Global Liberty
Toward a foreign policy for democratic nations.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the version of a speech presented at the Venice Conference IV on November 19, 2004, as a working paper for Center-Right Parties of the North Atlantic Alliance. Under the leadership of Senator Ferdinando Adornato of Italy, and drawing upon many sources, a public “charter” or “manifesto” is to be issued in 2005.

This speech is published here as prepared.

World War IV began in a long string of terrorist attacks, whose real nature went unrecognized until on September 11, 2001, huge billows of black smoke curled above New York City, Washington, D.C., and a field near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

This sudden outbreak of World War IV altered the strategic picture of the world.

Several almost entirely new questions were thrown into our faces. Among these were such questions as asymmetric warfare, preemptive warfare, rogue states, and humanitarian intervention.

The Historical Challenge

Before tackling these questions, it is necessary to recall the dynamic narrative in which these concepts fit. A clear grasp of this narrative should shape the foreign policy of the Center-Right parties of the North Atlantic. This vision was once promoted by the parties of the left, too, but the Left, alas, seems now to have lost its zeal for promoting freedom in the world.

In the year 1900, the number of democracies in the world could be numbered on one hand, all concentrated in the North Atlantic states. Over the next hundred years, two great anti-liberal currents swept through intellectual and political life.

The first turbulent current was Communism, which aimed to destroy freedom in the economic order. Communism also imposed the most rigid and draconian dictatorship on politics and culture that history has ever seen. Communists promised that socialism would be better for poor people than capitalism.

The second was Fascism, which also proposed that dictatorship is superior to democracy. “Democracy,” the fascists said, is “all talk and no action,” outmoded, weak, and indecisive. Fascists promised that dictatorship would be better for poor people, and predicted that dictatorship would sweep the whole world. The fascist challenge aimed to destroy freedom in the political order.

Both these political claimants, Communism and Fascism, were anti-liberal. They set out to eradicate individual liberty, free associations, and democratic institutions. They aimed to eradicate free communities of every type, and thus destroy the rich communitarian dimension of liberal societies.

The Liberal Spirit–Vindicated, Tested

Both the Fascist model and the Communist model disgraced themselves by becoming risible “losers”–by their dramatic economic failures–and by the terror they imposed upon their subjects. Fascism ended in war and ruin, while Communism reduced its peoples to the economic level of the “the fourth world.” The enduring memories these plagues left behind are concentration camps and gulags.

Meanwhile, the nations that at great cost defended the liberal idea spent so much energy in battles to the death against the political threat of dictatorship and the economic threat of socialism, that they neglected the moral and cultural foundations of the free society.

Nonetheless, the main narrative line of the liberal spirit was vindicated–namely, that the truly energizing and creative power of history is liberty. Liberty is the brilliant golden thread of historical progress.

On the other hand, among free women and men a certain weariness and lassitude, not to mention spiritual barrenness and cultural relativism, slowly became visible. With victory over the foes of freedom in hand, many lost sight of the rigors of spirit that liberty demands.

For this reason, when World War III (the Cold War) ended successfully, people on all sides wanted a long rest. Most wanted, after so much suffering and deprivation, mainly to enjoy life. Instead, the terrorists of 9/11 jolted us awake to new dangers, and brutally reminded us that hundreds of millions of young men and women around the world still do not share in the blessings of liberty.

Thus, the tasks of liberty are still not completed. The blessings of liberty and the protections of individual dignity and human rights have not yet come to the one billion human beings of the religion of Islam. This gap in basic liberties has allowed the good name of Islam to be manipulated by a small but deadly network of Islamic terrorists with political ambitions, perhaps best described as “Islamofascists.”

Liberty’s Dynamism

Since leftists today rarely celebrate the dynamism of economic liberty, parties of the left are slow to become excited by the challenge of bringing liberty to other cultures. Their anti-capitalist tendencies are so powerful that they loathe the economic system of free societies. They tend to argue that peoples in other civilizations do not hunger for “our kind” of liberty, are not “ready” for it, cannot make it work.

