This page is part of the Global Governance Monitor.
Scope of the Challenge
September 11, 2001, shocked the international system, changing global perspectives on both the threat of terrorism and the tools required to prevent it. Although multilateral instruments against terrorism have existed since the 1960s, the unprecedented reach and potential of terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates constitute a new danger that challenges standing tools and institutions. Despite the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, the world is still—a decade after September 11—looking for an effective way to respond to the global terrorist threat.
In recent years, terrorist networks have evolved, moving away from a dependency on state sponsorship; many of the most dangerous groups and individuals now operate as nonstate actors. Taking advantage of porous borders and interconnected international systems—finance, communications, and transit—terrorist groups can reach every corner of the globe. While some remain focused on local or national political dynamics, others seek to affect global change.
At the forefront of this trend is al-Qaeda. From its base in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the al-Qaeda network has spread widely, establishing branches or affiliates elsewhere, including in North Africa, Yemen, and Southeast Asia. Driven by an extreme Salafi ideology—characterized by opposition to Western influence and the goal of creating a global Islamic caliphate—al-Qaeda operatives have killed thousands—from Madrid to Bali to Baghdad. What is more, the group's alluring ideology extends its reach, prompting some individuals outside its direct command to take violent action. The threat from al-Qaeda has proven global, multifaceted, and difficult to track and contain. It continues to pose the most prominent terrorist threat.
Other groups, however, have also emerged, and operate, with their own distinct goals, outside traditional networks and hotspots. Europe and the United States are not immune from terrorism within their borders. This global diffusion of the threat requires a comprehensive response that provides solutions on national, regional, and international levels—and addresses not only the methods but also the factors that can contribute to the spread of terrorism.
Since September 11, generating such a comprehensive response has proven difficult. The United Nations, the world's foremost multilateral body, has made strides in developing legal and normative means to combat terrorism, yet member states' perceptions of the threat of terrorism remain uneven. Measures taken outside the United Nations—the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Financial Action Task Force, and others—provide encouraging frameworks, but many are nonbinding and voluntary.
Overall, the international counterterrorism regime continues to suffer from three main weaknesses. First, lack of a universal agreement over what constitutes terrorism weakens efforts to formulate a concerted global response. Second, multilateral action suffers from inadequate compliance and enforcement of existing instruments. Third, although counterradicalization and deradicalization initiatives have gained some attention over the last five years, progress is lacking, particularly in states with limited resources and expertise.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Overall Assessment: Unprecedented attention, yet insufficient and uncoordinated
Multilateral cooperation on terrorism benefited from the renewed energy and urgency that followed the September 11 attacks on the United States and its interests, and subsequent attacks in Europe, Russia, Africa, the Middle East and around Asia. Over the past decade, the international community has developed instruments and created new initiatives to address the threat of terrorist attacks. Despite increased attention, however, several glaring gaps remain. These include divergent views on the legitimacy and authority of counterterrorism bodies and inadequate compliance and enforcement of standing tools. Targeting nonstate actors that can easily cross borders and operate in civilian areas also poses an enormous challenge.
Today's counterterrorism regime lacks a central global body dedicated to terrorist prevention and response. The landscape for counterterrorism activity thus lacks coherence. It is multilayered—ranging from legally binding instruments and strategic guidelines, to multilateral institutions and regional frameworks. Within the United Nations (UN) alone are more than thirty agencies conducting relevant work on the issue; in the United States, sixteen departments and agencies do so. Too often, these various elements are uncoordinated and even competing (PDF).
The United Nations has helped rally international efforts for counterterrorism. It now oversees sixteen conventions that target different aspects of terrorism, including terrorist financing, hijacking, acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and hostage taking, to name a few. However, threat perceptions differ (PDF) as some UN member states perceive terrorism as a lesser priority in light of other challenges like HIV/AIDS or crime, while the U.S. Justice Department continues to rank terrorism as its highest priority a decade after the 9/11 attacks. These differences continue to obstruct efforts to build a comprehensive treaty that would unite all aspects of counterterrorism under one legal umbrella.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) has strengthened the international legal foundation for counterterrorism efforts by issuing numerous binding resolutions. To oversee the implementation of the bedrock counterterrorism resolutions created after September 11, the UNSC established the Counterterrorism Committee (CTC), and later the CTC Executive Directorate (CTED). The CTC, composed of all fifteen UNSC members, is tasked with assessing states' efforts to implement relevant resolutions, evaluating gaps in state capacity, and facilitating donor coordination for technical and financial counterterrorism assistance. The CTED works to strengthen and better coordinate implementation of UNSC resolutions, as well as to conduct country assessments and facilitate technical assistance from donor countries. Both bodies, however, have uneven support across the UN membership. Some countries, notably those from the global South, have considered the CTC illegitimate, given its direct mandate from the UNSC, not to mention out of touch with countries it is responsible for assisting and with donor countries that are not on the Security Council. Moreover, many UN member states simply give low priority to the counterterrorism agenda. Accordingly, countries, particularly in Africa, have not met (PDF) their obligations to report to the CTC or otherwise take major steps to implement UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1373.
Another UN Security Council body, the 1540 Committee, oversees the implementation of UNSCR 1540, which legally obligates member states to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The 1540 Committee is assisted (PDF) by an expert group that examines member state implementation of the resolution.
UN-sponsored sanctions have been effective in addressing state sponsorship of terrorism, notably Libya and Sudan, but less so against nonstate actors, like al-Qaeda and the Taliban since their removal from power. Over the last decade terrorist groups evolved to rely less on a centrally led network and adopted a more horizontal, nebulous, bottom up structure, increasing the difficulty of tracking and preventing terrorist acts. Pursuant to UNSCR 1267, the Al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee andMonitoring Team were created to implement and enforce this and subsequent resolutions. The committee kept a consolidated list of individuals and entities subject to sanctions, until 2011, when the UNSC voted to separate the al-Qaeda and Taliban lists. However, some critics argue that the list's "name and shame" tactic has had negligible impact given the lack of regular updates and the expansion of the list, making it an inflexible mechanism in the face of the diffusion of al-Qaeda's hierarchy. Others have pointed to the lack of provisions for legal due process. A resolution adopted in June 2011 allows for an ombudsman to receive delisting requests, a positive development that, nonetheless, does little to compensate for the lack of an effective appeals mechanism.
Except for the UNSC's role in resolutions imposing sanctions, nobody is responsible for ensuring that member states meet their commitments under UN terrorism conventions or resolutions. Although the CTC and CTED monitor states' progress in implementing bedrock UNSC resolutions, they have no mandate to penalize countries and have never referred a case to the UNSC.
In an effort to increase the legitimacy and add coherence to the UN's efforts, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted in 2006 the Global Counterterrorism Strategy (GCT). Although the GCT provides an important normative and operational foundation for counterterrorism work at the UN, a report (PDF) by the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation released ahead of the 2010 review conference notes that the strategy's potential to "provide for collaborative, holistic counterterrorism efforts is either unknown or largely overlooked beyond New York, Geneva, and Vienna." That is, it has earned little attention or traction even among most UN member states.
The main onus of implementing the GCT is with member states, but its institutional operation is supported by the Counterterrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF)—a partnership of bodies created by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan in 2005, which now includes more than thirty UN entities plus INTERPOL, to streamline and coordinate counterterrorism efforts within the UN. In addition, the CTITF has nine working groups that focus on specific elements of the UN counterterrorism work, such as countering terrorist use of the Internet and integrating human rights concerns. Because the CTITF is composed of representatives from different agencies within the UN system, each agency's mandates and priorities often take precedence, undermining the goals and effectiveness of the task force. Therefore, despite being created to help coordinate, coherence remains elusive.
