Tackling terrorism and dealing with Rogue States

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Tackling terrorism and dealing with Rogue States

A European Policy Centre Trialogue on “Tackling terrorism and dealing with rogue states” was held on 7 October 2002, in conjunction with the East-West Institute (EWI) and Journalists @ Your Service. It was the first in a series on “Europe’s New Security Trialogue: EU, US and Russia”. A panel of Paul Hofheinz, Wall Street Journal Europe, Dr Alyson Bailes, Director of SIPRI, Sweden, Professor Barry Posen, Visiting Fellow, the German Marshall Fund, Dr Sergey Oznobishchev, Director of Russia’s Institute of Strategic Assessments. Dr Fraser Cameron of The European Policy Centre moderated the meeting and Dr Antje Herrberg of the EWI made some closing remarks. A question and answer session followed. This is not an official record of the proceedings and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.

Report of Expert Session

Journalist, Paul Hofheinz, of the Wall Street Journal Europe, gave a summary of the closed session of experts that had taken place earlier in the day. He said that the debate had clearly demonstrated the lack of consensus on how to approach the issues. But this was a positive factor, he insisted, in a set of democratic societies and countries with their own views on terrorism and rogue states. “If there was consensus I would be a little worried. The encouraging thing is that we are having a mature discussion, which could lead to results,” he said.

The expert meeting had attempted to address three points:

  • a definition of terrorism;
  • the grounds on which preventive action was warranted;
  • what instruments were at the disposal of nations and international organisations.

On the first point, not a very good job had been done as many people felt terrorism did not need defining before action was taken. One problem was how to draw a distinction between one person’s “terrorist”, and another person’s “freedom fighter.” President Bush had said the world was facing a new kind of conflict, but Mr Hofheinz disagreed: terrorism was almost as old as the world itself.

On the second, there had been wide disagreement, not least on Iraq. On the third, too, there was no general consensus on the means available for fighting the problem.

American, Russians and Europeans were thinking differently about how to tackle terrorism: America and Russia focused on the immediate problem, while Europeans were more interested in long-term solutions, seeking out the roots of terrorism rather than just preventing the next attack. The biggest challenge was how to fight terrorism without sacrificing the civil values upon which societies were built. This discussion would go on for a long time and was best summed up as a struggle between civilisation and lawlessness.

A tricky question was how countries, which were built on tolerance could deal with intolerance. It was a puzzle, which had underpinned every discussion in the morning session – “and I have not yet heard a good answer to that one.”

Dr Alyson Bailes, Director of SIPRI, Sweden, said the European view was that terrorism was something with a long past, a long future, and many faces. But trans- national terrorism was new, and any remedies had to recognise this.

Europe’s view of “containment” was based on conflict management in general – using political processes, economic sticks and carrots, and supply-side restraint, cutting off the money supply and the access to weapons of mass destruction. But what, she asked, of the public perception of how the anti-terror campaign is approached?

The European instinct was for prudence, restraint, and thinking twice about the consequences. The use of institutional frameworks helped slow down the response process, which could be valuable. But there was a need for new approaches, and the media need ed its own code to avoid over-dramatising or glamorising terrorism. There had to be better dialogue between religious groups, and account had to be taken of the combined public and private sector role, working together to condemn terrorism and starve it of the fuel it needed.

On all this there were divisions amongst Europeans, but the closed meeting had largely avoided discussing these problems – even the most “bellicose” Europeans who were most ready to use force. The main concern was to avoid destroying democratic society, affecting law and liberty and paralysing free economic activity on which the wealth of society depended.

Another exclusively European – and stubborn – view was that terrorists can be transformed, or converted, and that there was something noble in that. Northern Ireland was cited as an example. There was also a tendency in Europe to balance the terrorism problem by pointing out other problems – the environment, disease, and uncontrolled migration – which also needed to be tackled.

If this EU model of approaching terrorism had any virtues, the issue was whether the EU provided an efficient mechanism for formulating and promoting the European way of dealing with violence. There were difficulties with EU justice and home affairs structures, and limits on cooperation with other organisations, such as NATO. Even September 11 did not overcome the problems of establishing a coherent strategy and Dr Bailes said she hoped it would not take a “horrible” attack on European territory to prompt the search for effective policies.

Dialogue was needed with the US and Russia, via the UN or the G8, and even the dynamics of EU enlargement could help fight the terrorism battle.

Dr Sergey Oznobishchev, Director of Russia’s Institute of Strategic Assessments, said there was a long way to go before the terrorism problem was resolved. He drew attention to what the closed sessions had failed to do: it did not define terrorism, and it failed to give a definition of a rogue state.

