Is America's Empire Doomed?

News Abroad

William E. Odom and Robert Dujarric are coauthors of America's Inadvertent Empire (Yale University Press, 2004), from which this article is excerpted, with the permission of the publisher.

At least two sets of major threats from without confront the American empire, and critics suggest that these might be capable of undermining or catalyzing the empire's decline. First, some claim that the United States has paid insufficient attention to terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, information warfare, and other such so-called asymmetric threats. Second, other critics cite the political and moral tensions created by the empire's possession of three-quarters of the world gross product for consumption with less than a fifth of the world's population. They also point to what they feel is an inadequate U.S. response to such health crises as the spread of HIV in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere in the third world. These global social problems, the theory goes, stir the moral and political indignation that motivates terrorist groups.

We do not deny these threats and dangers, or the fact that they can cause pain and damage to the United States and its allies. But the salient question is whether these issues present a threat serious enough to cause the decline of the American empire.

Consider the terrorist threat. Al Qaeda's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were tragic for the approximately three thousand victims and their families--cataclysmic for many of them. For the strategic position of the United States, however, the attacks did only minor damage. Moreover, the U.S. military reaction, carrying the war to Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda and its Taliban sponsor have been decimated with little loss of U.S. military personnel, has reinforced the world's understanding of the immensity and reach of U.S. military power. The campaign certainly reinforced for the Russian and Chinese general staffs the impressions they got from the Persian Gulf War in 1991. An indirect consequence of the 9/11 attacks has therefore been to enhance the image of American power in the world by accenting some of its capabilities.

Additional Qaeda attacks may occur, but they cannot destroy the American empire. Terrorist organizations, even if they acquire and use weapons of mass destruction, can be no more than painful nuisances. They do not even rival ordinary crime or drug trafficking in the United States as problems. They can, however, prompt U.S. leaders to make unwise decisions in pursuing military operations against them, in treatment of American military allies, and in management of both the U.S. and the global economy. The serious threats in the post-9/11 era were also present in the pre-9/11 era.

Terrorism is a tactic and not an enemy. This observation clarifies the dangers of wars against terrorism. The United States, by any legal definition of terrorism, has been among the largest sponsors of terrorist operations since World War ll. It has supported liberation movements in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation and against communist regimes in Central America, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. From the American viewpoint, the forces carrying out these operations were "freedom fighters," not terrorists. This elementary point needs repeating because of the vast amount of misleading rhetoric in the United States since 11 September. Al Qaeda is an enemy, and it can be either defeated or reduced to trivial levels of operation. To trumpet terrorism as a worldwide scourge, however, is to confuse the public and misdirect diplomacy. U.S. leaders need to stay focused on specific countries and groups ("nonstate actors" is the misleading new jargon), not on emotionally loaded terms and slogans. So-called terrorist groups will certainly try to exploit weapons of mass destruction, especially biological and nuclear. The spread of technology has never been stopped more than temporarily in the modern world. If terrorists succeed in carrying out an attack with weapons of mass destruction, then the United States and its allies will have to deal with the damage, but such a successful attack would not mean that the attacking group had defeated the United States or even caused strategically significant damage. Only imprudent U.S. reactions to such actions can do that, especially those that could split the United States from its military and political allies, the members of the empire.

Another external source of challenges and uncertainties arises from the very large portion of the world's population living in countries outside the empire, about 83 percent, who consume less than 30 percent of the world gross product. Moral indignation about this inequity will continue to be a major factor in world politics, as it was throughout the Cold War and even earlier. Liberal societies have developed and tried many kinds of welfare transfer programs, private and public, over the past two centuries, all inspired by the broadly shared desire to soften the plight of the impoverished. A critique of the issues involved and the validity of the popular assumptions about global poverty cannot be provided in a few paragraphs, but a few disturbing facts can help us avoid illusions about "what to do and how to do it" in dealing with such vast inequities. In the postwar era, government foreign aid programs were initiated by the United States. Japan, Western Europe, and several other countries soon followed with programs of their own. Churches and religious organizations have a much longer record of missionary work that has continued and expanded. A few secular organizations that provide aid to the world's poor predate World War II, but in the postwar era the number of such nongovernmental organizations has risen rapidly. International organizations within the United Nations, the World Bank, and several regional international banks have also contributed to welfare transfers, but in many of these the aim has been to promote economic development.

