The Global Response to Terrorism
Wallace Wurth Lecture by Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 September 2005
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed comprehensively – not just in the United States but around the world – the way in which we have thought about terrorism, feared it, and fought it. While the phenomenon of terrorism is not remotely new, the way in which it has captured the attention of policy makers and publics since 9/11 certainly is.
But it is now four years to the month since those attacks, nearly four years since the invasion of Afghanistan and with it the commencement of the ‘War on Terrorism’, three years after the Bali nightclub bombing, two and a half years into the war in Iraq, eighteen months after the Madrid train bombings, a year after the Jakarta Embassy bombing, and nearly three months after London’s 7/7. And, unhappily, it seems just as possible to comment now, as I did at Davos two years ago, that “the most visible product of the war on terrorism so far has been nothing more, or less, than more war and more terrorism”.
But is that judgment too glib? Where do we stand in the global response to terrorism? How much have we learned about the menace we are confronting and how effective have we been in confronting it? What can we now conclude about what the elements of an effective strategy should be? These are the questions which I would like to address in this lecture which I am very honoured to have been invited to deliver, devoted as it is to the memory of that outstanding public administrator in war and peace, and this University’s first President and Chancellor, Wallace Wurth.
The qualifications I bring to this task are not those of a full-time professional specialist in either terrorism or counter-terrorism. But my own experience does give me at least two broad perpectives on the issues which may be useful. One is from my nearly six years as head of the International Crisis Group, which has now over 110 full-time staff working on the prevention and resolution of conflict and mass violence, including terrorist violence, in some 50 locations around the world, and whose analysis and advice does seem to be taken seriously by governments (including Australia’s, for whose support I remain grateful), and international and regional organizations.
I think Crisis Group can reasonably claim to have made a substantial contribution to the understanding of terrorism-related issues, particularly – to single out just three areas - in the work of Sidney Jones and her team on the role of Jemaah Islamiyah and similar groups in South East Asia, which has been universally hailed as brilliant, not least by the major intelligence agencies; of Samina Ahmed and her team in Islamabad, who have done ground-breaking work on the role of madrasas in fostering extremist ideology (and also on the foot-dragging of the Musharraf government when it comes to actually implementing the anti-terrorism rhetoric which appeals so much to Washington); and of our specialists in North, East and West Africa, whose work on the nature of Islamism and its relationship to particular kinds of terrorist activity was recently described by a senior U.S. official as the ‘gold standard’ for those working in this field.
The other relevant perspective I bring is that of someone who served in government, as a Cabinet Minister, for thirteen years. On the one hand that makes me acutely aware of the complexity and difficulty of a great many matters with which governments have to wrestle: life is never quite as simple as one can make it seem from the opposition benches, media editorial board tables or, for that matter, NGO campaigns. On the other, it makes me profoundly sceptical of the quality of the insider knowledge governments often claim to have. As someone who held ministerial responsibility at various stages for Australia’s external intelligence-gathering agency, our internal counter-espionage agency and our federal police, and who was on more than one occasion immensely embarrassed by placing excessive reliance on what I was told by those agencies, professional as they always tried to be, I maintain a special reservoir of beady-eyed scepticism toward most products of the intelligence community - especially the most glittering.
What have we learned?
Bearing in mind this starting point - that none of us, least of all governments, know nearly as much as we would like to know, or sometimes say we know - let me sketch out what I think we do now know (both known knowns, and known unknowns – to use some of Mr Rumsfeld’s much parodied but actually rather helpful terminology) on the core questions of who are the terrorists, what are their motives, what causes them to act as they do, what capacity do they now have to cause harm, what are their intentions when it comes to applying that capacity, and how effective the so-called war on terrorism has actually been.
Who are the terrorists.
Focusing for present purposes on terrorists of most contemporary international concern, what is clear above all here that we are dealing with a very complex phenomenon, with quite different levels of organization and group identity. The beginning of wisdom here is to appreciate that if this is a war, we certainly don’t know as much as we should about who the enemy actually is, and where he is to be found.