Beyond the UN, other multilateral and regional bodies and initiatives have also ramped up their efforts to address terrorism in response to September 11. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Group of Eight (G8) Counterterrorism Action Group (CTAG), for example, were created and operate independently, with varying degrees of success. The FATF—created in 1989 to combat money laundering and tasked with countering terrorist financing following September 11—has resulted in countries cleaning up their financing practices to quell or limit terrorist financing within their borders. The CTAG's efforts, however, have suffered from a lack of direction and declining motivation among member states. To fill this gap, the United States has convened the Global Counterterrorism Forum, which will launch in September 2011, and, according to the G8's Deauville Declaration, strengthen "the international consensus in the fight against terrorism, creating new opportunities of cooperation and furthering the implementation of the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy."
A number of regional organizations, such as the European Union (EU), African Union, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, have delivered formal statements outlining their shared commitment to counterterrorism. Although the EU has followed up on its statements with a robust counterterrorism framework, incorporating law enforcement and judicial apparatuses like the EU judicial cooperation unit, EUROJUST and the EU's police force, EUROPOL, other regional institutions lack capacity, funding (PDF), and political will to aggressively pursue counterterrorism strategies. Additionally, these organizations too often work in isolation from UN programs.
Despite the progress made through new bodies and agreements—notably the creation of the GCT and the ability of international bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and the CTC to audit and take stock (PDF) of national counterterrorism capabilities—several significant weaknesses are apparent in the global counterterror regime. First is the normative deadlock on the definition of terrorism. Terrorism, especially after the divisive political environment fostered by the U.S.-led global war on terror, continues to mean different things to different states, with strong divergence of both capacity and political will along global North-South lines. In addition, the UNSC's promotion of legal and law enforcement measures to combat terror have been perceived as overemphasizing security, resulting in intense criticism by the Group of Seventy-Seven. The GCT somewhat redresses this with its emphasis on protecting human rights and on root causes of terrorism, but it is, in the end, only a strategy and not legally binding.
Second, multilateral response suffers from inadequate compliance and enforcement of standing instruments. To date, only eight UN member states have become parties to all sixteen treaties and even ratification of these instruments is no guarantee of enforcement. This is a marked improvement from the pre-September 11 era, but there is ample room for greater participation. In particular, monitoring and enforcement of terrorist financing commitments remain uneven because countries lack governance capacity, do not prioritize the terrorist threat, or both. The effort to safeguard nuclear material remains an equally difficult challenge that, despite the efforts and initiatives of concerned states, continues to suffer from a global concerted effort. Existing instruments, such as the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, lack robust participation.
Third, despite the attention terrorist prevention has gained over the last five years, efforts are still inadequate. Recognition of the importance of root causes and counter radicalization strategies are nascent. The GCT has helped draw some attention to these issues particularly in Pillar I, which focuses on "conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism," but huge gaps remain in implementation. Terrorist groups have evolved to rely less on state support, which severely hinders efforts to fight them. To date, the efforts of the international community to help countries build their counterterrorism capacity have also been inadequate. In particular, countries that need counterterrorism assistance the most, such as Pakistan—a hotbed of terrorism, host to a nuclear arsenal, and a major base of al-Qaeda—rely on bilateral arrangements rather than multilateral aid structures.
Establishing Counterterrorism Norms: Some progress, but still inadequate
Progress toward building a normative framework for terrorism since September 11 has been considerable, but significant problems remain. Primarily, no international legal definition of terrorism has been agreed upon. And although United Nations (UN) documents provide operational definitions or interpretations of customary international law, and existing conventions against terrorism do provide a universal legal regime against terrorism, none is comprehensive. The UN General Assembly (UNGA) has not reached consensus on a definition of terrorism that would be adhered to by all countries. In turn, differences over the definition have been a major factor in the failure to pass a Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism (PDF), which criminalizes all forms of international terrorism. Negotiations of the Comprehensive Convention are deadlocked after nearly a dozen years of discussion among legal experts at the UN.
Today's global counterterrorism framework includes sixteen UN conventions and protocols, a multitude of Security Council resolutions, the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy, and a collection of regional instruments. The sixteen conventions and protocols overseen by the United Nations constitute the normative and legal backbone of global counterterror efforts. Before September 11, however, only two states (PDF) were party to what were then twelve existing international conventions requiring states to prohibit and punish specific terrorist activities and cooperate in international enforcement efforts.
Following September 11, the UN Security Council (UNSC), particularly through its Counterterrorism Committee, pressed for greater participation. As a result, in the first two years after September 11, ratification of the conventions for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings and the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism increased significantly. Success related to the other conventions, however, was only modest. Today, eight countries have ratified the sixteen conventions and protocols, but too often state parties are not the most significant counterterrorism actors. Adherence is particularly low for two protocols related to maritime navigation, the numbers of state parties to which are as low as fifteen and nineteen. Moreover, many of the treaties are themselves inadequate. Too often they address issues independently of the broader counterterrorism struggle, suffer from weak language (for instance, containing saving clauses that limit the definitions of terrorist activity) or omit terrorism from the very title of the treaty.
The day after the September 11 attacks, both the UNSC and UNGA adopted unanimous resolutions condemning the acts of terrorism and urging all states to bring the perpetrators, organizers, and sponsors of the attacks to justice. UNSC Resolution (UNSCR) 1368 was particularly significant because it linked the right to self-defense as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter with the response to international terrorism. The UNSC also passed UNSCR 1373, requiring member states to criminalize terrorism and its financing, and providing guidelines for enhanced cooperation on law enforcement and intelligence sharing. Although UNSCR 1373 provides the foundational requirements to international counterterrorism efforts, some countries complain that it oversteps the legislative authority of the UNSC by imposing its will on member states.
The UN Security Council's actions on counterterrorism are often hastily established in response to specific crises. Following UNSCR 1373, and subsequent to the Beslan school bombing in the Russian Federation and the London underground and bus bombings, the UNSC issued UNSCRs 1566 and 1624, which also represent important normative developments. The former provides an operational definition for terrorism, and the latter calls on states to legally prohibit incitement for terrorist acts.
In parallel with the UN Security Council's work, then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and UNGA championed and supported a global strategy for counterterrorism. In part fueled by concerns over the UNSC's overemphasis on the legal and law enforcement aspects of counterterrorism, and on the UNSC's encroaching legislative authority, UNGA unanimously passed the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy in 2006 and reaffirmed support for it in September 2008 and 2010. The strategy pulls together existing UN norms and activities into a single document and serves as a comprehensive guide based on four pillars: addressing conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, preventing and combating terrorism, building state capacity and bolstering the UN's counterterrorism role, and ensuring respect for and the protection of human rights in counterterrorism efforts.
In essence, the GCT presents a roadmap for global counterterrorism work. However, though the strategy reiterated the commitments of the 2005 UN World Summit to condemn terrorism "in all its forms and manifestations," it still did not answer the call for a global legal treaty on terrorism—a priority of the World Summit that went unfulfilled.
At its heart, the lack of a legal definition of terrorism hinders progress on a comprehensive treaty. A high-level panel organized by the former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan noted that "a lack of agreement on a clear and well-known definition undermines the normative regulatory and moral stance against terrorism and has strained the image of the United Nations." Differing opinions on self-determination, the right to resistance, and the use of violence by state militaries—particularly in the context of the Israel-Palestine and the India-Kashmir conflicts remain divisive issues. Today, negotiations to develop a comprehensive treaty on terrorism continue to be deadlocked, and an April 2011 meeting (PDF) only highlighted entrenched differences on these issues.