By contrast, the first principle of the parties of the Center Right is the dynamic power of liberty–in culture, in politics, in economics. The parties of the Center Right aim to open the way to liberty in every culture and nation on the planet. They hold that liberty is written into the inner workings of three distinctively human activities–insight, judgment, and choice. All three are personal actions. All three are free.

In this way, liberty is written into the constitution of human nature, and the right to express this liberty is a natural right, valid for all human beings, in all times and places. There are no leaders who boast that their people are “unfree,” by nature worthy of enslavement.

Insight, judgment, and choice, the three capacities that distinguish the human being from all other creatures on earth, are precisely the capacities that give rise to humor and laughter, wisdom, irony, tragedy, responsibility, glory, and in short all the qualities that enrich the human story with drama, color and honor. Where there are humans, there is liberty.

The impulse to extend the boundaries of “the three liberties”–liberty from tyranny and torture, liberty from poverty, and liberty of conscience, inquiry, and speech–is the mainspring of the foreign policy of Center-Right nations.

A Positive Agenda

A grasp of this background narrative–that liberty is the mainspring of history–is essential to a discussion of the Era of Terrorism. For in attacking terrorism, we must formulate an alternative–the state of the world we are trying to establish, a world in which free societies replace tyrannies. This end clarifies all the means, strategies, tactics, and actions deployed toward that end. The reason is that free societies tend to treat one another by way of persuasion, not force.

It is not true to say that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” A terrorist is a person who kills defenseless civilians deliberately and as a matter of policy, as an instrument for compelling compliance or even subjugation. The aim of terrorism is not at all freedom, but capitulation to the will of the terrorist.

To repeat and elaborate, the end toward which parties of the Center Right aim is a world of free societies, in which young men and women may enjoy dignity, freedom, prosperity, and opportunity to explore and fulfill their talents, so that they may live with satisfaction rather than resentment.

At any one stage in real-time history, such an end may be only partially realized. But it is the end toward which by nature all things human already tend. Liberty is a long school, and even the most advanced societies have not yet learned all that it entails.

It is this end that must be kept in mind at every stage of the following discussion. It is not enough to kill or imprison terrorists. One must also help them build free societies that will fulfill their talents and aspirations. The war on terror must be met with a positive agenda, not merely a defensive one.

Toward a Foreign Policy

As matters stand, much of the Islamic world is sorely tempted by profound feelings of resentment, because of the relative backwardness of Islamic societies, which a millennium ago were leading centers of civilization and law in the entire world. This feeling of inferiority, in conflict with older feelings of superiority, has generated powerful turmoil in the bosoms of many Muslims, especially the young. In addition, widespread longings among Muslim peoples for the same prosperity and liberties that other peoples of the world enjoy are powerfully contesting the murderous resentment of the violent. We have seen these revolts often recently–against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and in massive popular discontent within Iran and Sudan. Among Muslims today, the longing for liberty among the many is contesting with the lust for bloodshed among the few.

With this backdrop in mind, we turn now to four immediate perplexities.

ASYMMETRIC WARFARE 1. There is no doubt that Osama bin Laden (not alone) has raised a huge challenge for contemporary statecraft, viz., how to protect the peace of right order against a wholly new type of threat.

2. The newness of the threat comes from two things: First, the rise of a new type of non-state international actor; second, the power and the danger of certain new technologies of destruction, such as “dirty” nuclear materials mixed with explosives, chemical weapons, and biological weapons. All these can be prepared in very small sizes which can be carried by only one man. All are capable of killing many thousands of civilian victims and wreaking massive destruction

3. Osama bin Laden has grasped the vulnerabilities of free and open societies today. Their technological networks are very complex, highly integrated, and easy to disrupt with precise acts of violence. Tall buildings like the skyscrapers of New York are manifestly vulnerable. The same is true of great suspension bridges, nuclear power plants, water reservoirs, communications hubs, even the virus-prone internet.

4. Bin Laden has demonstrated how relatively easy it is for a small, disciplined, highly trained cadre of warriors willing to die in the attempt to wreak horrific damage, and to terrorize entire nations (as in Spain recently).