The immediate focus after 9/11 was, understandably enough, on the organizational masterminds of international terrorism. Though finding them was something else, al- Qaeda and Osama bin Laden could easily, and accurately, be identified: they were at least notionally findable, targetable and destroyable, and - for all the concerns that still rightly exist about activity around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border - there is little doubt that the combination of military, intelligence and policing measures that have been deployed against them have been successful in dramatically diminishing their direct organizational effectiveness. Claims that periodically emerge, usually through videotapes surfacing on al-Jazeera, of direct al Qaeda responsibility for this or that new bombing outrage, should no longer be taken at face value.
There is a second level at which, however, the influence of al-Qaeda continues to be strongly felt, even if this is now much more inspirational than organizational. In a number of countries groups exist that identify with its stated objectives and methods, often on the basis of personal links forged in Afghanistan training camps or in certain notable religious schools in Pakistan and Indonesia in particular; it has to also now be increasingly assumed that the 1000 or so foreign jihadist fighters participating in the Iraq insurgency will sooner or later become dangerously influential elsewhere, like the Afghanistan fighters before them (with one Crisis Group Middle East analyst describing Iraq as being in this respect ‘like Afghanistan on steroids’). There are also some documented instances of itinerant al-Qaeda operatives and bomb-makers acting as middlemen, giving strategic and technical advice to local cells of Islamist extremists who otherwise lacked the knowledge to launch sophisticated attacks.
But overall what is involved here is an at best amorphous network of loose affiliates and franchisees and imitators, whose component groups are constantly dissolving and reforming, often with highly localized factors being more important than anything else (as Crisis Group has meticulously documented, for example, in the case of Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, and its multiple splinter groups in Indonesia). These groups might be notionally identifiable and targetable, but in practice they are extremely hard to pin down, not least because there are no control lines which can be readily cut: just as it cannot be assumed any longer, if it ever could, that any group with an extreme jihadist ideology must be directed by al-Qaeda, it is equally flawed – to take the Indonesian example again – to assume that any such group there must be directed by JI.
The third category of terrorists of contemporary concern is the most difficult of all to identify and pin down because they involve small groups of self-starting, self-motivated individuals with no discernible organizational links with anyone else at all, getting whatever technical advice they need from the internet, and whatever bomb-making materials they need from readily publicly-available sources: the London 7/7 bombers, and 21/7 attempted bombers, are the clearest and most disconcerting example, and the fear is that there are many more such individuals scattered through other European and Western countries.
What motivates terrorists.
Again it is impossible to answer this question either simply or confidently, but there are some distinctions that can readily be drawn.
For what might be described as ‘traditional’ terrorist organizations – like the Stern Gang, the Basques’ ETA, the IRA, and the Palestinian groups that have embraced terrorism – there are relatively clear and straightforward political grievance motives, that are at least notionally capable of being redressed, and in relation to whom we can reasonably assume that if these grievances are addressed, so too would their terrorist activity cease.
For the brand of terrorism that is causing overwhelmingly most contemporary concern – that perpetrated by certain Islamists – the answer as to what motivates them is much more complicated. It is critical, for a start, to appreciate that those Muslims engaged in terrorist activity are only a tiny proportion of those who can be described as Islamists (or Islamic activists), and that Islamists in turn are only a very small proportion in turn of those who practice the religion of Islam. It would be a grotesque travesty to regard Islam and terrorism as somehow indistinguishable, and would be few policymakers anywhere in the world who would these days think so crudely. But there is still an extraordinary disposition to conflate Islamic activism, or Islamism, with terrorism, and failure to recognise that there are, within the majority Sunni brand of such activism alone, very clear distinctions. As described in the recent Crisis Group report, Understanding Islamism, the critical distinctions are between those whose motives are entirely non-political and missionary in character, focused on preserving Muslim identity and Islamic faith; those who have Islamic political motives or objectives – the adoption of sharia law and so on – but who have completely renounced violence as a means of achieving them (Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood being the best known example); and those with political objectives who have not renounced violence as a means of achieving them.
