Can terrorism benefit societies

Review the Alliance's role in the fight against terrorism

C. Richard Nelson examines how NATO is contributing to the fight against terrorism and how it could expand that contribution.

For the Euro-Atlantic community of states, international terrorism represents a complex, persistent threat that requires a comprehensive multilateral counter-strategy with the involvement of NATO. However, it is unclear to what extent the Alliance will contribute to these efforts, as some NATO countries are in favor of extensive engagement, while others prefer a more modest role.

At the beginning of the debate about the right role and role of NATO, two opposing attitudes towards terrorism became apparent: the "warlike" approach and the "risk management" approach. The former, which is mainly represented by the United States, is associated with a massive mobilization of resources and the pooling of all forces, with restrictions on personal liberties and with sacrifices. For many Europeans it is simply wrong to speak of a "war". You cannot "defeat" terrorism if you do not remove its causes; and in the opinion of Europeans that cannot be achieved by military means. From this point of view, unlike a war that can be won, terrorism is a dangerous, inevitable risk that needs to be managed.

These two approaches are not mutually exclusive, but they lead to different priorities, strategies, and arrangements in terms of collective action. The martial approach usually requires a strategy that emphasizes offensive preventive measures, while the risk management approach usually requires a strategy that emphasizes defensive measures. However, elements of both strategies are required for an effective fight against terrorism.

The debate over NATO's role in the fight against terrorism was compounded by differences of opinion over Iraq and alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda terrorists. In addition, the transatlantic differences of opinion regarding the fight against terrorism also reflect the fact that many European states have their own, very different experiences with terrorism and have an extensive and in some cases poorly integrated Muslim population, that they have different historical connections to the Middle East and on North Africa, are anti-American to different degrees and hold different views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So it should come as no surprise to us that it has been difficult to reach consensus within NATO on how best to counter terrorism.

Despite these differences of opinion, the Allies agree that international terrorism is a serious threat and have chosen to rise to the challenge, which has also raised expectations of its success. But even if the alliance is to achieve modest success, it must leave behind the disputes that have characterized its deliberations so far.

First reactions from NATO

After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, NATO enacted Article 5 for the first time in its history within 24 hours of the attacks. On October 4, 2001, at the request of the United States, NATO members agreed on eight measures to strengthen their ability to fight terrorism. These first measures included an improved exchange of intelligence, unrestricted overflight rights and unrestricted access to ports and airfields, aid measures for states threatened because of their support for the efforts of the so-called coalition, and the deployment of NATO naval forces in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Replacement of American AWACS aircraft intended to support operations in Afghanistan with Alliance AWACS aircraft deployed in the United States.

However, the United States made a grave mistake in the eyes of several Allies when it did not rely more on NATO to launch operations against the terrorist organization Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. This weakened confidence in the Alliance and made it difficult for NATO leaders to provide additional support to the United States.

However, the United States later recognized that NATO was a valuable tool to complement both national counter-terrorism operations and the United Nations efforts to establish a meaningful organization of global counter-terrorism operations. With this in mind, NATO is filling an important loophole with its unique security capabilities. Therefore, NATO offered itself as a natural framework for the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan, which went down in the history of the Alliance as the first NATO operation outside the Euro-Atlantic area. And NATO's comprehensive, systematic approach to solving problems is one of the reasons that terrorism has now been given a high priority on the security policy agenda of 53 countries that work directly with NATO. These are the 20 members of the Partnership for Peace and the seven participants in the Mediterranean Dialogue, as well as the 26 NATO countries.

Type of threat

Over the past three years, NATO has reached a consensus that the threat is grave and that terrorism ignores national borders. International terrorism is now seen as an overarching problem with many manifestations, whereas previously it was viewed as a series of different national phenomena, highlighting the differences between terrorist groups. The previous attitude neglected important connections and consequently underestimated the value of broad-based cooperation between governments.

The threat posed by international terrorism is fundamentally different from the threat posed by the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, which NATO was designed to counter. This new threat consists primarily of Al Qaeda and its affiliated groups, which form a network of supporters of jihad with the common goal of bringing about a new order in the Middle East and the Gulf region on the basis of strict Islamic principles. They hope to put an end to the Western presence in this region as well as Western support for regimes in this area.

This new type of terrorism, which differs from the more traditional nationalist terrorist groups, will be more difficult to defeat than the political and nationalist terrorist groups that dominated from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. Islamic extremists have a more global approach and a more destructive potential, they are more adaptable and they rely on broad sections of the population. The threat is constantly changing to the extent that states devise measures to combat the threats and the terrorists themselves then modify their methods of operation accordingly.

