Critically assess the effect of terrorism and counter-terrorism measures on global norms and institutions

The first few years of the new millennium is defined by the rise of terrorism across the world.  This escalation is attributable to two primary causes.  The first is the hegemonic foreign policy initiatives of the United States of America, tacitly supported by its strong allies that include Britain and Australia.  The second is the radicalization of Islamist ideology, which has given shape to the concept of ‘holy jihad’ and ‘noble martyrdom’, making it easy to find willing participants in terror operations.  Any study of terrorism in the contemporary world should be made in light of these two complementing factors and this essay attempts to do the same.

The United Nations has long been at the forefront of international peace initiatives.  In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and subsequent terror strikes in the power centres of Europe and Asia, the UN had put together a Global Counter-Terrorism strategy, which would serve as a template for individual nation-states in framing their own counter-terror measures.  In the words of  Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, President of the 61st session of the General Assembly who officially inaugurated the United Nations’ Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy on 19th September, 2006, “The passing of the resolution on the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy with its annexed Plan of Action by 192 Member States represents a common testament that we, the United Nations, will face terrorism head on and that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes, must be condemned and shall not be tolerated.” (Martin, Understanding Terrorism)

Although the issue of terrorism has been discussed in the General Assembly sessions for more than two decades, it is only recently that substantial measures were undertaken.  As part of drawing up the new framework of addressing terrorism, the United Nations had organized a series of international conventions to tackle specific challenges posed by terrorist activities.  Constituent nations of the UN have utilized this global forum to coordinate and cooperate in their efforts to mitigate terrorist activities.  And one of the ways in which this end is achieved is through the formation of a common legal code.  The United Nations’ Security Council has provided a suitable platform for devising strategies to counter terror.  A significant development of the Security Council sessions has been the passing of numerous counter-terror resolutions and the establishment of potent subsidiary bodies (Simon & Benjamin, 2001).

In addition to these measures, the UN has launched an array of programs and agencies to deal with unique challenged posed by specific terror networks.  These agencies provide specialized assistance in terms of intelligence gathering and tactical advice to the member nations.  This is a laudable initiative on part of the United Nations, for a blanket counter-terror strategy across the globe will not be effective, given the differing agendas and modus operandi of these disparate terror networks.  Nevertheless, all these individual programs are based on the accepted norms of the global counter-terrorism strategy, which

“forms a basis for a concrete plan of action: to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism; to prevent and combat terrorism; to take measures to build state capacity to fight terrorism; to strengthen the role of the United Nations in combating terrorism; and to ensure the respect of human rights while countering terrorism. The strategy builds on the unique consensus achieved by world leaders at their 2005 September Summit to condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations”. (Heyman, Terrorism and America)

But, in spite of such sweeping changes to domestic and cross-border security, the instances of terror has seen no downward trend.  The reason for the ineffectiveness of such comprehensive counter-terrorism measures is the widespread discontent with the prevailing global order.  The United States, by virtue of being the only superpower in the world, is seen to promulgate its own self-interests at the cost of depriving peoples of the rest of the world.  The interventions in the Middle-East region, including the Palestine and Iraq, as well as its tacit support for such dictatorships as the Saudi royal family, has damaged the reputation of the United States through the rest of the world.  Hence, rather than negating terrorism, these unlawful interventions have served to instigate further resentment in terrorists, leading them to conjure and implement bigger acts of terrorism.  This is why, even the much hyped Lyon Summit had proved to be ineffective in curbing global terrorism.  The participants at the Lyon Summit “voiced their determination to give absolute priority to the fight against terrorism. They decided to examine and implement, in cooperation with all States, all measures likely to strengthen the capacity of the international community to defeat terrorism. To that end, they called for a meeting of their Foreign Ministers and their Ministers responsible for security to be held without delay to recommend further actions” (Lutz and Lutz, Global Terrorism).  Further, the participant leader of the Lyon Summit promised to undertake a thorough review of emerging trends in international terrorism. By understanding the gravity of the terror situation the members reiterated their fundamental view that acts of terror are not simply justifiable on grounds of ideology.  Their discussions focused on the urgent need to find lasting solutions that take into consideration all the factors and will ensure an enduring “settlement of unresolved conflicts and on the need for attending to conditions which could nurture the development of terrorism” (Lutz and Lutz, Global Terrorism).

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