This last group, of violence-inclined salafi jihadis, itself exists in three main variants: internal (combating nominally Muslim regimes considered impious); irredentist (fighting to redeem land ruled by non-Muslims or under occupation); and global (combating the West). For the first two of these, the political grievances in question - whether they involve the perceived apostasy of various governments in the Arab/Islamic world, foreign support for those apostate governments, the presence of foreign infidels on holy soil, or the perceived occupations of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan – are at least notionally accommodatable and addressable,
These categories of jihadis are handful enough, but the most trouble of all comes from those really extreme anti-Western jihadis – for whom all non-Muslims are kafir (infidels) and therefore by definition enemies of Islam, for whom Muslims allied or associated with the West in any way are themselves kafir, and for whom the killing of innocent Muslims in order to attain victory over the kafir is acceptable collateral damage. This is not the kind of world-view susceptible to any kind of grievance-remedying strategy.
What causes terrorist behaviour.
When it comes to identifying the causes of terrorist behaviour – what leads people to develop the motives and objectives just described, and which lead them in turn to engaging in terrorist behaviour, we again don’t know as much as we need to know, although an impressive body of case-study research is beginning to emerge.
For traditional terrorist groups, and perhaps for what I’ve described as the internal and irredentist streams of violent salafi jihadism, cause and motive are perhaps almost indistinguishable, one not needing to look much further than the objective grievance to explain the behaviour. That said, there will always be room for exploring the factors - psychological and otherwise – that will lead some to take up arms to resolve a grievance while others feeling the grievance just as strongly will remain committed to peaceful means.
Clearly education and training and the role of religious mentors are significant factors, but as the work of Sidney Jones for Crisis Group in Indonesia has shown, that’s not the whole story: in West Java the young people that go into jihadist organizations are disproportionately from families with ties back to earlier rebellions or one particular local puritanical Islamic association; in Sulawesi the most radical are those who lost family members in earlier violence. It’s as much a cultural and historical and family legacy as an issue of ideology or religious belief.
While it is very hard to establish any direct connection of a statistically significant kind between poverty and terrorist behaviour – whether in the case of individuals, groups or whole societies - it is hard to shake off the impression that any environment in which a sense of deprivation, relative or absolute, despair, humiliation or general hopelessness about one’s future prevails is one in which terrorism will potentially flourish. And it is hard to believe, in particular, that in that kind of environment young men and women will not become increasingly vulnerable to recruitment by those who play upon that insecurity, fire up a more focused sense of grievance, and critically, offer a religious justification for making holy war.
Since the London bombings there has of course sprung to centre-stage the notion of a sense of hopelessness or alienation, combined with the impact of particular religious mentors or role-models, as a significant cause of terrorist commitment among young, second generation immigrants who have not succeeded in their new world but who have lost the cultural moorings of their old. The substance of a hundred commentaries to this effect was well captured in a single recent Financial Times column heading: “Struggle for identity leads the rootless to radicalism”. The phenomenon is real, its extent almost by definition is unknown, and it has created a whole new set of headaches for those trying to identify an appropriate policy response.
What capacity for harm do terrorists now have.
One possible response to the contemporary problem of terrorism is to say ‘don’t overestimate its significance’. For all the horror of 3,000 dead in the twin towers, and hundreds more dying in separate incidents in Iraq and elsewhere almost every week, these casualties pale almost into insignificance alongside some of the other conflict and violence situations with which my organization, along with many others, is wrestling every day: in Darfur, for example, although the situation has in some ways stabilized in recent times, we estimate that there are still 5,000 people a month dying from the disease and malnutrition and sporadic violence associated with the unresolved displacement of over 2 million people; and in the Congo, the figure for a war that is supposed to be now over is 30 000 dying still every month from disease, starvation and continuing violence in the east. A more prosaic comparison that is sometimes drawn is between the global deaths from terrorism and those from road traffic deaths, 37,000 in the US alone last year.