For all of the wealth transfers through these many programs, public and private, the record of improving life and economic performance among the 83 percent of people living outside the American empire is poor. Humanitarian aid programs to regions afflicted with wars often have the effect of prolonging conflicts by unintentionally feeding the armies of one or both sides. Economic development aid, the great hope of several American presidents and many American economists, has a disappointing fifty-year record. It has, of course, helped victims of famine and provided shelter to some of the world's poor, but it has not put them on the road to sustainable development. Capital assistance to countries without constitutional orders and governments that provide third-party enforcement cannot sustain economic growth. In fact, it makes matters worse. Moreover, where effective institutions exist, direct economic assistance to governments is seldom needed. Commercial banks and international capital markets readily supply capital.

How will the American empire cope with this morally disturbing reality? Modern liberalism has deeply religious roots in the Protestant Reformation. The same moral impulses that defend the autonomy and inalienable rights of the individual also inspire sympathy for the world's poor and downtrodden masses. The American public has repeatedly refused to sit by while such poverty existed. It has shipped hundreds of billions of dollars of aid in many forms to third world countries since World War II. At the same time, it has also seen very little result for that large transfer of wealth. While the average income level in South Korea, starting at the same level of several sub-Saharan African states, has increased by a factor of twenty-five, income has not appreciably grown in any of those African states. Latin America and Southeast Asia have a better performance record but no promise of reaching first world levels.

The cruel fact is inescapable: aid programs have assuaged the consciences of the publics in wealthy liberal countries, but they have done little or nothing for the world's poor. The major cause of this sad outcome is as evident as the failure of the aid programs itself: indigenous political institutions that stubbornly sustain perverse path dependence. No amount of aid will overcome the capacity of such institutions to squander it. The third world's greatest shortage is not food, clothing, and capital. It is effective government. Effective government would encourage the production of adequate food, clothing, and capital savings. Meeting this shortage has to be among the greatest challenges facing the American empire in the decades ahead. The United States has long tried to cultivate effective government in many countries but with little success except where its military forces have remained for many decades and U.S. officials have effectively imposed liberal institutions on the local society. This expensive method is simply not feasible for such a large part of the world. Moreover, the United States could better help the third world by merely abolishing all of its tariffs than it has with all its economic aid.

Some observers insist that this inequitable distribution of income inspires groups such as Al Qaeda. Perhaps it plays some role, but the causal linkages to poverty turn out, on closer examination, to be tenuous if they exist at all. Vast wealth from oil production did not mitigate radical groups' behavior in the shah's Iran, nor does it dissolve political radicalism in the Arab oil-producing states. Moreover, Osama bin Laden is from one of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest families, and all of the hijackers on 9/11 were from relatively privileged backgrounds. The clash between traditional values and modern ones brought by Western influences and wealth provides a better explanation. While it is tempting to say that if wealth were equitably distributed, anti-Western groups like Al Qaeda would decline and disappear, it is simplistic to believe so. We know well that reactions against modernization are unavoidable, and we know that the political leaders who exploit those reactions often include beneficiaries of that modernization. There is a strong objective case for concluding that it would be wiser to ignore the third world's impoverished masses. The impact, however, both domestically and internationally, on the United States' moral reputation would be unacceptably damaging. But to continue the same old ineffective aid programs is not a promising alternative, either, because their fecklessness, once acknowledged only by a few serious scholars, is ever more widely recognized. This issue has come to embrace more than economic development in the poor regions of the world; now it also includes ecology, demography, globalization, and other such problems. American hegemony does not make such problems easier to solve, but it does make them increasingly unwise for the United States to ignore.

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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

It is NOT "the US view" that "international law and human rights don't matter". The U.S. was a founding member or significant backer of nearly every substantive international organization and treaty, from the U.N. to the World Bank, to the non-proliferation agreements to the Red Cross. That is not to deny the darker role of America in supporting terrorism, from the contras to Osama in Afghanistan, nor the rogue phony-cowboy qualities of the present incompetent administration in Washington, and the hypocrisy of a large subset of the large minority of eligible voters who endorsed those incompetent bureaucrats last week.

It is an unfortunate effect of this bogus history website, that it leads people -who otherwise would, or at least ought to, know better- into making sweeping and historically silly claims.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

1. Deliberately or otherwise, the headline dropped the crucial adjective "inadvertent" with which the author's title qualified "empire".

