Defining New Threats

Despite revived interest in Pearl Harbor because of a Disney film, today's threats to peace are far different - and far more difficult to define and defend against.

This week's successful conviction of four followers of Osama bin Laden for the bombing of two US embassies highlights just how government must use a range of responses to unconventional attacks like terrorist bombs. By using smart investigators and by applying the rule of law, the US put a dent in Mr. bin Laden's global anti-American organization.

But more than new-style terrorism is forcing the US and its allies to debate the nature of new threats and new concepts of defense.

NATO itself, which was the military bulwark against the Soviet Union, was split this week between the US and Europe over whether the world faces a common threat of missile attacks. Despite the Bush administration's argument for rapid deployment of a missile defense shield, foreign ministers of the 19-member alliance refused to agree that missiles from dangerous nations "do pose" a threat. Europeans went only so far as to say the missiles "can pose" a threat.

Even within the administration, a review of possible threats and military strategy, led by defense chief Donald Rumsfeld, has opened up sharp disagreements. Would defining China as a threat, for instance, likely turn it into one? Or, can North Korea's missiles be neutralized by foreign aid rather than an expensive, unproven missile defense system?

Ever since the minutemen, Americans have been alert to new threats without being overly alarmist. At this time of rethinking new safeguards for peace, the US should again be both alert and calm, without creating fear.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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