• U.S.

For the Democracies, A Moral Right, Indeed Duty, to Defend Themselves

5 minute read

The Washington conference that led to the book Terrorism: How the West Can Win attracted an international galaxy of Cabinet ministers, legislators, military officers and scholars. Some highlights of what they said:

“A purely passive defense does not provide enough of a deterrent to terrorism and the states that sponsor it. It is time to think long, hard and seriously about more active means of defense–defense through preventive or pre-emptive actions against terrorist groups before they strike.

“We will need to strengthen our capabilities in the areas of intelligence and quick reaction. Intelligence will be particularly important, since our societies demand that we know with reasonable clarity just what we are doing and against whom we are acting. Experience has taught us that one of the best deterrents to terrorism is the certainty that swift and sure measures will be taken against those who engage in it. “Clearly there are complicated moral issues here. But there should be no doubt of the democracies’ moral right, indeed duty, to defend themselves.”

–Secretary of State George Shultz

“The most powerful totalitarian state of our time is also the principal supporter and sponsor of international terrorism. In the late 1960s, Soviet theorists began to emphasize the ‘armed road’ as the way to achieve power in the western hemisphere. They have set about supporting terrorist groups in this hemisphere. These technicians in violence and propaganda are called national liberation movements.

“The United Nations’ acceptance of so-called national liberation movements as legitimate is a good indicator of the moral confusion that has come to surround this view of violence as the preferred method of political action. Since the 1970s, the U.N. General Assembly has passed numerous resolutions asserting its support for the right of ‘national liberation movements’ to ‘struggle by all means . . . to achieve power.’ It has consistently condemned countries for attempting to defend themselves against terrorist violence. The distinction between legitimate and illegitimate use of force has not so much been blurred as stood on its head.”

–Former U.N. Ambassador Jeane


“Terrorism denies the distinction between state and society, public and private, government and individual, the distinction that lies at the heart of humane belief. For the terrorist, as for the totalitarian state, there are no innocent bystanders, no private citizens. Terrorism denies that there is any private sphere, that individuals have any rights or any autonomy separate from or beyond politics. There are thus no standards according to which the individual citizen, or the threatened society, can attempt to come to terms with the totalitarian terrorist. There is no way to satisfy his demands.”

–Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

“If there are no ‘good’ terrorists, it follows that civilized states must , act collectively against all of them. We have to grasp the fact that to hurt one terrorist movement is to hurt them all. So, on the military level, I would like to see a coordinated, well-financed, informal and secret effort by the major civilized powers to discover and exchange information about movements, routes, identities, weapons stocks, methods, plans, codes, safe houses and bases of all terrorists everywhere. We must be prepared to devise and carry through concerted operations. The hydra is less likely to survive if struck simultaneously in several places. All the democracies must have trained antiterrorist units, and they must be accustomed to acting in concert.

“For the terrorist, there can be no hiding places. The terrorist must never be allowed to feel safe anywhere in the world. A terrorist kept constantly on the defensive is an ineffective terrorist.”

–Author Paul Johnson

(Modern Times)

“We must realize that fighting terrorism poses a problem of external defense, not only one of internal law-and-order. It is irrelevant to ask whether we endanger democracy if we fight terrorism with appropriate means. Second, our defense has to be collective, coordinated by all democratic countries. Third, we must stop making exceptions for terrorists, whatever the causes they claim to espouse. Fourth, we must understand that terrorism is not an isolated phenomenon. It is part of the Soviet Union’s program of global domination, a program that includes among its interim objectives the achievement of military superiority, the promotion of one-sided doctrines of noninterference, the domination of the Socialist International and the nonaligned movement, and the waging of systematic disinformation.”

–Author Jean-Francois Revel

(Without Marx or Jesus)

“Little imagination is needed to understand the dangers to the world if terrorist regimes and groups were ever to acquire nuclear weapons. Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi has for years tried to acquire nuclear weapons. He has pressed the Soviets to supply him with a plutonium-producing reactor. He has offered Pakistan cash and uranium in a nuclear trade. He has tried to buy nuclear weapons from China. At the very least, he is building the intellectual resources in Libya to help make weapons of his own. Libya’s Tajura Nuclear Research Center offers use of highly enriched weapons-grade uranium. The leaders of the West must face up to the ultimate terrorist threat.”

–Senator Alan Cranston ^

“Is there some compensating advantage that justifies television interviews with terrorists? I do not believe there is. The justification commonly advanced is that “we need to know what these people think.” But that is nonsense. To begin with, we invariably know what they think long before they appear on television to tell us. Second, what they say on television is not necessarily what they think (which is much more accurately conveyed by what they do–kneecapping, amputations, point-blank murder and the like). It is sugared propaganda.”

–John O’Sullivan, associate editor,

the Times of London

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com