As an alternative to global fora, regional organizations are playing an increasingly important role (PDF) in developing norms, and provide a more tailored response to local threats and conditions. Following September 11, various regional organizations created new legal mechanisms to fight terror. Still, their value is uneven (PDF). Successful examples include the Organization of American States, which has fostered consensus among its member states and spurred training workshops—subsequently linking those efforts to the global fight through cooperation (PDF) with UN bodies. The most recent legal mechanism of the European Union, the 2005 EU Counterterrorism Strategy, offers a four-pillared plan to combat terrorism.
It has been difficult, however, for other regional organizations to follow suit. Diverse memberships present competing priorities, and limited capacity—as in the case of the African Union (PDF)—can hinder effectiveness. Others bodies, like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, lack the necessary political cohesion and organizational structure to gain regional consensus, and instead rely on the varied efforts of member states.
Combating Terrorist Financing: Major strides to disincentivize terrorist financing, but weakly addresses underground channels
Overall, the international community has responded to the terrorist threat with broad cooperation to track and cut off funding. Experts commend a variety of counterterrorism financing (CTF) initiatives for significantly hobbling terrorist groups by restricting access to legitimate financial channels. Nevertheless, monitoring and enforcement of commitments remain spotty because some countries lack political will or governance capacity, particularly when dealing with nonstate actors. Moreover, terrorists increasingly resort to informal methods of financial support that are more difficult to curtail.
September 11 proved a critical catalyst for global efforts to cut off terrorist financing. Within weeks of the attacks, United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1373 mandated United Nations (UN) member states to criminalize and suppress terrorist financing. The Al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee, originally established in the wake of the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania under UNSCR 1267, also redoubled efforts to identify al-Qaeda and Taliban affiliates under auspices of UNSCR 1390. The Financial Action Task Force set international standards for CTF and outlined a path for global action to counterterrorism financing in October 2003. Furthermore, over the next two years, 132 nations signed the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Financing, which only four countries had signed before September 11.
These instruments provide common norms for the international community, but experts question (PDF) their effectiveness. Corresponding preventive counterterrorism measures, enforcement mandates and monitoring capabilities exist, but their real power is limited. Furthermore, as the post–September 11 momentum wanes, garnering international support to update and strengthen CTF grows more difficult. For example, Security Council UNSCR 1267 requires UN member states to freeze funds and enforce a travel ban against entities and individuals known to be associated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Yet, a fierce controversy over a lack of transparency in the nomination of individuals to this consolidated list, and the inability of individuals to challenge their status as Taliban or al-Qaeda associates, significantly weakened its potency. European nations in particular protested that the European Convention on Human Rights dictates that individuals are entitled to due process and procedural protections before having their assets frozen as directed by UNSCR 1267. As such, in 2007, only eight names were added to the list, and significant assets have not been frozen since 2004. Other commonly cited problems with the Consolidated List include a large number of listed individuals and organizations lacking basic address information, the continued existence of deceased individuals on the list, and the lack of fundamental information related to entities associated with al-Qaeda.
Another UN body, the Counterterrorism Implementation Task Force —a coordinating arm for UN's counterterrorism work—established a working group, Tackling the Financing of Terrorism. The group provided a series of recommendations to help countries bolster their CTF efforts. Furthermore, institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, have incorporated these recommendations into their work plans. However, the working group has been largely inactive since it released a report in 2009.
The Financial Action Task Force—an intergovernmental body of thirty-six members originally established by the Group of Seven in 1989—also responded swiftly to the events of September 11 in October 2001. It added eight special recommendations (PDF) on CTF to its forty recommendations on anti-money laundering and a ninth in 2005. These measures became the global yardstick for states' commitment to CTF. Although FATF lacked sanctions or legal power, it published a catalog of Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories (NCCT) that would encourage large-scale divestment from the territory and generate international shame. The threat of landing on this blacklist compelled (PDF) many states to upgrade domestic legislation, ratify international CTF conventions, and pledge to monitor financial transactions. After satisfactory progress, FATF removed the last country from its list in 2006. FATF continues to maintain a list of states that weakly implement or refuse to implement its recommendations, but assignment to this newer list has not carried the potency of the original NCCT list. Furthermore, in February 2012, FATF revised its recommendations to create a stronger framework that addresses the new and temperamental threats to the international financial system. Most importantly, the revised recommendations have combined the counterterrorist financing measures with the anti-money laundering controls. The combination of the two will better address terrorist financing, and its growing link to corruption and transnational crime.
An offshoot of FATF, the Middle East and North Africa FATF (MENAFATF) has also been praised (PDF) for promoting CTF in the Gulf Region. For instance, MENAFATF achieved unprecedented success during a 2006 assessment of Syria's CTF because the nation was more willing to cooperate with a regional organization. The success of MENAFATF is also notable given the weakness of other regional level organizations, particularly regarding matters of international security, in North Africa and the Middle East.
FATF's ninth special recommendation directs states to establish a Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to track cash flows, but the extent of cross-border transactions necessitates deep international coordination. One international initiative that FIUs apply to join, the Egmont Group, seeks to systematize secure information and personnel exchanges between its 120 member FIUs.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank also endeavor to monitor and support implementation of FATF recommendations. They release country reports on compliance with international CTF regimes and hold CTF workshops. In 2009, the IMF launched an international fund to underwrite costs of building institutions that track and prosecute financing of criminal activities, including terrorism. The fund currently has a budget of $25 million, which is a paltry amount in comparison to the global sum of CTF expenditures.
Despite success in mitigating the risks in formal financial systems, policing finances in informal channels is an increasingly daunting task. Hawala systems, cash couriers, and donations to charity diverted to fund terrorism are nearly impossible to track. Furthermore, terrorists have adapted to circumvent official financial channels, and operate as nonstate actors in contrast to the pre-9/11 era when most groups relied on state sponsorship. Evidence (PDF) indicates that terrorists increasingly resort to intellectual property crime (such as selling pirated DVDs), extortion, kidnapping, and drug trafficking to raise revenue. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that up to 60 percent of foreign terrorist organizations may be involved in trafficking. Hezbollah, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are all known to be involved in the global drug trade—from overseeing production in Afghanistan to enforcing trade routes in West Africa to facilitating ties with criminal groups in South America.
To address this growing nexus between crime and terrorism, UNSCR 1456 explicitly instructs that terrorists must be prevented from harnessing criminal acts, but the resolution fails to provide any means to achieve this goal. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime administers the Global Program against Money-Laundering, Proceeds of Crime and the Financing of Terrorism (GPML). A February 2011 evaluation (PDF) evaluation of GPML noted the general success but also the limited reach and funding of the program, highlighting the particular effectiveness of a mentoring program, which stations CTF experts in developing nations to advise governments as they collect financial intelligence and prosecute illicit activities.
Stemming the Threat of WMD Terrorism: Inadequate deterrent for nonstate actors
Terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological weapons—is one of the most dangerous threats to contemporary global security. An attack with WMD could be catastrophic; if detonated in a major city, a nuclear weapon could instantly kill hundreds of thousands of people and leave a circle of destruction extending at least three-quarters of a mile from ground zero. Even a more contained attack would trigger widespread hysteria and grave economic consequences. Consequently, preventing terrorist use of WMD is a priority of the international counterterrorism regime. Despite the expansion of nonproliferation norms and mechanisms, as well as the great difficulty of obtaining a usable WMD, several avenues remain for nonstate actors to acquire WMDs: state proliferation, purchase, illicit technology transfer, or theft.
UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 is the backbone of the international regime to prevent acts of terrorism using WMDs. The resolution prohibits member states from helping nonstate actors "develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer, or use" nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and requires national controls for stocks and shipments. The 1540 Committee documents progress toward implementation and matches capacity-building requests with donors. The 1540 framework has received some criticism for mandating legislation through the UN Security Council instead of creating an international treaty. Some critics also argue that UNSCR 1540 lacks effective integration with arms control and nonproliferation agreements outside the UN system and that it fails to adequately define standards for the "appropriate effective" security measures it requires of states.
Although much remains to be done, the committee's 2008 report indicated that UNSCR 1540 resulted in more countries setting legal frameworks and enforcement provisions for issues ranging from acquisition to the use of WMDs. The resolution has also led to a spike of ratifications to relevant international treaties. In April 2011, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1977, extending the 1540 Committee's mandate for ten years, signaling confidence in its effectiveness.
Multilateral cooperation to limit nuclear weapons proliferation, specifically, has benefited from increasing attention over the past ten years. The broadest and most prominent mechanism, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), is enforced by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and regulates the transfer of nuclear materials to nonnuclear weapon states, reducing the overall geographic spread of nuclear weapons. Although the NPT is the main treaty for controlling nuclear armaments, it lacks the participation of major proliferators, including North Korea, India, and Pakistan, and does not address proliferation to nonstate actors.
In addition to the NPT, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (Nuclear Terrorism Convention) created in 2005, criminalizes the use and intent to commit or support nuclear terror by nonstate actors. However, the treaty lacks robust participation and consistent state capacity to effectively implement the mandated legal nonproliferation structure.
At a more informal level, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)—led by the United States—aims to facilitate the interdiction of suspected shipments of WMD and related technology on land, sea, and air. Established in 2003, PSI involves more than ninety countries, but does not grant any legal authority for ship-boarding or interdiction beyond the UN Law of the Sea treaty and various bilateral agreements. Several nuclear weapons states do not participate in PSI, including some of the worst known proliferators, such as Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan. India and China, which also do not participate in PSI, have questioned the legality of its interdictions. Other ad hoc disarmament efforts are also gaining ground: in December 2010, for example, the United States assisted Ukraine in shipping 110 pounds of highly enriched uranium to Russia.
Just as important as containing nuclear proliferation is securing nuclear materials from theft or illegal transfer. UN Security Council Resolution 1887 requires the safeguarding of all nuclear materials by 2013, a goal complemented by the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit. Meeting this four-year deadline is a priority of the Obama administration, which has successfully cleaned out (PDF) thousands of kilograms of nuclear materials from twenty sites around the world since announcing its nuclear material "lockdown strategy" in April 2009. At the treaty level, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material regulates international transport of nuclear material.
Along with Russia, the United States has also developed initiatives that aim to further guard nuclear material. Largely focusing on the former Soviet states, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) facilitate capacity-building and intelligence efforts to bolster security at nuclear sites, prevent nuclear smuggling, and ensure the responsible use of nuclear technology. GTRI, along with the nongovernmental Nuclear Threat Initiative, has been highly successful in securing nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union. The United States has pledged $10 billion over ten years to a parallel initiative, the Group of Eight's Global Partnership against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.
States have also begun taking measures to prevent the use of nuclear weapons if they are acquired. The Container Security Initiative (CSI) is a U.S. program that aims to inspect potentially threatening containers before they enter the United States and the Second Line of Defense program enhances foreign countries' nuclear material detection capabilities. The CSI also includes financial disincentives for nonparticipation, providing an innovative model of incentives-based counterterror initiatives. However, despite heightened border security efforts, recent smuggling attempts, such as the November 2010 arrests of two Armenians smuggling uranium through Georgia, highlight the continued threat and need for international vigilance.
Beyond nuclear terrorism, radiological attacks—the use of a nonnuclear explosion or device to spread harmful radiation—present an attractive option for terrorists. With so many sources of radiological material around the world, too little monitoring, and inadequate detection capability, preventing radiological terrorism is virtually impossible. The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration has made some efforts to secure radiological materials in the United States and abroad but, as it stands, most existing mechanisms to address radiological threats focus on response rather than prevention. The IAEA's International Basic Safety Standards for Protection against Ionizing Radiation and the Safety of Radiation Sources, and the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and International Action Plan (PDF) develop preparedness and response measures to a nuclear or radiological emergency. The World Health Organization's Radiation Emergency Medical Preparedness and Assistance Network coordinates interagency and international response to radiation emergencies, specializing in monitoring and treatment of radiation-related medical conditions.
Chemical and biological terrorism are the only types of WMD attacks that have already occurred, and have caused fewer casualties (PDF) than nuclear attacks, as evidenced by the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, which killed twelve, and the 2001 anthrax scare in the United States, which killed five. Biological attacks, however, have the potential to cause large-scale casualties, and both biological and chemical weapons can cause widespread panic and have vast economic costs.
Presently, no global forum comprehensively addresses chemical and biological agents. The Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention regulate production of—and, indirectly, terrorist access to—materials that could be weaponized, but do not address the threat of nonstate actors. The Global Health Security Initiative helps strengthen global preparedness for biological threats and the World Health Organization's Global Outbreak and Response Network offers early warning of unusual disease events. Furthermore, the United States has developed a National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats and a first-of-its-kind National Health Security Strategy. Yet the majority of these programs focus on emergency response to a biological or chemical attack rather than prevention.
Fighting Terrorism while Respecting Human Rights: Some progress, but underemphasized in post-September 11 constructs
Promoting and protecting human rights while pursuing counterterrorism efforts continues to be a significant challenge. The international community has made some strides in reconsidering some controversial approaches enacted during the U.S.-led global war on terror, but concerns remain over how to protect populations and pursue terrorist suspects yet respect civil liberties.
Early after the September 11 attacks, counterterrorism efforts in the United Nations (UN) were undertaken primarily by the UN Security Council (UNSC), with limited consultation of the wider UN membership, human rights bodies, and norms—including the established corpus of human rights and humanitarian law.
The primary framework, Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1373, obliges countries to implement legal measures to combat terrorism, yet fails to establish limits on what these new laws should entail. Human rights were not mentioned in UNSCR 1373 beyond a reference regarding refugee status. Responding in part to the requirements of that resolution and pressure from the United States, a number of states reacted by introducing new or special counterterrorism legislation—often very quickly and with limited legislative or public debate.
Critics contend that the United States and its allies adopted counterterrorism measures that not only contravened but also undercut and weakened the standing of international human rights law. The list of resulting human rights irregularities highlighted by such critics, as well as the UN special rapporteur on issues of human rights and counterterrorism, includes enhanced interrogation and torture, extraordinary rendition, "ghost prisons," deviance from the normal judicial system and due process, and—at the forefront—indefinite detention at the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Furthermore, some governments took the mandate of UNSCR 1373 as an opportunity to squash internal dissent. Under the alleged auspices of counterterrorism, China brutally repressed Uighur Muslims, Russia cracked down on Chechen separatists, and the Uzbek government targeted (PDF) its political opposition.
A recent report (PDF) compiled by the UN Counterterrorism Committee—tasked with overseeing implementation of UNSCR 1373—noted that with regard to human rights, "in virtually all regions there remain significant concerns that the counterterrorism measures... do not comply with those states' obligations under international law." The report went on to address continuing concerns of torture, detention practices, misuse of emergency laws, and extrajudicial executions.
