Center for Strategic Decision Research


The Changed Face of Global Threats

Ambassador Jean de Ruyt
Belgian Permanent Representative to the United Nations

The topic of our pan-European panel is very timely. The new challenges to global security are now well identified, but there are major differences in the perception of the threat they represent and on the best way to address them. Let me begin by briefly outlining my view as a European and as someone who witnessed the dramatic events of the first half of 2003 from the perspective of the United Nations in New York. Two different approaches to the crisis in Iraq developed then that could not be reconciled, dragging transatlantic relations, the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union into a deep crisis from which it will be difficult to emerge. 

Today, the major challenges to global security are terrorism on a global scale; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and failed states and organized crime. Although these issues are not new, what is new is the interaction between them. 

The face of terrorism has changed. The purpose of the new global terrorism is no longer to gain some political support. These terrorists act without restraint: they will not hesitate to use extreme violence and cause mass casualties. To gain maximum effect, they will not even hesitate to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD). As Ambassador Vershbow pointed out, terrorists seeking WMDs are the most dangerous current threat to global security: On one hand, instability in the Middle East and Asia is raising the possibility of a new nuclear arms race; and, on the other, rogue states and even non-state actors have more accessibility to weapons of mass destruction. 

In addition, the failure of state systems is being encouraged and exploited by criminal elements. Revenues gained from trafficking in arms and people fuel instability and create sanctuaries for terrorists. We have seen this demonstrated in Somalia, Afghanistan, Liberia, and even the Balkans. 

Everyone agrees that these threats are global and challenge world security. But UN member-states and NATO allies still disagree on the best way to address them. 

The urgency and seriousness of the threats are best understood in the U.S., noticeably since September 11, and the political determination to face them has been stronger in the U.S. than in Europe. But, there is a new policy currently at play in Washington which aims at addressing these threats on a preventive basis as well as to act unilaterally without using multilateral channels to consult allies-allies who by instinct, lack of concern, or lack of capabilities would have suggested in most cases a less aggressive move. 

This divergence of attitudes brought us to the current crisis, one that must be dealt with urgently: if it is not addressed it may further damage global stability and make it more difficult to address jointly other more traditional security challenges. 

Europeans, therefore, should start thinking and acting more globally, and accept the need to share the burden and develop the means this sharing requires. And the U.S. should understand that these challenges require more than military power; the support of old allies and the legitimacy offered by old multilateral instruments should be seen as an asset rather than as an inconvenience. 





























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