Terrorism Policy in the US

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25th Mar 2019 Social Policy Reference this

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The transformation of terrorism shifted around September 11th, 2001, when the United States was attacked by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, and has been embroiled in asystematic warfare in the region since. Prior to the attacks on 9/11, the United States has meddled in international policy in the Middle East for decades, attempting to implement United States and United Nations terrorism policy efforts with coordination from the international community against terrorism. According to Richard Best, author of Intelligence and Law Enforcement, Best notes that “since the end of World War II, various types of terrorist activities and human rights violations has resulted in significant United States intervention, in retaliation to genocide, torture, hostage taking, attacks on diplomatic personnel, and airplane hijacking” (Best, 2001, 7). In response to these atrocities, the United States uses two main weapons traditionally relied upon in the fight against terrorism, military force and economic sanctions, neither of which will solve the problem of international terrorism, nor will be particularly effective against the stateless, transnational groups that are evolving in the region. Although many nations, specifically Muslim nations who are at the heart of many of these violent attacks seek to prevent and destroy terrorism, the United States and United Nations terrorism policy efforts are not without obstructions to international cooperation.

The United States terrorism policies that lack international cooperation are the frequent retaliatory operations in the Middle East and Africa, which often negates the progresses made due to unintended repercussions which cannot be anticipated. Another United States terrorism policy which lacks international cooperation is the United States refusal to negotiate with terrorist organizations, even when those organizations are deeply entrenched in the fabric of the nation’s politics and culture; groups like Hezbollah or Hamas. A third United States terrorism policy which lacks international cooperation is United States extradition laws and obtaining the cooperation of international law enforcement. The last United States terrorism policy which lacks international cooperation is the excessive use of economic sanctions which have been deemed ineffective.

The United States has been embroiled in warfare in the Middle East for decades due to various types of terrorist activities and human rights violations such as genocide, torture, attacks on diplomatic personnel, and airplane hijacking. When any of these activities occur, the United States and its allies jump to the aid of the oppressed, but often lack the ability to notice nuances in the region and are insensitive to public opinion. United States retaliatory operations in the Middle East and Africa often negate any and all progresses made due to unintended repercussions of war which cannot be anticipated, specifically inflicting collateral damage. One example of United States retaliatory operations is on August 7th, 1998, two simultaneous truck bomb explosions went off at the United States Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the other at the United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. A total of 213 people were killed in Nairobi, while 11 were killed in Dar es Salaam. Of the 224 people killed in the embassy bombings, 12 Americans were killed. After the bombing, according to Bruce Hoffman, the moderate opinion in the Arab world “were horrified by the fact that innocents were killed and also that Muslims were involved” (Hoffman, 2001, 7) and the Arab media pushed people in the direction of condemning bin Laden and terrorism. Unfortunately, in retaliation for the bombing, but more specifically, because of the 12 Americans were killed, President Bill Clinton issued a series of cruise missile strikes on targets in Sudan and Afghanistan, which instantly negated any sentiments from the Arab world. According to Hoffman, the retaliatory strikes “took the focus away from the U.S., Kenyan, and the Tanzanian victims and put it on Sudan as a victim” (Hoffman, 2001, 7). Furthermore, on April 6th, 1986, the United States launched air strikes against Libya in retaliation for the April 5th, 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing. Although the United States made its best efforts to minimize collateral damage, some of the aerial bombardment landed off-target, striking civilian sites in Tripoli, killing 36 Libyan civilians and injuring almost 100 more. Despite the United States best efforts to minimize civilian casualties, the United States become the problem, amplifying the civilian body count in the region. According to Douglas Menarchik, “cruise missiles and air-delivered precision-guided munitions can be effective retaliation against state sponsors and transnational groups when they can be found and precisely targeted” (Menarchik, 2001, 18), although terrorist groups losing their safe havens in countries formally sponsors of terrorism, and are being forced deeper underground intertwined in the fabric of modern society, making precise targeting of individuals nearly impossible.