Some, however, argue that these pursuits of UNSCR 1373 were essential to freedom from fear, ensuring the safety of populations from an impending terrorist attack purposefully and indiscriminately targeting civilians. Because of the nature of the threat, information elicited in "enhanced interrogation" or permanent detention of potentially dangerous individuals could be justified by the "necessity of thwarting the next attack, particularly when such a threat might be imminent." Supporters add that the legislative role of UNSCR 1373 is necessary to tackle the global scope and transnational nature of the terrorist threats.
Another UN counterterrorist tool, UNSCR 1267, and its committee—responsible for enforcing sanctions on individuals associated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda—drew criticism for lacking adequate due process provisions. Some individuals were mistakenly listed and discovered their assets frozen and travel barred. Many also found that there was no UN mechanism to reevaluate their case. In response to this criticism, the UN passed a resolution expanding the role of the committee's ombudsperson, whose office now has the power to independently recommend delisting of individuals or groups.
But, beginning in 2003, some corrective action began to ensure that human rights considerations were included in counterterrorism efforts. UNSCR 1456 affirmed that "states must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law in particular international human rights, refugee, and humanitarian law." Such language has since been included in all UNSC counterterror resolutions, creating a legal buffer against human rights abuses. The UN General Assembly's Global Counterterrorism Strategy, adopted in 2006, went further by establishing "measures to ensure respect for human rights" as one of its four main pillars—recognizing the protection of human rights and promotion of counterterrorism as complementary pursuits. The strategy promotes an unprecedented but much-needed common approach, striving to develop cohesion across all relevant UN bodies—particularly the Counterterrorism Committee (CTC) and Counterterrorism Executive Directorate (CTED)—as well as among the entirety of member states. The UN General Assembly has since spearheaded efforts for greater integration. In support of the GCT, the Counterterrorism Implementation Task Force operates a working group on protecting human rights.
Although in practice more a counterweight than a vehicle for an integrated approach, the Human Rights Council (HRC) and Office of the High Commission for Human Rightsregularly promote awareness of civil liberties issues in counterterror pursuits, supporting a special rapporteur on human rights and counterterror as well as addressing such issues in the HRC's universal periodic review process.
The UN Security Council has also begun to make small adjustments, including steps to overhaul the much maligned 1267 Committee—improving its due process procedures and appointing an ombudsperson to facilitate delisting requests. In June 2011, the ombudsperson was granted the right to recommend removal from the list, and UNSC members would have to vote unanimously to overrule their removal. Also, the key mechanisms for fostering implementation of UNSC Resolution 1373—the CTC and the CTED —have begun to address human rights on an ad hoc basis, including information exchange between CTED and UN human rights bodies and appointment of a human rights expert to the CTED.
Yet, on an institutional level, much more needs to be done. The role of the UN General Assembly is limited by its inability to pass binding resolutions. Comprehensive recognition and integration of human rights concerns by the Security Council continues to be a limited priority. Although certain UN mechanisms exist to monitor member state adherence to human rights standards, they are selective and lack enforcement capabilities. More remains to be done to more fully integrate human rights considerations into the UN's counterterrorism-related efforts as well as to reverse the legacy of their initial omission. A report released by the special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism in 2010, recommended scrapping the foundational Security Council counterterror resolutions—1373 and 1624—and starting over with a comprehensive version that better integrates human rights.
The reluctance of some states to incorporate the human rights agenda overshadows the emerging consensus among UN member states that human rights are a fundamental part of counterterrorism. The European Union's counterterrorism strategy, released in 2005, highlights such concerns in its mission statement—to "combat terrorism globally while respecting human rights." Likewise, the 2011 U.S. National Strategy for Counterterrorism included respect for human rights as a "U.S. core value" and listed adherence to it as the first of four core principles guiding U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Many of the critics of policies implemented during the War on Terror have noted that they may have assisted the recruitment and propaganda of terrorist groups. Reflecting this, the United States has closed its ghost prisons and outlawed torture practices. But, with the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay and other controversial measures, the U.S. and its allies have yet to emerge from the lingering fallout of post-September 11 constructs. For example, the United States passed a law (PDF) in December 2011 that gave the U.S. military jurisdiction over the investigation and prosecution of terror suspects, and codified indefinite detention for suspected terrorists.
Developing Effective Terrorism Prevention Strategies: Weak implementation, but some progress
Terrorism prevention efforts have gained much-needed attention over the last ten years, but policies and programs still suffer from uneven implementation and application of resources. Multilateral initiatives bolster state capacity to build institutions and programs that strengthen a range of activities, from policing to counterradicalization programs. Yet, in an era of nonstate sponsored terrorism, countries continue to struggle to control terrorist threats within their borders.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC)— in conjunction with the international counterterrorism conventions—provides the normative foundation and mandate for states to adopt legislation criminalizing acts of terrorism and terrorist financing. Two UNSC bodies, the Counterterrorism Committee (CTC) and Counterterrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) monitor (PDF) member state implementation of UNSC Resolution (UNSCR) 1373 and help facilitate capacity-building aimed at enhancing state's implementation by matching donors and imperiled states. To date, the CTC and CTED have matched providers of technical assistance—including the United States, Algeria, Turkey, and Bangladesh—with countries requiring assistance on forty-two instances.
Yet, despite these efforts, a large number of countries, including many developing nations, continue to struggle to implement basic legal mechanisms to prevent terror. The CTC and CTED cannot directly provide resources, instead relying on the formation of bilateral assistance relationships, and strain to reach out (PDF) to member states in need. Some countries in the global South have proved hesitant accept assistance associated with the Security Council's counterterror agenda, and dispute the legislative authority of the fifteen-member body. Most detrimentally, the CTC and CTED have no enforcement capacity, making them unable to reprimand countries that are lagging behind on implementation.
Mechanisms outside the UN Security Council have added little to date. The UN Office of Drug and Crime's Terrorism Prevention Branch supports national implementation of UN conventions, but is hampered by limited scope and funding. The Group of Eight's Counterterrorism Action Group, a parallel initiative, suffers from weak momentum [PDF], and no longer factors into the G8's annual summit outcome documents.
Effectively developing a legal architecture for counterterrorism through robust law enforcement, intelligence, internal security, judicial capacities, and counterradicalization programs further challenges many states. In this realm, bilateral efforts have been particularly critical to building effective institutions and training personnel, especially for countries deemed at risk. Countries like Egypt, Pakistan, Yemen, Indonesia, and Malaysia receive millions of dollars each year to bolster their criminal justice and intelligence capabilities. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Defense spent [PDF] $300 million on such assistance, more than 40 percent [PDF] going to Pakistan, Lebanon, and Yemen; and in 2008, the U.S. Department of State, through its Antiterrorism Assistance Program, distributed $140 million. The United Kingdom, European Union, Australia, and Japan offer similar programs. However, rising tensions between the United States and Pakistan have led many in Washington to reconsider the vast amounts of aid being provided to Pakistan to combat terrorism.
At the multilateral level, operational assistance is undertaken by UN bodies such as the World Customs Organization, International Civil Aviation Organization, and International Maritime Organization, which provide technical advice and training to improve border controls and port and airport security. INTERPOL and the UN Security Council also promote coordination and information sharing among national law enforcement agencies.