The role of NATO

In order to better understand NATO's potential and to develop realistic expectations regarding this organization, we should examine structurally and functionally what role NATO has in the broad-based fight against terrorism.

The structural level

The role of NATO lies logically between the very extensive efforts undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations to combat terrorism and the rather limited approaches of individual states. Linking all three levels - national, regional and global - is necessary in order to combat both the symptoms and the disease itself. Taken together, these levels are arguably the most effective anti-terror strategy currently possible.

Responsibility for combating terrorism rests primarily with individual states, because terrorism is ultimately a localized phenomenon and, for a variety of reasons, much of intergovernmental cooperation, mainly between law enforcement and intelligence services, will necessarily be bilateral. Nonetheless, NATO, the G8 (the group of the seven most important industrialized countries and Russia), the European Union, the United Nations and other organizations play an important coordinating and integrating role in supporting national efforts. The key here is to coordinate these efforts and avoid unnecessary duplication.

The functional level

The fight against terrorism is a high priority for NATO and consensus has also been reached on the nature of the problem and the appropriate countermeasures. Because of these efforts by the Alliance and similar efforts by other organizations, it is no longer accepted that a state provides some kind of refuge for terrorists, who are sometimes excused as "freedom fighters", in order to spare the territory of that state.

NATO's counter-terrorism strategy recognizes that responsibility lies primarily with the individual member states. The goal of the alliance is to help member states, whenever and wherever necessary, to deter and defend themselves against terrorist threats from abroad and to put obstacles in the way and protect themselves from terrorists. The basic strategy set out in NATO's November 2002 Military Counter-Terrorism Concept contains four elements: defensive counter-terrorism measures to reduce the vulnerability of armed forces, people and property; Managing consequences, including mitigation measures; anti-terrorist offensive activities in which NATO plays either a leading or a support role, including psychological and informational operations; military cooperation with NATO members, partner states and other countries as well as coordination with international organizations such as the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations.

Although NATO leaders have indicated that it is better to prevent acts of terrorism through deterrence or preventive action than to deal with the aftermath, there are no permanent rules on alliance preventive operations. Therefore, any direct action by the Alliance against terrorists or those who give them refuge requires the prior authorization of all member states. As a result, NATO is best suited to tasks that require concerted action over a longer period of time, such as preventive action, dealing with consequences, stabilization operations, monitoring the airspace and the straits, and strengthening national capabilities, especially in weaker states.

NATO has a proven network of structures to facilitate cooperation. At SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers Europe), for example, the NATO partnership coordination cell brings together the military representatives of 43 countries, making the alliance geographically larger than any other military organization in the world. The NATO-Russia Council and the NATO-Ukraine Commission are also important forums for cooperation on counter-terrorism.

NATO plays a leading role in developing strategies, doctrines and training programs for combating terrorism in cases where armed forces may be required. Of particular importance is the NATO exercise program, which enables the development and testing of integrated civil-military operations to combat a wide range of potential terrorist attacks. At the Istanbul Summit, NATO leaders also announced the details of an eight-point research and technology program to combat terrorism, including countering the threat of homemade bombs and improving the protection of airplanes and helicopters.

NATO also plays an important role as an early warning mechanism. As part of the operation Active Endeavor For example, shipping on the Mediterranean is monitored, and NATO also has unique capabilities in early warning systems for aircraft and missiles.

The alliance is known for increasing the interoperability of multinational armed forces, and it can bring this expertise to bear on counter-terrorism operations where military and civilian organizations need to work closely together. With English as the common language and with the use of comprehensive, permanently applicable NATO rules of engagement, more than 50 states are now developing the ability to work together.

With regard to coping with the consequences of a terrorist attack, the Euro-Atlantic coordination center for disaster relief represents a unique arrangement. The center maintains an alliance-wide register of all skills that could be required in the context of disaster relief. It has a force regrowth procedure that includes units in the areas of telecommunications, transport and logistics, as well as surveillance and relief efforts. This dispositive is tested regularly, which means that you gain a lot of experience with disaster relief measures. In each of the 46 participating states, the headquarters works directly with an affiliated agency and does not need to wait for approval from the North Atlantic Council before taking action.

