Terrorism Threat and Response

Subject: Warfare
Pages: 13
Words: 3655
Reading time:
14 min
Study level: PhD


In the spheres of global security, the principal concern over the last ten years has been terrorism. The subject of terrorism has been with us for as long as we can remember but it became a global issue after the 9/11 attack. Numerous approaches have been used to combat terrorism. However, experts caution that the war on terror cannot be won by the use of military force alone. They emphasize on long-term strategies which are used to combat terrorism by exploring the social conditions, surroundings and motives of the terror groups. Nonetheless, the biggest question that has been asked by many people is whether ‘War on Terror’ is a war that can be won. This study explores different theories and viewpoints regarding the question.

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Terrorism is a very intricate and touchy subject. It is an intricate subject because it brings together numerous diverse elements of human experience, for instance, politics, history, military policy and beliefs. It is a touchy subject because it provokes strong feelings from both victims and terrorists. In actual fact, terrorism arouses feelings any time it is debated (US Institute of Peace, 2002, p. 3). The main challenge of understanding terror campaign is recognizing the moral rage of those affected and the underlying principle behind the acts of terror (Rubenstein, 1987, p. 7).

Less than 24 hours after the famous 9/11 attack, the then U.S. President George W. Bush declared a universal “war on terror”. Since then, there have been numerous forums on how to win the “war on terror”. A section of the U.S. population, particularly the supporters of President Bush emphasized on the need to use military force against terrorists. On the contrary, opponents not only disputed the idea of “war on terror”, but also emphasized on the need to use different approaches to combat terrorism (Gordon, 2007, p. 53).

A section of the democrats seconded the use of military force in some instances but argued that the war on terror can only be won by establishing proper authority, carrying out widespread diplomacy and strengthen cooperation with key partners. They felt that the approach used by the government created more terrorists than eliminating them (Gordon, 2007, p. 54).

According to Cordesman (2006, p. 6), it is not possible to win a war without understanding its objective. He adds that leaders should recognize that the “war on terror” is a new and unique type of war. Cordesman (2006, p. 6) argues that victory can only be achieved when the ideology championed by the terrorist are discredited and their tactics thwarted. He warns that killing or capturing terrorist suspects leads to more acts of terrorism and not less. Cordesman believes terrorism can be eliminated by reducing the risks of terrorism to a level that it insignificantly affects the lives of the general public. At that point in time, acts of terrorism cannot bear any fruit.

During many forums held to debate on the “war on terror” the idea of victory never cropped up. This leads to the main research question of whether t war on terror will ever be won. First of all, the study will explore different conceptualization of terrorism and the fact that terrorism is ambiguously defined. Second, the study attempt to analyze different strategies used to combat terrorism and the argument between controlling and conquering terrorism. Last but not least, the study will critically explore terrorist tactic, as well as the challenges faced by the terrorist themselves.

An Overview and Analysis of Global Terrorism

The issue of terrorism seized the global attention in the year 2001 when terrorist brought down the World Trade Centre in the city of New York. The two towers represented the U.S. enormous economic and military power. The attacks were well planned, synchronized and effected. The attack itself achieved an emblematic stature as an offense against the world superpower (Gordon, 2007, p. 53). However, the subject of terrorism was already known to the rest of the world even before the attack (Hoffman, 1998, p. 5).

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The current studies on terrorism have often stumbled between the ideological extremes that are instinctive in the blurred concepts of terror. According to these studies, terrorism is either conceptualized broadly or narrowly to be analytically valuable or intricately to be used systematically. The conceptualizations are usually driven by political motives. This is due to the fact that the researchers normally try to rationalize different application of violence.

In addition, the word terrorist is always wrongly used to refer to political opponents or adversaries, especially in communist states (Laqueur, 1999, p. 22). Hoffman (1998, p. 6) defines terrorism as a deliberate use of fear through aggression or intimidation to pursue a political objective. He tries to distinguish terrorism from scandalous and outrageous violence by emphasizing on the humane and logical motivation of terrorism. Nonetheless, all the acts of terrorism seemed to be criminal acts that are carried out by means of unorthodox application of violence or coercion.

The use of random and eccentric violence during war has become more and more criminal ever since the World War II ended. State suppression under extreme despotism is increasingly being watched by the global community (Gupta, 1998, p. 23). In an equally expansive definition, Carr (2002, p. 6) went further to link terrorism with normal warfare, with a single major distinction. He defines terrorism as a deliberate war waged against the general public with the aim of annihilating their allegiance towards certain leaders or policies. According to Perl (2006, p. 19), terrorists normally spread fear through unrepressed expression of brutality. This disables the victims psychologically to defy or seek out rectification for the supposed injustice due to fear of excruciating consequences.