Successful ad hoc security partnerships have also emerged to strengthen state operational capacity to prevent terrorism. Notable initiatives like the Jakarta Center for Law Enforcement Cooperation and the Southeast Asia Regional Counterterrorism Center offer countries the opportunity to train together, share best practices, and coordinate operations. U.S.-led programs in North Africa—the Pan Sahel Initiative and its successor, the Trans-Sahara Counterterror Partnership—provide military training alongside governance instruction and civil society development. The ad hoc security partnerships described, though novel, have limited funding and commitment.
International assistance for terrorism prevention operations, however, is scattershot. Instead of a comprehensive approach to bolstering capacity across a range of countries, efforts tend to pick and choose current hotspots, potentially neglecting future areas of concern. Moreover, many analysts find bilateral capacity-building arrangements too security-minded, with military and law enforcement concerns trumping those of good governance and relevant development programming. Critics also point out that there is little oversight and monitoring of how funds are actually used by recipient governments, restricting the overall impact.
Beyond legislation and institution-building, some experts point to the need to address underdevelopment, governance issues, and political extremism or radicalization—the so-called root causes of violent ideologies that justify terrorism. In attempting to address these issues, counterradicalization (addressing the perceived grievances and challenging the narrative that underpins terror, as well as dealing with the broader conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism) and deradicalization (reforming and reintegrating those associated with terrorism back into society) programs have gained popularity over the past five years at the national level. Several countries have launched initiatives that include increasing educational opportunities for youth, fostering inter-religious dialogue and online outreach, education about religious moderation, and community-building.
Because these programs are still so new, however, their success remains untested. Although major proponents like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Yemen report high success rates with deradicalization programs (Saudi Arabia boasts an 80 to 90 percent success rate), statistics are very difficult to verify (PDF), often inflated, and recidivism remains a major challenge, along with the difficulty of exporting programs to other countries with different cultural norms and resource bases. Counterradicalization success is even harder to quantify. A UN report (PDF) on radicalization and violent extremism that leads to terrorism noted that states "are entering relatively unknown territory" with these approaches. Although a problem in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the United States, containing the rise of domestic extremism in diaspora and select communities remains a challenge.
U.S. and International Terrorism Policy Issues
Since September 11, the United States has been the world's foremost proponent of and most active contributor to global counterterrorism efforts. At home, it faces a growing tide of radicalization among domestic diaspora populations. Abroad, al-Qaeda and its offshoots, adaptive and resilient nonstate actors, continue to threaten international peace and security. The United States must decide what counterterror mechanisms provide the best chance of disrupting those networks. It must also decide what to do with the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay—an issue that has domestic and international ramifications.
Should the international community develop a global counterterrorism body?
Yes: Proponents note [PDF] that, without a strong mechanism for monitoring and enforcing standing counterterrorism norms and laws, the international regime for combating terrorism will remain fragmented. The current efforts and outcomes of the UN Counterterrorism Committee (CTC), Counterterrorism Executive Directorate(CTED), Global Counterterrorism Strategy, and Group of Eight all bring something to the table, but fail to add up to a comprehensive regime. With a global counterterror body, the actions of uncooperative states could be addressed and capacity-building efforts—currently scattered across bilateral and multilateral relationships—could be brought under a single structure. If based outside the UN Security Council, such an organization could alleviate some of the tensions between the global North and South by encouraging a comprehensive and coordinated approach that places emphasis on values shared equally among member states, including security aspects, socioeconomic factors, and the human rights agenda. Furthermore, a counterterrorism body with a broad framework and global legitimacy would likely cultivate progress toward a parallel, comprehensive convention and definition of terrorism. The U.S.-led Global Counterterrorism Forum, launching in September 2011 and including states from the global North and South, is a first step toward improved international cooperation.
No: A central international counterterrorism body would not enable a more effective multilateral approach. At the most basic—and practical level—the mandate and design of the institution would be subject to political bickering, something that could take years to resolve—as has been the case for the Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism. Indeed, without an internationally accepted definition of terrorism, a global counterterror body would be just as misguided and disputed as current efforts. Furthermore, central global bodies (other than the World Trade Organization) are generally unable to enforce international commitments, and therefore would not add any value to the global counterterrorism regime. In other areas, the existing counterterrorism bodies of the UN Security Council—CTC and CTED—already provide the role of a "friendly facilitator" [PDF], by monitoring and reporting on national counterterrorism strategies, and matching donors and recipients where needed. The international community could consider strengthening their resources, which are vastly inadequate.
Finally, counterterrorism efforts will primarily remain in the domain of national governments. A new counterterrorism body, unless developed under the purview of the UN Security Council, is unlikely to have the legally binding mandate to force action among states, and issues of political will and state capacity would likely continue to hamper global efforts.
Should the Group of Eight redouble its counterterrorism efforts?
Yes: The Group of Eight's (G8) counterterrorism initiatives—mainly the Counterterrorism Action Group (CTAG), the Roma-Lyon Group, and the Secure and Facilitated International Travel Initiative (SAFTI)—add much to the international counterterrorism regime, offering the most promising multilateral efforts outside of the United Nations (UN). In particular, CTAG is vital to global implementation of Security Council Resolution 1373, and the work of the Counterterrorism Executive Directorate, leveraging the unparalleled resources of the G8 to facilitate capacity-building in at-risk states. The Roma-Lyon Group promotes law enforcement cooperation among those most involved in global counterterror efforts. With the newly announced (PDF) Global Counterterrorism Forum, the G8 will seek to strengthen the international consensus around counterterrorism by including countries from the global North and South, provide an additional venue for cooperation, and further the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy. When at peak operability, the G8's initiatives added substance to the international counterterror regime, both inside and outside the group. Rejuvenating and increasing the resources of these efforts would boost terrorism prevention in both member states and the world at large.
No: The G8's counterterror initiatives currently suffer from declining commitment and momentum for reasons that would be difficult to overcome in a renewed effort. Institutionally, G8 efforts lack continuity because of the group's structure and rotating presidency. The restricted membership of the G8 limits outreach, and has curtailed the group's legitimacy in the global South—vital partners in global counterterror efforts —thereby undercutting outreach efforts like the Global Counterterrorism Forum . Even within the G8 membership, political interest and support is faltering. Furthermore, the gains to date have been narrow in scope. SAFTI has produced meaningful progress on travel document security, but the measure of CTAG's contribution to global implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373 is questionable. The cooperation among law enforcement agencies provided by the Roma-Lyon Group is not a broad enough platform for promoting global terror prevention strategies. Putting more resources into these channels would be of little value when unrestricted bilateral approaches with nonmember states offer a more direct avenue to capacity-building, and law enforcement and intelligence relationships.
Furthermore, the influence of the G8 on the global stage has been usurped by the up-and-coming and more inclusive Group of Twenty (G20). Although the G20 has yet to seriously address terrorism, its expanding mandate may soon cover security issues.
Should the United States continue to use drone strikes?
Yes: Proponents contend that drone strikes represent the best option for addressing ungoverned areas and otherwise unreachable terrorist safe havens. The United States can little afford to do nothing in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan, where al-Qaeda, the Haqqani network, and Taliban leadership are known to hide. Additionally, drone strikes provide geographic flexibility, allowing targeted attacks in Somalia and Yemen, where the United States would not otherwise have operational capabilities. Indeed, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Leon Panetta has noted that using drones "is the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al-Qaeda leadership." The only practical alternative—Pakistani military offensives—may cause more collateral damage than drone strikes. Although some have criticized the legality of such strikes, U.S. Department of State legal adviser Harold Koh has said that "U.S. targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war."