All that said, the capacity for terrorists to do harm, and on a very large scale, must never be underestimated. Commuter systems remain immensely vulnerable in every major city in the world, and highly destructive conventional bombs can be made from the cheapest and most freely available materials by those without professional technical skills. Chemical and biological weapons are much more difficult to deploy, but not impossibly so, on a much more destructive scale: and even if that scale is not so large, the fear that such weapons are capable of inducing is capable of being much more paralyzing for a large city than the use of conventional bombs. Creative imagination, as we saw with 9/11, has proved to be a far more significant terrorist resource than access to dollars or high-tech weaponry.
But the risk that really keeps policymakers awake at night around the world is that of the ‘big one’ - an attack bringing together the sophistication and ruthlessness of the attack on the twin towers with the use of nuclear weapons, perhaps delivered by something as simple as a large delivery van driving down a city street, with an accompanying loss of not just thousands, but hundreds of thousands, of lives. We know very well how limited our capacity is, and always will be, to deny access by terrorist groups to chemical, and especially biological, weapons, given their nature. But the same is true of nuclear weapons. We are not doing any better than we were in keeping under control the stockpiles of fissile nuclear material that litter the landscape of the former Soviet Russia, and after the exposure in Pakistan we know far more than we did about the global market for nuclear technology, materials and expertise -and all of it is alarming.
President Bush told us before going to war against Saddam that “If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of [highly enriched] uranium a little bigger than a softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year”. But as experts like Harvard’s Graham Allison keep reminding us, the same is true for terrorist groups: the level of technical sophistication required to make a nuclear explosive device is certainly above the backyard level, but it is not beyond competent professionals. And there is enough already fabricated such uranium and plutonium lying around now to make some 240,000 such weapons. Much of it – particularly in Russia – is not just poorly, but appallingly, guarded. When it comes to transporting the finished product, around seven million cargo containers will arrive at U.S. ports this year – and as of last year only 2 per cent of them will be opened for inspection. I doubt that the equivalent inspection rates for any other country, including Australia, would give us much greater cause for confidence.
What intent do terrorists now have.
The reality of any threat, or risk, is a function not just of capacity, but intention, and here again we simply don’t know enough to make confident judgements. What we do know about contemporary terrorism is that it has been a constantly mutating phenomenon, with a continuing capacity to surprise and shock us - in terms of who has been targeted, when and how and on what scale. Terrorists simply don’t always do what others expect them to do.
Although it’s easier to say than to act upon, it is important for any society – including our own – to not be so spooked by the uncertainty of our knowledge about terrorist identity, capacity and intent, that we fundamentally change the way we live and behave, giving those who would attack us a victory they manifestly don’t deserve. Extreme and immediate risks may require extreme behavioural change, but lesser risks don’t, and it is important that governments try as best as they can to calibrate and explain the risks as they are perceived at any given time.
I don’t have enough information available to me to make any credible overall assessment of the current terrorist threat posed to Australia and Australian interests (and I will forebear from speculating whether if I did have access to official information my assessment would be any more credible). All I can say is that such information and analysis as is available to me suggests that the threat to Australians at home and abroad is real but moderate. There is no question but that our support for the U.S. and contribution of troops in Iraq has raised our profile throughout the salafi jihadi world, which is no doubt why we are periodically mentioned in threatening statements. The possibility of attacks against Australian embassies or interests in Europe or elsewhere certainly cannot, accordingly, be ruled out, although the general perception is that we rank well behind the US and UK in the terrorist wish-lists.
As to the specific risk posed by terrorist groups operating in and from Indonesia - naturally centre-front in peoples’ minds given the horrors perpetrated against Australian targets in Bali in 2002 and Jakarta in 2004 - Crisis Group’s perception is that the JI regional division that covered Australia has been effectively smashed, and that JI as such no longer constitutes the serious threat to Australia and Australian interests that it previously did. The fugitive Malaysian bomb-makers for the Embassy attack – Noordin and Azhari – may be tempted by another Western target in Indonesia, and that could certainly cause Australian casualties, but a household-name US enterprise is seen as a more likely primary target than anything identifiably Australian. And we at Crisis Group have no current information suggesting that there are sleeper cells in Australia, or any thought of targeting Australia in this way. That doesn’t mean, of course, that such cells don’t exist, but given the absence here of currents of Islamist sentiment anything like as strong as those that exist, for example, in the UK, the probability does not seem to be very high.
