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Course: International Relations at a Turning Point

Department of Political Science and IR,

University of Tampere, 2003

Lecturer: Helena Rytövuori-Apunen

Student: Nina Hiekonen, nh64833@uta.fi


Fighting against International Terrorism: an American Perspective


International Terrorism is an activity which involves violence  and more than one state and affects international legal order. The growth of international and transnational criminal organisation have resulted in their use of violence with financial profit as the driving motivation. The goals which are attained by the terrorist structures are political, religious ideological in nature. On its way to combat International Terrorism, states face a problem of open borders, deregulation and expanded commerce, which complicate the task. However, states use more securitization and close co-operation between each other with deep involvement into state security issues.

There are many terrorist states in the world. All of them contribute to the International Terrorism in a way that their actions are organised and supported by mercenary states. Different actions are taken in respect of fighting International Terrorism. All of them are emphasised by the National Policies of states, including the US. Main problem areas in the world are viewed in perspective of co-operation among states world-wide. The US has its specific position in this issue. The way it brings up the issue to the forefront may be evaluated as strong and co-operative.

In my work, I will touch an issue of International Terrorism. I will give a brief definition of the International Terrorism and describe main problematic zones in the world. I will look on the issue from American perspective. By doing that, I will provide you with main targets of the US policies aimed at fighting against International Terrorism. I will introduce you to the  Middle Eastern Terrorism with a view on US sanctions in the region, and will briefly examine policies on Combating WMD.

International Political Disorder

An international political disorder occurs when one of four conditions exist. First, the aggrieved groups political grievances involve a foreign state. Second, the group seeks or has been forced to seek asylum in a foreign state. Third, the group directs its violence against the nationals or property of a foreign state. Fourth, the group receives, directly or indirectly, financial or military support from a foreign state. If any one of these four elements is present, the group activity may constitute international terrorism. Stated differently, when one or more foreign states are involved directly or indirectly in a given conflict, such a disorder acquires an international dimension. Ali Khan in his theory of International Terrorism (1987) classifies multifaceted international political disorders responsible for terrorism into mutually exclusive categories, two distinct sources of international terrorism are ideological disorders and refugee disorders.

1.   Ideological Disorders

Ideological disorders occur when an aggrieved group rises violence in order to register its ideological disapproval of a perceived menace such as capitalism, communism, nuclear weapons, or United States or Soviet "imperialism." Terrorist actions committed by an ideological group within its own home state do not always constitute a purely domestic matter that does not affect the international legal order. Even indigenous terrorist groups may cause international anguish when, in pursuit of their political objectives, they attack foreign targets within their home state. Thus, ideological terrorism may have international ramifications when aggrieved groups attack foreign targets.

2.   Refugee Disorders

Serious international disorders occur when states fail to resolve the grievances of a refugee group. These refugee groups resort to terrorist activity in order to assert their right to have a home state or return to their home state. The terrorist activity perpetrated by refugee groups poses radically different and far more serious international problems, simply because their activity inevitably brings asylum states into the conflict. If the home state of a refugee group is under foreign occupation, refugee terrorism persists because those elements that have left or have been forced to leave their home state show a determined resolve to use violence in establishing their right to return. When a refugee group has no home state to which it may return, its violence becomes totally unscrupulous.

Definition of International Terrorism

There is no universally accepted definition of international terrorism. One definition

widely used in U.S. government circles, and incorporated into law, defines international terrorism as terrorism involving the citizens or property of more than one country. Terrorism is broadly defined as politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents. The growth of international and transnational criminal organisations and the growing range and scale of such operations has resulted in their use of violence with financial profit as the driving motivation.

The concept of terrorism is defined by the official United States Code:  “act of terrorism” means an activity that — (A) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life that is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State; and (B) appears to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping.  

US sources also provide more succinct definitions of “terrorism.” A US Army manual on countering terrorism defines it as “the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in nature. This is done through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear.”

Another interesting view on Terrorism is presented by  Noam Chomsky. He states that in their desire to combat terrorism in a modern political context, nations often face conflicting goals and courses of action: (1) providing security from terrorist acts, i.e., limiting the freedom of individual terrorists, terrorist groups, and support networks to operate unimpeded in a relatively unregulated environment versus (2) maximising individual freedoms, democracy, and human rights. Efforts to combat terrorism are complicated by a global trend towards deregulation, open borders, and expanded commerce.

