|Thursday, 27 September 2001|
A new strategy against new terror
by Lionel Wijesiri
Should a country respond to terrorist attacks with force or seek to address root causes through political dialogue?
Some experts view terrorism as the antithesis of politics, as a profoundly threatening assault on the State that demands a forceful security response. Others argue that terrorism is a form of political communication, one that seeks to discredit a particular political system and warrants a political response. According to the latter view, politically marginalized groups or individuals use terrorism to engage the State apparatus in some form of 'dialogue," whether the state likes it or not. An act of terrorism says, "You cannot ignore us".
In the case of Northern Ireland, the government's shift away from a security response to terrorism to a political response - its willingness to engage in political dialogue, to examine the roots of the problem, and to search for political solutions - finally led to a peace agreement there.
Dealling with Bin Laden
Any sensible analyst would reject the notion of political dialogue with the terrorists who were behind the recent carnage unleashed on the USA. The attacks appear to have been the work of Bin Laden's Islamic fundamentalist network, the Al Qaeda movement. More than two third of the Americans believe that Bin Laden is a threat to the United States and "he has to be defeated". They urge the United States leadership to bring political pressure to bear on Pakistan, which neighbours Afghanistan, to help in such an effort.
We should understand that the network of extremist Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan does not belong to Bin Laden and it does not belong to anyone. Bin Laden is able to take advantage of it because he has money, but we cannot exaggerate the importance of a single individual. If something happens to him, somebody else will take his place.
Bin Laden often operates out of Afghanistan, a country that was completely fractured by the war against the Soviets, and Pakistan, and which struggles with a difficult social, political, and economic legacy from the Afghan war. During the war, Afghanistan became home to several thousand Muslims who helped fight the Red Army. When the war ended, they did not or could not return to their countries of origin, and they now participate in a number of terrorist organizations.
The analysts point out that it would be difficult for the United States to enlist Pakistan's help in curbing terrorism in the region because some years ago US cut off all assistance to that country because of its continued development of a nuclear weapons capability. The fact that US did so created an unforeseen situation in which it is very difficult for them to work with US and very difficult for US to get them to work with them. They have no incentive to cooperate.
As the sole remaining superpower, some terrorist groups in the Arab world see the United States as the enemy of tradition and hierarchy, the apostle of globalisation and social forces that undermine traditional Islamic societies. As long as those groups see themselves as victimized by the United States and all it stands for, they are unlikely to engage in political dialogue, making that option difficult for a target state to initiate. But when the United States hits back, as it did in Sudan and Afghanistan, using potentially provocative military action, understandable though that response was, it is violating the sovereignty of other countries, threatening civilian populations, and intensifying anti-American sentiment.
Nature of Terrorism
Terrorism, the psychoanalysts say, is a form of psychological warfare. A small number of terrorists can change history, as happened in USA few days ago and in Israel when terrorist bombings and the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin disrupted the Arab-Israeli peace process.
The terrorist threat to the security of a state is potentially great and it is therefore a serious mistake for governments to underestimate it.
Modern terrorism differs from "classical" terrorism. The idea is that no one shall feel safe, and that anyone can be hit. Modern terrorism is in nature socially pathologic in nature, and just as detestable, whether it is politically, religiously, personally, or otherwise motivated - for example by racism.
Terror is definitely not a modern invention. Even in those days the Greek historian Xenophon described the rewards of psychological warfare. Terrorism has been applied by political organizations aimed at targets left and right alike, nationalistic, ethnic and religious factions as well as by revolutionaries, military, secret police, and in full public view by several governments, regardless of their political motivations. Just look at Caucasus, Balkan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and the rest of the political madhouse. So far in the sad history of mankind terror has again and again proved an efficient tactical means to consolidate strategic positions. Democratic institutions are only in exceptional cases able to resist sustained terrorism.
It is well-known fact that democracies are not able to stand up against terrorism. Democracies are not constructed to defend themselves against the destructive forces. Democracies are not able to mobilize the moral strength to establish adequate means of defense until it is too late or the price of survival will be too high to pay.
Democracy is indeed a paradox, where anyone who wants to destroy it is being given fantastic opportunities to prepare himself in full accordance with his rights, and with full support from the enemies from within and from external forces, who have defined themselves as "progressive" and "friends of Peace", while the defenders of democracy are branded as agents of reactionary forces, doing nothing but disturbing the various "peace processes" going on all around.