How effective has the war on terrorism so far been.
If the war on terrorism as it has so far been conducted has been an overall success, that’s a well kept secret. Terrorist attacks classified by the U.S. government as ‘significant’ more than tripled worldwide to 650 last year from 175 in 2003, and this was the highest annual number since Washington began to collect such statistics two decades ago. Nearly a third of those attacks – 198 of them, nine times the number of the year before - took place in Iraq, meant to be the central front of the war on terror. On the UK Guardian’s figures two weeks ago, more than 4000 Iraqis have been killed by terrorists in Baghdad alone since April. As I have said elsewhere, while the terrorist connection was the least plausible of all the reasons for going to war in Iraq, terrorist violence has now become the most harrowing of all its consequences.
Of course there have been some apparent successes, like the capturing or killing of some two-thirds of al-Qaeda’s leadership, but while this has undoubtedly diminished its organizational capacity, it hasn’t done anything to diminish its global following. Much more successful, as I have just mentioned – was the police operation in Indonesia against Jemaah Islamiyah. Interestingly, this was conducted, in Crisis Group’s judgement, in a way that avoided arbitrary arrests, with every person being detained for more than a few days being held on the basis of solid evidence – and in doing so helped create the necessary political space to work against terrorism, a point to which I’ll return.
Domestically around the world homeland defences have been improved, most obviously, and no doubt necessarily, at airports, where one keeps on being confronted by the deafening clang of stable doors being shut after the horse has bolted. But umpteen points of vulnerability remain, most obviously, as I’ve already said, in commuter systems: as not only a regular visitor to London, but with a New York office sitting right above Grand Central Station, I’m more than a little personally conscious of that, no doubt inevitable, weakness.
There are a number of new international conventions and resolutions, with many measures devoted particularly to chasing the money trail: a good and obvious thing to do, but limited in its effect to the extent that most terrorist attacks to date, and the support of most terrorist operations to date, have not involved very much money at all. The whole cost of the 9/11 operation has been estimated at no more than $US 500,000 and the expense of the materials involved in the Madrid train bombings were estimated by Spanish investigators to be less than $1,000.
What are the elements of an effective global response?
Recognising, as we must, the huge complexity and difficulty of the issues with which we are now dealing, and how far we have come but how far we yet need to go, how can we pull the threads together and define the elements of an effective global response?
Two points need to be made at the outset. The first is that it makes no more sense now than it ever did to define what we are doing as a ‘war on terrorism’ or ‘war on terror’. When one is fighting a war it’s natural to be wholly focused on immediate issues of defence and attack: what we have to do in terms of homeland defence to make ourselves less vulnerable, and what we have to do by way of intelligence gathering, criminal investigation and prosecution, and if necessary military assault, to rid ourselves of our enemies. But talking about ‘war on terrorism’ contributes no more to clear operational thinking than talking about waging ‘war on evil’. Terrorism is not in and of itself a self-driving concept, or in and of itself an "enemy". It is not even an ideology, as anarchism was in the 19th century. Rather it is a technique or means, a tool or tactic – for the pursuit of political or ideological ends. And its manifestations are as many and various as its motivations.
Mercifully, some senior policymakers in the U.S. are at last starting to get this message: the preferred terminology, at least in the State Department, is no longer ‘Global War On Terrorism’, but ‘Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism’. This epic linguistic shift – from GWOT to GSAVE - hasn’t quite captured the attention of the media and commentariat that its proponents no doubt hoped for, but at least it’s a move in the right direction.
