Looking just at the numbers, the attack on the World Trade Center and the US response to it are rather revealing:
The attack itself killed people from some 80 countries;
The Al Qaeda terrorist network operates in 50 to 60 countries;
President Bush is stitching together a patchwork coalition of dozens of countries for a US-led campaign against global terrorism.
Add that up, and you realize that nations count.
Terrorists may be able to hide in the shadows, but when they challenge one nation-state, many others rise up in mutual defense. This is a strong reminder that the nation-state itself was a necessary invention for mankind just a few hundred years ago.
When aroused to protect themselves, nation-states have far more resources than pirates, marauders, anarchists, and terrorists, who ignore borders and standards of international conduct. Over time, nations can win against terrorists if popular will stays the course. (See story, page 2.)
The United States, which so far has only flexed its muscles with aircraft carriers, a financial dragnet, heightened spying, made multiple arrests, and its circle-the-wagons diplomacy, already has put Osama bin Laden on the defensive, and perhaps on the run.
His band can only hope to find another nation-state like Afghanistan that's in chaos and isolated.
But Mr. Bush has drawn a deep line in the sand by threatening action against any nation that harbors global terrorists. That's really a call for nation-states to recognize the historical role they play in the march of civilization against tribalism, drug lords, and criminal gangs. They serve as safe areas for people to learn about God and temper any instinct to violence. They are, at root, a collective call for mankind to better itself.
The US-led coalition will only be strong if its member states recognize the fundamental challenge that terrorism and its potential use of lethal technologies pose to the concept of sovereignty. Nations, such as China, that might have been seen as a threat just a few months ago are now being wooed by the US into "coalitions of the good." The silent message: You could be next on a terrorist hit list.
Forming coalitions is the wisest diplomatic strategy, even if it entails compromises by individual nations on the means and ends. The US still has much to learn about when to compromise in order to join other nations in a common goal. But when faced with a crisis like terrorism on US soil, the learning curve suddenly becomes steep and powerful.
Marshaling all the resources of friendly nations is the best strategy against the unknowns that lie ahead.