Another United States terrorism policy which lacks international cooperation is that the United States has a longstanding policy of not negotiating with terrorist organizations, even when those organizations are deeply entrenched in the fabric of the nation’s politics and culture. During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, American transport ships were frequently raided by “seaborne bandits from Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers” (DOS, 2001, 2) and had become routine for the United States to negotiate with these pirates and to pay the huge ransoms. By the early 1800’s, the United States were paying out over one-fifth of the country’s yearly revenue in ransoms. Shortly afterward, President Thomas Jefferson implemented “his no-concessions policy with military action” (DOS, 2001, 2). In 1803, the USS Philadelphia was captured and demanded a $3 million ransom. In retaliation, United States forces “blockaded Tripoli, set fire to the Philadelphia, and bombarded the city”, which resulted in the pirates releasing the American hostages. Over 200 years later, the United States continues to uphold the policies that Thomas Jefferson employed, that the United States will refuse to make concessions to terrorists.

Although President Thomas Jefferson’s policy refusing to negotiate with terrorists has ultimately been effective since its implementation, the face of terrorism are continuously changing and adapting. For example, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam “engage in intensive lobbying and political pressure as a means of legitimization, to enhance the stature of these groups, as a means of PR to try to convince countries that the groups are not terrorist organizations” (Hoffman, 2001, 4). Moreover, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are actually suing the United States government in District Court to be taken off the list of designated terrorist organizations. Furthermore, groups like Hezbollah or Hamas, who are both deeply entrenched in the fabric of the nation’s politics and culture, are funded by supporters in the general populace in their respective countries, and “raise money through mosques and social service institutions, as well as from wealthy private benefactors in Saudi Arabia and other states” (DOS, 2001, 5). Although both Hezbollah and Hamas are on the State Department’s list of designated terrorist organizations, most Middle Eastern countries differentiate between Hezbollah and Hamas’s political and military wings.

A third United States terrorism policy which lacks international cooperation is United States extradition laws and obtaining the cooperation of international law enforcement. International cooperation in areas of law enforcement and intelligence is an essential pillar of the United States anti-terrorism policy and is an important law enforcement tool in combating international terrorism. The United States had developed a series of new ways to combat terrorism, specifically extraditions and renditions, as terrorism has changed and old capabilities appeared to lose effectiveness. An extradition is a cooperative law enforcement process which the custody of a person charged with committing a crime whose punishment has not yet been fully served, is transferred directly or indirectly, to those of another jurisdiction for the purpose of prosecution. According to Richard Best, internationally, narcotics trade “is not at present considered an international crime over which there is universal jurisdiction” (Best, 2001, 8), although countries are expected to suppress the production and transit of illegal narcotics. Furthermore, it is the individual country’s responsibility to bring drug traffickers to justice, and respond to requests for extradition, although there is “no universal jurisdiction to enforce drug production or trafficking as they do under conventions against piracy, torture, and certain other crimes” (Best, 2001, 8).

The last United States terrorism policy which lacks international cooperation is the excessive use of economic sanctions which have been deemed ineffective. According to James Smith, author of Terrorism Threat and Response, “economic sanctions and threats of force may be more useful in response to state-sponsored terrorism, but economic incentives and increased intelligence efforts may prove more suitable for the growing non-state threat” (Smith, 2001, 4). Furthermore, according to David Tucker, author of Combating International Terrorism, notes that “economic sanctions are unlikely by themselves to change the behavior of a state” (Tucker, 2001, 9). Sanctions impose costs on the target country and from its ability to support terrorism. Although sanctions are meant to hurt the will of a country, typically sanctions impose greater costs on the mass of people. While economic sanctions will not lead to the collapse of a country, nor will a country give in to economic sanctions, increased public disaffection will eventually enable the target government to devote more attention and resources to combating terrorism.

