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Internationally effective strategies in combatting terrorism

Reader comment on item: Democrats Unlearn 9/11

Submitted by Daniel Arthur (Republic Of Korea), Jan 8, 2004 at 21:09

Combatting terrorism is a policy that's publicly supported not just by Republicans & Democrats, but by virtually by every nation state on earth. That support now includes countries that have in the past been knowingly, negligently or unwittingly, home or haven to terrorists themselves: Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia etc. While it's tempting to view 'terrorism' as a primarily Islamist-extremist strategy against the US & the West, the violent, political targetting of civillians is much older & more widespread than the current US experience.

As such, when assessing the effectiveness of different approaches to combat terrorism there are many examples beyond the 2 recent US strategies that are, in purely tactical terms, worth considering. Chief among those should obviously be any international examples where the endemic terrorist targetting of civillians has substantially subsided &/or been effectively contained.
(Completely eradicating isolated acts of terror may never be possible: As the example of Timothy McVeigh illustrates, disturbed individuals will use violence to gain media attention for their cause as long as there are disturbed individuals, media attention & violent means, none of which are in short supply.)

Substantial reductions of chronic terrorist attacks have been achieved, for example, in Northern Ireland/England (IRA), Basque/Spain (ETA), Sri Lanka (Tamil Tigers)etc. Considering the deep seated, enduring nature of the violence in both the Basque region (1930's>) & Northern Ireland (centuries) the overwhelming decline of terrorism in both is a remarkable achievement. Both are also highly instructive. They provide a clear history of different approaches that failed, as well as more recent approaches which have succeeded. In both it was precisely a militarized 'war on terror' type approach which consistently, massively increased acts of terror & created international sympathy & financial support for the terrorists. The highly militarized approach was hugely expensive, increasingly deadly to civillians of both sides & by inflaming & expanding the crisis, utterly counter-productive. In both conflicts real gains were finally achieved by the withdrawl of armed forces, increased use of intelligence & 'police work' & covert negotiations. That's what consistently, historically, in Spain, UK, Sri Lanka & elsewhere has been most effective in 'combatting terrorism' successfully.

By contrast the Bush Administration seems to be emulating the Sharon/Israeli model of a highly militarized approach to terrorism. This has yielded the worst ever security crisis for the Israelis, a skyrocketing civillian death toll, a diplomatic disaster for the Israeli government & an economy that is haemmoraging. It's understandable for any nation whose citizens have been attacked by terrorists to initially seek the vengeance a 'War on Terror' can offer. However, in the longer term that strategy has consistently proved to be disastrously counter-productive. In any war it's worth considering whether military 'victories' that make the victors less safe, are even victories at all.
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