BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 25.11.01

Film: IAIN WATSON reports on the next steps in the war against terrorism. Will the US take military action against other countries they believe harbour terrorists or will they rely on diplomatic pressure?

IAIN WATSON: This is living history, a cold war bunker deep within rural England, closed down in less pessimistic times. But now the cobwebs are being swept from many of the world's secret command and control centres as phase two of the war against terror advances. But beneath the surface, the question of how many countries to target and by what means, is causing friction RICHARD PERLE: Without a wider assault on terrorism, terrorism will continue, it's as simple as that. So the answer is we cannot stop with al-Qaeda or Bin Laden alone, or we will be repeating the mistake of Desert Storm where we ended that war before Saddam was effectively removed. MICHAEL ANCRAM MP: It has to obviously leave open the door to military action. Not just military action where there is incontrovertible evidence of international terror, then all options should be available to deal with it. JOHN BATTLE MP: I think any escalation of the military action in Iraq would be disastrous at the present time, we should discourage it, frankly WATSON: Tactical divisions in the US Administration had been hidden behind the mantra "one step at a time, Afghanistan first". But as phase two in the war against terror draws closer, tensions are beginning to show. The administration are currently discussing how many more countries ought to be targeted. But if they favour armed intervention more than arm-twisting, they could risk a serious schism with the Arab world, as well as putting new strains on the transatlantic coalition against terror. America said that the forty or fifty countries which harbour terrorists could now be facing financial, diplomatic or even military action. Near to the top of the target list would appear to be Iraq; United Nations' weapons inspectors were thrown out three years ago and Saddam Hussein has been less than sympathetic about the recent terrorist attacks on the United States. PERLE: It is difficult to imagine an effective war against terrorism that leaves Saddam Hussein and Iraq's terror network and his support for global terror intact. JUDITH KIPPER: I think it's going to be less possible to tolerate a militarily contained Iraq that has weapons of mass destruction in the current security climate that exists globally and there may very well be a re-evaluation to do something about it. WATSON: Divisions are being revealed amongst strategists in Washington. The US Deputy Defence Secretary is reportedly keen to stress the military option; while the Secretary of State apparently prefers the primacy of diplomacy and wouldn't wish to act without clear evidence. But CIA sources have been quoted in articles alleging a link between Bin Laden and Iraq. However, both the British government and the Tory opposition, appear wary about extending the war. ANCRAM: I haven't seen incontrovertible evidence but then you know we hear about intelligence reports, but I think it's important that we make it clear that you only take action where there is incontrovertible evidence. WATSON: And some in the Arab world say they're even more sceptical about the recent accusations against Saddam Hussein's regime. DR SAMI GLAIEL: I remember so many declarations saying there is no evidence against Iraq and it was an incentive to convince all countries of the region to join the coalition and to calm the Arab countries and Muslim countries in order to join the coalition. And we are surprised now once the coalition assured their success and victory, started talking about other countries, about Iraq, about Syria, about I don't know what. WATSON: But even if the evidence were amassed against Iraq, mounting a military attack could cost the US the support of relatively moderate Arab states who back the anti Bin Laden alliance GHADA KARMI: Now, for the coalition, it's very difficult for Arab countries and Islamic countries who already are hesitant and uncertain about supporting an enterprise which has made fellow Muslims suffer to this degree. Remember there are nearly five million refugees in Afghanistan and more people have been killed than we know about. However, they held together at least this far. It is inconceivable to me, that if an Arab country were directly targeted by the United States, that any support would be forthcoming from the Arab world. BATTLE: If we simply start going in the direction of the military I think there will be not be support across the world or indeed in our own communities. So I think shifting the focus now, I would discourage that immensely and those that say well should we look at Iraq now and go there, I would hope the answer is no, unless we were looking at a political, diplomatic and humanitarian as well. WATSON: The warning from some Arab states is more stark: a mutual defence pact could be activated. GLAIEL: I am not a military man. I am not the one who makes the highest policy in my country, but I know we are in pact in defensive pact with Iraq, with all Arab countries. WATSON: The American Administration may, in the end, decide that discretion is the better part of valour when it comes to military action against Iraq. But if they are serious about a war on terrorism and not just against Bin Laden, they can't be seen to be doing nothing in response to a country which the US itself says stockpiles and manufactures biological weapons. But some of the alternatives to military action could be impractical while others such as a better targeted sanctions regime may still alienate even relatively moderate Arab states. Saddam Hussein's regime has survived despite the imposition of sanctions which have hit the civilian population; but policy makers in the US now think that so-called 'smart sanctions' aimed at undermining Saddam's ability to produce weapons, could