Homeland Security

The Challenges of Global Terrorism
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Issue Vol. 29.3 Jul-Sep 2014 | Date : 05 Oct , 2015

There should be no distinction between a good and a bad terrorist which is what some countries are trying to do. The scourge will consume all unless it is ruthlessly eliminated. Countries sponsoring terrorism might realise that it is like riding a tiger that, one day, they might fall prey to. The biggest worry of these countries which have suffered at the hands of terrorists is that Weapons of Mass Destruction may fall into the hands of the terrorists and that catastrophic consequences would follow. A worldwide integrated approach to tackling terrorism is, therefore, a must.

Currently, the terrorists’ threat is magnified by their acquiring aerial capability, and the very real prospects of them acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction in pursuit of their endeavours.

Terrorism is neither definable within geographical boundaries nor is it within traditional moulds of rationality. Modern technology and globalisation do not recognise geography. State sovereignty stands diluted; it is easily challenged. Terrorist groups do not owe loyalty to any national flag, religion or even ethnicity. They extinguish innocent lives as legitimate victims and seek ‘martyrdom’ in suicide missions. Currently, the terrorists’ threat is magnified by their acquiring aerial capability, and the very real prospects of them acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction in pursuit of their endeavours.

Terrorism is ‘violent tactics’ strategy, being used increasingly to influence and change political, social and economic policies of those in authority. It has the capacity to produce, in large masses, a widespread belief in the futility of resistance and a loss of faith in the state and its agencies and their ability to protect life, liberty and property. These patterns of thought gradually create a denial among the people of their own fear and an increasing justification of the terrorist cause. Not only people but also the leadership and state itself can become susceptible to this sentiment of futility, the implicit justification of terrorism – as in the various ‘root causes’ theories advanced – and the erosion of the will to fight across the nation.

Relevance of State Vis-a-Vis Terrorism

The war on terror has proved to be a catalyst that validates the state’s method and centrality. America and NATO started a war against terror out of a deep sense of vulnerability and fear of terrorists attacking other major powers in the future. Earlier in history, the Roman Empire fought against Jewish zealots due to a similar fear. This is the language of power which has its own tone and temperament. But the logic of power politics has not changed throughout history. If, with alliance, proxy, band-wagoning, aid and other political variables as controlled, any weak power like Malaysia or Bangladesh, was attacked by terrorists in this manner, the reaction would have never been so internationalised.

Any weaker state without the support of a major power, would have never been so internalised. Any weaker state without the support of any major power, would have never been able to launch such a massive military campaign against bigots or terrorists though the fear and vulnerability would have been similar. It requires a state with a certain magnitude of “power” to defend itself and teach attackers a lesson. Apart from the debate of state power and the level of threat to its security, there is another variable that one should take into account i.e. the threatening actor and its identity, state or non-state.

Low-intensity conflict is neither a new nor an isolated phenomenon; it is, in fact, the most common form of warfare today and ranges from terrorism to insurgency, revolution, sabotage, paramilitary operations and other forms of unconventional combat.

The presence of dangerous actors and events has never been denied in history. But regardless of the threatening actor, the objective of strategy is to ensure security. A state’s behaviour is rightly according to its prudent strategic interests. Every watershed event like September 11 is not a transforming event for state methodology and statecraft. Moreover, current terrorism is not new. This is another phase of violent asymmetric conflict in world politics between states and non-state actors. It is a part of what is commonly referred to as low-intensity conflict that is widely spread in geographic terms, since it is typically less violent than modern conventional warfare. Low-intensity conflict is neither a new nor an isolated phenomenon; it is, in fact, the most common form of warfare today and ranges from terrorism to insurgency, revolution, sabotage, paramilitary operations and other forms of unconventional combat.

The Present Situation: Rise of Non-State Actors

The rise of non-state actors in terrorism can be traced back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. At that time, apart from Pakistan taking the lead and becoming a frontline state in the fight against the Soviet invasion, they encouraged, religiously motivated youth to come under the umbrella of various terrorist organisations and that is where Al Qaeda under Osama Bin Laden came into being. Pakistan thought that it would be able to control these Jihadi groups but the script went awry.

Soon the non-state actors went out of control of their patrons. Terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda, Taliban, Hizbul Mujahedeen, Lashkar-e-Toiba and many others came up. Thereafter, the Al Qaeda organised the worst terrorist strike in the world – bombing of World Trade Centre in USA and the complete landscape of terrorism by non-state actors underwent a revolutionary change. In this game, Pakistan has become the epicentre of terrorism. The latest in the rise of non-state actors is ISIS in Iraq that is not satisfied with terror strikes but wishes to create an Islamic state based in rule by the Sunni Muslims and establish a Caliphate. Their leader is a shadowy figure – Baghdadi who installed himself as the Imam in the conquered areas in Iraq.

Regimes Supporting Terrorism

A worrisome trend today is the emergence of regimes which support terrorism as a state policy. It may be religious terrorism or any other form of terrorism.

State sponsors of WMD programs represent a facet of WMD terrorism.

Cyber Terrorism

Another recent phenomenon is cyber terrorism wherein some states are raising armies of hackers to hack into sensitive sights of adversaries to obtain data. Hacking is also being employed to disable important nets and cause a large scale economic devastation.

WMD Terrorism

State sponsors of WMD programs represent a facet of WMD terrorism. This could provide terrorists with access to materials and expertise that are hard to acquire. There are transnational groups operating in a nuclear proliferation environment.

Effects of Terrorism

The pace of political change in the world is revolutionary and the aftermath is far-reaching both vertically and horizontally around the globe. This trend is strange, having contradicting trends kept in the same basket of time and space. Since 2001, the world has witnessed several terror-related events, some of which are:

  • Attack on the most powerful nation in the world, the US by non-state actors (Al Qaeda).
  • The subsequent revival of a preemptory military alliance.
  • Violation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution.
  • Military takeover of two states in three years i.e. Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2001).

The resultant security dilemma has pushed politics of great powers towards increasing economic interdependence, larger military budgets and the creation of a state – ISIS in Iraq.

  • Revival of imperialism.
  • Refusal of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and Kyoto Protocol by the US – the torchbearer of democracy.
  • A new wave of serious violations of human rights like genocides (e.g. Sudan, 2004), honour killings and trafficking of women and children along with rising terrorist attacks by non-state militias.
  • A slump in economic activity since the fall of 2007 and then constantly falling economic indices (e.g. the fall of Lehman Brothers in the US). The credit market collapsed in tandem with rising military budgets of some of the developing and developed nations. Not only this, the world also saw rising economic powers with distinct features like Russia with its gas, oil and gold reserves; India with its trillion-dollar economy, a civilian nuclear deal with the US and a provocative military doctrine and China with its rising military and economic power.
  • The addition of new members of the nuclear club (North Korea and Iran) after the failure of diplomacy and economic sanctions. Overall, the global was on terror has resulted in severe consequences. The distant military power, the US, has become regional to the Asian powers sitting at the doorsteps of Western, Central and Eastern Asia. The resultant security dilemma has pushed politics of great powers towards increasing economic interdependence, larger military budgets and the creation of a state – ISIS in Iraq.
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15 votes cast
The Challenges of Global Terrorism, 4.3 out of 5 based on 15 ratings
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Maj Gen Sheru Thapliyal, PhD

served in the Regiment of Artillery and was awarded a Doctorate for his research & thesis on "Sino-Indian Relations".

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