But in the long run, goodwill would prevail and there were grounds for optimism. The discussions had emphasised that modern terrorism had a very diverse economic base and the primary battle therefore should be the fight against the economic sources of supply that fuelled terrorism. One root was the division between the wealthy north and the very poor east and there had to be stronger cooperation between security services. Cooperation too, not just between the EU and NATO, but also with well-developed anti-terror institutions such as Interpol, which should be modernised. But the UN had to have the last word in defining anti-terrorist action and establishing the support of the international community.

More care had to be given to the fall-out from anti-terrorist actions. There were no trans-national answers, he said, but the growing trans-national will to solve trans-national problems had been evident during the seminar.

Professor Barry Posen of the German Marshall Fund of the US, said it was impossible to understate the priority that the terrorism issue now had in America. Terrorism was a deeply emotional matter, which had become the “lode star” for US foreign and security policy. The US was so powerful that when it acted everyone was affected, and while the European allies had made every effort to accommodate US interests, some friction was inevitable.

The US did not set out to wage war on all terrorism but it had quickly became apparent after September 11 that the struggle was wider than Al Qaeda. However, some countries had different priorities and struggled themselves with groups which they perceived to be terrorists. Such inconsistencies, warned the professor, had led to splits on the basic issue of how to approach the anti-terror campaign.

In Europe the struggle was principally economic and political, with direct action as secondary. The US has the opposite view – the traditional “Wild West” approach of good guy versus bad guy.

America wanted to cooperate, he emphasised, but it also wanted swift results. “This particular administration is not that interested in process – you use institutions to solve problems but if institutions turn into barriers to that then you go round those institutions.”

Professor Posen said this was a critical time, and that if the UN Security Council did not find a way forward, “I sense the current regime (in America) will find a way to address these problems.” He added: “That makes a lot of people uncomfortable and I can understand why.”

Discussion

The speakers were all agreed on one thing – there was very little consensus between the EU and US on how to tackle terrorism. The approaches were different – the EU targeting the root causes, and the Americans keener on swift action. The answer was closer cooperation – and better understanding of the underlying issues.

Dr Alyson Bailes said the private sector was very much affected by terrorism, and the private sector role in helping the anti-terror campaign was not limited to just helping stop money laundering. Companies could try to show the acceptable face of globalisation. Many companies were wealthier than governments.

Professor Posen said he did not think the US public was “baying for blood” over September 11, but it would have been better to have netted elusive characters such as Osama Bin Laden by now. The public had been shocked and puzzled and although the Bush administration had not, he insisted, been swept along by a “breaking wave of public fury”, attitudes had obviously changed since September 11. The political view in Washington now was that American power had to be secured or expanded.

Dr Bailes said terrorism was not just a northern problem. Other responsible countries were struggling with terrorism and the seminar view was that, despite the central role of the UN, regional groupings shared an interest in cooperative conflict management.

Professor Posen said that even before September 11 last year, many people were warning about “catastrophic” terrorism. But many, himself included, had had difficulty recognising this threat: until September 11, all forms of terrorism at least seemed to have some logic behind the actions. But it was now clear that, with the US winning the conventional battle up to that point, terror groups needed something to elicit an over-reaction and spin things out of control. It was not yet clear if the terrorists had succeeded in that aim.

On cooperation between secret services, Dr Oznobishchev said that President Putin’s policy of partnership with the West needed stronger support from the West itself – otherwise the “partnership ground” may evaporate. The key was to act “cooperatively” but not necessarily coordinate security activity.

Aidan White, Secretary General of the International Federation of Journalists, said the only thing everyone had agreed on in the seminar was that there was a problem with the media. The terrorism issues were complex and the fact that even wise heads could not agree on them demonstrated the need for public debate and better understanding.

Journalists were not always the best informed, he acknowledged, and some reporting left much to be desired. However, the media had a key role to play, and he cautioned against too much interference in media coverage of terrorist events, even when the temptation was to downplay the impact of terrorist attacks on democracies.

The media was extremely important because “you cannot hope for people to understand the complexities of these matters without information.” Good journalism at its best was a counter to the rumour, speculation and ignorance on which terrorism feeds, said Mr White.

He pointed out that most casualties in the open conflict in Afghanistan had been journalists, and that the murder of journalist, Daniel Pearl, recorded on video by “media-savvy” terrorists, showed that reporters were not seen as neutrals in the war against terrorism.

Conclusion

Summing up, Fraser Cameron, EPC Director of Studies, said there were clearly no easy answers. There was much disagreement on what was a long-term problem. One issue, which had not been addressed in the seminar was the role of NATO and how it could be harnessed in the anti-terrorism fight. That was something, which would be tackled more fully later this year in an EPC dialogue on military capabilities.


For more analyses see The European Policy Centre’s

website 

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe
Contribute