be successful as Russia and France are more likely to assist. KIPPER: If Russia talks, the Iraqi regime has to listen and if they understand that they really are completely alone and that Russia and the United States are united it will be very very difficult for them to feel that sanctions will erode, that the Russians and the French will back them, that somehow they can slip out from under the sanctions. So I think that it is really the solidarity of the US Russian position, that will be the biggest influence on the Iraqi regime. WATSON: But some Arab states wont be pacified even by purely military sanctions GLAIEL: We said it very clearly, enough is enough. Iraqi people suffered enough and sanctions did not work and will not work. And there is no need any more for any sanctions. Simply, co-operation and understanding would lead to solve that problem. WATSON: One alternative to sanctions envisages a 'Northern Alliance' solution to the problem, keeping Allied troop involvement minimal by giving more support to the Iraqi national congress; but a previous attempt after the Gulf war failed to unseat Saddam, and some Middle East experts believe that taking on Iraq's relatively strong armed forces could prove just too much for an exiled opposition. KIPPER: I don't see that they are going to be capable of doing the kinds of military things that would be necessary because they're outside the country and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan was not outside the country, they were inside the country, and I think it is, it is much more problematic in Iraq. WATSON: What worries some isn't so much action against Saddam, it's who might be next - Iran, Iraq, Syria, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, and Sudan are, according to America, all 'rogue' states which sponsor terrorism and could all potentially be in the firing line. KARMI: Well there is we understand a list held by the US administration which includes a number of countries most of which strikingly are Arab. And most of which I must say are very poor and that will go down very badly because there is a feeling that you've got a big American bully who picks on small guys. Now if the Americans are unwise enough to start doing this then they will I think find themselves sucked in to a never ending conflict which will be with us for decades to come. WATSON: So how many fronts could be opened in this second phase of the campaign against terrorism? Countries such as Iran and Syria aren't exactly embarrassed by their support for pro-Palestinian groups, widely condemned as terrorists such as Hamas and Hizbollah - so could these nations themselves become legitimate targets? Or in the war against terror, will pragmatism triumph over principle? KIPPER: I think behind the scenes that Iran is a more active partner in the anti-terror coalition that meets the eye, at least in public. The picture is not clear and as American officials have said, we're going to get help in this global campaign from even those who are still part of the problem and I would certainly put Syria in that category. GLAIEL: One day you are rogue state, you are terrorist and one day you are very good and you are main player in the region and they need your support and your help, and this really, we don't care very much about those names given to us and to others. WATSON: The West is likely to reward those rogue states which recant. But some countries - including the Yemen and Somalia- might not have the capacity to take on any terrorists connected to al-Qaeda who might be operating there. While both government and opposition here emphasize economic action, some in the US say a key role should be given to covert forces in this type of campaign. KIPPER: I think Americans and the rest of the world have now discovered that US special forces in terms of intelligence and getting things done on the ground and helping local people to accomplish strategic goals is a very efficient and quite useful form of combat that has less publicity, less collateral damage than a bombing campaign or the normal conventional warfare. ANCRAM: The effective way in which you deal with terrorism is by making sure that the terrorist no longer has the ability to thrive in the international community, you cut off their bolt holes, you cut off those sources of supply. I think it's very dangerous to allow ourselves to get in to the mind-set where we say there is, there is evidence that a country is supporting terrorism, therefore we, there is only one form of action that can be taken against it. This is a long-term campaign against international terrorism which will occur in different ways in different parts of the world. WATSON: Phase two of the global war on terror will manifest itself in many forms; but there are those who argue that being tough on the causes of terrorism is the surest way to shut out support for the terrorists themselves. BATTLE: We've got to address where globalisation and the global economy is not delivering opportunities and people are still locked out from that, where there are still countries where people are dire poverty and conflict, we've to address those pressure points and urgently. And that means perhaps Palestine and Israel of course, that's in the focus, I'd say in Kashmir as well in that conflict between Pakistan and India. PERLE: If the foreign ministers of the world, all of whom are reluctant to engage militarily certainly prevail, then we will end the war on terrorism without a decisive victory, and I think that would be a terrible tragedy and the attacks on New York and Washington will turn out to be just the beginning. WATSON: The US-led coalition has made swift progress in difficult conditions in Afghanistan; but success can encourage ambition; any escalation of the war on terror, involving other nations, will have to be negotiated carefully if the Coalition is to remain in the ascendant, and avoid imploding.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.