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Debating Terrorism as a Global Threat and the Prevention Measures that the World Needs Implementing

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Terrorism and Global Governance

In a broad sense, terrorism refers to the use of a symbolic act designed to influence political behavior by extranormal means, entailing the use or threat of violence. An act of terrorism is generally defined as an act of violence perpetrated on innocent civilians or non-combatants in order to evoke fear in an audience for a political purpose. 1(2) There is currently no existing universally agreed upon working definition of terrorism because of how ambiguous the overall concept is. Although terrorists are considered to be criminals by many governments. Terrorists themselves, on the other hand, often claim to be waging war—“your terrorist is my freedom fighter.” 3 Terrorism has been a global issue for decades and it been at the forefront international focus since the attacks against the U.S. on 9/11. Acts of terror generally take place in the form of bombings, kidnapping/hostage taking, armed attacks and assassinations, arson and firebombing, Hijackings, and chemical attacks. According to the Global Terrorism Database, an estimated 91,101 acts of terrorism have taken place just over the past decade and over half of them were bombings or explosions.4

A newer form of terrorism, cyberterrorism, has recently become the largest threat to the modern world. Cyberterrorism has given terrorism access to connect to the entire world via networks and interfere with key activities with almost zero risk to themselves. These attacks are less traceable and their overall impact is not known until it is too late. Extremist organizations have broadened their reach beyond their small region with the internet, they are now able to recruit members and spread propaganda all over the world. One of the larger threats to developed countries with cyberterrorism is the fact that all networked infrastructure systems can be targeted. That means banking systems, the electrical grids, military systems, and air traffic controls etc. can be breached and tracing the actor behind it all can be impossible. Terrorism tactics in the post era 9/11 have completely changed the entire nature of global warfare as technology has become a significant tool for non-state actors to target states’ vulnerabilities.5

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When the United Nations formed in 1945, the central mission was to maintain international peace and security and according to the UN website, they do this by “working to prevent conflict; helping parties in conflict make peace; peacekeeping; and creating the conditions to allow peace to hold and flourish. These activities often overlap and should reinforce one another, to be effective. The UN Security Council has the primary responsibility for international peace and security. The General Assembly and the Secretary-General play major, important, and complementary roles, along with other UN offices and bodies.” The United Nations quickly responded to the need for global partnerships and since 9/11, The United Nations Security Council has passed three decisions under Chapter VII in an effort to counter terrorism. These decisions are extremely important because they each quickly redefined terrorism by adding more concrete descriptors.

Resolution 1373 was passed on September 28, 2001 as a decision that member states should prevent those who finance, plan, facilitate or commit terrorist acts from using their respective territories for those purposes against other countries and their citizens. “States should also ensure that anyone who has participated in the financing, planning, preparation or perpetration of terrorist acts or in supporting terrorist acts is brought to justice. They should also ensure that terrorist acts are established as serious criminal offences in domestic laws and regulations and that the seriousness of such acts is duly reflected in sentences served.”

In January 2003, resolution 1456 was passed. This decision is significant because it addressed the human motivation issue, opening doors to bring terrorist to justice and it reaffirmed that “terrorism constitutes one of the greatest threats to international peace and security, and that all acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable regardless of the motivation behind them. It also called on all member states to comply with all existing protocols/conventions and stated that all counterterrorism efforts had to start being in alignment with international law.”6

In October 2004, resolution 1566 called on countries to prosecute or extradite anyone involved terrorist acts by way of planning or support, denying safe havens. The decision also reaffirmed that “criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror, or compel a government or international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act which contravened terrorism-related conventions and protocols, were not justifiable for any reason –- whether of a political, philosophical ideological, racial, ethnic or religious nature.”

The UN has a multilateral structure, meaning that multiple member states come together in order to reach a given goal. This has become difficult though due to the fact that there is still no comprehensive convention on international terrorism, largely because it is felt that there is more focus on more developed countries, when in fact, the majority of deaths occur in the South. The G-77 was established in June 1964 and it consists of seventy-seven developing countries. They are they largest intergovernmental organization of developing countries in the UN and they provide a way for the countries of the South to express interests in UN issues.7 The organization has an issue wit the language included in terrorism definitions asserting that targeting civilians could not be justified because there are members in the group that don’t agree with dropping an exemption for movements resisting occupation in their countries.

The and the United Nations has been the largest contributor in establishing the system, so far eighteen universal instruments against international terrorism have been elaborated within the framework of the United Nations system relating to specific terrorist activities. On September 8, 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Global Counter-Terrorism strategy as an instrument to enhance national, regional and international efforts to counter terrorism. This is the first strategy to be agreed upon by all member states as a common and operational approach to counter terrorism. It consists of the following four pillars:

The United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism was established through the adoption of the General Assembly Resolution 71/291 with the task of providing strategic leadership to all United Nations counter-terrorism efforts, participate in the decision-making process of the United Nations and ensure that the cross-cutting origins and impact of terrorism are reflected in the work of the United Nations.

The Office of Counter-Terrorism has five main functions:

  1. provide leadership on the General Assembly counter-terrorism mandates entrusted to the Secretary-General from across the United Nations system;
  2. enhance coordination and coherence across the 38 Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force entities to ensure the balanced implementation of the four pillars of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy;
  3. strengthen the delivery of United Nations counter-terrorism capacity-building assistance to Member States;
  4. improve visibility, advocacy and resource mobilization for United Nations counter-terrorism efforts; and
  5. ensure that due priority is given to counterterrorism across the United Nations system and that the important work on preventing violent extremism is firmly rooted in the Strategy.

Within the Office of Counter-Terrorism:

  • Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task force
  • Counter-Terrorism Committee
  • UN Counter Terrorism Centre

Overall, the existing global governance structure that exists to combat terrorism needs more cohesion among all countries involved and establishing an internationally agreed upon definition is the first step. Putting equal focus on northern and southern state’s unique interests and dealings with terrorist will be the best way to do so. Continuing to streamline the structures within the UN regarding counterterrorism will eliminate a lot of redundant strategy and allow for more capacity to address cyberterrorism inititatives.

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