The Continuing Threat of International Terrorism

Essay, 2016

4 Seiten


The Continuing Threat of International Terrorism

Following the defeat of Al Qaeda's Leadership with the death of Osama bin Laden and the momentary demise of the Islamic State, one might indeed be tempted to proclaim that at long last the world community of states appears to have succeeded in containing the transnational terrorist threat. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth as Islamic terrorism in particular will likely continue to pose a serious danger to the stability and security of the international order. After all there are a number of areas where such a threat could still prove especially grave and destructive.

In the aftermath of recent attacks in both Europe and the United States, small-scale terrorism in particular seems to become an ever more dangerous challenge to international security.[1] This is above all due to the fact that in contrast to conventional large-scale terrorism which is primarily directed against public spaces, symbolic landmarks or important economic institutions (e.g. 9/11, Jakarta, Madrid, London), terrorist acts carried out on a much smaller scale are likely to strike ordinary citizens in familiar places where people might not necessarily expect them to occur in the first instance (e.g. super-markets, cinemas, restaurants, etc.). Accordingly this makes it imperative for western authorities to recognize that the recruitment drives and processes of terrorist networks are not only limited to places such as Pakistan or Iraq, but that they might ultimately just as well originate in the deranged minds of dissatisfied individuals who are already living among us and who, for various reasons, may be drawn to fundamentalist propaganda as a result of (perceived) injustices committed against them or their people by western practices.[2]

Next there is of course the perpetual danger of a genuine terrorist state, given that such a terrorist state established in the wake of civil conflict and chaos could after all easily gain access to a former government's weaponry arsenal, notably to various kinds of WMD'S. As a result it is a fundamental responsibility of the international community to ensure that local grievances and/or civilian conflicts in volatile and unstable areas are going to be settled before terrorist groups are able to firmly and irrevocably entrench themselves in war-torn regions.[3] Due to the potential spill-over effects of such conflicts to other areas, it is not only out of humanitarian concerns, but also to the benefit of their own national interests that other states help stabilize these regions through national resource utilization as well as sustained and concerned efforts on their part.[4]

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, there is the ever looming menace of nuclear proliferation, i.e. the fear of terrorist groups developing or acquiring their own nuclear bombs.[5] In such a dreadful event, there could ultimately no longer be any guarantee that the popular concept of 'nuclear deterrence' would continue to work in the same way as it supposedly did during the Cold War, notably since fanatic terrorists might after all not merely regard nuclear weapons in a predominantly defensive capacity, but, quite to the contrary, primarily as an instrument of 'nuclear compellence' as well. Consequently it is essential to prevent terrorist networks and rogue states from gaining access to nuclear materials, in particular through sustained diplomatic dialogue and by ensuring political stability in especially troubled regions.

On that note, a large number of scholarly articles has been written in recent years focusing explicitly on the threat of international terrorism in the 21st century, in particular on the extent to which that phenomenon continues to pose a serious danger to international security and also on what strategies and approaches might in the event prove most conducive and expedient to eliminating—or at least significantly reducing—the risks and challenges it entails for people the world over.[6] In that regard, it is especially interesting to read that while some scholars such as J. Mueller contend that the threat of terrorist attacks against western societies has been somewhat exaggerated or inflated in public discourses about it,[7] others believe that the struggle against terrorism is still nowhere near from being over yet.

