Antja Vollmer, vice-president of the German Bundestag, warns against adjusting to the mentality of the assasins
[This interview originally published in: DIE ZEIT, 39/2001, is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.zeit.de.]
DIE ZEIT: Nato declares an alliance matter after the terror strikes in New York and Washington. You registered your skepticism. Is the Nato process wrong?
Antje Vollmer: If the US asks us to declare an alliance matter in this situation, we have no possibility for rebelling. I abstained because I in no case agreed to the military consequences that result from declaring an alliance matter.
DIE ZEIT: Do you reject on principle a military response to the terror attack?
Vollmer: I see the gigantic expectation of the American society in its government to retaliate for this fundamental outrage. But when I reflect soberly whether there is any military method that can decisively weaken this form of terrorism, I say: No, unfortunately not. Politics must be honest instead of using retribution expectations with a martial logic.
Politics must say we will have to live with this threat for a long time while simultaneously developing the strength to be finished with these terrorist sects. A new internationally coordinated foreign policy is necessary which begins to remove the fertile ground of powerlessness, despair and humiliation to which these sects lead their rising generations. I don't see any fast, promising military solution.
DIE ZEIT: You express a majority opinion. But doesn't that mean sending the Americans on ahead?
Vollmer: This suspicion is only true when one believes there is a military solution for the problem and that the US should now carry this out for us. I am convinced of the opposite: military reaction promotes the genesis of new terrorism. I don't say we should keep out. I hope that Americans consider the complete ineffectiveness of such action. Look at the example of the Russians in Afghantistan and Chechnya.
DIE ZEIT: What makes you so sure there can be no appropriate military reaction?
Vollmer: We are searching for a bomb in the global haystack in identifying all perpetrators and groups of perpetrators. Considering examples of attempted conflict settlement with a retribution strategy is very sobering. This is true for the Middle East and for northern Ireland. The culprits whoever they are undoubtedly want to wage a war of civilization against America and the West. However we play into their hands when we judge the terrorist attack as a war offensive on the whole western civilization and call to a crusade of good against evil. That is a fundamentalist view of the world.
DIE ZEIT: Isn't that the rhetoric of the first hour owed to the shock over this monstrous terrorist attack?
Vollmer: I understand that but political solutions are vital. The field on which political solutions arise - through reason, analysis and differentiated alliances - disappears in this kind of total polarization. One falls back on an archaic reaction pattern. We should not do this favor to the assasins.
DIE ZEIT: What is new about the terrorist challenge in the attacks?
Vollmer: We face a globally operating terrorism, a kind of worldwide partisan warfare with modern totalitarian weapons. The enemy is not identifiable. There are no rules for the protection of the civilian population. There is no one who declares war and consequently no one who can end it. Everyone can act according to his feeling of hatred, powerlessness and justice. Groups are organized like sects. Everything that one hears about bin Laden is true. He calls children, trains them in a world of brainwashing with clear, religiously stirred stereotypes. Over years they are made into human bombs which we have now experienced.
DIE ZEIT: And they detonate over America's most symbolic places and thus over the West altogether.
Vollmer: The Chinese, everyone who has taken this way of modernization, understands the symbol of the attacked skyline. The real difficulty of the American president is that he must now be strongly effective to compensate for this mental destruction. I say matter-of-factly he will not find this strength. If one may dream, one could say Americans must resist the expectation pressure. They must take the time and reflect over what happened to them and why. That would surprise everyone. It would be a step away from the imminent war policy and perhaps the beginning of a changed foreign policy.
DIE ZEIT: Do you believe that the Nato partners can have an influence?
Vollmer: Here I am skeptical. We know from the Kosovo war that we were never really informed. I do not share the hope that because we are in alliance with the Americans that we can have a bonding effect for their military undertaking. One experience of the Balkan war is that the Europeans recognized they must act together to have a minimum importance. Europeans face the task of a common formation of the will. The public mood in their societies must be considered...
DIE ZEIT: ... the societies that react very reserved toward military actions.
Vollmer: While the American population urges fast and extensive retribution, there is no majority for that in our societies. We need very quickly a debate on appropriate reactions.
DIE ZEIT: Doesn't the different reaction of the population show that it is America and not us who are affected?
Vollmer: No, in the depth of sympathy is the certainty that this could strike us tomorrow and the hope that we may react differently. The secret of really good friendship is to remain very close to friends in distress but to keep a distance in our heads. Distance means that we who are only indirectly affected raise the question today: What will come of this in three or four months? A clear analysis of what our societies are ready to bear is part of that analysis. All European societies are incapable of war. They may endure disasters and mourning but cannot wage wars against unknown enemies of this brutality.
DIE ZEIT: Where must a political strategy begin?
Vollmer: I can name four elements. The first would be certainly: never again may any western state support one of these groups only because it believes in a short-term benefit. In Iraq, with the UCK and with the Taliban itself, we find the sorcerer's apprentice effect from past lapses. The second would be really taking seriously the globalization questions, thinking together Genoa and New York. Thirdly whether a unilateral model can be really successful in the long run must be discussed. Opposite poles always form against unilateralist powers as history shows. Fourthly, a legal address must exist for intensely offended and injured collectives, for example an international tribunal for minority questions which bring charges in human rights and minority cases. Terrorism draws its deadly energy from these unsolved conflicts.
DIE ZEIT: The West will probably not react only politically. Is there a halfway line between a purely political strategy and an escalation spiral?
Vollmer: Everyone expects a military reaction. I would be glad if the nuclear power Pakistan does not get involved or Israel is prevented from revalidating its fronts in the shadow of a war. Then we will face a resolute Palestinian minority for the next fifty years. This would be the greatest disaster since we urgently need the Islamic states to conduct that dialogue with the fundamentalists which we could not conduct for want of a common cultural code. For that, we must liberate these states from the endless captivity of the unsolved Middle East conflict.
DIE ZEIT: One moves on a narrow edge in advising the US to keep a cool head after this catastrophe. This is quickly stylized as anti-American.
Vollmer: Obviously one who slows down now is quickly put in the anti-American corner. However I believe that Americans feel discomfort in their sole superpower role with which they attract hatred. That the whole world feels afflicted including Russia and China is a chance for America. This is a fragment of annulling or reversing isolation. Hope lies in that the US reflects about political and economic strategies, that it doesn't immediately strike and corrects its relation to the UN.
DIE ZEIT: What does it mean in this situation that a red-green government is in office?
Vollmer: I believe that red-green will counter both the tendencies to domestic political over-reaction and the attempt to interpret this conflict as a war of civilizations.
DIE ZEIT: Can they hold out?
Vollmer: I strongly hope so. If not, there will be a great coalition. However there is another danger. Who asks the critical questions, the protest against an escalation logic? A completely open dialogue with the population and with young people is imperative. When uneasiness has no address in the government or in an opposition which overtakes us any time now in bravery, the dialogue can be easily broken off. This is a root of radicalism, extremism or contempt of politics in our own country.