The recent terrorist bombings in London have reminded the world that the attacks of September 11, 2001, were far from being an idiosyncrasy. They were in fact the starting gun of what promises to be a long and bitter contest between the Free World and the forces of hate. This conflict may erupt anywhere, usually at a time and choosing of the terrorists who strive to inflict indiscriminate damage on an innocent populace.
Public dialogue may refer to this clash as the War on Terrorism. In fact, it is not truly a war against what is merely a means of extending conflict. It actually is a war on extreme religious fundamentalism. The enemy is not a tactic; the enemy is a nihilistic neo-ideology that seeks no conventional geopolitical goal and brooks no compromise. This ideology has declared, using a phrase from old Western movies, that this planet is “not big enough for both of us”—the twisted message of intolerant hatred versus Western-style democracy.
Defeating this type of enemy will take many years and diverse efforts on both a local and a global scale. But—make no mistake—more than law enforcement efforts and military operations—as important as they are—will be needed to defeat this evil adversary. And this is where the United States and Europe will play perhaps the decisive role.
The United States and the democracies of Europe joined forces after World War II to prevent communism from triumphing during the Cold War—and they won. Maintaining a strong military deterrent in the face of that threat was vital to that success, but ultimately more mundane socioeconomic factors also helped bring down the Iron Curtain.
The United States and its European NATO allies set an example of why democratic capitalism was the wave of the future and why communism—contrary to the Marxist dialectic—was a dead end socially and economically. As Western Europe and the United States grew prosperous and their people enjoyed freedom, their societies stood in sharp contrast to the stifling communist states that robbed citizens of liberty and gave them little in return. Captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain took heart in the continued presence of the Free World. Its existence convinced them that there was a better way than their own state-imposed captivity, and they kept that spark of hope even through the darkest days of the communist empire. Ultimately, that spark flamed into a mass movement that helped topple the tyrants when the communist system began its inevitable collapse under the weight of its inherent contradictions.
Then the nations of the world set out to reap the benefits of the post-Cold-War era. The Free World began to redefine itself when, for the first time in almost four decades, it no longer faced a distinct threat from a monolithic enemy.
It is a well-established trend of geopolitics that during times of peace and prosperity, nations often define their relationships by their differences. Conversely, they find common ground and band together when they face a common threat to their existence. Since the end of the Cold War, a neutral observer could not be faulted for concluding that the United States and the member nations of the European Union seemed more like rivals than allies. Both sides of the Atlantic displayed differences of opinion on matters ranging from trade to foreign policy.
But no longer can these nations, many of whom are NATO partners, afford that luxury. The nations that have the most to lose in this war on extremism are the democracies of Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. It is their values, and their flourishing societies built on those values, that are under attack. Just as NATO was born of diverse peoples united against a common foe, so now the Atlantic alliance must serve as the foundation for the fight against terroristic evil.
As world powers, Europe and the United States may find areas of disagreement. But those areas must fade into the background as these two groups of bedrock democracies gird for the long fight against terror-wielding ideologues. The industrialized West, built on the principles of freedom and democracy, has the most to lose if the terrorists prevail. And, with those basic principles, it has the most to offer to counter that terrorist ideology.
Unity among Western nations is even more important now than it was during the Cold War. Whereas that conflict was clearly defined in geopolitical terms, the war on radical fundamentalism defies the establishment of easy boundaries. The common currency that links Europe and the United States is their common values. That currency is the most valuable in the world.
Once again, Europe and the United States are the major bulwark against the darkness of an intolerant ideology that glorifies the mass murder of innocents. Once again, the two democratic groups find themselves the leaders of the Free World. Once again, failure is not an option. The fate of Europe and the United States is inexorably linked to the future of the Free World. Together they will rise in triumph, or democracy will fall.
More information about Europe is available in the September 2005 issue of SIGNAL
Magazine, in the mail to AFCEA members and subscribers September 1, 2005. For information about purchasing this issue, joining AFCEA
or subscribing to SIGNAL
, contact AFCEA Member Services