5. The essence of asymmetric warfare today consists of three elements: (1) a non-state actor; (2) secretly or at least unofficially supported by rogue states (such as Iran) and/or weak states (which may have little control over vast sections of their own national territory); and (3) expertise in training terrorists in the clandestine disciplines and arts, and in the use of weapons of mass destruction that may be put on target by single persons choosing to (or at least willing to) die in the attempt. In addition, practitioners of asymmetric warfare make use of the internet for communications, and the relatively open travel systems of the West.

6. Since a terrorist group is not a state but a shadowy, unofficial network, deterrence as used in the Cold War is an ineffective counter-strategy.

7. Since a crime-and-detection defense is essentially passive, and concedes the first (and possibly horrific) strike to the foe, its weaknesses are manifest. For example, the United States treated the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 as a crime problem, and that approach seemed to encourage, and certainly did not discourage, the second and fatal attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

8. Finally, the threat of asymmetric warfare calls for new defensive strategies which require fresh thinking about at least one of the requirements for a just war and also about one traditional principle of international law. One of the traditional requirements for a just war is that the offensive assault against which defense is morally legitimate must be “imminent.” But what does “imminent” mean when the attacking force is not launched through the mass mobilization of entire armies near a national border, but by a single clandestine attacker carrying a weapon of mass destruction (e.g., a dirty nuclear bomb, chemical or biological weapons, or even a high explosive placed in a crowded and vulnerable civilian environment)? When did the attack of September 11 become “imminent”? Perfect advance intelligence might have spotted the conspirators on their way to carrying out their deadly missions (if their pre-planned method had been detected in advance). Failing that, the evidence of “imminent threat” appeared for sure only when the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center, and other planes were known to have been hijacked simultaneously. In other words, too late.

9. For this reason, the imminence of offensive assault under conditions of asymmetric warfare in contemporary circumstances needs to be redefined, to meet conditions of contemporary reality. Both international law and just war theory need slight modifications, based on ancient precedents, to adjust their reasoning to account for new technological realities. The contemporary realities of “imminence” need to be reexamined.

FORWARD-LEANING DEFENSE 10. It is in this context that a new defensive strategy has been worked out, which might best be called “forward-leaning defense,” although some have chosen the unfortunate name “preemptive warfare.” The point of the new defense is, under certain conditions, to go seek the practitioners of asymmetric warfare–the terrorists–in the lands where they have established their support systems, not only their training camps, but also their diffused operational centers ( “safe houses”) of command, communications, strategic and tactical planning, and intelligence. Forward-leaning defense is an active defense aimed at putting the terrorists on the defensive in their own lairs, rather than waiting for them to attack with offensive operations.

11. The conditions for this forward-leaning defense are these: (1) “probable cause” intelligence about the existence and location of the afore-named operational centers of terrorist networks; (2) legal authorization for the defensive attacks from legitimate national authorities (self-defense is the primary responsibility of the governments of nation states); (3) and, if attainable in due time, the cooperation of a coalition of willing states capable of making legitimate arguments for the justice of the cause.

12. It goes without saying that the other conditions of just war theory must be met by the actions of forward-leaning defense, especially the in bello conditions such as no intentional harm to innocent civilians, strictly minimal collateral harm, and the use of weapons that are proportionate to circumstances.

13. In the best of all circumstances, the approval of an international body would be ideally required, to prevent a new right for preemptive warfare to be generated, whereby rogue states using false pretences could make war on less powerful states whose goods they coveted. Today, the United Nations is not in an objective position to provide such counsel, however, for it is almost always possible for a group of nations in the U.N. to protect their own interests by blocking the needed consensus.

14. The situation might be different if there were a separate international organization of the like-minded, committed to the goals of democracy and human rights, and whose internal disagreements would not prevent consensus on matters of grave importance, such as the self-defense of member states from anti-democratic assaults.

ROGUE STATES 15. The most dangerous foes of free societies are certain rogue states that are determined to accrue power by violating international order (for instance, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) at the expense of their own people and of other nations. Both Afghanistan under the Taliban, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, are recent examples of such states. Afghanistan injured international order by harboring the training camps of Al Qaeda. Iraq used oil money to corrupt the UN system, to defeat the UN sanctions imposed upon its arms programs, and to hide the weapons programs of its secret services. Iran and North Korea are now the preeminent international threats. Sudan’s genocidal attacks upon its own citizens in Darfur qualify it also for the list of rogue states. Until it changed its ways, Libya also qualified as an ominous and threatening menace to the world.