Even though both Carr and Hoffman emphasizes on the psychosocial impact of terrorism, their viewpoints are broadly divided by the privileges of power. Hoffman argues that non-state terrorists always use terror to confront those in power and facilitate regime change. On the other hand, Carr argues that state terrorists generally use terror to enhance their influence and stamp authority (Hoffman, 1998, p. 12; Carr, 2002, p. 6). Schmid and Jongman (1988, p. 3) provides a more specific but intricate definition of terrorism that cannot be used analytically in research. They define terrorism as a fear-instilling method of repetitive violence used by secretive entity, organization or government agents for scandalous or political reason. In most cases, the affected individuals are not always the main target. They are only used to send a message to the main target. Threat and terrifying communication processes are generally used to inculcate fear. This is usually achieved through the propaganda machine.

The most important aspect of Schmid and Jongman definition is the inclusion of the government agencies, as well as independent non-state actors. The definition also includes different centers of power and political motives. Last but not least, the definition recognizes the reiterative and the arbitrary nature of violence used by terrorist to provoke widespread fear among the general public. The latter point is emphasized by Pillar (2001, p. 12) in his account of terrorism. He explains that terror gains its utmost muscle from its emphasis on the probable prospects instead of the present situation.

The narrowest approach used to define terrorism is the identification of a particular category of terrorist actions, that is, global terrorism (Enders & Sandler, 1999, p. 145). This ideology has gained popularity among the top government officials, especially from the west. They mainly focus on a specific segment of terrorist activities with international scope. As a result, they assume that the specific segment of terrorism has a direct impact on the world social order. This ideology is based on two significant and inherent postulations: First, the West, especially the United States is the only acknowledged center of power directing the institution of the future world order.

Second, the actions taken by these global powers in the establishment and maintenance of the new social orders are either authentic or represents the interest of the global population. This narrow conceptualization of terrorism has often been used by non-state actors who might or might have not received support from the rebellious population or state (Enders & Sandler, 2000, p. 308; Enders & Sandler, 1999, p. 145).

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The core aspects of global terrorism relate to matters of distance and jurisdiction. Distance may be viewed basically as a spatial object. They are usually made relevant by imbalances of power between the opposing factions and the present regime. In other words, the opponents of a given social order take advantage of the existing weaknesses associated with distance and using the contemporary technologies to attack comparatively remote stations. However, this element of global terrorism is not distinctive (Enders & Sandler, 2000, p. 308).

Global terrorists normally function near the edge of the combined perception as it is shaped by the existing center of power. The majority of the local terrorists also have a tendency of combining domestic and distant activities. In a tactical relation between distanced organizations, what is regarded domestic to a segment is essentially distant to others. Terrorists normally find it logistically trouble-free to carry out domestic assaults but deliberately imperative to show their ability to carry out assaults on considerably distant targets situated in their enemy’s central business or secure area. The supposed significance and possibility of terror increases with propinquity to the enemy’s heartland (Smith & William, 2001, p. 18; Enders & Sandler, 1999, p. 147).

Two opposing groups seldom occupy similar space politically even if their jurisdictions overlap, for example, the Irish rebels have operated mainly in Northern Ireland but have always carried out their assault in London (British Heartland). Similarly, Chechen rebels purportedly carried out assaults on targets as remote as Russian heartland (Marshall, 2002, p. 6). According to (Friedman, 1999, p. 10), globalization of terrorism is a function of technological advancement, particularly in the transport and communication sector. The U.S. aerial attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrates the ability to carry out distant attacks on the enemy’s heartland.

The second aspect of global terrorism, jurisdiction, is very significant in defining probable solutions to the acts of terror. Operating outside the established jurisdictions compounds counteractive actions and restricts the efficiency of the institutional options (Marshall, 2002, p. 6). The lack of decisive and effective mechanisms for tackling global terrorism and indistinctness of legal responsibilities increases the vulnerability of people to the acts of terror. In the absence of strong institutional mechanisms it is probable that those authorities that are immensely affected will take advantage of the political vacuum to act as per their own viewpoint and interests (Marshall, 2002, p. 7). For example, the U.S. and its allies took advantage of the 9/11 attack to wage war on Iraq and Afghanistan in pretext of “war on terror” (US Institute of Peace, 2002, p. 2).

