Pressure grows on US to aid 'weak' states to curb terrorism

A commission recommends revamping aid programs to help nations solve problems before terrorism takes root.

After the controversy over President Bush labeling three nations an "axis of evil," some experts are urging the US to turn its focus to a larger and perhaps just as worrisome club of "weak" states as a way to curb global terrorism.

Moreover, this group - including security experts and congressional leaders - believes the way to address the threats is through the "soft power" of development assistance, something that has not had the same attention as military might.

What is needed, they say, is an overhaul of US aid and development programs to raise the profile of these countries and to make clear their role in battling terrorism. Such a move could prove a boon to the Bush administration by highlighting a shift from confrontation to diplomacy - a post-Iraq penchant observers say was already on display at last week's G-8 summit.

The challenge of global development was recently addressed by a bipartisan Commission on Weak States and US National Security. It concluded that a reorganization is needed to give the US an effective tool for addressing a growing 21st-century threat. It recommended that one cabinet-level agency be created out of the many development programs currently spread out over a dozen departments.

"9/11 showed us how weak and failed states are the threat that puts our security most at risk, and creating Homeland Security and talking about a major intelligence reorganization are a direct response to that," says Stuart Eizenstat, cochair of the commission. Rethinking strategies for aid "is the third leg of that stool."

Looking at the challenge a little differently, cochair John Edward Porter, a former GOP congressman from Illinois, says: "We have zeroed in on the need to find and destroy terrorists, and we have worked to provide better protection for the American people at home. But we haven't really looked at the third track - how we reach out to even our potential enemies and engage with states that are losing ground in ways that can stop them from becoming a threat to our security."

Acting earlier is the kind of "preventive work that could put off the military action, the huge expenses that entails, and loss of American life," says Mr. Porter.

Creation of a superagency for foreign aid, long dismissed by critics as a type of international welfare, would no doubt be as contested as the Homeland Security reorganization. But even some experts focused more on military matters say the time for heightened attention to weak states has come. "Over the last half-century we have set up 120 new states, and not all of them are working," says John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.com. "There are large patches of this planet that don't have real states. We lack a systematic way to deal with this, and, as 9/11 showed us, we fail to take up the problem before it gets worse at our own risk."

The Bush administration has acknowledged the link between development and terrorism since 9/11. It said eradicating the seedbeds of terrorism was one of the aims of its "millennium accounts," an approach to foreign aid that rewards developing countries for good government. The terrorist threat is also behind the administration's Greater Middle East Initiative endorsed by the G-8 group of developed countries at their summit in Georgia last week.

But aid experts note that the millennium accounts largely focus on successful states, while the Middle East initiative fails to encompass most of the "weak" states prone to becoming terrorist havens. Those states, the commission notes, are focused in Africa and Central Asia.

Aware that talk of any kind of intervention in problem states could find quick rejection among Americans weary of Iraq, Mr. Eizenstat says the idea is to solve problems earlier so the American habit of "rushing in and then abandoning a place to future troubles" can be broken.

The commission, sponsored by the Center for Global Development in Washington, centered its work on the indicators of weak and failed states rather than on particular examples. Among the indictors: failures to control borders, meet the basic needs of citizens, and establish the legitimacy that comes from effective government.

But the commission notes that several countries in recent years have failed on all accounts, including Somalia, Afghanistan, and Haiti - all three of which have prompted US military intervention. Other poor performers - including Pakistan, Chad, Sudan, and Somalia - have either experienced internal conflicts that have led to outside intervention, or have failed to control their borders, leading to concerns about terrorist infiltration.

To address such threats, the commission lays out a set of recommendations, including creation of a directorate within the UN National Security Council to focus on weak states.

In addition, it calls for measures to deliver faster preventive action: creation of a rapid-response corps of technocrats to work with failing states, greater US support for regional peacekeeping capacities, and a $1 billion contingency fund at the president's disposal to respond to signs of weakening states.

Some of the ideas are already advancing. Last week the G-8 committed to training 75,000 peacekeepers to deal with crises primarily in Africa.

GlobalSecurity's Mr. Pike goes further, saying the international community ultimately needs a way to "declare countries as failed and bankrupt, just as you would a corporation," and to put them under international trusteeship.

Already the idea of a cabinet-level superagency focused on development - mirroring a recent reorganization of Britain's development structure - would be controversial enough. "Frankly I see this [proposal] as ... difficult to get implemented," says Porter. "But it's a way of saying to Congress and the American people, 'That's how important this issue is.' "

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