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The Concept of 'New Terrorism'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Security
Wordcount: 3261 words Published: 10th May 2019

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Does it make sense to talk about ‘new terrorism’? How might this matter for counterterrorism policy?

The perception of terrorism was completely transformed following the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks in the United States and highlighted an apparent new form of terrorism, which aimed for mass destruction. The events of 9/11 led to a widening of the international security’s context, which emphasised that everyday objects- such as jetliners- could be potential deadly weapons with catastrophic consequences (Mohammad Nia, 2010:1-8). There are four main trends since the 1990’s which have been used to characterise ‘new terrorism’ (Mohammad Nia, 2010 and Cronin 2002/3). Below I will expand on these four main features, and challenge this notion of a new form of terrorism showing how it could be interpreted as a continuation of traditional terrorism. In addition, I will state how this new form of terrorism, in particular following the attacks of 9/11, have influenced counter-terrorism policy focusing in particular on US and EU policy preferences.

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‘New terrorism’ is characterised as transnational, with actors operating within loose networks across borders. While traditional terrorism was characterised by a territorial focus and a hierarchical organisation (Duvesteyn, 2004:443). The modern era, associated with globalisation has allowed transnational terrorism to thrive. Peter Mandaville argued that Al-Qaeda were initially successful due to them operating on a global technological, ideological and mythological level. Specifically their military success of 9/11. Combined with their ability to claim responsibility for smaller attacks globally as smaller organisations were able to affiliate themselves due to their global ideology.  An example being the concept of ‘shadow globalisation’ which has allowed flows of people, information and weapons into an increasing number of states, which terrorists have used to further their cause (Brown 2017). Transnational terrorism has been facilitated by political organisations such as the European Union. Which has allowed a various number of international borders to be easily penetrated. Thus, terrorists are able to move easily and freely establishing cells across the globe. Hence “today’s terrorism is … transnational in cause, operation and effect”, unlike that of the traditional form of terrorism (Brown 2017). It therefore makes sense to talk of a ‘new terrorism’.

Arguably the most important and influential aspect of this new form of terrorism is the effect of globalisation and the use of information technologies. The availability of such technologies has allowed terrorist groups to extend their global reach. As a result, these tools have led to an enhanced efficiency in many activities, which are related to terrorism, such as: communication, attraction of sympathisers, the coordination of operations and the availability of both weapons and funds (Cronin. 2002/3:45-47). Russell Howard states that ‘new terrorism’ is better financed that before, and that the convenience of modern international finance system to transfer funds is increasingly exploited by terror networks (Mohammad Nia, 2010:11). The use of information technologies has hence allowed terrorist organisations to “broaden their reach in gathering financial resources to fund their operations”, including their ability to purchase weapons of mass destruction (WMD) (Cronin. 2002/3:49). Sources of funds that were not available to traditional terrorist are now an option for ‘new’ terrorists. An example being legitimate companies (such as Bin Laden’s large network of construction companies) diverting profits to such illegal activities. The internet has allowed extremist religious ideologies to spread and consequently they are able to reach a worldwide audience, which is reflected in their increased activity and known membership. Additionally, the heavy use of the media, in the western world has allowed their actions to reach a larger audience than ever before, causing panic and fear throughout the international community and “terrorists [have been described to] thrive by media attention” (Duvesteyn, 2004:448). Thus, in reference to the trend of globalisation and information technologies it makes sense to talk about a new form of terrorism, as twenty-first century technology has allowed terrorism to expand and thrive in a way traditional terrorism failed to do.

