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Tuesday’s Attacks Dicussed at CIS Forum

By Eun J. Lee


MIT’s Center for International Studies held an open forum on Wednesday evening in an effort to help the community understand some of the possible international and societal consequences of Tuesday’s events.

“We’re here to hold a conversation about the new dangers in the international policy arena and the United States’ responses to these dangers,” said CIS Director Richard J. Samuel.

A large audience packed a small lecture hall in building E25. The panel of experts from the CIS included professors from a variety of specialties, ranging from Nuclear Weapons studies to Urban Studies and Planning.

“What happened yesterday under all definitions was a violation of human rights,” said Urban Studies Professor Balakrishnan Rajagopal. “The act ignored all sanctity for human life.”

Experts present personal opinions

Each panel member gave a short speech about the implications of Tuesday’s events before opening up the floor to questions from the audience.

“This attack is going to cost us a lot of civil liberties; we are going to have to change the way we live our lives,” said Political Science Professor Stephen W. Van Evera, who specializes in international affairs and security studies.

The forum’s introduction presented the audience with three key questions which the panel members were examining: Why did this happen? Who might be responsible? What should the United States do now?

“I think the post-Cold War world ended [Tuesday],” said Political Science Professor Barry R. Posen. “The United States needs to reassess what it stands for in international politics.”

The panel included five faculty members and one graduate student. The panel members’ opinions were as diverse as the members themselves.

“Had this been a nuclear attack, we’d be having to face that New York City did not exist at all, so the consequences could be a lot worse,” said Senior Research Associate Alison M. MacFarlane, who specializes in nuclear weapons studies.

“There is no way to stop terrorism 100 percent of the time, and if we are to fight this, we must subordinate other goals in submission to security,” said political science graduate student Jeremy Pressman. “Terrorism is a lot more about psychological warfare than an actual defeat on a battlefield.”

Audience takes part in discussion

Following a statement by each member of the panel, the audience was allowed to ask questions.

The audience included not only students, but also alumni, faculty members, parents of students, and other community members. The top concern expressed from the audience was the response to the incident by the United States government.

“The president has a difficult decision to make,” Pressman said. “To move to retaliate, you must have someone to retaliate against.”

There was speculation at the forum about the possible culprits of the crime. Also discussed was the possible U.S. responses to the culprit and whether the blame should be placed on a state or an organization.

“If there’s going to be any action, it’s going to have to be a sustained long-term action by means of intelligence, covert, and non-covert operations,” Posen said. “It’s best to think of this as a grinding attrition kind of war that will last for a long time.”

Posen also stressed that any long-term action would need the full support of U.S. citizens, far after the initial shock and anger from the incident has worn off.

“I would like to urge great caution because it would be very easy for the United States to get caught up with the danger cycle of violence,” MacFarlane said.

“I haven’t been impressed about what has come out of many politicians’ mouths for reasons to fight other than revenge,” Samuels said.

One option of retaliation for the United States that was proposed by Professor Van Evera was assassinating individual leaders who were responsible for the act, rather than killing innocent citizens.

“I am personally in favor of lifting the assassination ban enacted by President Carter,” Van Evera said. “On an ethical standpoint, assassination in this case has a stronger moral grounding. If you’re going to retaliate, you should punish those who were directly responsible rather than killing innocents.”

However, Van Evera pointed out that political assassination has not been effective when it has been used.

Many of the panelists asserted that the event will catalyze a fundamental change in the way the U.S. shapes its foreign policy.

“What happened [Tuesday] has a lot to do with how the U.S. has behaved in the last few years,” MacFarlane said. “We need to pay attention to other countries’ reactions to U.S. behavior.”

Panelists suggested that the U.S. reevaluate its role in globalization and its effects on different cultures throughout the world. Some also suggested missile defense projects should not be a priority, since they would not have prevented Tuesday’s disaster.

“Whatever measure is agreed upon needs to be seen as legitimate by the rest of the world, and this may save us from further consequences from our actions,” Rajagopal said.

Others expressed concern over how the U.S. can possible prevent terrorist attacks while upholding civil liberties.

“I think we should be careful how terms are tossed around,” Pressman said. “All Arabs are not Muslims and vice versa.”

Pressman stressed that limitation of civil liberties might come in the form of new interpretations and stricter enforcement of standing laws rather than the the passage of new ones.

Political Science Professor Kenneth A. Oye made a poignant statement from his seat in the audience, which was met by widespread applause.

“Will we have the strength to resist the kinds of indiscriminate acts of violence that have been part of our destructive legacy in the past?” Oye asked. “Will the U.S. be able to resist such temptation?”

Students react to discussion

After the forum, many stayed around to continue the discussion with the panel members.

“It was great MIT was able to put this together so quickly,” said Victor K. Mallet ’02. “The speakers were good, but I was not impressed with the variety of viewpoints expressed on the panel and lack of Arab or Israeli angles.”

He also said that “it was a great effort by MIT to spark more discussion and awareness about this event.”

Thomas P. Kotwal G said, “The statement that we should expect to see a weapon of mass destruction used in our lifetime was frightening and definitely eye opening. It was very interesting to hear their points on assassination versus a more widespread attack.”

At the conclusion of the forum, Professor Samuels promised to reconvene the discussion with another panel from the Department of International Studies in the near future.

“Like many of you, I’m more discomforted going out of this room than I was when I came in, but I’m far better informed,” Samuels said.