The other point that needs making at the outset flows from the first: just as the problem is multi-layered and multi-dimensional, so must be the response. Contemporary terrorism is not something that remotely lends itself to one-track or two-track quick fixes. That was recognised by the High Level Panel of which I was a member when we recommended to the UN Secretary-General the adoption of a strategy ‘that incorporates but is broader than coercive measures’. It was recognised by Kofi Annan in his own recommendations to this month’s UN Summit, based both on that Panel report and also on the ‘five basic pillars… for a principled, comprehensive strategy’ which he articulated in Madrid in March as the ‘five Ds’:
dissuade disaffected groups from choosing terrorism as a tactic to achieve their goals, deny terrorists the means to carry out their attacks, deter states from supporting terrorists, develop state capacity to prevent terrorism, and defend human rights in the struggle against terrorism.
And the multi-dimensional nature of the required response was recognised by the Summit leaders themselves when they agreed in New York this month that the elements of a counter-terrorism strategy identified by the Secretary-General be developed without delay by the General Assembly into a comprehensive strategy document.
The question remains how to characterize and articulate that multi-dimensional response in a way that one sees the overall forest, and doesn’t get lost in a jungle of detail. Kofi Annan sketched out what was needed in terms of, as we’ve just seen, ‘five Ds’ – dissuade, deny, deter, develop and defend. That list of objectives remains extremely helpful in capturing the flavour of what is required. But I would prefer to put the elements of the required strategy in slightly more operational terms. Maintaining the spirit of respect for emerging Chinese cultural hegemony evident in the Secretary-General’s approach (remember the ‘three no’s’ and ‘five represents’ and all the rest…), I will express the need in terms of ‘five P’s’: a protection strategy, a policing (or, if you would prefer, penetration and punishment) strategy, a political strategy, a peacebuilding strategy and a psychological strategy. And, lest you think that exhausts my capacity for inventive alliteration, I should add that each one of those strategies should be applied in ways that are principled, practical and prudent.
Most of these points speak pretty clearly for themselves, and follow from what I have said so far, so for the most part I need only sketch in outline what is involved in each.
This speaks for itself so far as airline travel, border protection and all the rest of the familiar homeland security measures are concerned: these measures may only make a difference at the margin, and it is important to go on weighing the costs against benefits of each of them, but their relevance cannot be denied. An important addition to the repertoire would be to a much better job at denying potential access by terrorists to fissile material, at home and especially abroad – and abroad, as I have earlier said, especially in Russia.
One additional component of the necessary protection strategy, much emphasized by the High Level Panel, but which has largely disappeared from the public debate, is building better public health defences: it’s hard to guard against biological attacks, in particular, up to the point of delivery, but good systems for rapid diagnosis, vaccination, quarantine and the like can make a huge difference to the mortality count – while at the same time improving the overall health-care resources.
Good police work, supporting intelligence work, and ultimately (in occasional extreme situations) military operations, are all an indispensable part of the counter-terrorist repertoire. No-one seriously arguing the case for a more broadly-based strategy – which I would certainly endorse – suggests that other elements, like addressing political grievances, should be at the expense of effective policing: it’s a matter of both-and, not either-or. No one seriously suggests that enhancing the analytical capability and operational effectiveness of police and intelligence services is not a high priority
The most controversial and difficult issue that arises with policing, in all its dimensions, is, of course, just how many intrusions on traditional civil liberties can be justified in the name of counter-terrorism, bearing in mind Kofi Annan’s stricture, as one of his five D’s, on the need to defend human rights in the struggle against terrorism. It’s an argument which ebbs and flows and occasionally rages in Europe and North America, and it’s an argument which is clearly raging now here in Australia.
On the question of the current debate in Australia about the proper scope and limits of new counter-terrorism legislation, it would be inappropriate of me to offer a concluded judgment about what is proposed, having been out of the country so long and without having had an opportunity to study the issues in detail. But let me make, from my outsider’s perspective and having watched similar debates unfold in the US and Europe, just three observations.
