The Case for a Collective Push Against Terrorism: PART ONE

Since September 11th 2012, the realm of international politics has revolved around the combat and suppression of international terrorism. It is difficult to understand why the threat of global terrorism has become such a struggle, as states are exposed to much greater security threats than that of an international terrorist attack. However, the alarmist nature of the issue has garnered massive international attention, and due to its global span, resulted in multilateral relations have become the forum to deal with its complexity.

This article will examine whether a multilateral counterterrorism strategy can be successful. In order to effectively answer this question, this paper will start by defining the issues and actors involved in the multilateral fight against terrorism. Although there are numerous actors involved worldwide, this essay will focus on the United Nations (UN), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the European Union (EU). After examining the prominent multilateral groups involved in the current struggle against international terrorism, this essay will look at the difficulty these organizations have in finding unanimity in basic understandings of counter terrorism measures. This portion will also assess the frequently used statement that “One man’s terrorist, is another man’s freedom fighter”, as it is this mentality that makes international cooperation on issues such as counterterrorism so difficult to develop.

After exploring the definitional issues associated with multilateral counterterrorism framework, this essay will explore the need for international legally binding policy to combat an issue as serious and dangerous as international terrorism. Current multilateral organizations lack the legal right to prosecute and detain international criminals; therefore, states are left to develop their own means of prosecution for suspects, which further thwarts any attempt to create multilateral unanimity regarding how legal issues should be managed. In addition, Western states seem to be acting within the realist school of thought, which further complicates the issue. Western states have continued to ignore multilateral suggestions, and their actions are motivated mostly by self-interest. An example of this can clearly be seen in the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq despite the UN’s disapproval. Furthermore, this realist mentality of the states driving the fight against international terrorism hinders the ability of multinationals to develop any legally binding framework; these states are unwilling to cede power to a transnational organization for fear of weakening their own sovereignty.

Although the benefits of a multilateral framework for counterterrorism measures would be abundant, the current realist mentality of states, the difficulty in finding unanimous legal definitions, and lack of legally binding structure makes multilateral cooperation a utopian prospect for dealing with international terrorism.

The emergence of an unprecedented multilateral undertaking in world politics emerged out of necessity shortly after the September 11th 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. The growing need for a solution to what was becoming an international problem began with the inclusion of new policies by prominent organizations to immediately suppress the global threat of international terrorism. Multilateral institutions now cover a wide range of terrorism related issues, which include: coordination and/or sanctioning of multilateral military action; intelligence; formulation and implementation of law; international financial controls; and other intergovernmental agreements with the intention of suppressing terrorism. According to Michelle Bentley in her article Multilateral Approach to Counter Terrorism: Issues, Problems, and Responses, multilateral cooperation has also developed a more holistic approach that attempts to counter terrorism by preventing radicalism at the ground level by focusing on the removal of the conditions for terrorism.

Furthermore, since it was thrust into action in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001, multilateral collaboration has taken large steps to suppress and combat international terrorism. Due to the realist tendencies of many states, critics of multilateral cooperation often argue that issues such as counter terrorism are dominated by a unilateral approach; scholars now acknowledge that international institutions play a prominent role in the global war on terror. The difficulty with this statement however, is deciding to what degree multilateral institutions have been successful.

In some aspects, multilateral institutions have developed groundbreaking policy and internationally accepted agreements, but on other levels, multilateral cooperation has been in limbo, and crucial issues have gone untouched for years. According to Peter Romaniuk in his article Institutions as Swords and Shields: Multilateral Counter Terrorism since 9/11, “cooperation against terrorist financing has evolved relatively quickly, to the point where it comprises a discrete regime. But a similar claim cannot be made about measures to control the movement of persons across international borders, which remain less institutionalised”.

It is difficult to determine if a national, regional, or global approach has been the most successful counterterrorism strategy to date. However, it is possible to critically evaluate the strategies that have been employed thus far, which has been primarily a multilateral approach using global and regional actors. The remainder of this essay will outline and assess the difficulties that regional and global multilateral responses to combating terrorism have had in their pursuit, while looking specifically at global organizations like the UN, and regional organizations like the EU and NATO.

The obstacles that multilateral cooperative strategies face with terrorism are varied and complex, as there are a plethora of problems that are often collectively shared by all multilateral institutions. One of the most prominent issues to date is the lack of an inclusive and accepted definition of terrorism. The importance of this definition cannot be underestimated, because without a clear understanding of what multilateral organizations are uniting against, there is limited opportunity for success. The issue of creating such a definition goes far beyond just multilateral institutions; neither states nor scholars can agree on an acceptable definition. .

According to Thomas Badey in his article Defining International Terrorism: A Pragmatic Approach, “One of the fundamental problems in addressing the phenomenon of international terrorism is that despite a plethora of scholarly work and more than thirty years of inter-governmental discourse there is still no commonly accepted definition of international terrorism”. The question then remains; how can a collective organization stop something that it cannot even define? This issue has been at the forefront of scholarly debate for a number of years, as the different social and political make up of member nations cannot agree on an all inclusive definition of international terrorism. This lack of institutional coordination, according to Bentley, indicates that there is no comprehensive blueprint outlining how the diverse members of multilateral institutions should work in unison to combat the global problem of international terror. The overriding theme of this portion of Bentley’s argument is diversity. She argues that this overwhelming diversity is a result of the expansion of the number of actors involved in counterterrorism since September 11th 2001. The diversity of multilateral institutions is no doubt a difficult hurdle for the development of useable counterterrorism framework; however, a possible solution to this would be to deal with these large issues from a more regional standpoint.

Although in theory, a more regional perspective to multilateralism counterterrorist strategy would be effective, Bentley’s statement on diversity still holds true, as diversity exists along regional lines as well. In international relations today, Western democracies, like that of the United States, and most of Europe are interconnected from a political, economic, and social standpoint. However, this connection does not translate when it comes to multilateral cooperation in relation to counterterrorism measures. According to Daniel Keohane in his article The EU and Counterterrorism, “the US is prepared to fight actual wars to tackle terrorism, such as the 2001 campaign in Afghanistan. The Europeans are much less willing to conduct major military operations around the globe to hunt down terrorists”. Moreover, from both a regional and global perspective, congruence on counterterrorism strategy is at the liberty of the diverse actors that shape it’s policy, so until a reasonable definition can be formed that pleases all members on the multilateral organization, the impact of the organization will be less effective.


By Andrew Majoran

Tags: , , , , , ,

Categories: Middle East

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2 Comments on “The Case for a Collective Push Against Terrorism: PART ONE”

  1. December 25, 2014 at 3:23 am #

    Disagree that multicultural cooperation in eliminating ISIS is a utopian concept. While this band or murderers continue on their killing spree, a multinational force could have taken it down long ago. Satellites have the locations of ISIS groups in both Iraq and Syria; a UN resolution calling for nations to send law enforcement-style men in a combined effort, with the clear goal of taking down ISIS, would separate those who are serious about the “international terrorist threat” from those who are not. While world “leaders” talk about strategy for defeating ISIS, men, women, and children are getting torn to pieces.

    • Andrew Majoran
      December 28, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

      Although I agree with your sentiment, I’d argue that the sheer fact that global and regional multilateral organisations have failed to even develop a definition of terrorism over the span of decades shows the Utopian nature of true multilateral cooperation. In regards to combating ISIL, there is no doubt a collective push is required, but the overwhelmingly realist mentality of modern states has limited the contribution from important actors. The prevalence of this realist mentality alone is enough to frame global cooperation as “Utopian” in my opinion. Stay tuned for Part Two, I will certainly shed some light on your concerns.

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