The free-for-all strategic relations without doubt serve to torment the whole system, creating an international necessity to take action. But the ability to act rationally and effectively will depend on the selection bias (Friedman, 1999, p. 10). Yet again, selection bias reflects the inequalities within the current order. Influential actors have access to a wide range of instruments to sponsor their narrow-minded interests, while feeble actors may possibly feel they have limited options to express their stand other than the use violence (Friedman, 1999, p. 11). In his concept of structural violence, Galtung (1969, p. 169) argued that indirect proceedings always have a direct impact.

He adds that violence entrenched in the fundamental structures of social interactions, is essentially inclined towards centers of power and, therefore, makes it primarily tricky to recognize the interactive, mutual, and sporadic features of terrorists and affected authority.

From the above conceptualizations, fundamental aspects of terrorism emerge. The most fundamental aspect of terrorism from the above conceptions is the direct and deliberate violation of the inherent weaknesses of the individual conditions. From the viewpoint of the contemporary state and the current global security structures, terrorism translates to deliberate targeting of unarmed civilian. As McKeogh (2002, p. 4) explains, terrorism is widely condemned because it contravenes the principle of non-combatant immunity. It basically targets unarmed civilians rather than military equipments and personnel.

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The fundamental assumption of terrorism is that it is largely poignant rather than logical (Schlagheck, 1988, p. 3). There are numerous factors that contribute to the determination of the potency and doggedness of the acts of terror on unarmed civilians. These include the shocking impact of the assault; the level of media reporting; regularity, fatality and randomness of the attack; the professed likelihood of future attacks; and the link between individual acts of terror and joint acts (Stern, 1999, p. 125).

Another important aspect of terrorism is the direct relationship between its destructive capacities and the technological advancement. For example, the greatest security concern in the world today is the use of nuclear technologies by rebellious states and organizations like Iran and Hezbollah respectively. Hence, the current tussle between Iran and the United Nations Security Council (Cordesman, 2006, p. 45; Gupta, 1998, pp. 30).

Combating Terrorism

Since the 9/11 attack, the U.S. and its allies have been at war up to date. The war has been predominantly combative and operational and this is expected to go on for possibly many years to come (Ganor, 2002, p. 287). However, experts warn that the “war on terror’ cannot be won by the use of military force alone. They emphasize on long-term strategies (Perl, 2006, p. 7). Struglinski assert that the only way to win the war on terror is to rob the fundamentalists and their sponsors recognition and political sympathy (Struglinski, 2012, p. 22).

Like many of the communist revolutionaries, leaders of the current terror groups are well-read and are relatively wealthy. But they rally growing pool of commiseration and devotion among the poor who feel robbed, powerless, and disgraced (Sageman, 2008, p. 9). Even in the earlier days, Karl Marx and his cronies were able to convince the masses that the causes of their affliction and social injustices were capitalism and despotism (Sageman, 2008, p. 10).

The current fundamentalists also emphasize their political denunciation on the top capitalist economies, the U.S. and the supposed despotism of Israel supported by the Western block. Akin to many communist militants of 20th century, the modern terrorists criticize the current regimes, especially those allied to the U.S. as fraudulent and exploitative (Struglinski, 2012, p. 22; Sageman, 2008, p. 10).

The problem with the U.S. is that numerous regimes share the same ideology with the Bolsheviks, for example, Saudi Arabia, Iran and many other Muslim nations. These regimes are increasingly becoming receptive to the radical and detestable appeals since they are also tired of the cruelty, unfairness, paucity and blatant fraud in which the current order has subjected the rest of the world (Sageman, 2008, p. 10). The contemporary Bolsheviks are disgusted by the existing social order, therefore have resorted to depressing any prospect of peace and transformation (Rid & Hecker, 2010, p. 3).

The enigmatic agitators like the late Osama Bin Laden believed that the problems facing the world today are to be blamed on the Jews, global capitalist system, and the U.S. This twisted reasoning echo in the minds of billions of Muslims in the Arab countries and the rest of the world. Sageman (2008, p. 6) believes that with time, military assault, watchfulness and fortune, the current global terrorism infrastructure will be disrupted or destroyed in the near future. However, no amount of force, legal infrastructure and operations can control sporadic attacks by terror cells spread all over the world. Their capacity to enlist and indoctrinate new recruits should be destabilized in due course (Sageman, 2008, p. 6).

According to Diamond (2002, p. 2), it should never be assumed that terrorism is only restricted to the Arab world. Disenchantment with the current global social order is also growing in other parts of the world, for instance, China, former USSR and Latin America. The apprehension and resentment of globalization and the existing world order, which is viewed as bossy and disdainful, is spreading like a wild fire. If this fire transcends the current religious boundary then the world will be a dangerous place to live in (Diamond, 2002, p. 3).