Historically, terrorism occurs in waves. There is an attack, everybody focuses on terrorism, but then there is long periods of quieten down and terrorism drops out of public awareness. This presents serious problems for policymakers, who respond to pressure. In certain historical periods when the threat of terrorism is intense, states must make an effort to remain focused on terrorism and to provide the resources necessary to combat it. Otherwise, they are going to be surprised by terrorist attacks again and again.
The United States has focused its attention in recent years on preventing terrorist attacks with nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. Although many experts disagree, it is argue that terrorists like Bin Laden are not likely to use weapons of mass destruction. They can get the results they want with a car bomb or a hijacked plane.
Today, more FBI agents than ever are working the counter terrorism beat. But is the FBI really better equipped now than it was then to discover and preempt such terrorist activity in its earliest stages?
FBI counter terrorism policy is predicated on guidelines issued: The FBI can open a full investigation into a potential act of terrorism only "when facts or circumstances reasonably indicate that two or more person are engaged in activities that involve force or violence and a violation of the criminal laws of the United States." Short of launching a full investigation, the FBI may open a preliminary inquiry if it learns from any source that a crime might be committed and determines that the allegation "requires some further scrutiny". This ambiguous phrasing allows the FBI a reasonable degree of latitude in investigating potential terrorist activity.
However, without a lead - whether an anonymous tip or a public news report - FBI agents can do little to gather intelligence on known or potential terrorists. Agents cannot even download information from World Wide Web sites or clip newspapers to track fringe elements. The FBI responds to leads; it does not ferret out potential threats.
Indeed, in an interview with the Center for National Security Studies, one former FBI official griped, "you have to wait until you have blood on the street before the Bureau can act."
CIA analysts in charge of investigating foreign terrorist threats comb extensive databanks on individuals and groups hostile to the United States. American citizens are constitutionally protected against this sort of intrusion. Congress blocked a 1995 presidential initiative intended to increase the FBI's authority to plant wiretaps, deport illegal aliens suspected of terrorism, and expand the role of the military in certain kinds of cases. Critics have argued that the costs of such constraints on law enforcement may be dangerously high - reconsidering them would be one of the most effective (and perhaps least expensive) remedies against terrorism.
Future terrorism in USA is likely to include higher than ever levels of violence. Hijackings, kidnappings, and drive-by shootings will continue, but their shock effect has decreased with familiarity. Since terrorists need publicity to inspire fear, familiarity causes them to seek more unusual events that capture and hold public attention.
The attack of the World Trade Centre in New York City, Pentagon and other buildings may be typical of future terrorist attacks. There was also a conspiracy to attack symbolic landmarks. It is not difficult to imagine the psychological effect of these types of attacks on the US public.
Although technology aids in the defense against terrorism, it also provides terrorists with increased opportunities. Terrorists can operate in cyber space to destroy or manipulate information for their own purposes. Skilled 'hackers' with terrorist intent can access all but the most secure data banks, stealing or changing information, or destroying it. This gives them the potential, for example, of manipulating the stock market for their own profit or to precipitate inflation or depression. There is evidence of large-scale counterfeiting of American currency to purchase weapons. This could cause serious economic disruption. Access to police and other security files can keep terrorists one-step ahead of their government opponents. Seeking more spectacular attacks, terrorists may poison water supplies or blow up dams.
Parallel to these ominous developments favouring the terrorist is a disturbing trend to resort to violence for an ever-widening range of causes. Terrorism is practised on a global scale in support of criminal business initiatives, various social issues, ethnic conflicts, religious interpretation, traditional political power struggles, and insurgencies. Combined, these factors bode ill for the future and demand the attention of military commanders.
USA will continue to be targets for terrorists for the same reason they have in the past. USA symbolises absolute power. While no one will challenge the United States on the conventional battlefield in the foreseeable future, terrorist acts are likely to be preferred form for expressing hostility toward the remaining superpower. Relative to the other forms of political violence, terrorism remains cheap and successful regarding limited objectives.
United States needs to build coalitions among its allies in the United Nations in order to effectively combat terrorism collectively. The United States is dangerously isolated today. An effective antiterrorism programme with the help of its allies will reduce the likelihood of successful terrorist attacks but only if it is so deeply instilled into the system. To survive, USA must look at Asia and Europe and learn the lesson.
Produced by Lake House