No: Opponents of the U.S. drone strike policy fall into five camps. The first contends that the tactic does not reduce terrorism but instead increases it. Polling (PDF) shows that the strikes are wildly unpopular in the FATA and Pakistan at large—isolating the population and potentially creating more terrorists than they kill. Lethal incidents of friendly fire, such as those that occurred in November 2011 when twenty-four Pakistani soldiers were killed by a U.S. airstrike, further antagonize Pakistan's citizens and government. The second group believes that targeting only leadership does not effectively dismantle terrorist organizations. The United States has killed multiple terrorists thought to be "number three" in al-Qaeda's leadership, to little noticeable effect in the group's operational capability. The third cohort says that the practice is a violation of international law, citing Pakistani sentiment that the strikes are a violation of their sovereignty and a United Nations report that states (PDF) that it is dangerous to set a precedent of allowing remotely controlled targeted killings. The fourth camp argues that drone strikes are just a substitute for developing a real strategy to deal with the operation of terrorist networks in ungoverned areas. A final argument has arisen in the wake of a Special Forces operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. Many point to this success and note that, by using a targeted operation instead of a drone strike, the United States was able to minimize collateral casualties and destruction, and positively identify the body of the terrorist.
Should the United States prioritize preventive deradicalization and counterterror initiatives?
Yes: Proponents of deradicalization and counterradicalization initiatives note [PDF] that effectively combating the spread of extremism will require targeting popular support and stopping the growth of radical ideologies at their core. As such, the United States should encourage programs that offer a more moderate alternative to those at risk for terrorist recruitment, and work to address the conditions that sustain terrorist networks. In the 2010 National Security Strategy, President Obama suggests accomplishing this necessary objective through a "whole of government approach." Backers of this strategy argue that the United States has lost the messaging war with violent extremists and must take steps to develop [PDF] a counter narrative. The United States should also aim to get terrorists to quit, and reform captured terrorists, by improving deradicalization programs. Efforts to build foreign counterterrorism capacity, such as the State Department's Antiterrorism Assistance Program, are cost-effective measures that help address extremism before it arrives on U.S. shores.
No: Opponents of this strategy argue that capturing and killing terrorists, heading off terrorist plots with law enforcement, and defending infrastructure against attack, have been tangibly successful strategies. Deradicalization and preventive counterterror programs, in contrast, are less practical uses of U.S. resources. Some nations with deradicalization and counterradicalization programs are not entirely reliable—Yemen[PDF], for instance, has released extremists from its rehabilitation programs that have gone on to lead terrorist operations. Furthermore, government-led initiatives may not be as effective as programs led by victims of terrorism or former terrorists.
Should the United States prioritize bilateral counterterror relationships over the efforts of global institutions?
Yes: Proponents argue that bilateral agreements allow the United States and its allies to more directly pressure foreign partners, instead of relying on global norms that lack enforcement. These agreements help foreign countries modernize their counterterrorism tools, tying aid levels to standards of performance and transparency. Bilateral partnerships take advantage of successful counterterror efforts in countries such asIndonesia and Algeria, and provide a cost-effective way to quell the spread of extremism locally, regionally, and internationally. Through training and funding, the United States can develop bilateral solutions to its national security concerns and avoid direct military measures. The efforts of global institutions to combat terrorism are hampered by political wavering, and the weak mandates of assorted—not comprehensive—conventions and resolutions.
No: Some argue (PDF) that global institutions are the best way to address terrorism at large, even if they are not particularly effective at addressing individual terrorist groups. Ending terrorism requires addressing the environments and mindsets that promote extremism over generations. Only a global institution can affect such change over time, developing social, normative, and legal solutions to the litany of conditions related to the spread of terrorism. Furthermore, the legitimacy and nonmilitary nature of the United Nation's counterterror mechanisms avoid further radicalization.
Should the United States prosecute terrorists in U.S. federal courts rather than military commissions?
Yes: Proponents of this policy note the ideological advantages of moving trials to federal courts. Advocates contend that trying terrorists in military tribunals elevates them to status of warrior— an undeserving moniker—and that trying them in civilian courts lowers their prestige and projects a more confident United States. Those who support civilian trials for terrorists also argue that the military system is conducive to harsh interrogation techniques and unfair treatment and that a lack of transparency leads to questionable verdicts—handing extremists a global propaganda victory and recruitment tool. On the other hand, civilian courts are speedy, transparent, and dispense firm justice. Proponents add that potential legal barriers to doing so—that a detainee's right to a speedy trial may have been violated, and any subsequent civilian trial would be dismissed—have been ruled against in the U.S. District Court. Furthermore, domestic courts have proven efficient and capable of safely trying accused terrorists, as demonstrated by the conviction of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for his attempt to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.
No: Opponents of this policy believe that suspected terrorists should not be given the legal rights of U.S. citizens. Furthermore, by limiting hearsay evidence, not allowing statements made under torture, and protecting confidential documents, military commissions strike the correct balance between ensuring the rights of the accused and guaranteeing national security—a balance that would be otherwise lost in a public trial. Opponents further posit that evidence rules in civilian courts are too limited, and as a result, terrorism cases run the risk of being thrown out, further endangering the public by releasing dangerous individuals.
Should the United States close the prison at Guantanamo Bay?
Yes: The prison at Guantanamo Bay, some argue, has done irreparable damage to the United States' international standing with regard to the rule of law, human rights, and counterterror efforts. Critics of the prison's operation cite violations of due process and greater civil liberties that go against the U.S. constitution, American values, and obligations to international human rights and humanitarian law. Furthermore, this negative attention has led Guantanamo Bay to become a lightning rod for anti-Western sentiment and a recruiting tool for terrorist networks. As long as the prison remains open, the United States will not be able to restore its reputation [PDF] in the era following the global war on terror. Closing the prison will boost U.S. global leadership and make it a more effective player in global efforts to combat terrorism. Congress should allow the Guantanamo prisoners to be tried through the domestic criminal system, which has ultimately proven capable of delivering justice in terrorism cases without compromising national security.
No: Proponents of keeping Guantanamo Bay open cite its continued usefulness to national security and the lack of viable alternatives. Guantanamo Bay holds dangerous individuals, the fate of whom would be uncertain if the prison were to be closed. Debate continues over alternate venues for trying and holding Guantanamo detainees, and some—most notably those who pose the greatest danger or cannot be tried due to evidentiary limitations—will need to be held indefinitely somewhere. Returning detainees to foreign countries for trial or release would likely result in further violations of human rights, or resurfaced security concerns. Furthermore, closing Guantanamo Bay will not be a panacea for the reputation of the United States abroad. The continued operation of detention facilities, like those at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan, and other counterterrorism pursuits will sustain a negative image of the United States in some parts of the world.
December 2013: Nigerian groups added to terrorist blacklist
On December 18, 2103, the U.S. State Department added the al-Qaeda affiliated Boko Haram and Ansaru militant groups of Nigeria to its designated list of foreign terrorist organizations. Under this designation, U.S. companies and individuals are banned from all business and financial transactions with the two groups, and any assets in the United States will be frozen. Both groups have been linked to violent and deadly attacks against military personal and civilians, as well as maintaining ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Shabab in Somalia.
September 2013: New terrorism prevention fund
During the 4th ministerial meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum on September 27, 2013, the United States and Turkey announced the creation of a Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience. The fund will be the "first-ever public-private global fund to support local, grass-roots efforts to counter violent extremism in all of its forms and manifestations." The fund is anticipated to raise more than $200 million in the decade after its establishment to support nongovernmental institutions, civil society groups, or local government bodies with a focus on countering violent extremism at the community-level.