Therefore, tackling the causes of this global backlash and responding agreeably to them is viewed as the main solution to fundamentalism. This war is not a war between civilizations but basically a clash of values and beliefs (Gordon, 2007, p. 57). Without a doubt, war on terror springs from the fact that individuals around the globe share some goals, that is, to live a dignified and prosperous life. Both individuals and states want equal treatment and respect. They expect globalization and the current social order to convey the promise of a better life for everybody. In addition, they yearn for liberty as well as economic empowerment (Taylor, 2008, p. 118).

Is the ‘War on Terror’ a war that can be won?

In the sphere of global security, the primary concern over the last ten years is without any doubt terrorism. The main focus was on the events of 9/11 attack and the declaration of “war on terror” by President George W. Bush. Invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan represent “War on Terror”. However, this war has never produced the anticipated results. As this war drags on with apparently little gain, the question of whether this war will ever be concluded has arisen (Ganor, 2002, p. 287).

Numerous approaches have been used to fight terrorism. However, there are three distinct ideas on combating terrorism as described by Paul Rodgers (Struglinski, 2012, p. 2). First, the conventional and most basic approach entails neutralization and elimination of threats before materialization. This is often applied when terrorism becomes a subject of national security. The terrorist groups can be earmarked and taken down using state machinery. The second approach is treating terrorist organizations as armed groups that can be overpowered. Such ideology is the basis for military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the adversaries are pinpointed and pursued through military action (Struglinski, 2012, p. 3).

Last but not least, the third approach of combating terrorism is by exploring the social conditions, surroundings and motives of the terror groups. This is possibly the most intricate approach since it requires far-reaching information and may also necessitate the use of military force and strategic planning. In recent times, the approach has been progressively amended and is the main reason for optimism on war against terror (Struglinski, 2012, p. 3).

However, a close analysis of these approaches reveals that none of them are aimed at winning the war against terror. The approach of weeding out terrorists emphasizes on tackling terror groups on a case by case basis. According to Rid and Hecker (2010, p. 5), war against terror cannot be won in the same way as war against crime. The second approach almost brought hope when the U.S. won the war against the Saddam Hussein regime. However, the instability in Iraq has persisted up to date, with insurgents maiming civilians day by day. This has exposed the flaws of this approach. Terrorist camps were destroyed but the new ones kept cropping up. Even though the last approach is still developing, it appears to focus on preventing terrorist threats than eliminating them (Struglinski, 2012, p. 3).

Since at the moment chances of winning the war on terror are very minimal, the subsequent question would be if the war is likely to be lost. In view of the fact that terrorism lacks effectiveness and does not pose any serious threat to the social order, it is highly unlikely that it can win the struggle. Abrahms (2006, p. 42) argues in his study that terrorism is not an effective approach both statistically and perceptively.

Through his analysis of nearly 30 terror organizations Abrahms concluded that such groups seldom accomplish their goals, particularly those inclined towards Marxists principles. He also noted that the tactics used by most terrorist groups are erroneous by nature. These terror groups tend to use unsystematic violence to accomplish their objectives and distorting the political agenda into an existing war in which both sides can not compromise. According to his viewpoint, ineffective policies used by terrorist groups will soon discourage prospective Jihadist from joining terrorist organizations.

Abrahms ideas are seconded through a study conducted by Rid and Hecker (2010, p. 3). As per their views, sadistic radicalism in its international and ruthless form is striking only for entities at the peripheral edge. Rid and Hecker argues that with advances in telecommunication technologies the terrorist organizations have been locked in an everlasting vicious circle of fundamentalism. The idea here is that previously militant groups had to rationalize views and activities in due course to attain fame, support and growth. The group can opt to remain radical since they are able to contact their followers through mass media and internet. The two theories in combination obviously demonstrate the implausibility of the war on terror being won by either the militants or the current order.


Even though agreement on key definitions of terrorism has never been realized, the wider understanding of the war on terror appears to be an everlasting warfare. Even as political leaders rally support for “war on terror”, none of the strategies they are using essentially provide an answer or hope of success. From the militant’s viewpoint, terrorism remains a weapon of the oppressed or people who have no say in the society.

However, the intrinsic flaws in their approach or strategy do not generate the anticipated outcome in achieving political objectives. In addition, the flaws in their strategies are becoming more and more significant with advancement in information communication technology which is safeguarding militant groups on one hand and thwarting their development on the other hand. All in all, even though the current approaches used in combating acts of terror will not eliminate terrorism, it will make sure that terrorism is kept under control.


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