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Breaking News
With Dr. John Steinbruner
Director of International and Security Studies at University of Maryland

Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001; 12:30 p.m. EDT

Professor Dr. John Steinbruner , Director of International and Security Studies at University of Maryland, was online to discuss the apparent terrorist attacks.

Dr. Steinbruner is one of the nation's leading experts on arms control, nuclear weapons, and Russian foreign policy. He is the director of the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM). He served for 18 years as Director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, substantially expanding the scope of the program and attracted and engaged a variety of outstanding scholars. Prior to that appointment, Steinbruner held academic positions at Harvard and the Yale School of Organization. He has authored or co-authored five books, including The Cybernetic Theory of Decision, hailed a classic in the field of foreign policy decision making. His latest book, Principles of Global Security, was hailed a "masterpiece" by reviewers. He has also published numerous articles in professional and scholarly journals. Steinbruner has served on major commissions and advisory committees, including the Defense Policy Board, the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control.

Below is the transcript.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

J. Smith, Greensboro, N.C.: Dr. Steinbruner, how can we Americans help?

Dr. John Steinbruner: The basic way in way we all have to contribute is to reconsider the very fundamentals of our security policy. Terrorism could become intractable given the amount of destructiveness it can do if the major governments of the world cannot collaborate in controlling it. This is not something that the U.S. can expect to manage by itself or any other country by itself. It is very important to establish effective and detailed collaboration in tracing down who did it.

Americans need to be calm and wise. Lashing out and indulging in retributed emotion is not the correct response.

Nashville, Ten..: Which terrorist groups have the organizational ability to pull off something like these attacks. What is the point of carrying them out if they do not take responsibility.

Dr. John Steinbruner: I'm not sure. I think this is going to be a surprise with anyone or any group could have done this. This is clearly an operation of some complexity and will have left traces. As long as the rest of the world wants them to be known and they don't have a place to hide -- we need to be sure that all major governments are cooperative and does not protect them.

Duluth, Minn.: Dr. John Steinbruner: In searching for the source of these devastating acts of terrorism....is there a possibility that the attack is from one of the right wing, radical groups that do exist within this country?
Is this, horror of horrors, another blatant act, acts like the Oklahoma bombing...but far more widespread?

Also, isn't it imperative that Congress reconvene immediately, somewhere in the heartland, before we become more vulnerable to chaos, police state actions; overt reactions by citizens who act out of fear and hate because someone looks mid-eastern? these are the 'shockwaves in the aftermath ...small acts of 'counter-terror' which may deny innocent people their civil liberties?

Dr. John Steinbruner: I would strongly presume not.

I think it is important that all of our representative mechanisms, including Congress, will convene react judiciously. This recalls a fair deal of wisdom and need to consider what right reactions are and quite a major deliberation involved that takes time.

Silver Spring, Md.: How can we as a nation protect ourselves from
further terrorist attacks without disrupting
civil liberties, and how can we help focus anger at the real targets, not just any person of Arab descent or Islamic faith?

Dr. John Steinbruner: The single most important thing to do is to secure general international collaboration. You need detailed information of terrorists. The U.S. cannot acquire this information alone and needs the help of other governments. We need a general international collaboration to control this violence.

Washington, D.C.: Two part question...
1. What sorts of long-term effects do you think we will see as a result of these attacks?

2. What do you expect for tomorrow (will the stock market be back open? Will things return to "normal" in places other than lower Manhattan?)

Dr. John Steinbruner: There will be predictable efforts to tighten security in all areas of the United States and that's one of the problems where there is strong tendency to overdue that. The problem will be to finding judicious balance between security measures that will be sensible and those that will do more harm than good.

Daily will not resume tomorrow or normally in lower Manhattan. This is a major event.