2. It is one thing to claim that current levels of foreign aid have been ineffective, or even counterproductive, it is yet another to claim that "no amount of aid" will prevent perverse institutions who live off squandering of such aid from continuing to do so. Deliberately or otherwise, however, the article implies a third claim that is demonstrably false, although widely believed: that the U.S. is pouring a huge percentage of its income and wealth into foreign aid. I don't have the figures handy myself, but I think it comes out to about what we spend on bumper stickers.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

The bogusness (if that is a word) of the website is actually rather subtle, so that the readership, many of whom are often genuinely open-minded persons with legitimate interests in current affairs and history, rarely realize it at first. Mr. Petit has been here long enough to form his own views on it, but I think he has also been encouraged by it (in this particular instance) to lose sight of objectivity - in his eagerness to defend his profession (international law) from what I would have to agree are overblown criticisms.

Do you have any remarks relevant to the substantive component of my prior comment here ?

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

At perhaps $20 per capita per annum, foreign aid probably exceeds yearly expenditure on bumper stickers. The "food" item formerly known as French Fries is a better candidate for aborbing a larger share of national income.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Sorry to spoil the reunion of the HNN Neo-Likudnik Society, but I hereby take irrevocable issue with the following very weird claim: "Terrorism is by definition a war crime".

What war was Timothy McVeigh fighting in ?

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

So, whenever any lunatic or fanatic THINKS he is in a war and commits violence as result, that violence IS war ?

This thread has become a test of the ability to admit a mistake; one with far-reaching geopolitical implications.

Terrorism does not equal war, and may God help the fools that have fallen for that trick promulgated by Karl Rove and Osama bin Laden, and inspired by the likes of Ariel Sharon.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

There have also been reports that the Brooklyn Bridge is for sale. If you are not sure "whether they are correct", will you pay your money and ask questions later ? For someone who is certain that hundreds of millions of Europeans, including his own ancestors, are all double-dealing weaklings, this sudden ambivalence is odd, but not unusual to any one familiar with prior postings here.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

You are failing the test, Mark. Terrorism is not "by definition a war crime", unless it is committed in a war. There was no war in Oklahoma City in '95, or at the World Trade Center in '93 or at the Canadian-US border in late '99, or in Italy in the '80s, or on board the four airliners on 9-11-01 (except in the deceptive language being spun out of the propaganda machines run by those who were looking for non-existent Saddam connections when they should have been paying attention to America's national security).

Val Jobson - 11/13/2004

This is idiotic. You are stretching the meaning of the word "war" into an amorphous meaningless mess. You can't be serious.

N. Friedman - 11/11/2004


No, Peter. The Oklahoma City bombers were at war with the US. The fact that they were a small ragtag army that lived in the shadows does not make their action a mere crime.

N. Friedman - 11/11/2004


I note that the issue is still being investigated. I have insufficient information to reach a firm conclusion - although I am skeptical -.

I do note, however, that there are clear links between Islamist Jihadi and neo-Nazi groups. Such is well documented.

With that in mind: If I were you, I would not automatically dismiss accounts of connections with the Oklahoma City bombing. While I have no reason to think a link exists, my "reason" does not mean that a link exists or does not exist. And neither does yours. What matters is what occurred.

Michael Barnes Thomin - 11/11/2004

"On the other hand, there have also been reports that the attack in Oklahoma City had connections with Islamist terrorists. I do not know whether the reports are correct."

There have also been "reports" that the bombing in Oklahoma City was an "inside job". In short, re-port, sha-mort...

N. Friedman - 11/10/2004


War is sometimes defined as "A state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states, or parties.";q=war . Such definition would seem to encompass the fight by the terrorists in Oklahoma City. Even less traditional definitions encompass what occured there. For example, "To contend; to strive violently; to fight. 'Lusts which war against the soul.' --1 Pet. ii. 11." (Id.)

On the other hand, I guess it does not much matter whether or not there is technically a war. The same barbaric techniques called criminal are no less of a concern - particularly to the victims -. However, organized efforts to destroy a country are war and that is what the terrorists in Oklahoma City were up to.

On the other hand, there have also been reports that the attack in Oklahoma City had connections with Islamist terrorists. I do not know whether the reports are correct.

mark safranski - 11/10/2004

No, Peter even if McVeigh is an exception - which I really don't think he is but fine, for sake argument -he's the one that proves the rule when our Islamist enemies operate in a paramilitary structure called al Qaida.

mark safranski - 11/10/2004


I'm not sure why the employment of a neutral standard would bother you but in the case of McVeigh I don't think he would have considered himself the exception that you propose him to be. His writings and interviews indicate he saw himself as a soldier even when he was blowing up women and children

Michael Barnes Thomin - 11/10/2004

No, just the F.B.I.

