Terrorism as an act did not begin with the September 11 attack on the United States. This attack was just a manifestation of the new face that terrorism has taken. During the 20th century, several terrorist attacks were directed against the US both inside and outside its borders. In 1993 for example, a terrorist by the name of Ranzi Yousef launched an attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) in the US while another attack followed against the US military forces in Saudi Arabia. In late 1998, several attacks were directed toward the US in an effort to severe her relations with secular Arab nations. Attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania followed thereafter. The September 11 attack was therefore a new face of an already existing cold war against the US by Islamist religious extremists (Aubrey 2, 60).
The U.S government reacted by launching a counterattack on Afghanistan, an attack that implied to the wider audience that terrorism was the Al Qaeda network of terrorist operations, then based in the Taliban-controlled nation of Afghanistan. To the US government, an immediate eradication of the networked Al Qaeda structures was of ultimate importance as such an action would help to neutralize the Taliban regime that hosted this illegal organization. But such a move lacked any precise definition of terrorism beyond Al Qaeda as a terrorist group, and its leader, Osama bin Laden. Such a definition of terrorism is far behind what should be a global war on this malpractice. Doubt then arises about the justification of the US counterattacks on Afghanistan whose victims were defenseless civilians of the Taliban regime (Aubrey 11-12).
The new form of terrorism, with an exception of Iran, is not a state-sponsored movement nor does it benefit from traditional revenue reserves. Perpetrators get funds to run their activities from different sources, the major one being the sympathizers of Wahhabist Islam, a religious movement that Al Qaeda has continually used to disguise its activities of severing US links with secular Arab governments especially those of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Terrorist groups have also established resource bases in lawless countries and societies that are characterized by organized crime. This new breed of terrorists operates under well-organized and financed groups through which they express their ulterior political motives. Rather than highly organized assassinations and targeted killings of political victims, the new brand of terrorists has opted for catastrophic events that create shock waves through the massive number of casualties that result from a single attack. To these terrorist fundamentalists, religious reasons seem to hold more weight than the sacredness of human life. The new phase of international terrorism is however not a war against the US alone but is directed towards any perceived US or Western European commercial, cultural, or political influence across the Middle East and South Asia regions (Aubrey 2, 7, 8).
Terrorism is an arena for totalitarians to execute their ulterior political motives through the system of organized crime. Illegal use of various types of explosives to cause death is definitely murder in its highest caliber and the move is meant to cause terror, pain, and disorder in the targeted society. By attacking the civilian who least expects any kind of attack on his/her daily life; the terrorists seek political influence through their actions. Terrorists also hope to win their political warfare by organizing significant attacks on symbolic targets important to the regime under attacks such as happened to the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Al Qaeda for example has at its utmost goal, the worldwide establishment of a pan-Islamic Caliphate, and in conjunction with other groups of like-mind, to overthrow all regimes that they deem as un-Islamic. Westerners and non-Muslims must also be expelled from Muslim countries to control any possible foreign dilution of the Islamic religious and cultural values (Aubrey 17-18, 47). While most nations of the world continue to treat terrorism as just another criminal act, this inhuman act is actually a forum for accomplishing political ambitions on the part of the perpetrators. To be able to outlaw such organized crime, there must be true faith in anti-terrorism legislation and legal systems of democratic countries (Griset & Mahan 282).
Although there is no established system of international criminal codes or a system of international jurisdiction that has been specifically designed to cover every aspect of terrorism, many world governments have engaged in counterterrorism by entering into cooperation with one another and making immediate laws against terrorists activities. Retaliation is definitely a good defense tactic but a very expensive affair as well. There is a clear correlation between US participation in any international situation and increased acts of terrorism against the US. America’s exercise of her military might abroad has been blamed for provoking a lot of terrorist activities. A less interventionist policy in the foreign arena might reduce the scope of aggressive terror-stricken responses toward the US but such policy is currently limited in that so far, no agreement exists about what would actually be terrorism’s root causes. This leaves foreign counterterrorism still a very weak policy and one that is bound to achieve very little success in controlling or preventing terrorism (Griset & Mahan 279, 281).
The American war on Afghanistan certainly endangered the lives of Americans both in the US and abroad by exposing them to a greater risk of retaliation from the enemy. The Afghan and Iraq wars have increased the risk of terrorist attacks on American nationals and allies more than ever before. Protection through the gun only helps to generate more fear and uncertainty in the subjects in question (Young 132). There is increasing fear that the counterattacks on Afghanistan by the US and her allies could have served not only as a platform for uniting the West but on the extreme end might also have led to feelings of resentment among Muslims and Arab nations. If the Muslim world chooses to unite against the West, then there is a looming danger considering the situation in such countries as Pakistan, where extremists are in possession of much of the country’s nuclear arsenal (Griset & Mahan 279).
