Invulnerability as an Illusion
by Edelbert Richter
[This article originally published in: Ossietzsky 10/3/2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.linksnet.de/artikel,php?id=745. Ebelbert Richter still belongs to the SPD in the German Bundestag.]
The high-tech orientation of US security policy and the quest for national invulnerability have been criticized for a long time in the US. The most important arguments can be summarized as follows:
Historically: Only a few wars in history were won solely or mainly on the basis of technical superiority. The person (training, moral standards, organizations, lefadership) was usually decisive along with accident or unpredictable nature.
Economically: High-tech armament is expensive. This armament avoids competition and the demands of the market and follows the self-dynamic of the military-industrial complex. Numerous weapon developments have proven to be utter wastes of money even from military perspectives.
Politically: When high-tech armament is used as a substitute because citizens only intent on their personal well-being are not ready to support the public interest (whose defense would only be the extreme case), then the democratic state is essentially already lost. This is manifest in the military-industrial complex which is not democratically controlled. In addition, the peaceableness of these citizens is deceiving since they cannot peaceably master outward conflicts but evade and shift them to others.
Technically: There is no invulnerability. The traditional nation state that had to defend a territory and a population can not fulfill this function any more in the nuclear age. Technical progress makes societies more vulnerable. Nuclear power plants, oil refineries and oil tankers, the many thousand chemical plants and the gas-, electricity- and communication networks are all explosive targets for terrorist attacks.
Ethically: As you are not alone in the world, so your state is also not alone. As you cannot achieve security by constantly threatening others (and making your threat credible by striking or crushing someone as an example), so no state can gain security alone. Security is only possible together with others.
Theologically: The quest for absolute security is nothinig but the desire to be equal to God. This is clearly condemned in both traditions influencing our civilization: in the Greek tradition as hybris and in the Jewish-Christian tradition as sin.
A policy that successfully ignores all these arguments allows only two possibilities to adversaries: internalizing the threat, submitting, or asserting oneself through a counter-threat, terror. What deeply offends the moral sense in this policy is not only the inequality of the struggle. The additional threat against those already economically impacted is also grievous. The war waged from the sky carries those already on the ground under the earth. Moral superiority and leadershipprowess are not shown here in declaring war. Whoever avoids the personal struggle scorns the adversary as a person, violates the equality principle and denies the unity of humanity. However the adversary who cannot move on the high-tech plane is hardly capable of a politically organized war hopes for battle on the ground to gain respect as a person. When this is denied, nothing else remains but to attack the civilization that wants to know nothing about him at its most vulnerable place and thus call to mind his existence. In this way, he doesn't only make absurd the high-tech arsenal. In a brutal way, he sues for the common security that the US thinks it can refuse.
That he does this as a suicide assasin happens out of powerlessness and despair. However he demonstrates the readiness to support his community - in an extreme way by self-sacrifice - which we no longer muster and puts western civilization in question at its weakest point: the fading public spirit. "Dschihad protects the soul sold by McWorld and strives for the moral bond that McWorld scorns in its fixation on freedom of consumer choice." (Barber) The terrorist by casting away his life wants to be like God in holding power over the life or death of humanity in his hands and threatening the majority with death. Whoever is ready to die no longer clings to this life and cananot be threatened any more. Producing security by threatening weaker persons is dubious. Producing security by threatening those who no longer fear death is impossible.