The first is that the risks have to be very great and very immediate to justify putting under strain core values about individual freedom and dignity that are at the heart of making our societies what they are, not what terrorists want them to be. I don’t think the point has ever been better or more clearly made than by Israel’s Chief Justice Aharon Barak in his judgement last year on the West Bank Security Wall, in the course of which he quoted his own earlier judgement prohibiting the use of torture against Palestinian detainees:
We are aware that in the short term, this judgment will not make the state’s struggle against those rising up against it any easier…This is the destiny of a democracy: she does not see all means as acceptable, and the ways of her enemies are not always open before her. A democracy must sometimes fight with one arm tied behind her back. Even so, democracy has the upper hand. The rule of law and individual liberties constitute an important aspect of her security stance. At the end of the day, they strengthen her spirit, and this strength allows her to overcome her difficulties.
The second is that of all the particular measures proposed in Australia or anywhere else, the one that should most set alarm bells ringing, in countries that like to think of themselves as democratic, is preventive detention without, at the very least, full judicial safeguards all the way and not some purported administrative substitutes. Western history is full of occasions – particularly the wartime interments – of such detentions embraced in haste and repented, with shame and embarrassment, at leisure.
The third is that I can see no justification whatever for refusing to accompany these measures, if they have to be introduced, with a sunset clause. To embrace such a clause does not imply confidence, perhaps naïve, that the problem generating the measures will shortly be resolved: that terrorism will no longer be a major threat in two, or three or five year’s time. What it does imply is being prepared, over and again, to put the necessity for such measures under detailed public scrutiny – with all the inconvenience for governments and officials that this may involve. Any society which wants to preserve its basic decency can do no less.
A variety of familiar political grievances – the occupation of Palestine and Iraq pre-eminent among them, along with foreign support for so-called apostate governments and so on – are, as I have already mentioned, a significant part of the motivations of at least some categories of terrorists. In this context it is important that Western governments be seen to be willing to somehow address them, however difficult that may be. This is not the place to discuss what the appropriate strategies might be – that would take another half-dozen lectures the length of this one. It is perhaps worth making the point in passing, however, that the second Bush administration’s decision to re-engage in the Israel-Palestine situation and actively move the peace process forward is very much what was required, and it is to be hoped that with Gaza for the moment resolved there will be no diminution in the effort to achieve a comprehensive settlement.
The main point I want to make about addressing, and being seen to seriously address, political grievances, is that this is not just a strategy designed to appeal to violent extremists themselves, many of whom we know all too well will not be in the slightest moved by advances of this kind. It is above all, a strategy designed to change the atmospherics in the communities in which terrorists swim, to deny them some of the oxygen they breathe when there is support for their presumed objectives, if not always their most violent behaviour. And, in the case of governments in countries where there is strong street sentiment in favour of the political objectives in question, it is a strategy designed to improve the will and capacity of those governments to cooperate effectively internationally, and to crack down effectively domestically.
Political problems that are seen as such throughout the Arab/Islamic world, and which are unresolved, unaddressed, incompetently or counter-productively addressed, or deliberately left to fester until they become so acute they explode, are not the stuff of which willing local governments, capable of acting effectively, are made.
‘Peacebuilding’ is perhaps an unusual word to use here: we usually think of it in the context of conflict within and between states, and the measures of reconstruction, economic development, human rights protection and overall governance that are necessary to ensure that conflict does not start, or re-start.(One of the few successful outcomes of the UN World Summit this month was agreement on the establishment of a well-resourced Peacebuilding Commission to fill the huge institutional gap which presently exists in delivering coherent, sustained policy in this area.) But I use it deliberately to make the point, as the High Level Panel did, that the kind of security threats we face in the 21st century are highly interdependent, and that some of the standard elements in the peacebuilding repertoire are highly relevant to the struggle against terrorism, or violent extremism.
The general point of peacebuilding in this context, in terms of another of Kofi Annan’s five D’s, is to help states develop the capacity to prevent and deal with terrorism more effectively themselves. More particularly, one of the central preoccupations of peacebuilding is to avoid the emergence or continuation of failed states - in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sierra Leone or wherever – and we are all acutely now conscious, after the Taliban in Afghanistan, of the role that such states are capable of playing in harbouring and nurturing terrorist groups capable of causing real damage elsewhere.
