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Free «International Terrorism» Essay Sample


International terrorism is a relatively new threat to human development, which emerged in the 1960s. However, destruction of political opponents is an old phenomenon, as old as politics in general. On the other hand, can Brutus be considered a terrorist? Probably no, for such actions were sporadic and aimed at specific figures. Terrorism, strictly speaking, performs a symbolic function of intimidation, which is achieved by the systematic actions and public response.

The origins of terrorism bear the mark of sinister mystery. They are irrational and not fully comprehended. Researchers often speak of the dark fascination of terrorism and the difficulties of its interpretation. Best (2004) compares terrorism with the Cold War and claims that “the trouble was that whereas during the Cold War the front lines were seemingly clear and the sources of danger and insecurity relatively easily (although sometimes mistakenly) identified, the new ‘war’ was not only unpredictable, but also essentially borderless and global” (Best, 2004, p. 480). Wars, including civil wars, in many ways are quite predictable. They are waged in broad daylight, and the warring parties do not hide themselves and their actions. On the contrary, the main signs of terrorism are stealth actions and denial of any kind of human norms. The prospects of eliminating the threat of terrorism are not clear. Mass emergence of so-called transnational actors on the world stage weaken state sovereign control of national security. The activity of international terrorism associated with it are the phenomena of the same type related to globalization of international life. Considering this, the paper discussed terrorism as the plague of the 21st century. It also answers the question whether it will remain an incurable disease of mankind for the foreseeable future?



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The Concept, Types, and History of Terrorism

There are many definitions of terrorism, but there is no definition universally accepted by all. All attempts to coin the definition of terrorism in the UN failed. This is not surprising, since for some people terrorism is a crime, while for others it is the struggle for just cause. Here is one of the definitions given by the US Department of Defense: terrorism is “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological” (TRADOC, 2007). This is one of the most complete and concise definitions. It is also the least vulnerable one. In general terms, it coincides with the opinion of different international organizations. For example, the UN defines terrorism as “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them” (The UN General Assembly Resolution 49/60, 1994). An interesting definition was offered by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan: “Any action constitutes terrorism if it is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act” (as cited in CIGI, 2005).

The common attributes of terrorism, which contain these and other definitions, are all more or less ambiguous and contradictory just like the phenomenon of terrorism itself. First, the most important feature of terrorism is its political motivation, which excludes such phenomena as, for example, gang wars even if they apply the methods of struggle, which are no different from political actions and, therefore, may rank as terrorism. However, there is a fundamental difference between these forms of violence, which presuppose different approaches to control them: terrorism is always linked to the struggle for power. Its subjects tend to advertise their purposes, and this is not typical for criminal organizations, which are largely motivated by financial interests intersecting with the corrupt segments of the government. For this reason they strive to be in the shadow.

Secondly, direct victims of terrorists, as a rule, are not military or public officials, but representatives of civilian population, common people who are far from politics. However, this is not always the case, for example, the murder of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro by “Red Brigades” in 1978 or Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by terrorists in 1995. Still, it is typical for modern terrorists to target so-called non-combatants, i.e. the civilian population.

Third, a particular feature of terrorist activity is its demonstration and intimidation effect. One can argue with those, who consider terrorism to be irrational and spontaneous. Terrorism is a prudent attempt to use violence to achieve a certain goal. The main target of terrorists is not to harm the direct victims of their actions and not the specific people condemned to death, but those, who are watching the ongoing drama on television.

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Finally, the fourth feature of terrorism is its organized group character. This is one of the most controversial features of terrorism, though it is mentioned by many experts. Indeed, following this criterion a lone assassin, who is not a part of a terrorist organization does not fit into the definition of a terrorist. A militant from Hamas, responsible for the explosion in a disco or a cafe, has every right to be called a terrorist. However, an ordinary Palestinian, not belonging to any organization, who decided to take up arms and opened fire at Jews in the street does not fit into this definition. The fact is that terrorism is a long-term and well-planned activity, which can be carried out only by organized groups, not lone assassins acting emotionally and spontaneously. In this sense Lee Harvey Oswald, who killed Kennedy, could not be called a terrorist, because it was not proved that he belonged to any organization (even if his offense was initiated and planned by someone). On the contrary, the killer of Russian tsar Alexander the Second, or Gavrilo Princip, who killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria can be called a terrorists. The same category includes the woman, who assassinated Rajiv Gandhi in a suicide attack. In all these cases it was proved that the killers belonged to organizations pursuing political goals. This separation of ordinary murderers from the members of criminal organizations is of great importance in the fight against terrorism.

Challenges and Priorities in the Fight Against International Terrorism

Since 1960s, the world community has faced the need to intensify the fight against international terrorism. At present, there are more than a dozen international antiterrorism conventions, in particular, ensuring safety of civil and maritime transport (International Conventions of 1963, 1971, 1988), considering taking hostages (1979), protection of nuclear materials (1980), financing terrorism (1999), acts of nuclear terrorism (2007), etc. International terrorism was condemned in 1985 by the UN General Assembly, which adopted a corresponding resolution. The issue of combating terrorism has been repeatedly raised at meetings of heads of states, including members of the Big Eight as well as lower-level meetings organized by these countries.