St. Louis, Mo.: Why wasn't anyone able to detect that the two aircrafts were off course and not headed to LA? Why wasn't anyone able to detect that there were planes flying so low over the Pentagon? I think our national security needs to be reviewed and/or revamped. This is devastating. If Bush ever needed a moment to shine, it's now. What is he going to do. We want answers and immediate retaliation. If this group is allowed to do what they've done, there will be others to follow suit.

Dr. John Steinbruner:

They were probably detected but even if they were detected, the planes would not have been responding to instructions. But the air traffic controllers are not air defense system and would not have known what they were doing.

Well that is characteristic with the insistent demands. The danger is that you will compound the problem and with misjudgments. The problem Bush has is to calming people down. He is going to do some thinking before he reacts.

Dr. John Steinbruner:

The main thing to keep in mind is that the main effect and main purpose is to induce a destructive response in the political system. Terrorism is an auto-immune disease – it is designed to get the political system attacked and do a lot of damage to itself. The U.S. government will struggle with overreaction and go to extreme measures. We don’t know at this moment who did this. There will be theories and grave dangers of misjudgement of who is responsible. This may turn to the equivalent of Pearl Harbor. President Bush will need to develop an intelligent reaction to the issue.

North Dakota: Is there any indication that these attacks are the result of Bin Laden? And if so, what steps can be taken to prevent this and bring him to justice to prevent this from happening in the future?

Dr. John Steinbruner: I know of no concrete evidence and there is speculation. There is a rumor that a Palestinian group that took responsibility to this but that has been denied.

The first step is to correctly identify who is responsible. And until that is done, it is not evident of what can be done. I would say that to the extent to control terrorism, we have to act in collaboration with all major governments. Terrorism is a tactic with the weak against the strong and made possible basically among the divisions in society. There will be emotional reactions and whoever is identified as being responsible for this, there will be antagonisms generated against people among the same ethnic groups. It is the inappropriate reactions that escalate and compound the problem.

Second step is actions in collaboration with other governments to seek the acceptance of other governments. If we lash out without securing the approval of other major societies, we are in danger of compounding the problem by alienating other governments. This is a battle with international support.

We need to devise a reaction that is appropriate with the support of other major governments

Laurel, Md.: Who could possibly be responsible? And why does this seem like it was too easy? Is foul play a possibility? I just can't believe all of these planes were hijacked so on the same day, virtually at the same time. How can so many of our security measures fail at once?

Dr. John Steinbruner:

I have no idea at the moment. I don’t think anyone has any good idea of who is responsible.

Scottsdale, Ariz.: Why do terrorists feel they will get world sympathy by conducting such horrific acts of destruction. Will not world opinion turn on them?

Dr. John Steinbruner: Again to the extent that there is any logic in this whatsoever, the purpose of the terrorist attack is to get the U.S. to undermine their own legitimacy in the world. The terrorists know that they will not get world sympathy.

Chevy Chase, Md.: Hi,
I was in Russia several years ago when Chechens made a massive bomb explosions in public places as well as governmental buildings. What do you think we might expect from the terrorist plan (is there is a plan) which is similar to the today's U.S. tragedy?
Dr. Libin
Georgetown University

Dr. John Steinbruner:

It does look like there clearly was a plan and this was a severe form of provocation than was in Moscow, this looks like the largest terrorist incident in recent and all of U.S. history. This will probably be the largest terrorist event-- we have an unprecedented situation.

Alexandria, La.: Why would someone wish to provoke us to a WAR like they undoubtedly have? What drives an organization to use murder as a means to get their message out? What is the appropriate response to a threat like this that would be effective against terrorism, while avoiding global war?

Dr. John Steinbruner: It is difficult for anyone who is not directly involved in the terrorist group to understand the logic.

They have their own cause in their own mind that justifies aggression. Since they are weak and cannot attack the U.S. in normal or effective ways, they use murder to provoke dysfunctional reaction out of the United States. That is the whole point in this. Get us entangled and alienate the rest of the world and lash out. The point of all this is that as the U.S. is judicious it is relentless. The danger is that we do more damage to ourselves as we are severely provoked.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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