Some of the advantages to using soft diplomacy techniques are the use of “multilateral economic and political sanctions against state sponsors of terrorism” (Gottlieb, 2014, 210), in addition to the use of negotiating policies as a means of breaking up or destroying terrorist groups and networks. Another advantage is the ability to bring in state or organizational leaders to a negotiating table in which their demands will have an opportunity to be heard. An example of the limits of economic sanctions can be noted by the United States and Iran. Iran has been under economic sanctions since the Iranian revolution in 1979 and has been expanded several times due to Iran’s uranium enrichment program. The U.S. and UN sanctions initially targeted investments in oil, gas, and petrochemicals, and exports of refined petroleum products. US led sanctions encompass banking and insurance transactions, shipping, web-hosting services, and domain name registration services. Although sanctions have dramatically reduced the amount of money available to Iran, to the point where the values of the Iranian Rial have dropped dramatically since sanctions were imposed, although Iran “has not changed its support for terrorists because of the sanctions” (Gottlieb, 2014, 119), nor is Iran willing to give up their nuclear ambitions. As Gottlieb notes, “short of military conflict that could destabilize the whole region” (Gottlieb, 2014, 119), top-level negotiations are required for any chance at finding a common ground. 

The principal impediments to international cooperation against retaliatory operations in the Middle East and Africa can be seen with the amount of collateral damage from United States retaliating to various types of terrorist activities and human rights violations, effectively diminishing the perception of the United States in the international community. Although the rational for retaliation is often justified, the act of retaliation causes significantly more harm than good. A few examples of United States retaliatory operations can be seen with the 1983 Lebanon bombing, 1986 bombing of Libya, and the 1998 bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan.

On October 23, 1983, two truck bombs struck buildings used for housing the Multinational Force in Lebanon (MNF) peacekeepers. The United States and French service members were specifically targeted, killing 241 U.S. and 58 French peacekeepers. In retaliation for the two bombings, the United States and France joined together to commit an air assault on the Lebanese camp where the bombing was planned. Ultimately, the international response to United States retaliation was condemned by many countries as an unprovoked act of aggression. Furthermore, on April 6th, 1986, the United States launched air strikes against Libya in retaliation for the April 5th, 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing which killed 229 civilians. The retaliatory airstrikes used by the United States killed an estimated 20 Libyan military personnel and another 60 civilians. According to Hoffman, “the 1986 air strike on Libyan forces was widely touted and believed to be an archetype of success of using flying forces against terrorists” (Hoffman, 2001, 5), but clarifies this by stating that Libyan terrorism did not diminish, it actually increased dramatically. Prior to the United States retaliatory strikes on Libya, there were 41 terrorist attacks on U.S. targets. After the United States retaliatory strikes on Libya, there were 54 terrorist attacks on U.S. targets. Another example can be seen on August 7th, 1998, two simultaneous truck bomb explosions went off at the United States Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the other at the United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. A total of 213 people were killed in Nairobi, while 11 were killed in Dar es Salaam. In retaliation for the bombing, President Bill Clinton issued a series of cruise missile strikes on targets in Sudan and Afghanistan, which instantly negated any sentiments from the Arab world.

The principal impediments to international cooperation against the United States refusal to negotiate with terrorist organizations are the changing faces of terrorism and the adaptation of groups for survival. Groups like Hezbollah or Hamas, both of whom are deeply entrenched in the fabric of the respective nation’s politics and culture, are also considered by the State Department to be on the list of designated terrorist organizations. With that being said, the United States policies for dealing with terrorists prevents the United States from having constructive conversations. When responding to incidents of terrorism, the lack of communication channels and mutually accepted rules of conduct between governmental entities and the groups deemed as terrorist organizations is a significant obstacle for the United States to overcome. The United States longstanding policy of not negotiating with terrorists or hostage takers needs to be modified to the changing conditions of the 21st century. Communications with terrorists in some cases may prove beneficial to U.S. interests and may provide some useful insights in dealing with hostile transnational groups in the future.

