“It is worth remembering that state responses to terrorism almost certainly do more to shape the world and its politics than non-state terrorist acts themselves” (English, 2006, P.4)
Over the last two decades, international terrorism has become an increasingly visible and impacting issue within the world community, with the number of attacks rising by more than 25% annually (Hughes, 2017). Whilst there is no universally agreed definition of international terrorism (State department, 2000. Cited in Liblaw, 2011), this essay will use the following definition created by the UK terrorism act of 2000; “The use or threat of action designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public, or a section of the public; made for the purposes of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause” (cited in Roser et al, 2017). As a consequence of the 100,586 terrorist incidents between 2000 and 2016 (Global terrorism database, 2016), calls for heightened state security are becoming more prominent. As state security measures rise, utilizing case studies, this essay will critically assess the legitimacy and practical effectiveness of state security as a means of combatting international terrorism and whether or not it is the most effective method.
International terrorism’s rise
International terrorism’s rapid rise to prominence in recent years has been a result of a combination of factors, (namely due) to the increasing ease of transferring goods and people across international borders and the use of online media. One cannot discount the role of increasingly fluid international travel in the rise of terrorism incidents in the west (Gupta, 2016) and the use of social media platforms to gain new followers of terrorist ideals (Bose, 2016). Terrorist groups such as Islamic state (also referred to as ISIS, Isil and Danesh) have utilised Twitter as a means of gaining support for their cause; nowadays a militant in Syria can converse daily with a lonely teenager in rural America (Singer et al, 2015). ISIS groom potential targets with gifts and post photos of a family-like atmosphere among fighters, luring children from the west that yearn to belong, into ISIS cells. Manipulation, largely through online means, has led to “between 27,000 and 31,000 people traveling to Syria or Iraq to join the Islamic state and other violent extremist groups from at least 86 countries” (Soufan Group, 2015). As can be observed from figure 1, the increasing concerns about international terrorism are well founded;
Figure 1. (Roser et al, 2016)
Figure 1 shows a stark rise in the number of terrorism related incidents worldwide, it appears that pre-1998 the overall number was diminishing, however, since then the quantity of terrorism related incidents has risen, with a significant increase since 2011. Such an increase in terrorism-related incidents highlights the need for heightened security measures. One such measure is increased state security.
State security is (in its simplest form), “the safekeeping of the nation as a whole…” (Holmes, no date). Traditionally, state security has been achieved through individual states protecting their security interests within the geographical boundaries of their nation. The concept has now evolved, into a holistic defence against any potential threats towards the nation, whether that be terrorism or climate change, as Holmes (no date) exclaimed; “Because national security entails both national defense and the protection of a series of geopolitical, economic, and other interests, it affects not only defense policy, but other policies as well”. Renewed claims regard state security as the most viable option in combatting terrorism, appearing to yearn for a return to stricter border controls and an attitude which makes the needs of individual nations paramount. In his recent National security speech, President Trump brashly hinted at a return to the important strategy of state security, a move which would once again “Put America first” (Landler et al, 2017). It is rhetoric such as Trump’s which is leaning towards a belief that “security is coming home” (Coaffee et al, 2006, P. 504), the impact of terrorism on home soil is making governments rethink security policy and prioritise safety on their home soil. How can governments protect their citizens and respond to the growing rates of terrorism?
State security in conjunction with the wider global community
It has become clear, that whilst state security and intelligence can play a vital part in diminishing the rising number of international terrorist attacks, it can only do so with increased funding and help from the public. Although state security must be paramount, it cannot and must not be the only form of defense against terror. State security must exist, but it must exist alongside a wider international community, a community focused on fighting against the rising threat of international terrorism. International terrorism is a threat which as a result of if its diverse and international nature must be fought in an international and diverse way; as Manningham Buller (2003) exclaimed when writing about international terrorism: “international terrorism, poses new challenges for us. Challenges of scale, geography, culture and language; it represents a complex and diverse target, capable of real harm to our way of life”. Such challenges must be met with international collusion to face up to 21st century international terrorist threats such as cyberterrorism. If states rely solely on their individual security, “terrorists see such states as justifiable targets of violence because they believe them to be corrupt, secular, and consequently, illegitimate” (Saiya, 2016, P.2), the challenge of taking on an international community bound upon a desire to reduce terrorism is a far tougher challenge.