One leading Israeli specialist observes that “state-sponsored terrorism is a form of low-intensity conflict that states undertake when they find it convenient to engage in ‘war’ without being held accountable for their actions”

Terrorism in the World

There are many terrorist states in the world, but the United States is unusual in that it is officially committed to international terrorism, and on a scale that puts its rivals to shame. Thus Iran is surely a terrorist state. Its major known contribution to international terrorism was revealed during the Iran-Contra inquiries: namely, Iran’s perhaps inadvertent involvement in the US proxy war against Nicaragua. Some states employ individual terrorists and criminals to carry out violent acts abroad.

During the 1980s, the primary locus of international terrorism has been Central America. In Nicaragua the US proxy forces left a trail of murder, torture, rape, mutilation, kidnapping, and destruction, but were impeded because civilians had an army to defend them. In El Salvador, tens of thousands were slaughtered in what Archbishop Rivera y Damas in October 1980, shortly after the operations moved into high gear, described as “a war of extermination and genocide against a defenseless civilian population.” This exercise in state terror sought “to destroy the people’s organizations fighting to defend their fundamental human rights”.

In the same years, a massacre of even greater scale took place in Guatemala, also supported throughout by the United States and its mercenary states. Here too, terror increased after the Esquipulas II peace agreement in order to guard against steps towards democracy, social reform, and protection of human rights called for in the accords. As in El Salvador, these developments were virtually ignored.

International terrorism is, of course, not an invention of the 1980s. In the previous two decades, its major victims were Cuba and Lebanon.

In the Middle East, the main center of international terrorism according to the canon, the worst single terrorist act of 1985 was a car-bombing in Beirut on March 8 that killed 80 people and wounded 256.

In 1986, the major single terrorist act was the US bombing of Libya — assuming, again, that we do not assign this attack to the category of aggression. This was a brilliantly staged media event, the first bombing in history scheduled for prime-time TV, for the precise moment when the networks open their national news programs.

Israel is the source of the 1980s “terrorism industry” (then transferred to the US for further development), as an ideological weapon against the Palestinians. Palestinian violence has received worldwide condemnation.

In the next chapters, I will observe International Terrorism as a threat of the US security. I will highlight challenges and aims of the US security policy towards fighting against International Terrorism and means to resolve this problem. 

International Terrorism as a Threat for the US Security.

What is done by the US towards fighting against International Terrorism? Available policy options range from diplomacy, international co-operation, and constructive engagement to economic sanctions, covert action, physical security enhancement, and military force.

How does the US tackle International Terrorism? U.S. policy toward international terrorism contains a significant military component, reflected in current U.S. operations in Afghanistan and (on a smaller scale) the Philippines and in planned deployments of U.S. forces to Yemen and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

A modern trend in terrorism is toward loosely organised, self-financed, international networks of terrorists. Another trend is toward terrorism that is religiously- or ideologically motivated. Radical Islamic fundamentalist groups, or groups using religion as a pretext, pose terrorist threats of varying kinds to U.S. interests and to friendly regimes. A third trend is the apparent growth of cross- national links among different terrorist organisations, which may involve combinations of military training, funding, technology transfer or political advice.

A main trend is toward proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). For instance Iran, seen as the most active state sponsor of terrorism, has been aggressively seeking a nuclear arms capability. Iraq is thought to be stockpiling chemical and biological agents, and to be rebuilding its nuclear weapons program. North Korea recently admitted to having a clandestine program for uranium enrichment. The Al Qaeda organisation attempted to acquire chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. As a result, stakes in the war against international terrorism are increasing and margins for error in selecting appropriate policy instruments or combinations of them to prevent terrorist attacks are diminishing correspondingly.

How to fight against International Terrorism? Good Intelligence is the Best Weapon against International Terrorism. Obtaining information about the identity, goals, plans, and vulnerabilities of terrorists is extremely difficult. Yet, no other single policy effort is more important for preventing, pre-empting, and responding to attacks.

The United States is said to continue to work with its allies to disrupt the financing of terrorism by identifying and blocking the sources of funding for terrorism, freezing the assets of terrorists and those who support them, denying terrorists access to the international financial system, protecting legitimate charities from being abused by terrorists, and preventing the movement of terrorists’ assets through alternative financial networks.

In the National Security Strategy of the United States of America, it is stated that the US will disrupt and destroy terrorist organizations by:

·    direct and continuous action using all the elements of national and international power;

·      denying further sponsorship, support, and sanctuary to terrorists by convincing or compelling states to accept their sovereign responsibilities;

·      using the full influence of the United States, and working closely with allies and friends, to make clear that all acts of terrorism are illegitimate so that terrorism will be viewed in the same light as slavery, piracy, or genocide

·      supporting moderate and modern government, especially in the Muslim world, to ensure that the conditions and ideologies that promote terrorism do not find fertile ground in any nation;

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