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However, there is no reason to see the fight against international terrorism in optimistic light, and “there can be no victory, only an uphill struggle, at times successful, at others not” (Laqueur, 2004, p. 49). Terrorist organizations are not subjects of international law since they are not officially recognized sovereign states. They are not subject to any legitimate government. It is difficult and often impossible to link them to a territory of a certain country. They operate globally, without taking into account any national boundaries. Of course, they use the territory of sovereign states, but never ask for permission from governments of the latter. International terrorist networks are gaining more influence in the fields of security, politics, and economics. However, no government can enter into a contract with these entities or exchange diplomatic missions. All peaceful means of pressure developed by the international community for international relations (economic sanctions and military pressure without use of military force) have no effect on terrorist networks. Even the use of the armed force, which is created to defeat enemy armies, is ineffective as a means of counter-terrorism. Moreover, there is no unity among political forces of the world in assessing the nature of terrorism. For this reason the UN has no international black list of individuals and entities suspected of terrorism.

Mankind does not know how to resist the plague of the 21st century and how to cope with the terrible threat that awaits humanity in the new century. This statement is confirmed by the fact that numerous governments are adopting different laws on combating terrorism. These laws, for example, allow the possibility of destruction of hijacked airliners with passengers on board. Mass media that justifies this measure claims that there will be more victims if terrorists use such planes to bomb nuclear power plants. If terrorists know that even with passengers onboard they will be unable to perform such attack, the idea of this act will seem less attractive. Such laws exist in many countries of the world. However, it is doubtful that terrorists will be stopped by such drastic measure. The number of victims is not important to terrorists. What matters is the demonstration of violence against defenseless people. After all, it is a sign of weakness to raise questions on how many victims humanity can afford to stop terrorists.

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Considering the global war on terrorism, it is necessary to identify priority objectives for the international community. Each of these objectives is very complex and will require the development of new norms of international law, methods of preparation of law enforcement forces, and other activities. The first objective deals with the problem of living space for terrorism. Although modern terrorism operates globally, it needs bases for military training, recreation, regrouping, etc. Such enclaves may appear in sovereign states in two cases. The first case is when the government directly or covertly supports terrorists and shares their goals, for example, the situation when Al Qaeda was supported by the Taliban government in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. This case is relatively simple, at least in legal terms. If the government deliberately extends hospitality to international terrorists, it bears the full responsibility for the actions of militants from its territory. US military action against Taliban regime was the realization of the legitimate right of the country or coalition of countries to repel the aggression and was in full conformity with the UN Charter.

The second case is more difficult and less clear in legal terms. There are countries in the world with weak governments, which are not able to ensure sovereignty throughout their territories. It means an incomplete or limited sovereignty. When part of the territory is not controlled by its own government, it immediately forms an enclave under control of international criminal organizations and terrorists. It must be admitted that the number of such enclaves grows rapidly. The examples of such territories are the south of Lebanon, part of the Philippines, and the northern islands of Indonesia. There are similar enclaves in Sudan, Algeria, Nigeria, Somalia, etc.

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A growing number of these enclaves forces the international community to establish the rules of international law and answer the question of how to deal with governments that do not control the situation in their territory. The most important question is how to eliminate the bases of terrorists formed in these no-man’s lands. New US National Security Strategy, for example, provides for the right to a preemptive strike (Gupta, 2008, p. 181). However, there is a legal issue: how can one country eliminate international terrorism without violating the sovereignty of countries giving it refuge? According to Martin L. Cook, "the justification for attacking them has two aspects: first, it holds them accountable for activities which they knew, or should have known, were being conducted in their territories and did nothing to stop; second, it serves as a deterrent to motivate other states and sponsors to be more vigilant and aware of the activities of such groups on their soil" (Cook, 2002, p. 72). This problem of international law has not been solved yet. However, it is clear that weak governments and limited sovereignty of some countries should not become an insurmountable obstacle in the fight against international terrorism.

The second objective deals with the sources of financing of terrorism. After 9/11 terrorist attack, US authorities have frozen 39 bank accounts belonging to organizations and individuals on suspicion of financial support for terrorism. It turned out that only few of these accounts had been opened in the Persian Gulf. It follows that the fight against financial sponsors of terrorists is technically more difficult than the fight against bases of terrorists. After all, sponsors of terrorists live in the same countries and enjoy the fruits of the same civilization as fighters against terrorism do. The task of stopping the financial flows to prevent international terrorism is a serious challenge to the global financial system. “Good” and “bad” money and the channels of their circulation are so closely related and intertwined that separating them without a painful shock surgery is very difficult. Global financial system, which is considered to be a result and success of post-industrial civilization, can be a formidable weapon in the hands of terrorists. It allowed international terrorism to secretly accumulate and transfer huge amounts of money. Terrorists have no shortage of funds. Such situation is intolerable. Still it is not clear what changes in the world financial system will be required, but it is obvious that they have to be radical.