Other relevant elements are economic strategies designed to ensure that there is less of a pool of those without hope of any decent earthly future for terrorist recruiters and jihadists generally to be able to draw upon; and human rights and democracy strategies that will open up multiple channels for the expression of concerns and grievances. It is when the door of the mosque is the only one open that grievance does sometimes take more of an Islamist character than might otherwise be the case: one of Crisis Group’s most consistent messages to Central Asian governments, for example, is that those who are most anxious about Islamist extremism do most to promote it by cracking down relentlessly on free expression and association elsewhere.
The final element in what I would describe as an effective global strategy is straightforwardly psychological in character, designed to change the way people think and feel about terrorism, and to remove any vestige of a comfort zone around it either for the individuals engaged in terrorism, or for the countries and communities that to a greater or lesser extent support them.
At the global level what is needed above all, once and for all, is agreement on what actually constitutes terrorism, viz. a definition that makes attacks on civilians, whatever the context – resistance to foreign occupation or anything else – as absolutely and comprehensively prohibited, and as absolutely indefensible, in the 21st century as slavery and piracy became in the 19th. The UN, which remains hugely important as a global norm-setter on issues like this, has been enormously reluctant to go down this path, with a handful of resisting states ensuring at this month’s Summit that there was, yet again, no agreement on this issue, although the leaders there gathered did go so far as to condemn terrorism ‘in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes’. Which is a start. But so long as anyone anywhere nurtures the belief the that it is not always wrong to kill civilians – that maybe that’s not even terrorism, but rather an act of liberation or whatever – then a basic precondition for ridding the world of terrorism will not be there. The struggle against violent extremism starts with the battle of ideas.
At the individual and group level, among those who are or would be terrorists, the psychological task is very specific – to make them understand the wrongness, the indefensibility of their acts, and in the case of Muslims to make them appreciate that such acts, and the suicides so often involved in their perpetration, are absolutely not sanctioned by anything in the Koran. The absence of any kind of accepted institutional hierarchy of authority in Islam on a state or global as distinct from local level, like that which prevails in most other religions, makes very difficult the emergence of authoritative pronouncements in this respect. But efforts have increasingly been made to bring senior clerics and scholars together in Europe and North America and elsewhere to agree upon and pronounce appropriate fatwas, and those efforts should continue. Anything that spreads the belief that nothing can justify terrorism, that nothing can be an alibi for murder, cannot be anything but helpful.
We should not nurture too many illusions, however, about the likely effect on some Group colleague, Sidney Jones, makes the point that the kind of individuals who I referred to earlier as going into jihadist organizations in West Java and Sulawesi, are not the kind of constituencies that are likely to respond positively to exhortations from moderate Muslim leaders to eschew violence, let alone to the product of interfaith dialogues. It may be possible to turn away present members and potential recruits from using violence, but that can probably only be done through individuals who have legitimacy within the salafi jihadi network. And I suspect that what is true of Indonesia is true in most other parts of the world as well.
Having come to the end, at last, of what I wanted to say about the global response to terrorism, I am a little afraid that you will think of this lecture as being like Winston Churchill’s pudding - the great man, you may recall, once famously remarked of a dessert put in front of him, “This pudding has no theme.”
I am afraid that my only defence is to plead guilty, or at least almost guilty. Yes, there is no theme, in the sense of any single analytical motif that runs through my description of who the terrorists we now confront are, and what moves them; and there is no single prescription I can offer as to how to deal effectively with this phenomenon, which has been with us so long, but in its current manifestation alarms us all so much.
But my actual theme, in essence, is just that: we are dealing with a complex, multi-dimensional phenomenon, which demands a complex, multi-layered response. Good policy sometimes requires not simplification but complexification. With nearly all the international and national debate we have had on this subject, there has been an over-supply of rhetoric and an undersupply of thoughtful analysis. The struggle against violent extremism can be won, but it is going to be neither quick nor easy, and it is going to require a lot more thought and application and persistence, a lot more balanced approach, and a lot more attention to underlying causes and currents as distinct from surface manifestations, than comes easily to most of the world’s policy makers.