Contemporary terrorism is a transnational problem. Advanced, modern nation states now no longer engage in open combat with one another. Terrorism – whether it is the product of freestanding groups or of groups allied with particular states – reflects the rise of ‘asymmetrical warfare’. Terrorist acts therefore from part of a strategy reflecting war between two or more actors who have vastly different military capabilities.
The US has a state-of-the-art military capability: the 2007 US defence budget was some US $439,300,000 (which was larger than the 2005 military budgets of 168 nations combined). Yet on 11 September 2001, the US was attacked by 19 people armed with boxcutters who were able to hijack four aircraft. These attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon cost something in the region of US $450,000 to execute. you’ll be considering the impacts that modern terrorism has had on the foreign policy and defence strategies of major nation states, particularly the US, and further explore the role that non-state actors can have in contemporary international politics.
The Events of 11 September 2001
They were the most lethal terrorist attacks in history, taking the lives of 3000 American and international citizens and ultimately leading to changes in anti-terror approaches and operations in the U.S and around the globe. Before 9/11 occurred, the U.S was encountering a period of peace and economic boom. This fostered the illusion that International Relations were of no great significance in the wider arena. The American public and political classes were unconcerned with previous attacks on the World Trade Centre in 94, the attack on the USS Cole, and the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Attacks of 9/11 and the fall of the World Trade Centre’s marked the beginning of the real 21st century. 9/11 was not simply an act of terror but the most destructive single act of terror since World War 2.
The response of the US and its allies, notably the UK, but also Italy, Spain and others, was to launch a ‘war on terror’, which we will discuss in future sections. It also led to US-led interventions in Afghanistan in October 2001 to overthrow the Taliban regime, which had provided safe haven to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and in Iraq in March 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
9/11 is, for millions of people throughout the world, a rooted memory. Just as a generation can recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard of the assassination of President Kennedy on 22 November 1963, so we can quickly recall our own personal experience – how we felt and what we thought – as witnesses of 9/11. Few modern events have attracted such a global audience. This owes much to the immediacy of the attacks and their relevance to Western audiences. Also important was the fact that the events were visually reported by the news media in real time and, by being subsequently and endlessly replayed and dissected, were reinforced among audiences well beyond the US. first in terms of the US response to the attack and second in terms of the attack’s impact upon the larger international system – that lent the event such importance. Certainly, any two-hour attack that had the capacity to accelerate a peace process in one part of the world (Northern Ireland), undermine it almost completely in another (Israel), bring about important modifications to US relations with enemy and friend alike, and lead to one of the biggest US military buildups for over 20 years has to be regarded as being of more than just passing interest to students of international relations (IR).
Terrorism and its meaning
In this section, you will consider a number of definitions and discussions of terrorism, particularly relating to the international situation, post-9/11. The notion of terrorism can be problematic. It is often challenged and contested, something expressed in the aphorism (which for some is now largely a cliché) ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’ For instance, while it is widely acknowledged in the UK that the Provisional IRA was a terrorist movement, few would accept the then South African government’s characterisation of the African National Congress in similar terms. There is no commonly accepted ‘official’ definition of terrorism, something that reflects the fact that neither modern states nor groups designated as ‘terrorist’ apply the term to themselves.
Some people adhere to a broad definition of terrorism in which nation states, not just non-state actors, can themselves be guilty of terrorism. Left-wing critics often claim that Western policy makers use the term ‘terrorist’ simply to demonstrate – and to generate – hostility toward groups of which they disapprove. Others strongly reject this view, describing terrorism as ‘the use of violence against civilians by non-state actors to attain political goals’ (Kydd and Walter, 2006).
The term can also serve ‘an ideological function, for it implies crude extremism and indifference to human life’ (Freedman, 2007). It is thus used not only to classify and explain particular groups and individuals, but also to condemn and marginalise them.
The British government’s legal definition
Below is the British government’s legal definition of terrorism, applied by British courts, which is set out in Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (as amended by the Terrorism Act 2006, indicated by square bracket).
- 1. In this Act ‘terrorism’ means the use or threat of action where–
- the action falls within subsection (2),
- the use or threat is designed to influence the government [or an international governmental organisation] or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
- the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.
- 2. Action falls within this subsection if it –
- involves serious violence against a person,
- involves serious damage to property,
- endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,
- creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
- is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.
The international impacts of 9/11 are obvious, when seen from the vantage point of 2008. The United States has invoked the war power of the US constitution against terrorists. In an unprecedented action, American allies endorsed action on the basis of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which provides that an attack on one member of the Alliance shall be treated as an attack on all. The US Congress, the British Parliament, and other governing bodies have passed various statutes aimed at making the prosecution and detection of terrorists easier. The United States has reorganised its bureaucracy and authorised vast new funding for fighting terrorism. Coalitions led by the US and the UK have invaded and conquered Iraq in a campaign to prevent the proliferation of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] (among other reasons) and the UN has sanctioned, for the first time, the invasion of a member state, Afghanistan, in order to suppress terrorism. Most of the senior leadership of al-Qaeda has been killed or detained. Nearly 3400 of its fighters are either dead or in prison. Two thirds of the persons known to intelligence agencies at the outset of this war have been sequestered”.
Al-Qaeda has continued to strike: indeed there has been a drumbeat of violence, and far from abating since the invasion of Iraq, it has picked up momentum. Since 9/11, al-Qaeda and its network of affiliates have carried out countless attacks. […] Al-Qaeda today is a sophisticated operation – with a sophisticated propaganda machine based in Pakistan, a secondary but independent base in Iraq, and an expanding reach in Europe. […] According to data released by the US Central Intelligence Agency in the spring of 2006, there were 11,111 terrorist incidents in 2005, in which more than 14,600 civilian non- combatants were killed. Figures in the [US] State Department’s annual report on terrorism disclosed a 400 percent increase compared with 2004.