State’s physical response to terrorism
The first method is one utilised by the Northern Irish government during the 1970’s when the Irish Republican Army terrorised Belfast in an attempt to reunify Ireland and abolish British rule. The government heightened security measures in the city centre in an attempt to hinder terrorist attempts, this however, “led to fears that security measures would destroy the city centre in a way terrorists never could – by keeping customers out.” (Coaffee et al, 2006, P.506). Within security rhetoric, such measures are referred to as ‘rings of steel’, a security measure “enacted on a permanent basis around ‘at risk’ sites or temporarily to restrict access to vulnerable sites at certain times… The underlying aim of such a security infrastructure is to give those inside the hermetically sealed zone a feeling of safety” (ibid). Whilst palpable blockades provide a show of strength towards the terrorists, they can also have negative impacts on the population which the government wish to make feel safe, with (Alterman, 1999, P.6) exclaiming that “repressive measures can encourage anti-government hostility and support for the terrorists”. In a hostile political situation such as the IRA’s assault on Belfast, the government wished to reduce terrorist incidents, however terrorist organisations will use any retaliation as a means of recruiting. In our current dangerous climate, many believe that the most effective method of fighting terrorism is to isolate the terrorist population (Saeed, 2016), once isolated, governments utilise public opinion and terrorist acts to initiate ‘war’ upon terrorist factions. Following 9/11, media coverage reported the event in a manner which fed the American public’s desire for revenge. The American public displayed their anger with attacks on the Muslim population, “there were over 480 reported hate crimes against Muslims in 2001” (Lichtblau, 2016). Such public opinion allowed the American government to be “justified, even compelled, to respond with aggression” (Berrington, 2002, P.49. Cited in Gleeson, 2016, P.26). Whilst governments may be obliged to respond to terrorist attacks with aggressive responses, as a sign of strength, there is a fine line however.
Post-terrorist attack responses by the state, lack both legitimacy and practical effectiveness. Since 9/11 numerous conspiracy theories have become commonplace, with over 50% of Americans believing that the government is withholding information about 9/11 (Reid, 2017). Information that essentially states that 9/11was orchestrated by the Bush administration to “adopt extreme, unwarranted policies. They include the War on Terror and the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq as first steps in taking control of the Middle East” (Griffin, no date. Cited in Reid, 2017). The legitimacy of state responses to terrorism will forever be met with cynicism following the public’s awareness about top security plans such as operation Northwoods in 1962. Operation Northwoods was presented to President JF Kennedy as a plan for “innocent people to be shot on American streets; for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington, D.C., Miami, and elsewhere” (Bamford, 2001, P.82). Following these state sponsored attacks the US could blame the communist dictator of Cuba, Fidel Castro, allowing the US to be publicly justified to overthrow Castro. Hence the legitimacy of state security in the form of retributive actions against terrorism must be questioned.
Preventative terrorist measures
This essay believes that consequential state security measures fail to provide an adequate response to the rising threat of terrorism. Whilst rhetoric and strong actions following a terrorist attack are vital, surely prohibiting the attack would be more beneficial to the population and their fears regarding terrorism. Since 2013, 13 potential terrorist attacks were stopped before a loss of life could occur in the UK (BBC News, 2017). With the general population providing vital information in the fight against terrorism, there were over 22,000 calls made to the anti-terrorism hotline during 2017 (BBC news, 2017). In America, from September 2011 to September 2012, over 50 terrorist plots were foiled (Bucci et al, 2012). Preventative state action to diminish terror activity is what this essay believes is the key to a predominantly state centred security approach. However, this approach was not successful in the horrific attack during an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in which 22 (mainly children) were killed. In an internal review by MI5 and the police, it became apparent that whilst it may not have been possible to prevent the attack, the attacker was under active investigation by MI5 at the time (Dodd et al, 2017). The review concluded by a realisation that the UK’s counter-terror initiative was facing a 7% cut to funding, a cut which will directly impact neighborhood policing within the UK; believed by many to be a key tool in fighting terrorism (ibid.).
