Video talk covers terrorism

Successfully protecting nations against the threat of terrorism is as difficult as fighting cancer, award-winning American political scientist Emeritus Prof Ole Holsti says.

Prof Holsti, of Duke University, in North Carolina, was commenting after giving a talk via video link to more than 100 participants in the University of Otago's latest annual Foreign Policy School, in Dunedin.

His talk, given on Saturday and focusing on "Public Opinion and US Foreign Policy after September 11", was the first conducted via video link in the school's 43-year history.

During discussion after his main talk, Prof Holsti was asked about the prospects for winning the "war on terror", commenting that this term was "something of a misnomer".

The concept of "terrorism" did not involve a single terrorist organisation, but a method of action which had been adopted long before al Qaeda had been established, he said.

Many countries, including Spain and Britain, and not just the United States had also recently experienced damaging terrorist attacks.

Terrorist acts enabled small groups of people to inflict "a very high cost on their victims", and, given the billions of potentially vulnerable people in the world, it was difficult to prevent such actions completely, he said.

Prof Holsti made an analogy with winning the "war against cancer".

It was hoped scientific advances would be helpful, but as people were living longer, it was hard to imagine cancer would ever be eliminated, he said.

People had to try to eliminate terrorism, but it would take "a lot of international co-operation" and "an immense amount of intelligence-sharing."

Prof Holsti, who is a leading specialist in political opinion polls, noted some commentators had been critical of the role of US domestic public opinion when it came to conducting American foreign policy.

He defended the coherency and consistency of US public opinion on the matter, noting that a small majority of citizens had for more than half-a-century supported the United States' playing a major role in world affairs, but through a shared multilateral effort, rather than as the world's policeman.

The Iraq War remained generally unpopular in the US, but there was more support both there and among other nations for the war in Afghanistan, he said.

The latest school is devoted to the theme: "Power to the People? Public Participation in Foreign Policy".

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