Peter F. Hollings - 11/10/2004

Odum and Dujarric say, "The cruel fact is inescapable: aid programs have assuaged the consciences of the publics in wealthy liberal countries, but they have done little or nothing for the world's poor," and I would not disagree. But, this analysis seems superficial because it fails to mention that, as another commentator has said, much of the aid goes to Israel and Egypt, rather than the truly needy. Moreover, a large component of the aid is in the form of military aid, or contains restrictions that it be used to buy American goods and services, this failing to encourage local production. I also believe that local institutions such as property rights and a court system are critical preconditions for development. Effective government is required to develop such institutions and, for commercial reasons, the US has favored client governments over those truly interested in national development. In fact, the US seems allergic to any form of nationalism that does not fit within our model. So, rather than simply concluding that aid is ineffective, one must look for plausable explanations. Although one might quibble over measures, the disparity of wealth is real and the US must address this in its own interest, if not on moral grounds. Doing so requires that we look less superficially at the causes.

N. Friedman - 11/10/2004


Timothy McVeigh was fighting in a war to destroy the US.

mark safranski - 11/9/2004

Thanks guys !

N. Friedman - 11/9/2004


I basically agree with you.

Derek Charles Catsam - 11/9/2004

Mark --
I may have a couple of quibbles, but I think that what you lay out here is important to note.


Nathan M Williams - 11/9/2004

Compare our $6.9 billion with the UK's $4.5 billion, or Germany's $5.6, or Japan's $7, or the tiny Netherlands' $3.3. And consider that half that $7 billion is going to Israel and Egpyt.

For better or worse, the rest of the world really gets very little from the US in direct foreign aid (besides nations we have just conquered).

Michael Barnes Thomin - 11/9/2004

"that the U.S. is pouring a huge percentage of its income and wealth into foreign aid. I don't have the figures handy myself, but I think it comes out to about what we spend on bumper stickers."

mark safranski - 11/9/2004

" One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is one of those cliches that are employed to obscure the issue under discussion by presenting two concepts that are supposedly opposites that are not.

Terrorism is a tactic. While " terrorist" is also used as a political perjorative it is not disconnected from it's actual meaning - one who practices terror. Generally terrorism encompasses combatant behavior prohibited by the Geneva Convention such as making civilians a primary target, among a number of other outlawed practices. This is something often easily recognizable and quantifiable and while it's easy to get into technicalities in borderline cases of no particular import ( were pictures of Saddam's " humuliation" of a dental exam a " war crime" ? - a good example of public debate that trivialized the purpose of Geneva ) clear-cut examples of involving piles of bodies are more common.

Terrorism is by definition a war crime and in my view it would be better discouraged by the swift application of military tribunals and firing squads for convicted offenders ( those acquitted being freed or guaranteed POW status)than the current administration policy or by treating terrorists as criminals in civilian courts as if they were bank robbers or drug dealers.

" Freedom Fighter" is a normative description of an irregular fighter's ultimate objective. Guerillas sometimes fight for freedom against a foreign invader or a local tyrant or to secede from a larger multiethnic state and form a new, homogenous, nation-state for an ethnic minority. Or the guerillas can be an armed minority fighting to establish a tyranny over their fellow citizens,as an example FARC in Colombia comes to mind. Sometimes a group can be in both categories, having an authoritarian or totalitarian charater while fighting some other, different, oppression.

Regardless of how we judge the objective of unconventional fighters as good or evil, wise or foolish, that is a separate issue from their tactics on the battlefield. You may tarnish a good cause by employing terrorism or an otherwise malevolent group may be a legitimate if unconventional belligerent who follows the laws of war.

Call terrorists what they are - unconventional paramilitary fighters comitting war crimes - without regard to who they are.

N. Friedman - 11/9/2004

"Do you have any remarks relevant to the substantive component of my prior comment here ?"

Yes, I think I do. In the scheme of things, one has to choose whether the US, all in all, advances causes that one agrees with or not.

My view is that, despite mistakes galore, the US more often than not has advanced causes I care about. Which is to say, I am willing to forgive the US many of its mistakes. I also note that, on many occasions, what I thought wrong in US policy has, on further examination and with time, proven not to be wrong.

At present, the US's skepticism about International institutions is not without justification. I would, however, hope that the US would work toward reforming such institutions rather than, as sometimes appears to be the case, merely scorning them.

On the other hand, to look at the UN without scorn, when that institution has all but ignored the horror of twenty years of war in Sudan (with 2 million killed), all but ignored the killing fields of the Congo (1.7 million deaths), all but ignored the war in Kashmir (tens of thousands of deaths), etc., etc. is to ask a lot from anyone remotely concerned with human wellbeing.