Of course, terrorism is not a new phenomenon. Before 9/11, as Tony Judt of New York University observes:
No one who has lived in Spain, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Japan, the UK, or France, not to speak of more habitually violent lands, could have failed to notice the omnipresence of terrorists—using guns, bombs, chemicals, cars, trains, planes, and much else—over the course of the twentieth century and beyond. The only thing that has changed in recent years is the unleashing in September 2001 of homicidal terrorism within the United States. Even that was not wholly unprecedented: the means were new and the carnage unexampled, but terrorism on US soil was far from unknown over the course of the twentieth century.
Open and liberal modern societies, when attacked by terrorists, are sometimes tempted to respond in illiberal ways. This is why, as you’ll see later in the course, the UK has to debate carefully the trade off between the security needs of society and the civil liberties of individuals.
Media and War: 9/11 and its Impacts……….. We can all remember, quite easily, where we were and what we were doing when we heard of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Most of us saw footage of the attacks and the destruction of the twin towers on television or online, either in real time on the day itself or on subsequent days. It’s widely recognised that the events of that terrible day, which saw some 3,000 people (mostly civilians) lose their lives, have had a considerable impact, not only in the United States, but throughout the world, and here in the United Kingdom. 9/11 can, in some respects, be seen as a pivotal event in helping shape the contemporary world in which we live. By exploring the varied geopolitical causes and consequences of 9/11, this course will provide a simple introduction to some of the cutting-edge issues in international politics. It will help you understand recent global events, make sense of the public policies 9/11 prompted, and help you be best placed to evaluate contemporary debates.
Throughout the course, you’ll encounter a number of readings drawn from a wide range of perspectives and reflecting the views of a variety of opinion formers, among them politicians, policy makers, commentators and academics.
Along with my colleague Paul Lewis, I’ve authored the first part of this course – sections two through to five – where you’ll examine the international consequences of 9/11. You’ll do this by considering the varied impacts of the terrorist threat posed by individuals and groups who claim Islamic legitimisation for their actions. You’ll also assess how Western governments, specifically the United States and the United Kingdom, have sought to respond to this threat.
Modern terrorism can be witnessed at work before and after 9/11 in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel and Indonesia. Increasingly, this threat reflects the modern phenomenon of ‘asymmetrical warfare’ as is waged by non state and state-sponsored actors. As you will see, such trans-border terrorist violence constitutes a direct challenge to the authority of all states. But it particularly challenges the right of a ‘great power’ such as the United States, currently the dominant world power, to regulate the international use of violence. Now, perhaps more than ever before, every country is or can be affected by what goes on inside other states, particularly those we define as ‘failing’ or ‘rogue’ states, which may possess weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and can be seen to pose a threat to their neighbours, their region and, quite possibly, the wider world.
In the wake of 9/11, then, the United States and many of its allies, foremost among them the United Kingdom, re-orientated their foreign and defence policies. This was an effort to counter the threats they felt they faced from such states and from non-state actors who could use weapons of mass destruction and other non-conventional means to attack them. This strategy was evidenced, in different forms, in the intervention in Afghanistan from October 2001 and in the war in Iraq from March 2003. In sections two through to five, then, you’ll examine the case the United States makes for its ‘war on terror’; consider the scholarly interpretations of the US’s policy that have been offered by a number of leading international relations academics; and explore the claims made by supporters and opponents of the US- led ‘war on terror’
The War on terror
The response of the US and its allies, notably the UK, but also Italy, Spain and others, was to launch a ‘war on terror’ we explore the argument that states may engage in military pre-emption to protect themselves as well as to prevent evil and secure order. This section also considers the changed military and diplomatic politics of the US in the light of 9/11 (evidenced, in different forms, in both Afghanistan and Iraq). It explores how democratic states now face threats not only from conventional nation-states but also from terrorists and ‘rogue states’ that would use weapons of mass destruction and other non-conventional means to attack them.
In this section, you will also explore the role played by US neoconservatives in re-orientating US foreign policy in the light of the perceived threat posed by Islamic terrorism. The section then concludes with a brief assessment of British foreign policy and some discussion of how it has been affected by events since 9/11
Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, set out his organisation’s principal objectives in a 2002 broadcast.
Why should fear, killing, destruction, displacement, orphaning and widowing continue to be our lot, while security, stability and happiness be your lot [the West led by the US]? This is unfair. It is time that we get even. You will be killed just as you kill, and will be bombed just as you bomb. And expect more that will further distress you. The Islamic nation, thanks to God, has started to attack you at the hands of its beloved sons, who pledged to God to continue jihad, as long as they are alive, through words and weapons to establish right and expose falsehood. In conclusion, I ask God to help us champion His religion and continue jihad for His sake until we meet Him while He is satisfied with us. And He can do so. Praise be to Almighty God.
Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism (and, more specifically, the terrorist threats posed by individuals and groups who associate themselves with – or are inspired by – the group) claims Islamic legitimisation for its actions. For President Bush, however:
Al Qaeda is to terror what the mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money; its goal is remaking the world – and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere. The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics – a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam
Of course the descriptions we apply to terrorist groups can be culturally loaded and are often contested. Some suggest that we should describe terrorists as ‘militants’, not necessarily as ‘extremists’ or ‘fundamentalists’; others strongly disagree. Some suggest that the links terrorist groups claim with political Islam should be highlighted so as to better understand the problem; others argue that the links should be disregarded and that terrorist activity be characterised as ‘anti-Islamic’ activity. The choice of terminology is, of course, a choice for each citizen to make.