16. There is considerable evidence that Iran, in particular, is extremely active in training, aiding, financing, and in some cases even directing terrorist groups now active in the Islamic world–including Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and others. In the minds of some, the capital of Iran is also the headquarters of the “terrormasters,” whose malignant influence is felt throughout the international terror network. While consensus on that point is growing only slowly, Iran’s strenuous efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and to evade the inspections regime of the Atomic Energy Agency, have already become a cause for urgent alarm throughout the civilized world.

17. Rogue states are those nations that not only violate international norms in their treatment of their own population but also threaten the peace and security of other nations. It is the latter feature, the international threat, that commands the attention of the rest of the world. To some extent, when a rogue state abuses the human rights of its own citizens, it offends the norms of the whole human community, and may well draw the comment and criticism of many nations and international organizations. But the resources of the world community for correcting abuses within sovereign nations are very limited. International intervention, always reluctantly agreed to, is necessarily restricted to threats to the peace and security of other nations, and to such flagrant cases of internal abuse (genocide, for instance, including enforced famine) as can scarcely be overlooked by civilized peoples. Alas, however, even the worst cases of such abuse are likely to draw the corrective attention of other nations only if their own vital interests are threatened. The resources of nations, after all, are finite, and their range of action cannot be unlimited.

18. This principle of finitude has necessitated the distinction between global idealism and global realism. While free nations have an interest in the spread of democracy to all nations, they must limit their commitment of military and other expensive aid to those cases in which their own security or vital interests are inextricably involved. No nation is infinite, and common sense binds them to a certain modesty of reach.

19. Rogue states are different in their size, power, geography, capacity to disrupt the international community, and historical relationships to world order. For this reason also, the proper response to them by other nations must often be unique to each unique case. No one pattern fits all.

HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION 20. Post-1991 events such as the genocides occurring in Rwanda and Kosovo, the famine in Somalia, the reign of terror in southern Sudan, and other international crises have taught those who feel compassion for the sufferings of their fellow human beings–and are responsive to the ancient question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”–of the need for new criteria for the intervention of other states for humanitarian reasons. In some cases, it is politically and morally too difficult merely to do nothing. In the face of extreme suffering on the part of large number of people, it seems positively wrong to do nothing.

21. Over the years, public debate has sorted out five succinct conditions under which humanitarian intervention by other nations is called for. [See, e.g., Tony Blair's speech to the Economic Club of Chicago in April 1999].
(1) Are we sure of our case? War is an imperfect instrument for righting humanitarian distress; but armed force is sometimes the only means of dealing with dictators.
(2) Have we exhausted all diplomatic options? We should always give peace every chance, up to the point at which the danger occasioned by delay exceeds the danger that arises from intervention.
(3) On the basis of a practical assessment of the situation, are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake?
(4) Are we prepared for the long term? In the past, we talked too much about exit strategies. But having made a commitment, we cannot simply walk away once the fight is over; better to stay with moderate numbers of troops than return for repeat performances with large numbers.
(5) Do we have national interests involved? The mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo demanded the notice of the rest of the world. But the deciding difference was the danger of this activity in such a combustible part of Europe, with a history of provoking a larger war.

22. These may not be the only conditions to be considered. Fresh thinking on the criteria for deciding when humanitarian intervention is legitimate and necessary and when not, is a matter of practical urgency.

THE INSTITUTIONS OF LIBERTY 23. The first exercise of liberty is personal and moral. It appears in personal acts performed with reflection, deliberation, and open-eyed choice. But its second exercise is public, through appropriate institutions of politics, economics, and culture, and this exercise of liberty is the primary responsibility assigned to political and social leaders. These political, economic, and cultural institutions extend the reach of liberty into every sphere of everyday life. Building up such institutions in any one of these spheres is very difficult; building them in all three at once is difficulty cubed. It should come as no surprise, then, that building a fully free society is a long-term affair. Yet it must be noted that some nations (Western Europe after 1945, East Asia after 1960) made stunning progress in less than a generation.