Traditional terrorism focused on individuals with symbolic value to their cause, whereas modern terrorists do not discriminate between individuals, with men, women and children seen to be victims. This indiscriminate targeting is highlighted via the attack that took place in Manchester on the 22nd of May 2017, where the majority of the victims were children. The death of these individuals had no political nor symbolic value. Hence from a targeting perspective of this new form of terrorism, one could suggest that it makes sense to talk about ‘new terrorism’ as it is clearly shown to change from this perspective. In addition, Russell Howard states that today’s terrorist’s aim for mass casualties, destruction and attention (Mohammad Nia, 2010:11). Whereas traditional terrorist were seen to seek attention but not mass casualties. Today’s aim of attention seeking has been heightened by the use of information technologies and the media, as previously stated. Such cataclysmic threats today are enhanced by the availability of WMD. The availability of such weapons: chemical, biological and nuclear is a result of the break-up of the Soviet Union. The number of deaths related to terrorism has risen from “233 to 425 to an estimated 3,547 from 1991 to 2001”; this is arguably down the availability of WMD (Tilly, 2004:7). As previously mentioned, modern terrorist aim for mass destruction and thus experts argued that they would be increasingly drawn to such weapons to fulfil these aims (Cronin. 2002/3:44). From as early as 1987 terrorists have used biological and chemical weapons to assist in their attacks, so one could argue that it is inevitable that modern terrorist will one day use nuclear weapons (Johnson, 2016). The aims of new terrorists are therefore seen to differ from the traditional ones, and with the availability of WMD, these aims are arguably more effectively carried out. In regards to these factors it makes sense to talk of a ‘new terrorism’.

Modern terrorism is seen as religiously inspired, and David Rapoport’s wave model, which characterises the global politics of that period, describes the ‘fourth wave’ as a religious one (Cronin. 2002/3:35). Religion has increasingly been used to organise non-state organisations, with two prime examples being the terrorist networks of al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. However, it is important to note that this new form of terrorism is not limited to radical ‘Islamic’ groups, despite western media often perceiving it to be (Mohammad Nia, 2010:2-9). Religion as a characteristic of ‘new terrorism’ is shown through the increasing number of identified terrorist organisations classified as ‘religious’ from the year 1968 to the 1990’s. Such organisations whom are seen to associate themselves with religion is seen to climb from zero in 1968, to two out of the sixty four known in 1980 to twenty-five out of fifty eight in 1990 (Cronin. 2002/3:43). These statistics highlight how it would make sense to talk about a new form of terrorism, as new phases and features are shown be associated with the concept of terrorism and subsequently “religion [is now seen to] lie at the root of the present wave of terrorism” (Mohammad Nia, 2010:9). In addition, Bruce Hoffman states that this “new generation” of terrorists has religious goals, rather than traditional political ones, thus highlighting the goals of such terrorist to have changed and suggesting a new form of terrorism has arose. This religious or “sacred” terrorism has been described as more dangerous than previous types of terrorism that had predominated the earlier twentieth-century (Cronin. 2002/3:43-44).

However, this concept of ‘new terrorism’ has been challenged on the notion that, the four features mentioned above have been identified within the ‘traditional’ form of terrorism. For the purpose of this essay I will refer to one; the proposed new relationship between religion and terrorism. Despite religion being stated to “lie at the root of the present eave of terrorism”, its affiliation with terrorism is not a completely new concept (Mohammad Nia, 2010:9). For religion as a justification for terrorism has existed for millennia, and it was seen as the only acceptable justification for terrorism in the pre-modern age. In addition, earlier forms of terrorism were said to be characterised by political motivations, however it should be noted that the Irgun was a Jewish terrorist organisation and the IRA were almost exclusively Catholic (Duvesteyn, 2004:444-446). To further support this, Hoffman has pointed out a strong historical link between religion and terrorism, which is seen to date back to as far as the Zealots in the first century (Copeland, 2017). Thus, it can be contended that ’religion’ as a core justification for a ‘new terrorism’ is questionable and one could argue that this new form of terrorism, is in-fact a continuation of its traditional form, just on a larger scale.

The events of 9/11 and the concept of ‘new terrorism’ has had a profound effect on counterterrorism policy.  There is now an increased need for states co-operation in anti-terrorist strategies, such as their intelligence and security forces. The scale of which counter-terrorist forces were initiated in the US is shown through the economic statistics that were fed to US homeland security. The department’s budget was seen to drastically increase and by 2005, with it amounting to $40.2 billion. Of their budget, roughly 60% was spent on counterterrorism programmes on US soil. However, the actions taken in fighting this “war on terror” were much larger than those based on home soil, such actions includes the Iraq and Afghanistan US wars (Mohammad Nia, 2010:2). In this new era of terrorism, most analysts contend that the traditional route of deterrence as a counter-terrorism policy is no longer effective, and instead the concept of pre-emption against the war on terror is the path to follow. Thus, this new phase of terrorism is seen to update counter-terrorism policy. The concept of pre-emption was the action favoured by the Bush administration, and in his words “new threats … requires new thinking” (Mohammad Nia, 2010:4). The core concept of pre-emption can be summed up by “the war on terror will not be won on the defensive”. The USA Patriot Act was introduced by parliament with the aim to obstruct terrorism following 9/11. Provisions within the act included the expansion of surveillance and financial provisions, and in turn the act represents an “attempt to prevent acts of aggression before they materialise” (De Goede, 2008:163). To simplify, the concept of pre-emption is recognising the “uncertainty and randomness of terrorist attacks”, and having policies in place to prevent such occurrences. However, elevating pre-emption as an option is seen to have negative effects for the US. As it is seen to “reinforce the image of the US as too quick to use military force and to do so outside the bounds of international law” (Steinberg, O’Hanlon and Rice, 2002). In addition, US response to modern terrorism, one facilitated to globalisation, has been described as “reactive and anachronistic” (Cronin, 2003/3:30). The strategy of pre-emption has also led to concerns over democratic values and civil liberties within the war on terror. Thus, it can be understood why Europe oppose this as a counter-terrorism policy and prefer to reply on the rule of law.