The third impediments to international cooperation against the United States are the United States policies on international extradition and law enforcement cooperation. Several limitations on international extradition include the refusal of some countries to extradite for political or extraterritorial offenses. Other nations outright refuse to extradite their own nationals. Furthermore, the United States policy on application of the death penalty for certain crimes and can significantly impede extradition from countries that have abolished the death penalty many cases. The terms and conditions of extradition treaties vary greatly. Some countries forbid the extradition of their own nationals, no matter what the circumstances of the crimes which took place, countries like Brazil and China. Furthermore, in order for an international extradition to be successful, the criminal must also be recognized as a crime in both jurisdictions to fulfill dual criminality, the act must not be political in nature, as most countries refuse to extradite suspects of political crimes, and many countries will refuse to extradite the accused if they are in danger of receiving the death penalty or torture, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The last impediment to international cooperation against the United States is the rampant use of economic sanctions in an attempt to curb undesirable behavior, such as providing support or safe havens for terrorist cells. The United States has placed various economic sanctions on numerous countries, specifically countries of Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Syria. Sanctions impose costs on the target country and diminish its ability to support terrorism. Moreover, diplomatic sanctions paired with sanctions on travel, arms embargoes and other measures, economic sanctions can create a sense of isolation among and increase pressure on the elites in a target country” (Tucker, 2001, 9). Although sanctions are meant to hurt the will of a country, typically sanctions impose greater costs on the mass of people. The ineffectiveness of sanctions on Iran after over 20 years mildly impacted Iran’s economy, but is seemingly still flourishing. Furthermore, sanctions on Iran have not caused Iran’s nuclear capabilities to be diminished. Sanctions have significantly reduced Iran’s access to products needed for the oil and energy sectors and have also caused a decline in oil production due to reduced access to the technologies needed to improve their efficiency. Furthermore, after the Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed, the United Nations Security Council in collaboration with the United States implemented sanctions upon Libya in order to curb its state sponsorship of terrorism in the region. In order to comply with United Nations sanctions in Libya, the UN Security Council requires Libya to complete three resolutions, which calls upon Libya to extradite the suspects in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, imposes a ban on Libyan flights, and bans the sale of oil equipment to Libya, in addition to placing a limited freeze of foreign assets. The UN sanctions against Libya created a suffering under isolation and the Libyan economy was negatively influenced.

Although most of the United States retaliatory acts are justified, Hoffman notes that “as a nation, we derive a certain cathartic satisfaction from getting back, striking back at our enemies” (Hoffman, 2001, 6). An “eye-for-an-eye” international terrorism policy will only create further animosity in the international community. Although most terrorist organizations are well funded, they often do not have the organizational structure or the technological capabilities to go head-to-head with a governmental body, and are therefore inferior to a governmental body. When a super-power like the United States retaliates against a small group of individuals with a vast array of bombardment, fighting can easily become manipulated as the United States is picking on the weaker Arab nations, effectively creating radical recruitment imagery for terrorists. Rather than continuously engage in retaliatory measures with various countries that sponsor terrorism, the United States should explore alternatives emphasizing the nonviolent approach, specifically, a public diplomacy approach. Public diplomacy can play an imperative role in captivating the “hearts and minds” of the region and may impact the attitudes of populations and the actions of governments, but also on the actions of groups engaged in terrorist acts. In order to have an effective public diplomacy policy, it is imperative to mobilize public opinion in other countries to pressure governments to take action against terrorism. One example of effective public diplomacy is when the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was looking to retire a group of zealous fanatical terrorists by “marrying them off and getting them families to keep them away from violence” (Hoffman, 2001, 8). Moreover, the PLO offered significant incentives for people to get married, such as gifting newlyweds “$3,000 and an apartment with a gas stove, refrigerator, a color TV, and a job with the PLO” (Hoffman, 2001, 8). Although this was a radical idea, the PLO’s idea of marrying off zealous fanatical terrorists was an amazing success as “not one of them wanted to travel abroad for fear of being arrested and losing all that they had” (Hoffman, 2001, 8).

The United States policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorist organizations was very effective in the 1800’s when the United States was in the process of building itself to become a world power, and still effective as the dust settled from the September 11th attacks, but the world of terrorism has changed and adapted in the 21st century. Groups like HAMAS, Hezbollah, and even the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) engage in intensive lobbying and political pressures as a means of legitimization. Without bringing groups like HAMAS and Hezbollah to the negotiating table, a two-state solution to the conflict requires all participants in the democratic process to renounce violence and terror, which cannot be done if the United States only wants to hear one side. Opening up dialogue between groups the United States deems as terrorist organizations, like HAMAS and Hezbollah, and United States allies; Israel is the first step in ending terrorism violence between the three groups.