24. In our time any global order worthy to be called just must be characterized by institutions of liberty. Liberty and justice are mutually interdependent. No free society is worthy of the human race if it is not just. No society does justice to the human race if it is not free.

25. In our day, when we speak of a global order, we mean more than international law and the universal declaration of rights. Globalization these days points beyond the political order. For we also face new economic realities such as open and free global trade–the economic dimension of global order. This economic order has been created by at least five factors: an exponential increase in global trade; virtually instantaneous movements of global capital; instant worldwide communications; international labor mobility; and the rapid spread of entirely new technologies.

Thus, the new global order has a political dimension, insofar as the reach of democratic institutions and institutions of human rights keeps expanding (although slowly) around the world. It is also rapidly gaining an economic dimension, as is reflected in the much-misunderstood term “globalization.” Finally, it is at last becoming clear, as well, that the new international order has a moral and even a religious dimension.

26. Europe alone among the continents is tending (at least among elites and in European bureaucracies) in an ever more secular direction. By contrast, in Africa, America, and Asia, we see a reawakening of religious reasoning and moral seriousness, in revulsion against secularism, relativism, and nihilism. Meanwhile, the 53 Islamic nations of the world retain a strong sense of religion, despite inroads by failed secular ideologies such as socialism, marxism, Arab nationalism, enforced secularism (such as in Turkey). But the Islamic nations are also being torn by an upheaval of modern jihadism, which borrows from 20th century secular movements such as fascism and Leninism its methods of terror, secrecy, organization by cells, and predilection for bloodlust. This odd jihadism also nurses passions based upon a myth of return to eleventh-century Shari’a law. The vast majority of Islamic peoples, however, seems to be appalled by the extremism of the jihadists (as we have seen in Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere). Many want to be devout Muslims, but also enjoy the fruits of the progress in prosperity and human dignity during recent centuries.

Virtually everywhere, in any case, religion is a far more potent energy in world affairs today than most scholars of a generation ago had predicted or even imagined. And secularism is no longer an untarnished or wholly attractive ideal. In particular, secularism seems to have no way to reverse the tangible moral decline within otherwise advanced countries.

27. Friedrich Hayek argued shortly after World War II that if liberty is to prosper in the new age, it will be necessary for all who believe in liberty, whether believers or unbelievers, to end the patricidal feuding that followed the French Revolution of 1789. The proponents of liberty are not too many, but too few, and so they must learn to cooperate on behalf of the spread of liberty.

In most of the world, the love for liberty has two main sources. The first is rooted in human experience and human reason, the second in certain religions. On the one hand, it is not the case that freedom is understood everywhere in the same way. On the other hand, by a kind of via negativa, the wars, oppressions, holocausts, and cruelties of the 20th century have taught practically the entire world a revulsion against certain “crimes against humanity,” and opposition to severe violations of human rights. These revulsions, in turn, have given new currency to moral and religious reasoning about the nature of human beings. They have raised questions about the ground of human rights, and the origin of human conscience.

Further, it has become clear that in order to appeal to all peoples and cultures, a merely secular articulation of these questions would be too narrow, non-inclusive, and unsatisfactory. It would leave unattended the religiousness of the great majority of people on the planet.

By the same measure, the intellectual and linguistic traditions of no one among the world’s global religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and a small number of others) would by itself be any more satisfactory than a merely secular idiom. In some ways, it might be less so. Nonetheless, we now need a way of thinking and speaking about religious and moral reasoning that is open both to believers of many different faiths and to unbelievers. Taking religion into account in a fair and open fashion is required by the necessities of building free societies open to all, and of living together in reasonable amity and mutual respect.

28. One way of developing such a language might be to reflect upon the requirements of human liberty itself. Even unbelievers may be willing to contemplate a source of human rights beyond the power of the state. One practical, institutional step in this direction has been the negative command that the state and its officials must not make laws respecting the domain of conscience and the free exercise of religion. At the same time, religious institutions and their leaders must not make political decisions in the domain of secular governance.