July 2013: EU names Hezbollah terrorist group
On July 22, 2013, the European Union designated the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist group on its terrorism blacklist. The Lebanese Shiite military group has been involved in sending fighters to the civil conflict in Syria and was linked to a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria, prompting the EU's decision. This designation may lead to the freezing of any assets Hezbollah's military wing may have in Europe.
June 2013: Last Shining Path leader sentenced to life in prison
On June 7, 2013, Florindo Flores, the last remaining original leader of the Shining Path guerilla insurgent group, was found guilty of terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering, and sentenced to life in prison and a fine of $183 million. Flores, who went by the title Comrade Artemio, was found guilty of ordering the execution of a number of civilians, police and soldiers. The Shining Path attempted to overthrow the government in Peru in the 1980s and 1990s, and have since become involved in illegal drug trafficking. The group is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union, Canada, and Peru.
June 2013: NSA spying scandal
On June 6, 2013, the Guardian published classified information on the National Security Agency (NSA)'s PRISM program, revealing the collection of phone records of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens by the U.S. government. PRISM, a counterterrorism system set up by the NSA in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, is an intelligence system used to collect and examine data for anti-terrorism purposes. However, the published information, leaked by Edward Snowden a former contractor of the CIA, exposed the extent to which this program was used to collect data from private U.S. citizens. The data collection extended beyond the United States to private citizens around the world, including personal communications of international leaders ranging from the personal cell phone of German chancellor Angela Merkel to Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, inspiring outrage around the world. The revelations diminished trust in the U.S. government and the legitimacy of its global counterterrorism operations and could thus jeopardize future intelligence cooperation that is vital for fighting terrorism.
May 2013: PKK withdrawal from Turkey
On May 8, 2013, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)—designated as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union—began a historic withdrawal of its troops from Turkey, ending nearly thirty years of conflict with the Turkish government, which has cost over forty thousand lives. Abdullah Ocalan, the incarcerated leader of the PKK, declared a cease-fire in March 2013 after engaging in secret talks with the Turkish government, and called for his troops to withdraw from Turkey to the PKK training camps in Kurdish controlled Northern Iraq.
April 2013: Boston marathon bombing
On April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded thirteen seconds apart near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and gruesomely injuring an additional 264—many of whom had to have limbs amputated. The attacks were allegedly carried out by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, brothers of Chechen origin who immigrated to the United States in 2002 and later became radicalized. In the days following the blast, Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with the police and later Dzhokhar was found hiding in a boat on a trailer in Watertown, Massachusetts. He admitted to carrying out the attacks in the name of radical Islam and claimed he and his brother were planning to carry out attacks in Times Square in New York. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged with the use of a weapon of mass destruction and one count of malicious destruction of property resulting in death. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
March 2013: Leak shows U.S. government justifying killing Americans
On February 5, 2013, NBC News published a Department of Justice confidential white paper detailing the legal framework that would allow the U.S. government to carry out "a lethal operation directed against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaeda or an associated force." The white paper was written in the context of U.S. drone strikes in the U.S. counterterrorism campaign, but has raised questions of the legality of targeting citizens, human rights, the right to trial, and the effectiveness of safeguards on executive power.
Options for Strengthening the Global Counterterrorism Regime
U.S. and international action are needed to ensure the success of global counterterrorism efforts. These recommendations reflect the views of Stewart M. Patrick, director of the International Institutions and Global Governance program, Mark Lagon, Council on Foreign Relations' adjunct senior fellow for human rights, Micah Zenko, Council on Foreign Relations' fellow on conflict prevention, as well as those that authors Bruce Jones, Carlos Pascual, and Stephen John Stedman cite in Power and Responsibility (Brookings Institution Press, 2009).
- Build capacity in developing countries
Cultivating the ability of underdeveloped nations to combat terrorism within their borders is critical because domestic institutions are best attuned to specific domestic challenges, and nations are often reluctant to allow international bodies to encroach on their sovereignty. The Organization for Economic Development (OECD) nations provide the lion's share of support for building national capacity, but most major donors currently provide development or military assistance. The United States and other UN Security Council (UNSC) members should seek to raise awareness for nonmilitary security funding that often falls into this gap between development and military spending but is essential to global counterterrorism efforts. Additionally, United Nations member states should push to bolster the Counterterrorism Committee (CTC) established by UNSCR 1373. The CTC has not demonstrated a willingness, as a subsidiary body composed of all sitting Security Council members, to refer cases of noncompliance. Moreover, it lacks adequate financing to conduct visits, and expert personnel to effectively implement its mission to detect deficits in counterterrorism capacity and match resources with needs.
- Support international technological cooperation and law enforcement
In the wake of September 11 and counterterror efforts since then, INTERPOL has built an international database that allows member states to maintain a list of global terrorism suspects and share counterterrorism intelligence. However, underdeveloped states are unable to use and contribute to the system. The United States should seek to strengthen the capacity of nonmembers so that they can be integrated into the system. Furthermore, the United States and other Group of Eight (G8) members should establish a permanent body to monitor implementation of the law-enforcement and border-security standards recommended by the G8's Roma-Lyons (R/L) panel of experts. The emerging Global Counterterrorism Forum, announced by the G8 at the Deauville summit but slated to include nearly thirty global partners, may fill this role.
- Build nuclear security norms and improve monitoring
Although a basic global governance framework for nuclear security is in place, it lacks adequately clear standards and effective means of monitoring compliance. The United States should advocate translating UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 into concrete and legally binding requirements for nuclear security. UNSCR 1540 mandates that all states take "appropriate effective" nuclear security measures, but the term appropriate effective is not defined. The United States should propose that it be interpreted as adequate to defend against demonstrated threats from terrorists and criminals, and then build international consensus around this definition. Moreover, the international community should collaborate to develop mechanisms for ensuring that states are following through on multilateral commitments to nuclear security without compromising requisite secrecy—as through reporting, peer review, and International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.
- Link the fight against terrorism with the protection of human rights
United Nations members should initiate efforts in the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council to establish that acts of terrorism represent gross violations of human rights, because they undermine the right to life, freedom from fear, and civilian immunity from deadly force. Similarly, in its policy positions and negotiations within the UN Security Council (UNSC), the United States and other UNSC member states can play a leadership role to deepen this norm and thereby strengthen the legitimacy of human rights laws in counterterror efforts. This would allow nations to more effectively engender broader cooperation to fight both terrorism and counterterror policies that violate human rights law.
In addition, the United States and other UNSC members should simultaneously work to accelerate the evolving consensus that the Security Council can and should involve itself in human rights, particularly when it is linked to global peace and security. UNSC Resolution 1973 authorizing the use of force in Libya and the developing norm of "responsibility to protect" exemplify such UNSC action that considers human rights in the context of counterterrorism. Similarly, the Security Council should seek to diminish the legitimacy of coercive force used by states against minorities under the pretext of counterterrorism.
- Leverage institutions and political pressure to strengthen compliance
United Nations (UN) members can address enforcement gaps in two specific ways. First, they need to integrate monitoring of enforcement into the scope of Counterterrorism Executive Directorate responsibilities. Currently, CTED's mandate is limited to ensuring that states have enacted appropriate legislation and institutions. Second, the United States and other UN member states could create a body to investigate member state compliance with international counterterror policies. Published reports after these investigations would give more weight to the biannual mandatory review of the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy. Additionally, as demonstrated by the success of the Financial Action Task Force's published list of noncompliant countries, countries can be motivated to improve their counterterror regimes by global recognition of their noncompliance and subsequent political pressure.