Preventative terrorist measures; Obama
During Barack Obama’s presidency, there is no doubt that considerable headway was made in the fight against Al Qaeda and ISIS (Bertrand, 2016). Obama employed Aleterman’s (1999, P.5) belief that “it takes international cooperation to diminish the terrorist threat”. Obama’s counter-terrorism policy was successful “by consolidating partnerships with foreign allies, utilizing drones and airstrikes to target terrorist safe havens” (Bertrand, 2016). Realising the worldwide impact of international terrorism, Obama “built an international coalition of nearly 70 nations and surged intelligence resources to better understand the enemy” (Obama, 2016. Cited in Bertrand, 2016). It is these strong relationships with other nations which allowed the USA to share and receive information allowing counter-terrorist operatives to investigate terrorists before attacks occurred. Whilst this multi-lateral approach to international terrorism was supported by many internationally, it faced stiff criticism from Republican’s within America such as senator John McCain. McCain described this universal approach to terrorism as one which “emboldened enemies and dispirited allies” (McCain 2016. Cited in Thompson, 2016) a sentiment echoed by the now president, Donald Trump. Trump has championed a return to state centred security in response to the rise in international terrorism, a return which culminated in “an executive order halting all refugee admissions and temporarily barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries” (BBC news, 2017). It is anti-terror moves such as this which have created a toxic religious divide in America (Vavreck, 2017), with Trump’s rhetoric centring on anti-muslimist opinions, he has created a “sense of being under siege within the Muslim community” (Hooper, 2017. Cited in Dale, 2017). Whilst Trump’s sentiments are suitable (to reduce international terrorism), his alienation of the Muslim American population is a move which could hinder his broader fight against international terrorism. President Trump is in danger of hindering Muslims in their endeavour to practise their religion freely, as Saiya (2016, P.1) warns, “When states limit the practice of religion by minority groups, they implicitly favour adherents of other religious traditions, thereby creating an unbalanced religious playing field”. Such an imbalance can lead to an increase in faith-based violence as religious groups feel a sense of unjust punishment for the actions of the few. It is religious freedom which must be protected as “religious actors who do not find themselves side-lined through laws or violent suppression, therefore, are much less likely to pursue their aims through violence” (ibid.) In the case of any government, an effectual use of resources in anti-terror movements would be to utilise the Muslim population who denounce the acts of the minority terrorists. Following the Barcelona terrorist attack in August 2017, over one thousand Muslims marched through the streets (of Barcelona), exclaiming that “we are Muslims, not terrorists” (Osbourne, 2017). Governments, individually and collectedly must “promote (terrorist group’s) disintegration from the inside. Governments can demonstrate that their support among the populations those groups supposedly represent is waning” (Alterman, 1999, P.5).
Anti-terrorist and anti-Muslim rhetoric; Trump
If Trump, or any international leader, wishes to be successful in curbing the rise of international terrorism, it is the Muslim community which will play a vital role. Tony Blair, (British prime minister 1997-2007) has been running an initiative called the ‘faith foundation’, educating children through faith based education in an attempt to push back against the extremist education terrorists are providing children. Blair (2014) believes that terrorists utilise and appreciate the power of education when recruiting and as a result those wishing to fight terrorism must do the same. One must not focus purely on the education of young children however, as it is within university education where malleable minds are introduced to wider concepts previously uncomprehended. In our modern, globalised climate, “Universities were seen as places in which extremist views (more specifically, Islamic extremism) might be fostered, or as recruiting or breeding grounds for potential jihadists” (Saeed et al, 2016, P.37). It is within universities, (especially British) where terror education must be paramount. In 2011, Baroness Neville-Jones (a previous security minister), stated that she believed that “universities were a greater source of danger than radical mosques” (Neville Jones, 2011. Cited in Glees, 2011). Worryingly, between 2005 and 2011, “virtually every major British terrorist attack has been led by students or graduates of British universities” (Glees, 2011). Anthony Glees’ article, exposed the hot bed of radicalisation being experienced within our universities, creating a worrying picture of higher education.
How can such radicalisation be countered? It is clear that wider boundaries of surveillance and intelligence must become commonplace within universities, however, as mentioned earlier in regard to Trump’s rhetoric, that can negatively impact the wider community. Surveillance within universities “might reduce the sites in which those intent on spreading extremist views can operate, it risks alienating the ordinary British Muslim student, more especially British Muslim women” (Saeed et al, 2016, P.37). To estrange British Muslim women would be a grave error in the fight against international terrorism. The Security Council’s counter-terrorism committee have realised the “significant role played by women in countering and assisting violent terrorism and extremism” (UN, 2015, P.1), thus government must endeavour to include the entire community; “The right way to achieve long term security within a democracy is to ‘estrange’ the enemy, not the wider academic community” (Saeed et al, 2016, P.38).
International terrorism continues to rise and it might well be the biggest challenge for this generation, however, “It is worth remembering that state responses to terrorism almost certainly do more to shape the world and its politics than non-state terrorist acts themselves” (English, 2006, P.4). How governments respond to terrorism and try to reduce it, will be vital. Since the arrival of President Trump, America have reverted from Obama’s multi-nation approach to combatting terrorism, to a more state-centred approach. This essay has examined the practicality and legitimacy of such an approach, coming to the conclusion that state security must be paramount in the counter-terror approaches of nations, it must however, work in conjunction with the counter-terror approaches of other nations. When fighting a globalised enemy, one’s defence must also be globalised. What is vital, regardless of a state’s view of multi-state co-operation is that counter terror measures form as a preventative entity, not as reactionary. Whilst “The threat from international terrorism is likely to remain for the foreseeable future” (Manningham-Buller, 2003), states must endeavour to reduce international terrorism. The legacy of international terrorism (within my generation), will be judged on how states co-operate to diminish the threat.