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Perhaps the most controversial of US counter-terrorism policy was President Trumps “Muslim ban” of 2017. The executive order barred citizens of six countries, whom were concluded as having a “Muslim-majority” for a period of ninety days (Siddiqui, Laughland and Gambino, 2017). The ban was implemented to counter terrorism, on the assumption that every Muslim poses a threat to American security. The order supplements the theory of pre-emption.  In addition, the ban highlights how the US have failed to update its perception of terrorism since the Cold War. They continue to view terrorism as a peripheral threat, focusing on states, which today are not the biggest threat to them and highlights how they are failing to develop an effective and long term strategy to counter-terrorism (Cronin 2002/3:54).

It is important to note that counter-terrorism is also a political act of ‘management of fear’, which underline social and political cohesion (Bossong, 2013:6). Thus, counter-terrorism is not purely about the dissolution of terrorism, but is also a political act of restoring faith in the system, which governs those targeted. Garton Ash describes Europe as the only political actor that has the ability to check US power. Consequently, Europe are seen as a potential source of “new political imagination” to counter that of US policy, in this case; its counter-terrorism preferences (De Goede, 2008:167). In terms of European counter-terrorism policy, following the 9/11 attacks and this new form of terrorism, the Justice and Home Affairs Council pushed new policies including the European Arrest warrant, which aimed to hinder the abilities of terrorist’s within the European community (Bossong, 2013:51). This was referred to as the ‘Anti-terrorist Roadmap’, and later became a crucial definition of the EU’s counter-terrorism effort. Within this document, measures against terrorism financing and freezing of such assets were included. In addition, the EU’s support of UN counter-terrorism measures was comprised as a foreign policy initiative. In the era of transnational terrorism, the support and cooperation of international organisations is increasingly important in the fight against terrorism.

The international war on terror has become a “counter-proliferation” war against the acquisition of WMD (Mohammad Nia, 2010:5). This has become increasingly important as the scale of recent attacks highlight the aim of ‘new terrorists’ as being that of mass destruction. In order to effectively counter this new form of terrorism, the international community must understand that terrorism is a complex phenomenon and address it in such a way. Through “short term military action, informed by an in-depth, long term, sophisticated analysis”. The international anti-terrorist community must employ a broader array of long-term policies to reshape the international environment, which would in theory stop terrorism in its tracks (Cronin 2002/3:55).

To conclude, it makes sense to talk about a ‘new terrorism’, as it is clearly shown to differ from that of a traditional sense, from its aims, means and motivations. For me the factor of globalisation and the use of information technologies is the most significant in understanding the concept of ‘new terrorism’. For it has allowed terrorist organisations to spread their ideologies, increase their finances and gain media attention worldwide and “Today, … terrorists [are] bent upon death and destruction for its own sake” (Mohammad Nia, 2010;11). In terms of ‘new terrorism’s effect on counter-terrorism policy, it has led to the understanding that there must be cooperation within the international community in order to effectively fight the threat. Although the US are primarily focused on a military route, the importance of social and domestic factors such as the freezing of assets is becoming increasingly clear. It must be noted that we assess the notion of ‘terrorism’ from a western perspective, and we do not count into account the terrorism we carry out against them; such as the war in Afghanistan. For as cliché as it sounds “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”, and in order to counter-terrorism this concept must be understood (Duvesteyn 2004:440).


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