and the massive number of Americans that died on Sept. 11 are two such justifications, he said. More Americans died on Sept. 11 at the hands of an enemy than have died on a single day in this country, since the Civil War.

"To allow those who did this to continue to operate without undue risk to life and limb would cost the President, his government and most of Congress their political lives," Blacker said. "It's not going to happen. The question is not whether to respond but how to respond."

E-mail Geoff Fein at


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