Another path toward the conception we are searching for is to recognize that the decision human beings make with respect to the duties their conscience recognizes in relation to their Creator–whether to accept or to reject a duty of gratitude to such a Creator–is prior in time and in seriousness to any other obligation, including any obligation of civil society. The relation between the individual and the Creator of all is prior to the relation of that individual to other human beings in civil society (and even in family life). That is why this duty, when it is recognized, is said to be inalienable. No other person, not even father or mother, or brother or sister, or spouse, can make this decision except the individual alone. And no institution of civil society may intrude upon it. The decision each individual takes toward the Creator (even if to reject any such duty) cannot be ‘alienated’ either by the state or any other association, not even the family.

29. In the large ‘prison literature’ of the 20th century, many survivors such as Sharansky and Mihailov have described the via negativa by which their experiences under the torments of interrogators and torturers led them, first, to resolve not to tell a lie; that is, to be faithful to the light within them that marked off what is true from what is false. At first, they thought of that light as part of themselves. Then, since every part of themselves was under assault by their torturers, and still they were determined to be faithful to the light, they began to think that light, after all, was not entirely under their own control, but seemed to come as it were from a source beyond themselves. In this way, they were led to recognize the obscure presence of God within themselves. Others, of course, under the same experience, did not go so far; in this realm, above all, freedom reigns. When they reached this point of fidelity to the light of truth, such prisoners as Sharansky and Mihailov (and a legion of others) experienced a great inner freedom and power–even a power greater than that of their adversaries. For they had what their interrogators wished to take from them, and could not. So long as they remained faithful to truth, they were inwardly free. They gained a great sense of the dignity that flows from freedom held in the light of the truth. Such old phrases as ‘The truth shall make you free’ reverberated in their hearts with new meaning. And so also the phrase: ‘Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.’ This maxim is the chief barrier against all totalitarianism. All things do not belong to the state. There are limits on the state. The rights and even the liberty of the individual come from fidelity to the truth–which for Jews and Christians (but perhaps not for secularists) is another name for God.

30. The rights of the individual cannot be alienated from him by any other individual or institution or earthly power. But such rights are only mere words–air through lips–unless they are protected by a democratic regime. On this point, Sakharov and Sharansky and many other moral heroes of the past century gave witness. It is in the nature of dictators to use individuals as means and to abuse their rights. It is also their nature to seek enemies, in order to keep their subjects in fear.

By contrast, democracies rooted in the rule of law and committed to honoring both individual rights and the consent of the governed tend toward peace. When the governed must give consent to war, they tend to count the costs, and agree only as a last resort. Thus, in our time, democracy has become the new word for peace. And it has also become the new word for personal dignity. For the institutions that constitute democracy rightly understood–the rule of law, the separation of powers, the protection of individual rights, limited government, and the like–provide the best ecology in which rights can actually be exercised, talents developed, and personal dignity respected.

Dictatorship or democracy? The freedom of all is unsafe so long as there are dictatorships, abusing their peoples.

31. That is why the nations of the North Atlantic have committed themselves to spreading knowledge of democratic principles in every culture of the world, and to giving assistance to democratic associations and individuals. For it is the belief of North Atlantic peoples, for reasons of both philosophy and faith, that the same natural rights they declare for themselves belong to all other human beings as well. After all, they have their origin in the Creator of all, and they belong to all who share in the same human nature.

After the fall of Nazism and the fall of Communism, after so many decades of bleak suffering, a natural weariness descended upon the peoples of the North Atlantic. They thought for a brief time that their hard work was done, and they could now rest in their own domestic prosperity and peace. Suddenly, the War declared on all of them on September 11, 2001, and May 11, 2004, ended their illusions.

In our time, the world must live either in freedom or in fear. And freedom for the individual cannot be secured, nor the rights of individuals kept safe, except in democracies designed for that purpose. The maxim bears repeating: Democracy is the new name for personal dignity. Democracy is the new name for peace.

Michael Novak, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission and to the Bern Round of the Helsinki Talks, holds the George F. Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.