NATO's support for Greece during the Olympics and the Disabled Olympics is an example of the type of preventive role the Alliance is well suited to. In this case, NATO provided AWACS aircraft, carried out naval patrols and strengthened Greece's capabilities in the defense against NBC and radiological weapons.

Afghanistan is an important test bed for NATO in dealing with the threats posed by terrorism and the new international security environment. The ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) is assuming a growing share of responsibility for operations in Afghanistan. The first step in a "phased process" is to expand the ISAF mandate so that ISAF can ensure a safe environment outside of Kabul and its surroundings. These include the establishment of further PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) in Afghanistan and assistance in disarming the armed forces and local militias of the "warlords".

Furthermore, the heads of state and government of NATO members agreed at the Istanbul summit to improve the exchange of intelligence by setting up an anti-terrorism intelligence unit at NATO headquarters in Brussels. This unit, which was deployed after the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, is now a permanent facility that analyzes general terrorist threats as well as threats specifically directed against NATO.

Use the potential of NATO

The practical use of NATO's counter-terrorism potential will require a great deal of further effort, particularly on the part of political leaders.While leaders on both sides of the Atlantic agree that the success of global efforts in the fight against terrorism requires a diversified approach that draws on the strengths and unique assets of many international organizations NATO continues to underutilize it. Among the initiatives that would make better use of NATO's capabilities, the following deserve particular attention:

NATO should appoint a new Assistant Secretary General to be responsible for coordinating the Alliance's counter-terrorism efforts. This should be a full-time job, not a sideline, and the incumbent should be responsible for the full range of NATO activities in this area, including coordination with the European Union, the United Nations and other international ones Organizations. Unnecessary duplication of work areas, particularly with regard to the European Union, is a matter of great concern and it seems appropriate that NATO should find a high-level counterpart for Gijs de Vries, the European Union's counter-terrorism coordinator.

The NATO Response Force (NRF) should be given extensive counter-terrorism functions and tasks. This would also make it easier to develop a broader base of national capabilities than could otherwise be achieved in the alliance. Such tasks would require the NRF to reduce their response time to less than 5 days in some circumstances (especially with regard to the deployment of special forces and air strikes). This would also have a beneficial effect on accelerating the decision-making process of the North Atlantic Council.

Because of the difficulties in transitioning from combat operations to stabilization operations, the formation of a NATO stabilization force should be considered as a complement to the NRF. Stabilization missions have become a central part of NATO's work, and this should be reflected in the Alliance's armed forces structure. NATO forces in Afghanistan and the Balkans will continue to face numerous terrorist threats. Lessons from the work in these two regions must be incorporated into alliance planning and applied to future operations under the direction of NATO.

In implementing NATO's military counter-terrorism approach, the Alliance should give high priority to the States participating in the Partnership for Peace, as they are among the least prepared for terrorism threats, and if their counter-terrorism capabilities are increased, it will also benefit the security of NATO members. In the military concept of counter-terrorism, traditional roles have been reversed, so that NATO supports allies and partner states while they bear the primary responsibility for combating terrorism. This means that much of the Alliance's efforts should be organized around the Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism.

NATO should establish a counter-terrorism research institute to advance research and analysis in this area. Such an institute could bring together the best specialists and draw on the different experiences and specialist knowledge of experts from all NATO countries. These professionals could play an important role in developing and disseminating better analysis of the rapidly changing threat, while facilitating the frequent thought and action adjustments needed to address the problem more effectively. The fight against international terrorism will be a tedious affair. This requires a group of researchers who are able to understand the strengths and weaknesses as well as the mindset and attractiveness of terrorist groups and therefore produce truly insightful opinions. However, there is no need to exchange classified information or operational intelligence.

NATO could also be useful in the sense of promoting the development of new technologies. The Allied Reshuffle Command, for example, plays an important role in promoting cooperation in the arms industry and could help ensure that new anti-terrorism systems are designed with interoperability in mind from the outset.

In summary, it can be said that the threat posed by international terrorism, because of its extremely rapid change, requires frequent adaptation measures in terms of the way states and institutions think and proceed. During the Cold War, NATO demonstrated this high degree of adaptability by continually evolving its strategies, albeit not without significant differences of opinion. In today's new geopolitical environment, the Alliance faces a similar challenge as it works towards the consensus necessary to make the most effective contribution to the fight against international terrorism.

C. Richard Nelson is Head of Program Development for the Atlantic Society of the United States (ACUS). This article is based on the recently published ACUS publication "NATO's Role in Confronting International Terrorism", which is available on the ACUS website: