International Terrorism and US Policy Options

02 Mar, 2000    ·   337

Rajashree Kanungo says the international community must search for effective means to tackle terrorism, and the US, as a major power has a role to play in the future

The threat of terrorism has steadily increased over the last few decades. With advances in technology, terrorist acts have become much more destructive and perpetrators of those act more elusive. Terrorism is defined as "the unlawful use or threat of violence against persons or property to further political or social objectives. It is usually intended to intimidate or coerce a government, individuals or groups, or to modify their behaviour or politics." It is a special kind of violence that can be used on its own or as part of a whole repertoire of conventional warfare. Domestic terrorism is more widespread than international terrorism. "International terrorism is terrorism exported across international frontiers or used against foreign targets involving citizens or the territory of more than one country".



Terrorist access to chemical, biological, or nuclear weaponry raises the specter of mass-casualties. Faced with such prospects, governments are increasingly likely to utilise covert operations to protect their citizens. By most experts' calculations, international and domestic terrorism incidents is increasing worldwide at about 30 percent a year.



International terrorism threatens U.S. foreign and domestic security policy goals. Terrorism erodes international stability- a major foreign and economic policy objective for the United States . U.S. policy against terrorism was first shaped in reaction to the murder of Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics. Much of the policy remains unchanged, but its thrust has become increasingly aggressive, as terrorist attacks become more frequent and deadlier in the 1980s. A series of U.S. laws were passed to identify terrorism as a crime, set up procedures for apprehending and punishing perpetrators worldwide, and require sanctions on supporting terrorism.



Terrorist events, like those in Oklahoma City , World Trade Center and U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania , as well as the Tokyo subway gas attack have brought the issue of terrorism to the forefront. These occurrences have made the U.S. policy options and organisational mechanisms more focused to combat such of terrorist activities.



Countering the terrorist threat remains a high priority for the United States . The U.S. has developed a three-part counter terrorist policy that has served them well over the years:



First, to make no concessions to terrorists and strike no deals with them. For example, the U.S. government's support to Peru in the 1996 hostages' crisis for refusing to give in to demands made by terrorists eventually ended up with the in successful rescue.



Second, to bring terrorists to justice for their crimes without surrendering basic freedoms or endangering democratic principles and encourage other governments to take the same stand. In recent years, there was a concerted effort by United States to apprehend terrorists who were involved in the World Trade Center bombing case and shootings at CIA headquarters to put them on trial, and impose severe prison terms for their crimes.



Third, to isolate and apply pressure on states that sponsor and support terrorism to force them to change their behaviour. The most common and insidious form of state involvement with terrorism is state sponsorship of terrorist groups in order to further foreign policy goals. The sponsoring state can distance itself from terrorist activity, since it can easily deny any involvement. This form of terrorism has received increased attention since the mid-1970s when U.S. analysts first classed it as "surrogate warfare", and suggested that such sponsorship represented a coherent programme undertaken by the communist bloc and Arab states. Each year, under the provisions of the Export Administration Act of 1979, the U.S. Department of State provides Congress a list of countries that support international terrorism. There are currently seven countries on the list: Libya , Syria , Iran , Cuba , North Korea , Iraq and Sudan . A range of bilateral and multilateral sanctions have been imposed against them and remain in place to discourage them from continuing to support international terrorism.



The responsibility for implementing U.S. policy against terrorism rests with the National Security Council and a supporting Interagency Executive Committee on Terrorism, which comprises more than 30 governmental organisations. The U.S. government has employed a wide array of policy options to combat international terrorism ranging from diplomacy, international cooperation, media self-restraint and constructive engagement to economic sanctions, covert action, physical security enhancement and military force.



There is an increasing awareness in the international community of the scourge of terrorism, which cannot be ignored. The international rule of law needs to be strengthened for the reduction of terrorism. The international community must search for effective means of punishing and deterring terrorist state. As a major power the United States has a large role to play in the future