Combating International Terrorism
Speaker: Raphael Francis Perl
Terrorism and Security Analyst
Congressional Research Service (CRS), Washington DC, USA
India and the US both face the threat of terrorism. Even while India has been a victim of terrorism for several decades, the threat has acquired formidable proportions since terrorist attacks of 9/11. Current trends suggest that India is likely to emerge as a ground for the recruitment and training of terrorist elements. In this background, the US is looking to forge closer ties with India to counter the threat of terrorism.
US anti-terrorism policy
The anti-terrorism policy of the US is marked by three core factors: one, it is a pre-emptive policy, encompassing within its fold the right to strike first in order to eliminate the threat before it can strike; second, a military response is the core component of this policy; and third, the policy is based on defensive depth including border security and protection of cities. The US employs all tools of national power in pursuit of its anti-terrorism policy. A national strategy for countering terrorism was adopted by the US administration in September 2006, containing the principles of its anti-terrorism policy. Since then, the US has started to look at terrorism as a process rather than simply a tactic. This outlook is grounded in the National Intelligence estimates according to which the threat of Islamic terrorism is increasing, strength of al Qaeda is on the rise, Europe is fast emerging as a breeding ground for terrorism and more terrorism is being exported from Iraq.
Trends in International Terrorism
Terrorism is becoming more widespread in two ways. First, the number of casualties is increasing with targets becoming increasingly indiscriminate and lethality of terror tactics intensifying. Second, it is becoming more homegrown with less logistic support from abroad, thereby setting in a process of self-radicalization.
Al Qaeda is increasingly attacking economic targets in order to crumble the global economic infrastructure. The idea is to shake the faith of the people in western economic systems.
Terrorism is emerging as an equal-opportunity movement whereby it is recruiting women and younger people. It is therefore becoming more decentralized.
It is becoming more costly, leading to higher investments not only in terms of dollars (macro-economic cost of security post 9/11 is US$1 trillion) but also in terms of protection of civil liberties.
There has been a trend towards anonymous terrorism mainly for three reasons: one, because of the fear of government's response, second, in order to amplify fear and mystery surrounding the group; and third, because publicity is fading as an objective of terrorist strikes
Recruitment of more technologically proficient people and professionally well settled people into terror networks. This has substantially reduced the need for training camps, virtual training through the internet is now sufficient
Links between terrorism and organized crime is growing
Export of terrorism is on the rise, particularly from Iraq which was initially a magnet for terrorist elements. It has now set up training camps and is exporting terrorism to other parts of the world
Definition of terrorism, as a result, is changing and has become more comprehensive including within its fold religious, economic, social and political causes
Urban terrorism is on the rise with more attacks on cities, transport facilities and energy sources.
The biggest threat facing the world today is Islamic terrorism, more so because the objective of the radical Islamists of converting the world into Islam is unattainable. As a result, unlike political and economic terrorism, of which India is largely a victim, there are no clear long term measures to deal with religious terrorism. This can only be fought by building intelligence, and therefore, the world must be prepared for a long struggle and must not give up.
India has been living, and has indeed survived, with the scourge of terrorism since Independence - be it in the northeast or in Kashmir. Today, radical Islam has emerged as a threat, and India is being perceived as a possible recruiting ground for terrorists because it consists of around 150 million Muslims, many of them living in poor condition because economic benefits have not trickled down to them. However, to designate all Muslims as potential terrorists is problematic and will only enhance the threat of terrorism. If this be the case, then many Arabian countries should witness more terrorism.
So far, the US counterterrorism policy has not yielded many positive results: Pakistan-Afghanistan border has emerged as a recruiting ground for terrorists; control of drug money has not been effective; law and order situation remains precarious; and civilian agencies have largely not been involved in the fight. With this background, do you think the US is on the right track?
The fact that India and the US face a similar threat from terrorism is not true on ground. The militant groups targeting the two nations are very different.
On the question of al Qaeda's expansion, is this happening because it is expanding its operations or because its support base is growing and it is attracting more people?
The fact that India is being looked at as a possible recruiting ground for terrorists is due to the impact of certain policies of other nations that directly instigate terrorism. For instance, South Asia has fallen prey to terrorism purely because of the impact of US foreign policy in the region.
How serious is the threat of maritime security? Given that piracy in a sense can be understood as a form of terrorism, do you think lessons in counterterrorism can be drawn from the fight against piracy?
Why is it that the US has not been attacked since 9/11 whereas attacks on Britain have increased? Moreover, given the fact that the biggest challenge facing India in its fight against terrorism is the coordination between the centre and the states, what are the lessons India can learn from the federal structure of the US?
Does the US have a coherent arms transfer policy to monitor the flow of weapons?
How does the US intend to address the role of its allies like Pakistan in promoting terrorism?
Given that terrorism is now being exported from Iraq, would you regard the US policy in Iraq a failure?
It must be clarified that American policy does not regard all Muslims as potential terrorists. However, seen from the standpoint of radicals looking to recruit in future and based upon the propaganda and statements of radical groups like al Qaeda, the Muslim community is being understood as the most obvious target. It is important for the US to clarify its stance on this.
It is difficult to comment on whether the US is on the right track. But somebody has to lead, and the US is getting better at it. It is shifting from a militaristic approach to looking at terrorism more as a process. It is important to keep in mind that the national security structure and institutions of the US are largely militaristic since it hasn't dealt with an ideological enemy since the Cold War. It will take time for the US to reestablish these institutions.
While differences do exist in the terrorist groups targeting the two countries, there are similarities in terms of the ideological and financial forces driving these groups.
Al Qaeda is growing on account of both the criteria - more people are coming to it and it is consequently expanding its operations. In a sense, al Qaeda is like Harvard University: it does not need to recruit; people just come to them.
It is true that the US counterterrorism policy has inadvertently led to the spread of terrorism. This is the price of an active state policy: a public and open action against terrorism is bound to generate terrorists. This is partly why some countries like Austria emphasize on a pacifist policy with more behind-the-scene activities.
Although statistics show maritime terrorism as constituting only 2 per cent of the threat, it is a very grave problem. Attacking ports of a nation is a sure-shot way of crumbling its economy. The threat is compounded by the fact that al Qaeda is believed to have purchased several ships under different names and is thinking maritime. Therefore, protection of ports is very crucial. Regarding a link between piracy and terrorism, it is true that they are not mutually exclusive. The legal model for dealing with piracy can provide useful insights to dealing with terrorism.
Part of the reason why there have been no further attacks in the US is because of the crackdown by the law-enforcement agencies in the US post-9/11. Several important arrests and detentions were made following the attacks. Regarding the federal structure of the US and its lessons, the US, unlike India, has a federal investigative agency, which has the overriding authority over the states. This is a big issue for every federal republic and each has to draw its own framework.
The role of the US allies in promoting terrorism is a very difficult question for the US to address. The US is dependent on its allies for economic reasons and a breakdown in relations will impact on the US adversely.
Considering the spillover effect of Iraq, the US policy in Iraq has unfortunately not been effective.
Concluding Remarks: Maj Gen Dipankar Banerjee
The threat of terrorism is very grave. It is being recognized as a means of asymmetric warfare. The possibility of India emerging as a recruiting ground for terrorists is extremely important. There are very substantial reasons why despite 150 million Muslims in the country, no Indians have been involved in international jihadi terrorism till very recently. Therefore, India presents itself as a successful story. At the same time, it is absolutely imperative for India to take account of international terrorism and understand its nature in order to develop a coherent strategy to address the challenge. Terrorism is here to stay