In so doing, a lot of academic attention and research is directed to the inherent shortcomings and deficiencies of attempting to defeat terrorist groups solely by military means. Accordingly, scholars such as P.H. Gordon and A.K. Cronin set out to demonstrate that the combat against terrorist networks such as Al-Qaeda cannot merely be waged, much less won on the battlefield alone; instead it has to be tackled on the 'political' and 'ideological' front as well.[8] Thus while maintaining military pressure on its regional strongholds and transnational structures, western powers must in addition also endeavour to deny it the very support among ordinary populations it so desperately relies on for carrying out its operations in the first place. More specifically, Al Qaeda's ability to recruit new followers needs to be more systematically attacked and eliminated, notably by making every effort to identify the various sources of discontent and resentment that some citizens may hold against local authorities and/or western ideals and values, while at the same time also offering them viable alternatives in terms of individual self-realization and an agreeable social environment for less willingly assisting or siding with fundamentalist movements.[9]

In that context, another important consideration to take into account concerns the fact that responding to terrorist groups by brute force alone might not only prove ineffective, but arguably even counter-productive as well. For as numerous other scholars have likewise remarked, lengthy and extended military campaigns against terrorist networks could after all set in motion a dangerous process of violence and counter-violence that ultimately stands to benefit the latter far greater than those seeking to destroy them.

In particular, these groups are anxious to exploit every single instance of civil conflict, unrest and disorder that they are being 'offered', given that it is precisely in such situations that they will typically find fertile breeding grounds for not only expanding their operative bases, but for eventually also exporting their activities to other countries as well.[10] Accordingly, the struggle against terrorism needs to be conceived of as a long-term rather than a short-term fight against violent acts of physical aggression, and therefore will ultimately require the development of multifaceted approaches and responses on different interrelated fronts in order to gradually and systematically overcome it.[11]

Altogether, it is only by radically undercutting the appeal of terrorist ideologies that the West may hope to repel International terrorism in the long run, and this essentially not only by taking down its core leadership (although that evidently constitutes an important aspect of counter-terrorism strategies as well), but by likewise also doing everything in its power to help make it crumble or erode from within by depriving it of the very areas, forces and transnational networks through which it primarily acts.


[1] M. Morrell, 'Fourteen Years and Counting: The Evolving Terrorist Threat', CTC Sentinel, Vol. 8:9 (September 2015), pp. 1-4.

2 A.K., Cronin, ‘How Al-Qaeda Ends: The Decline and Demise of Terrorist Groups’, International Security, Vol. 31:1 (Summer 2006), pp. 27-31; P.H. Gordon,, ‘Can the War on Terror Be Won? How to Fight the Right War’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 86:6 (November/December 2007),p. 60; p.65.

[3] R. Pape, Dying to win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Bombing (New York: Random House, 2005). p. 200; O. Roy, Secularism Confronts Islam (in German) (München: Siedler Verlag, 2008). pp. 172-73.

[4] Y. William, D. Stebbins, B. Frederick and O. Al-Shahery. 'The Conflict in Syria: Understanding and Avoiding Regional Spillover Effects' (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2014.)

[5] Graham Allison, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (New York, Times Books: 2004).

[6] See, for example, F. Halliday, 'Beyond Armed Repsonse', The World Today, Vol. 61:5 (May 2005), pp. 15-17; M. Howard, 'What's in a Name? How to Fight Terrorism', Foreign Affairs, Vol. 81:1 (January/February 2002), pp. 8-13.

[7] J. Mueller, ‘Is There Still a Terrorist Threat? The Myth of the Omnipresent Enemy’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 85:5 (September/October 2006), pp. 2-8.

[8] Gordon, P.H., ‘Can the War on Terror Be Won? How to Fight the Right War’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 86:6 (November/December 2007), pp. 53-66; A.K. Cronin., ‘How Al-Qaeda Ends: The Decline and Demise of Terrorist Groups’, International Security, Vol. 31:1 (Summer 2006), pp. 7-48.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Pape (2005), p. 103.

[11] P. Porter, ‘Long Wars and Long Telegrams: Containing Al-Qaeda’, International Affairs, Vol. 85:2 (March/April 1985), pp. 285-305.

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The Continuing Threat of International Terrorism
University of Leicester
ISBN (eBook)
447 KB
terrorism, threats, international terror
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Joe Majerus (Autor), 2016, The Continuing Threat of International Terrorism, München, GRIN Verlag,


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