There is no justification for war against the Afghan state other than the fact that its government allowed Al Qaeda operations to be run in Afghan territory. No wonder then that the US shifted its justification of war in Afghanistan from war against Taliban rule to a humanitarian war of fleeing Afghan people from political and economic oppression. After the war in Afghanistan, the United States still maintained a substantial military presence in the country. Although the US has contributed to the reconstruction of this nation in terms of material aid, the Afghan people are poorer and less safe than how they certainly were prior to the war. Waging war against a state as a means of responding to terrorist attacks does not in any way help in making the world a safer place. After the war in Afghanistan, there is less likelihood that other terrorist groups spread out throughout the globe have been deterred from carrying out their business. Afghan remains very unstable even after such a major military operation (Young 106-107, 133). Al Qaeda is not the only major terrorist group and other groups like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Jamat -i- Islami of South Asia is founded on strong ideologies that influenced the establishment of Islamic extremist groups worldwide. Too much attention on Al Qaeda could give groups a better chance of strengthening their operations (Aubrey 87).
To counter the new wave of terrorism, a lot more than military intervention needs to be done. It does not appear realistic to carry out a hunt for these terrorists from their perceived operational bases at the expense of innocent life as in the case of Afghanistan. Such an action can only displace them and the confusion of war gives them another chance to reorganize themselves. When a war is going on, so much attention is accorded to it at the international level that the main cause of the war, which in such a case is fighting terrorism, becomes less important for some time. The war on terrorism cannot be fought by the US alone, and cannot be won on the battlefield either. Rather, it must be accorded international importance and even if specific regions and global arenas are targeted, the effort to combat terrorism must be very well coordinated. In February 2003, massive peace protests spread out in major Western countries, a clear indication that these nations did not support the US government’s interpretation of the kind of tools necessary in the fight against global terrorism. (Aubrey 8).
Equally important to combating terrorism, is every effort being made to address the roots that have become important bases in sustaining the new phase of terrorism. It is impossible to deal with terrorism, eradicate it or prevent the recurrence of the same, without addressing the root causes and ankles of strength that support the terrorist movements (Aubrey 8). At the roots of international terrorism, the Palestinian issue and US relations with Israel must also be addressed as failure to do so will continue to provide the terrorists with a platform for running their new kind of international terrorism (Aubrey 8, 56). Globalization and terrorism are concurrent events that are deeply rooted in world history. Although recent trends in political, economic, and cultural globalization have greatly contributed to more deprivation and worse violence, globalization is not a very recent phenomenon. Like terrorism, it has marked world history for a long time. It is therefore logically important and a matter of urgency, to identify terrorism through what could be terrorism’s root causes, and whether these root causes could be revolving around individuals or embedded in the very structures of organizations or nation-states. Terrorism is a societal disease and not merely a fanatical fad and its operations are carried out through clear-cut actions based on very clearly defined agendas. The most possible motivations for terrorist activities are power struggle, power domination, and the desperation that arises from such kind of power struggles (Nassar 23).
It is also important that every effort is made toward narrowing global inequalities. This is because wide disparities in the well-being and wealth between the EU, Japan and US on one hand, and South Asia and the Middle East on the other, have raised an issue worthy to be awarded extensive investigation, towards an understanding of the very reasons that motivate persons to form or join terrorist groups. It is highly likely that such disparities and the developed world’s level of indifference towards the same could have fostered widespread resentment globally, and also endangered the prosperity and peace of many living beyond widespread poverty. Elimination of world poverty is very possible but only if the wealthy nations are ready to invest more political will towards achieving such a noble course. The world cannot achieve effective, inclusive, and fair global governance if no effort is made toward reducing the economic, organizational, and technological differences that have caused such disparity in institutional order and quality of life (Young 114-115).
Rather than spending too much time and resources on the battle against fundamentalism, the September 11 attack on the US provided a very good opportunity for democratic nations throughout the world, to embark on developing a rule of law that has a global perspective (Young 116). Deviation should be made from concentrating so much on the war against Islamic fundamentalism and ample consideration made to the fact that there is a future likelihood that other religious, social, political, or economic groups might adopt terror designs on the national and international level (Pohlman 15). Any actions or policies for addressing terrorism should therefore do so from a global perspective should utilize legal instruments and organizations that have an international footing. One of the most important such organizations is the United Nations (UN). Although its operations and designs have been described as sometimes flawed, it is so far the only global institution that represents nearly all people in the world. The UN policies, institutions and conventions give considerable attention to the most urgent problems facing the world. There is a dire need of strengthening the UN both financially and in terms of the policies, it adapts as a good way of helping this institution achieve its peace-making mission (Young 109-110).
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the US government and the world at large became more aware that Osama bin Laden’s influence was spread out over a worldwide network of terror groups operating in more than 40 countries. Most shocking was the clear that these groups were well endowed with the necessary resources to organize and coordinate simultaneous and very complex operations, with such military precision. With this came a realization that these terrorist groups are well capable of employing biological or chemical agents in subsequent attacks (Aubrey 2). Military combat is a very dangerous method of fighting terrorism. This is because attacking sovereign nations may lead to increased manufacture and use of massively destructive weapons in defense. The anthrax outbreak soon after the September 11 attack on the US clearly indicates that biological weapons are already in store awaiting every opportunity for release. If biological or chemical warfare took place in the US again, then they too would be led to reiterate through the same means and the world would get on the verge of total destruction. After all, America did so during World War II and the door has been open ever since (Nassar 105).