And to look at the ICJ and its, frankly, anti-judicial and indecent decision against Israel's barrier - a barrier which has, in fact, basically restored life to normal on both sides thereof - as anything but an indictment of the ICJ is, I think, dishonest.

To note: that court made findings of fact without any sworn testimony and without sending any fact finders to learn any facts. As a result, the findings of fact were wholly political, rather than being based on actual facts. Of interest in that opinion: the Egyptian judge - again, without the benefit of any sworn evidence or other basis to reach any factual conclusion - determined that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians would be directly and adversely affected by the barrier when the PA, itself, argued that only about 15 thousand would be affected. Most egregiously, that court, without any independent fact finding - so that it could not possibly know - , ruled that a UN Charter Article 51 situation did not exist because no foreign state was involved when, in fact, foreign states were directly involved in supporting the barbarian suicide Jihadis.

When I see the US stand up against such a travesty of justice - as it has done -, I cheer. That we are alone in the world, apart from Israel and Australiam, in defending measures which, in fact, make it more difficult for barbarians to commit suicide massacres, I cheer for the US. That is what America is about. That is something for all of us to be proud about.

And the fact that the US is willing to stand up to the barbarian Jihadis - albeit while missing the boat, rather badly, on Iraq - while our supposed allies prefer to putter about while, more than metaphorically, Rome burns, is something to cheer about. It too is a reason for pride in America no matter what the rabble from Europe and elsewhere may think.

Oscar Chamberlain - 11/8/2004

Thanks for the correction. Do the US nationals included in GNP include corporations based in the US?

Arnold Shcherban - 11/8/2004

Humanely speaking - no, but coming from historically strategic point of view (as the author apparently is) - yes.

N. Friedman - 11/8/2004


If things are so bogus on HNN, why do you post on it?

John H. Lederer - 11/8/2004

It is not slight of hand.

GNP measures the value of goods produced by U.S. citizens.There is not some set amount of economic activity in the world from which the United States takes 3/4. The U.S creates 3/4 of world GNP in the author's example.

Actually 3/4 is also a wrong figure. About 30-40% is the generally accepted figure.

GDP = all consumer spending + Business/residential investment + governbment spending - trade deficit

GNP is pretty much the same as GDP, except it's figures are figures for econmic activity by U.S. nationals wherever located.

Oscar Chamberlain - 11/8/2004

I do know that panic and economic damage are bigger concerns that casualties with a dirty bomb, but I'm not familiar with the studies you allude to.

Michael Barnes Thomin - 11/8/2004

Are any of you familiar with the studies done in Great Britain that negate the harsh effects of a "dirty bomb"?


Oscar Chamberlain - 11/8/2004


Whether the 75% of the World's GNP iws contributed or taken it the point here. As an example, if Walmart and other big box retailors use their market clout to force down wages in China, then take part of the different as they sell goods here(passing on the rest in lower prices), then, from the perspective of those workers, they have had income taken.

Maybe that example is good, maybe bad. But a consideration of the extent to which the United States generates GNP by impoverishing other countries--as opposed to by developing new products, a true creation--is a legitimate concern and should be answered with facts and not your slight of hand above.

However, your comment below on terrorists with nukes is well-taken. Perhaps the authors were thinking that the majority of weapons categorized as WMD's are not nukes and have far less potential for death than airplanes into big buildings, much less Hiroshima bombs, but if so, they should have made that clearer.

N. Friedman - 11/8/2004


Your view that terrorist and state action against terrorist are one and the same is true in one sense: violence is violence is violence - at least to those killed -. Which is to say, dead people are dead, just the same, whether killed by terrorist or a government.

But you are only half right that states have an advantage over non-state actors. In fact, there is substantial evidence that the proliferation of low cost small arms weapons has, in fact, evened the score in many disputes.

That said - and now for my main points -, the states who fight terrorists are fighting to maintain civilization. Which is to say, there really is a difference between those who, on purpose, shoot children in the back while they flee (or blow up families at a restaurant) and those state actors who aim primarily at those who commit such horrendous acts but, nonetheless, kill civilians. [NOTE - I leave open the possibility of states which truly act like terrorists. I do not, however, see that to be the case in the countries you name even where, as in the case of Russia, there has been substantial brutality employed by the government.]

Further, to speak of the terrorists as totally non-state actors is, I think, a misnomer. Thus, Afghanistan directly supported al Qa'eda and there is substantial evidence that Pakistan did and, in fact, may still directly support al Qa'eda.