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The third objective deals with infiltration into underground terrorist networks and their elimination. As it was shown by the events of September 11, 2001 and subsequent high-profile attacks, relying only on technical means (satellite intelligence, for example) is clearly insufficient. On the other hand, traditional US intelligence reports in summer 2001 have warned of attacks against the American mainland (Fawn, 2003, p. 11). There is the need to pay more attention to intelligence work and infiltrate terrorist networks. It must be clearly understood that the purpose of the fight against terrorism is not only fast and effective response to terrorist attacks, but also their prevention.

The fourth objective deals with weakening of the ties between Islamic masses and Islamic extremists. An important task of any war is winning popular support on the side of the enemy. In the event of global war on terrorism, it is the struggle for the hearts and minds of the people of Muslim world. It will not be easy, but the success is possible. However, a campaign like this can be effective only if its performance reflects a number of important factors. The most important one is the rejection of a fatal mistake of propagation of Western values, standards, and principles of Western society in the Islamic world. The West must reach a political rapprochement with Islam. It is necessary that the United States and its partners convince people of Muslim countries that their prosperity is possible without destroying the West and without abandoning their own traditions to the devastating onslaught of Western culture. The project will continue for many years, but building the foundation of a reliable reconciliation is possible if the US and its allies provide Islamic countries with substantial economic and political benefits.

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There is a great need to support the respected representatives of Islamic clergy of the Muslim world, who can destroy the ties between Muslim people and extremists and offer a positive alternative to Islamism. After all, the power of international terrorism is an evil will of a relatively small number of people who use fanatical faith and energy of the Islamic youth. An important issue of the struggle against Islamic terrorism is the problem of the subject of the struggle (governments and their associations, international organizations, special forces, etc.). Experts believe that the best way to fight against terrorist organizations organized by network principle is to create global anti-terrorist organization that would not be under control of any state and will be organized as a network. Obviously, Interpol does not meet these requirements and such a structure does not exist today.

As for the UN, , its capabilities as of a global organization designed to respond to global challenges are clearly not adequate to fight against terrorism. However, this also applies to other international organizations, for example, NATO. A flexible network structure of global terrorism is in stark contrast with a fairly rigid system of international intergovernmental organizations. They are restricted by the principle of complex international agreements, which contradict the need to respond quickly to terrorist attacks. In addition, activities of intergovernmental organizations are determined not so much by the statutory jurisdiction, but by the balance of power influenced by the international situation.

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The only alternative to international terrorism today is an informal inter-state anti-terrorist coalition formed by the initiative of the United States after September 11. However, serious flaws in the work of the coalition are evident. First, many countries dominated by Islamic population, in particular Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Indonesia, are under the pressure of internal forces sympathetic to terrorists. It interferes with their governments’ desire to work more closely with the West. Instances of attacks in these countries make the public outraged. However, the influence of Islamists is so strong that local governments are not able to create a consistent anti-terrorism policy. In the foreseeable future it cannot be expected that the majority of Islamic countries will actively participate in relevant cooperation at the international level.

The second major drawback of antiterrorist coalition is the cost of the US, Israel and their allies’ activity aimed at fighting terrorism. Force measures applied by the leadership of these countries do not bring the desired results. On the contrary, force measures stimulate terrorist attacks. It is a vicious circle.

Finally, there is another serious and unsolved question related to the fight against terrorism – whether governments should negotiate with terrorists? Lack of dialogue creates violence. Social (or ethnic or religious) group, which faces a dead wall tries to communicate with its counterpart in any way, including acts of terrorism. Terrorist attacks are a way to express their discontent, their demands, their political program, and, finally, their existence. By refusing to communicate with these groups, authorities quickly teach them to abstain from the internal dialogue (Smelser, 2007). Social or ethnic minority loses its ability to give an account about their problems and demands, reflect on them, rationalize them and articulate their slogans and programs in a sufficiently clear manner. Terrorist demands are becoming vaguer and unenforceable (sometimes there are no demands at all, but there are vague hints of revenge, even not for a particular act, but “generally” for all crimes, actually or allegedly committed against this group). The authorities state, however, that they do not intend to enter into negotiations with criminals.

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Of course, the issue of negotiations with terrorists has many meanings: it could be a negotiating tactic during the terrorist attack in order to save the lives of hostages or it may be the discussion of a fundamental question of the strategic dialogue with the enemy. This question is left open. In a mature civil society (terrorism has not an interstate, but namely intersociety character) an inverse relationship between the government and all layers of opposition is of vital importance to break this vicious circle. A silent mutual mobilization is no longer an answer.


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