Threat of Terrorism – the most significant source of insecurity today
Despite the many advances that human civilisation has achieved today, there are many risks that threaten human security, such as climate change, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or disease and poverty. The following essay argues that the most significant source of insecurity today is the threat of terrorism.
Terrorism is not a novel phenomenon; it is deeply rooted in the human history. And, although mainly associated with the Middle East, Muslims and Islam, it is not restricted to any particular group of people or geographical place (Jenkins, 2001, p.21). However, due to the 9/11 attacks, the threats associated with terror caused by radical Islamist groups, such as al Qaeda, imposes, notably to the Western world, the highest threat (Crockatt, 2003, p.73-85).
While the estimated financial damage inflicted upon the US accounts to a shattering $85 billion, excluding the wider economic losses (Wall street Journal, 2001), the death toll (about 3,000 died in the four attacks) when compared to other death causes are relatively low. For instance, it has been estimated that on an average day 30,000 children throughout the world die of malnutrition (Baylis et al., 2008, p.2). However, the effect of 9/11 was un-proportionally dramatic; Fischer (2008, p.143) and Boyle (2008, p.170) put the issue of international terrorism at the centre of the agenda of contemporary security studies. In addition, according to the statistics from Human Security Centre (2007, p.1,14), the global terrorism is declining since 2007 mainly due to decline of terror acts in Iraq. With Iraq excluded, there has been no major increase in fatalities from terrorism since 2001. Even more, it is also argued that the world actually has become more peaceful altogether (The Human Security Centre, 2006, p.1-2). However, the consensus among Western experts is that the threat of global terrorism, in particular Islamist terrorism, has been increasing[*] (Human Security Centre, 2007, p.1). Studies have also revealed that in 2008 American public regarded ‘terrorism’ as the second most important foreign policy issue after ‘Iraq’ leaving ‘environment’ in third place (McCormick, 2009, p.141-142). This raises the question as to why is terrorism causing such insecurity, particularly since the terrorist threat to human lives is relatively limited as well as less pervasive, serious, and certain in comparison to climate change (Eckersley, 2008, p.394; Jackson and McDonald, 2009, p.19).
As Eckersley (2008, p.394) points out, there are important differences with regards to the imminence of the risks of terrorism compared to climate change. It is the very nature of terrorism that causes the insecurity. Terrorist organisations operate from the shadows, not stemming from a nation-state and can attack anything, anywhere and at any time. Thus, terrorists ultimately will always have the advantage since it is impossible to protect everything and all of the time. Protection of society is particularly difficult when dealing with independent or semi-independent terrorist cells (Boyle, 2008, p.173; Jenkins, 2001, p.323). Furthermore, as Townshend (2002, p.1) argues, there is perhaps nothing else that makes people feel so vulnerable. This is even further reinforced by the asymmetry of the terror attacks. As 9/11 showed even a small group of terrorists can pose a mortal risk to even the most powerful states (Boyle, 2008, p.170).
Another explanation is provided by Hampson et al. (2005). They argue that in today’s world there are fewer but more intractable conflicts. In fact, 9/11 was a single most deadly terrorist attack known to have ever happened. As Jenkins (2001, p.2) argues, the nature of the weapons used as well as the timing of the attacks indicated very clear that the aim of the terrorists was to cause as many casualties as possible. This is even more worrying when considering that the goal of a terrorist is to be recognised and not the number of fatalities (Graham, 1994, p.157). Even further, there has been increasing concern that terrorists might begin using WMD in order to inflict large numbers of casualties as a means to obtain their political objectives. Concerns also have been raised that some of the countries with potential nuclear capabilities, such as North Korea and Iran, might supply a nuclear device to a dissident group under the right circumstances (Jenkins, 2001, p.29). In addition, some terrorist leaders have expressed both the desire and the will to use WMD in their attacks. Evidence recovered in Afghanistan in 2001 outlined plans by al Qaeda to produce and test biological and chemical weapons (Kiras, 2008, p.382). Some observers even believe that these emerging weapons, notably biological and chemical weapons will be the weapons of the future terrorists (Jenkins, 2001, p.29).
Further factors that have contributed to the rise of terrorism are the causes of terrorism and the counteractions adapted by the West, most notably the US. While the causes of terrorism are very different and complex, it has been suggested that poverty, inequality and oppression can lead to terrorism. As indicated by Crockatt (2003, p.86), terrorism is generally the weapon of the weak and the politically dispossessed. In addition, there are many issues, in particular involving ethnic, religious, and ideological disputes that have fuelled terrorism. As long as these are prominent, terrorism will pose a danger. And as Lutz and Lutz (2007, p.307) argue they have not yet disappeared.
A further issue that has complicated the problem was the US, in particularly Bush’s approach to fighting terrorism. Not only did his ‘War on Terror’, ‘rogue states’ and ‘Axis of Evil’ increase magnificently the level of risk (Finlan, 2006, p. 161) but also reinforced the impression of a Western crusade to suppress the Arab people, hence leading to a new resentment, new martyrs and new financial and personnel support for terrorism as well as so called ‘second-generation’ Al Qaeda, consisting of the offshoots from the original organisation but not under its command (Clark, 2004). The following terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, Sharm El Sheikh and Bali provide evidence for this argument.
Finally, it should be noted, that globalisation (Kiras, 2008, p. 384), the mass media (Denton, 2006, p.9-10) and the democratic system of the Western states (Lutz and Lutz, 2004, p.36) have all contributed to the rise as well as the perception of the terrorist threat to some extent. In conclusion, it is clear that terrorism will remain a major security threat for years to come, not only because of the way it is perceived but even more so because of the way this problem is being solved. Paradoxically, although the US is the most powerful country in military terms, there are limits to what military power can achieve. Certainly, this force is not well suited to fighting insurgencies and terrorism. Hence, another and a better approach should be sought.
[*] This was the view held by the 2006 and 2007 US National Intelligence Estimates, by a 2007 survey of 100 foreign policy and security experts published in the US journal Foreign Policy, by a 2007 report on the terrorist threat to Europe from the director of the UK’s Security Service, and by a 2008 report from the official US National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).
- Quote paper
- Linda Vuskane (Author), 2010, Threat of Terrorism. The most significant source of insecurity today, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/509341