The war against terrorism is a long-term undertaking that stretches out very far into the future of America. This war may not be graded on the same level as the Civil War or Second World War but is equally a threat to the national existence of the American people. It is not a short-term crisis either and considering that terrorists could easily succeed in launching another terrorist attack, then the need arises to establish a more permanent constitutional balance of individual rights and national security. This may however not prevent any more attacks but would otherwise ensure that such attacks become less lethal and more so, less likely through individual rights readjustment on a long-term basis. The constitution must continue to evolve in such a way that through it, the American government would be able to confront and overcome both present and foreseeable future challenges. Perhaps the concentration of power in the executive and in its military is an issue that too requires considerable review and a strict power separation, considered to distribute operational control in the eventuality of war (Pohlman 13, 15).
The FBI and CIA are renowned for their sophisticated intelligence and investigative techniques and yet, the September 11 attack, a crime of such high magnitude, seems to have caught them completely unawares. These institutions seem to have been so engrossed in domestic security between states that the likelihood of international threat had been temporarily shielded. Worse still, their system of operation was entangled in some kind of spy culture that made cooperation and communication across the various states very difficult. The September 11 attacks on American soil should therefore sound a siren to all the states to change their law enforcement and intelligence structures so that greater cooperation is achieved among the various states. World security is more crucial and a strong, well-coordinated domestic security system would not miss out on any international threats (Young 110-111).
Terrorism is an international crime that operates under a very organized culture. But most law enforcement and intelligence institutions seem to lag behind such a reality. In its approach to investigations of international terrorism, the US should embrace the aspect of cooperating with other nations rather than undermining such cooperation. International law enforcement institutions such as the INTERPOL are good tools that could be used to unite various countries in the investigations of terrorism. This can be done through proper funding of such institutions as well as frequently working with them in order to have access to whatever data they have regarding organized international crime. These issues were raised in the UN General Assembly meeting of November 2000. The Assembly also proposed the idea of assisting less-developed nations to upgrade whatever facilities they have so that they too will not be left behind in the fight against crime according to international standards (Young 113).
Technological advancement and the zeal for power politics among most world leaders have given rise to a more destructive form of terrorism than ever before witnessed in global history. It is therefore virtually important for the US government to put a check on the fast growth of terrorist organizations if the nation has to achieve any success in its war against terrorism. But no matter the number of terrorists in operation, a nuclear terrorist attack is only possible if such radicals have access to assembled nuclear weapons or the materials necessary to assemble the same. To avoid such eventuality, it is very important that measures are taken to ensure that such groups have no way of accessing such materials. The enriched uranium deposits in Pakistan and Russia especially pose a very serious nuclear threat. If the number of nations possessing nuclear weapons or nuclear materials is reduced, then terrorists have a narrower market from which to source or steal such critical components. The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is already engrossed in the fight against nuclear terrorism by inspecting facilities in 91 countries and trying to establish a strong global work that would help in securing nuclear facilities and materials. Perhaps such an organization should be awarded the best support possible (Ferguson 9-10). The US government should adopt a clear policy in support of the de-legitimization of enriched uranium among civilians and consequently encourage other countries to adapt and commit to such a policy. This would include prohibiting the export of HEU-fueled power and research reactors as well as strengthening restrictions on the export of uranium for the production of isotope reactors (Ferguson 26).
In the fight against international terrorism, policymakers should therefore approach the issue from a broader perspective in order to secure international approval and sustained public support. Intelligence agencies should operate under clear-cut policy guidelines that have considerable regard for personalities, countries, and also target organizations. This will help them in collecting sufficient information that will support war-fighter intelligence and decision-maker requirements. Law enforcers on the other hand have a significant responsibility of examining juridical and criminal aspects of terrorism, through a more expansive approach to be able to address both the terrorist acts as well the organized criminal structures that support them (Aubrey 18).
Aubrey, Stefan.M. The New Dimension of International Terrorism. vdf Hochschulverlag AG, 2004.
Ferguson, Charles.D. Preventing Catastrophic Nuclear Terrorism: CSR NO.11, 2006. Chicago: Council on Foreign Relations, 2006.
Griset, Pamala.L. and Mahan Sue. Terrorism in Perspective. Seminole:SAGE, 2002.
Nassar, Jamal.R. Globalization and Terrorism: The Migration of Dreams and Nightmares. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield 2005.
Pohlman, H.L. Terrorism and the Constitution: The Post – 9/11 Cases. Lanham:Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.
Young, Iris.M. Global Challenges: War, Self Determination and Responsibility for Justice. Cambridge: Polity, 2007.