Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the United States pulled its troops out of Afghanistan, bringing to an inglorious end the longest war it has waged overseas. That the US withdrew from Afghanistan without fulfilling its mission of eradicating terrorism from the country shows that its two-decade-old "war on terror", which also covered Iraq, Libya, Syria and other Middle East countries, has been a failure.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which has pledged to continue deepening cooperation to combat terrorism and maintain regional security and stability. The international community should draw lessons from the different approaches of the US and the SCO to anti-terrorism operations.
Well-established, ongoing cultural dialogues among SCO members help them learn more about each other and enrich their cultural experience, leading to a greater level of mutual understanding
First, the US attaches great importance to its preemptive strike strategy and indulges in unilateralism. Initially, the "war on terror" enjoyed global support. But when it started violating international norms and using the "war on terror" to consolidate its hegemony, it lost the support of many countries. For example, the US violated the United Nations Charter to invade Iraq in 2003. After that, the US-led forces launched unilateral attacks on Libya and Syria and other countries.
On the other hand, the SCO has vowed to combat terrorism by deepening cooperation among the region's countries. As a multilateral organization, the SCO is committed to maintaining security and stability in Eurasia, deal with emerging challenges and threats, and help boost trade, increase cultural and people-to-people exchanges, and deepen cooperation on humanitarian issues.
In fact, China has urged all SCO member states to pursue a new vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, work together to resolve regional disputes and oppose the practice of seeking absolute security for one country at the expense of other countries, so as to achieve security for all. The SCO members have welcomed China's initiative and vowed to work together to safeguard regional security. And the SCO has established a mechanism to fight terrorism and extremism, boost border controls and curb drug smuggling.
Second, the US has used the military to address even non-military issues over the past 20 years. As a result, its "war on terror" has caused even more chaos, destruction and deaths in countries.
According to the Costs of War project of Brown University, an estimated 929,000 people have been killed in direct violence in the post-9/11 US operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries. And data compiled by Code Pink, an anti-war organization, show the US and its allies have dropped more than 326,000 bombs and missiles in countries across the Middle East since 2001. That means an average of 46 bombs and missiles per day for nearly 20 years.
The SCO, which is not a military alliance, by contrast, does not interfere in the internal affairs of countries and respects diversity and cooperation. Instead, it strives to optimize the cooperative system, and strengthen the fight against terrorism, and improve law enforcement and security cooperation. The SCO also realizes that to eradicate global terrorism, it is important to address the root causes of terrorism.
The wealth gap, for instance, is one of the key factors that generate extremist ideas and cause deadly conflicts. Against this backdrop, the SCO promotes collaboration and cooperation to boost global economic recovery, improve people's livelihoods, accelerate regional development and maintain stability.
Third, Washington's goal was to spread US-style democracy in other countries under the cover of the "war on terror". After the 9/11 attacks, the US launched the war in Afghanistan ostensibly to eradicate terrorism, but it forced the Afghan people to adopt US-style democratic governance, which resulted in local social unrest and widened the already wide wealth gap in the country.
The developments in Afghanistan show that US values cannot help meet local people's needs. Additionally, the US-fueled "Arab Spring" and Washington's involvement in the civil war in Syria have created new challenges for the Middle East, a region that was already torn by religious and sectarian divisions.
The developments in Afghanistan and many Middle East countries show that attempts to export Western-style democracy to other countries and maintain superficial stability through the use of force are doomed to failure.
The SCO believes cultural dialogue can be used as a preventive measure against threats to security. Well-established, ongoing cultural dialogues among SCO members help them learn more about each other and enrich their cultural experience, leading to a greater level of mutual understanding. Cultural dialogue brings people together, unites them around common humanistic values and aspirations, and helps reduce xenophobia, religious and ethnic intolerance, and discrimination based on ethnicity and race. Such dialogues also help bring countries together to fight terrorism.
Fourth, the US' "war on terror" was not in line with its obligation under the UN Charter. Washington only cares about its own interests and does not respect international rules or the UN's authority－the US' invasion of Iraq is a concrete example of this.
Unlike the US, the SCO strictly adheres to international laws and the UN Charter, and believes that diplomacy is the best way to resolve disputes. That's why the SCO supports the UN to play an even more prominent coordinating role in international relations, and wants to further deepen cooperation with the global body.
Already, a number of special initiatives launched by the UN and the SCO have contributed to the global fight against common challenges, and threats to security.
The failure of the US' "war on terror" proves that military attacks cannot end terrorism. The strategy of "countering force with force" is untenable and cannot safeguard international security. To eradicate global terrorism, we need to address the root causes of terrorism such as sociopolitical problems, and the widening global wealth divide.
The failure of the "war on terror" has taught us that countries should stop using anti-terrorism operations as a pretext to intervene in other countries, even launch attacks against them－and the UN, not the US, should lead the global war against terrorism. Only with combined efforts and under the principle of multilateralism can the security for mankind be better guaranteed.
The author is vice-president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.