Moreover, terrorists live off of states by demanding protection money (e.g. Saudi Arabia's payments over the years to al Qa'eda) for foregoing terrorist attacks. In this, terrorist groups are very much like the roving armies of the Fourteenth Century as described in Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror.

So far as the International legal system is concerned, I hold out no hope that it even has the potential to be helpful except - and not even in - causa celebre.

Consider terror and the like occurring in even weak states where judgments might, in fact, be enforced. Think about Sudan (2 million killed in twenty years of fighting, forced conversions of Christians and animists to Islam, use of food as a weapon, terror attacks, etc.), Rwanda (one tribe killing another so that hundreds of thousands [perhaps up to a million] have been killed) and Congo (over 1.7 million deaths - (according to CNN " 'On average, some 2,600 people are dying every day in this war and our research found that the first months of 2000 were even worse than 1999,' Roberts said." ). So far as I know, the reaction of the International community, hence International law, to these events has generally been or was nil.

Consider some other disputes which have, so far as I know, escaped the International community's attention over the years and, hence, International law. Think about Egypt (wholesale terror against Copts resulting, over the years, in countless thousands of deaths and a population terrorized into submission), Egypt (wholesale terror against and killing of Jews resulting in about 75,000 Jewish refugees) Iran (wholesale terror against Christians and Jews with approximately 90,000 Jewish refugees created), the Palestinian Authority (wholesale terror against and killing of Christians), Lebanon (100,000 killed in a war by Muslims and Palestinians against Maronite Christians), Yemen (wholesale terror against Jews resulting in 50,000 refugees), Libya (wholesale terror against Jews resulting in about 38,000 Jewish refugees), Algeria (wholesale terror against Jews resulting in about 140,000 Jewish refugees), Iraq (whole sale terror and massacres of Jews resulting in more than 125,000 refugees), etc. Note: the various Arab states have, since the mid-1940's, expelled and otherwise, by means of terror and killings, made refugees of about 856,000 Jews (and countless tens of thousands of deaths), most of whom had nothing at all to do with the Arab Israelis dispute.

One has to remark that the failure of International law has been nearly complete and surely abject.

Yet, you focus your anger on the US, as if only the US does bad things.

John H. Lederer - 11/8/2004

" Terrorist organizations, even if they acquire and use weapons of mass destruction, can be no more than painful nuisances."

Let me get this straight. Exploding a dirty nuclear bomb in New York and/or other cities would be a "painful nuisance"?

John H. Lederer - 11/8/2004

"Second, other critics cite the political and moral tensions created by the empire's possession of three-quarters of the world gross product for consumption with less than a fifth of the world's population."

Oh,you mean that the United States contributes three quarters of the total world GNP?

chris l pettit - 11/8/2004

It seems as though you denigrate the phrase "non-state" actors...something I would not recommend as an international lawyer. You are quite right in noting that there is no difference between "terrorists" and "freedom fighters"...likewise there is no difference between the private terrorism practised by groups not affiliated with a state (such as al Qaeda) and state terrorism like that proctised by the US, Israel, China, and Russia, among many others. Where the state/non-state difference becomes key is in the only area suited to actually address these matters, international law. As you rightly note, politics and international relations will be influenced by silly religious and nationalistic ideologies that have no place in international law and the governing of the international community. Since most of international law is based on state relations, when non-state actors enter into the picture, one must determine what the laws and regulations are that governm both their actions and the actions of those who are combatting them. Both sets of principles exist in international law. So the moniker "non-state" is key in determining responses as well as whether an action falls under international criminal law or the international law of conflict. One cannot make war on an ideology...indeed, then one makes war on the entire world, a blatant violation of the UN Charter. One also can only make war on a state actor for harboring terrorists under very strict conditions..and Afghanistan did not even meet those conditions.

The US has become the largest real terror threat in the world in terms of deaths, amount of damage in $$$, destruction of the world's economy, and destruction of the international legal framework. To reference an article by a maniacal ideologue elsewhere on the sight...if being pro-human rights and peace, and favoring a true international cooperative community is anti-American, then I must be just that...but it is far better than the anti-human rights, anti-peace pro-American alternative.

I would submit that the international community is increasingly unwise to allow the US to continue to destroy the international legal framework and continue its terrorist activities.

Of course we could just take the US view that international law and human rights don;t matter and we can slaughter and starve as many as we want as long as out goals are achieved. All those who misinterpret Machiavelli must be proud...