Terrorism is a global occurrence and a significant challenge facing policymakers is how to take advantage of international cooperation and support without compromising important United States national security interests. Significant policy challenges include ways to minimize the economic and civil liberties costs of an enhanced security environment and how to combat provocation to terrorism, especially in instances where terrorist activity is state sponsored. In order to improve cooperation between intelligence and international law enforcement agencies, the United States must have a pro-diplomatic approach. Personal relationships are culturally important in the Middle East, and it may be desirable for the United States to consider more funding diplomacy, introduce economic inducements such as long-term investment capabilities and targeted assistance programs aimed to reduce poverty and increase education, which in turn can bring stability to weak countries, compel support for United States policy efforts, and can diminish the appeal of extremist groups. United States investment in the region in social services, education, and health care will attract a much more positive image than spending billions of dollars on a war of ideologies, paired with the collateral damage of hundreds of innocent civilians.

The United States policies of economic sanctions are uncertain because much of the stream of terrorist finances occurs outside formal banking channels. Furthermore, one considerable factor for financial support for terrorist groups is the use of charities, in addition to the frequency of small increments of money required for terrorist acts. Moreover, the financial system in the region makes transfers difficult to track as personal income records are not kept for tax purposes and many citizens prefer cash transactions, which has been the norm for centuries. Additionally, Islam is premised on the five pillars of Islam, one of which is the zakat, an obligatory tax on wealth, authorized in the Koran. Saudi banks and the royal family are subject to a zakat tax, which the royal family alone contributes an estimated $12 billion per year. Of that $12 billion per year, Wazsak notes that at least 50 percent of the HAMAS budget comes from Saudi Arabia. Tracking contributions wouldn’t be effective because contributions are often “given anonymously, and donated funds may be diverted from otherwise legitimate charities” (Blanchard, 2007, 1). Sanctions can be effective in deterring certain behaviors, although sometimes economic sanctions do not have the intended effect. Economic sanctions most often negatively affect the welfare of the citizens of the sanctioned country because the political elites have access to exports. The negative effects of the economic sanctions also have the ability to adversely affect the relations between countries, damaging any continued collaboration in the future.

In the desire to combat terrorism in a political context, the United States often faces conflicting goals and courses of action. The United States main goal is to provide security against terrorist acts, limiting the freedom of individual terrorists to assemble and support networks to operate in an unregulated environment and maintaining individual freedoms and human rights in the homeland. Efforts to combat terrorism are intricate due to the global trend towards deregulation, open borders, and expanded commerce. The United States has constitutional limits within their policies which often conflicts directly with a desire to secure the homeland effectively against terrorist activity. One challenge for policymakers is the retaliatory strikes on nations who engage in terrorism activities or those who offer sanctuary to individuals whom are known to commit terrorist acts. Another challenge for policymakers is changing the narrative on United States negotiation policies with terrorists. Groups like HAMAS and Hezbollah have popular political wings that engage in social services and have significant backing of their citizens and surrounding neighbors. As the international community increasingly demonstrates its ability to unite and apply economic sanctions against states, states will become less likely to overtly support terrorist groups or engage in state-sponsored terrorism.

Bibliography

Best, R. A., & Library of Congress. (2001). Intelligence and law enforcement: Countering transnational threats to the U.S. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.

Blanchard, C. M., Prados, A. B., & Library of Congress. (2007). Saudi Arabia: Terrorist financing issues. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.

Department of State. (2001). International Incident Response. The Terrorism Threat and U.S. Government Response: Operational and Organizational Factors.

Hoffman, B. (2001). Foreword: Twenty-First Century Terrorism. The Terrorism Threat and U.S. Government Response: Operational and Organizational Factors.

In Gottlieb, S. (2014). Debating terrorism and counterterrorism: Conflicting perspectives on causes, contexts, and responses.

Menarchik, D. (2001). Organizing to Combat 21st Century Terrorism. The Terrorism Threat and U.S. Government Response: Operational and Organizational Factors.

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Smith, J. (2001). The Terrorist Threat in Strategic Context. The Terrorism Threat and U.S. Government Response: Operational and Organizational Factors.

Tucker, D. (2001). Combating International Terrorism. The Terrorism Threat and U.S. Government Response: Operational and Organizational Factors.

Waszak, J. (2004). The Obstacles to Suppressing Radical Islamic Terrorist Financing. Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law.

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