Global consensus needed to defeat terrorism

By Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

Financial Times

Published: July 9 2005

The barbarity of terrorism has once again struck the people of Europe. In the aftermath of a terrorist attack, the most pressing need is, of course, to care for the victims. On July 7, yet another day of evil, I conveyed to the people and government of Britain our solidarity and full support. We want those who have suffered from these attacks to know they can rely on us to help in any way we can.

Second, the full force of the law must be brought to bear on those who planned, carried out or were behind this atrocity. In Spain, we will do all in our power to ensure this happens.

Then, this new episode of mad violence requires us to go further. It serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to defeat terrorism.

Given our lengthy and painful experience of more than 30 years of combating this scourge, in Spain we know that in the battle against terrorism it is vital to preserve the rule of law, to maintain unity among democrats, to give the security forces the support they need and also to deepen international co-operation.

A few months ago, the commemoration of the terrorist strikes in Madrid of March 11 2004 gave us the opportunity to engage in deep and useful reflection on how to carry forward this fight.

Terrorism can only be defeated by a collective response on the part of the international community. In pursuing their criminal cause, terrorists do not hesitate to abuse the multiple possibilities afforded by today’s world and its technologies to spread their ideology of death and to move quickly the information, people and objects they require to carry out their crimes. Terrorism has thus become a global threat that requires a global response.

We must begin by making an effort to comprehend the conditions that facilitate the spread of fanaticism and support for terror. We cannot ignore conflicts that have become entrenched or the enormous economic, political and social divides in many societies, which occasionally serve as false pretexts for terrorist violence. It is unrealistic to aspire to peace and stability in a sea of universal injustice.

The appropriate forum to consolidate the political consensus against terrorism has to be the United Nations. The organisation must be given the means – including a legal framework and the operational tools – to lead the international fight against terrorism, enabling it to be waged more effectively.

On the legislative front, the adoption of a global convention against terrorism cannot wait any longer. On the operational level, we must reinforce mechanisms for co-operation among police forces, courts and intelligence services, in order to prevent new strikes and to isolate and close down terrorist organisations, as well as all those who support, fund and justify them.

The fight against terrorism is also a battle for people’s minds. We must work to spread the belief that nothing can justify terrorism. No idea, no matter how legitimate it may be or may appear to be, can serve as an alibi for murder. Which is why, as a phenomenon, it is not the exclusive preserve of any one civilisation, culture or religion. For this very reason, at the UN general assembly I proposed an alliance of civilisations, based on conviction, understanding and respect for others. If we do not manage to embed in all nations the belief that tolerance is indispensable, our battle will be made all the more difficult.

This global effort must, naturally, be complemented by regional and bilateral co-operation. In the case of Europe, it has become clear that, in view of the terrorist threat we all suffer, the European Union must offer much deeper integration: real-time interconnection of intelligence services, joint investigation teams, immediate handover of those charged with crimes, immediate enforcement throughout the Union of rulings of courts in a member state and decisive action to control the financial flows that feed terrorism. The EU must become without delay a single security area, leaving no loopholes for terrorists. We must do away with ring-fenced judicial and policing systems that criminals continue to exploit for their ends.

All this is necessary because the EU is an area of law, freedom and democracy and must continue as such. Spain’s regrettably long experience in the battle against terrorism has taught us that the fight has to be fought with the utmost respect for the law, without betraying the essentials of democracy and preserving our fundamental rights and freedoms. Quite simply, we cannot concede to the terrorists the victory they would achieve if we were to abdicate our principles.

The writer is prime minister of Spain