Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Absolute protection against terrorism is impossible, even in nondemocratic countries such as China or Saudi Arabia. Nor can victory over the terrorists be the ultimate goal. Counterterrorism is like the fight against other forms of criminal activity: it is necessary and must be unrelenting and unending.
#Counterterrorism is necessary and must be unrelenting and unending.Tweet This
Another analogy can be drawn from civil aviation: an act of terrorism is like a plane crash from which lessons are learned to help improve the sector’s overall record. Quick fixes or the temptation to resort to draconian laws will not deliver the desired outcomes and can produce serious collateral damage to democracy.
At the EU level, the union should energetically implement the measures that interior ministers defined in December 2014. In particular, the European Parliament should approve an EU no-fly list and passenger name recording to hinder “jihad tourism.” The EU’s border agency Frontex should revise its role and resources, for the same reason. All countries within the EU’s passport-free Schengen area—indeed, all EU members—should join the Prüm Convention, which aims to step up cross-border cooperation, particularly in combating terrorism.
But the main responsibility for gathering actionable intelligence lies with the member states. Here, the balance sheet varies enormously from country to country, and not simply as a function of states’ size.
With individuals or small groups able to wreak disproportionate damage, European public opinion will not meekly accept apologies after the fact. Europe must be serious in preventing terrorism now, or it will pay a high political and societal price later.
While immunity from terrorism is impossible, Europe cannot protect itself against this threat without acknowledging that domestic security is affected by foreign policy, particularly toward the Middle East. Syria is at the heart of this issue.
Europe’s lack of adequate policies on Syria’s political transition has contributed to perpetuating the Syrian conflict. The country’s civil war has enabled al-Qaeda’s revival in the Middle East, as the organization found in Syria optimal conditions for its survival. This resurrection has spurred al-Qaeda sympathizers in Europe to commit terrorist acts regardless of whether they have direct connections to Syria or not. Those militants who had been disillusioned by the weakening of al-Qaeda in places like Afghanistan and Yemen saw in Syria a new lifeline for the organization. Al-Qaeda’s perceived empowerment is enough for its sympathizers to act to exact revenge on the West.
Europe's lack of adequate policies on #Syria has finally hit home.Tweet This
The terrorist attacks in France are an example of this domino effect. While they are a consequence of Europe’s inadequacy in confronting extremism at home, they are also the product of a tendency to largely ignore conflicts outside Europe on the basis that they are faraway and therefore do not pose a threat to European countries’ national security.
Europe’s failure in Syria has finally hit home, and this is only the beginning as the Syrian problem morphs into an international one.
European governments cannot provide a 100 percent guarantee that terrorists will never succeed. As authorities say, terrorists only have to be lucky once, but security services have to be lucky all the time. In response to the January 7–9 Paris attacks, intelligence communities will say they are stretched. Their calls for more personnel and additional authorities should be taken seriously. But this cannot be all.
Foreign policy and internal security are intimately connected.Tweet This
The attacks show that foreign policy and internal security are intimately connected. The West has been hesitant in responding to recent crises in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, and parts of these countries (and others in North Africa) are now incubators for jihadist terrorism. The West can ill afford to ignore such safe havens.
Several thousand Europeans are fighting in the ranks of the Islamic State. Some will return home. Europe’s leaders must agree on a common strategy to make life difficult for returning jihadists, including by creating barriers to travel, sharing intelligence better, and stemming the flow of small arms on Europe’s black markets.
Ultimately, however, there is a trade-off between Western society’s openness and its security. For the sake of the values the West wishes to protect, citizens may have to accept that not all plots can be foiled.
The EU and its member states can protect themselves against terrorism, but only if they coordinate closely with each other and with the United States, and if they take actions to fix the longer-term social problems that are the root causes of violence.
The horrible events in Paris on January 7–9 have put the U.S.-European rift over the NSA spying scandal into a broader perspective. Intelligence sharing is now at the top of the agenda. Certainly, Europe must maintain civil liberties and the right balance between individual freedoms and national security, but without security, there will be little meaning to civil liberties.
European nations must make it a crime for their nationals to participate in violent struggles in the Middle East. It should be an offense to work with any terrorist group, and sympathizers who reenter their European country of origin should be detained. Former foreign fighters must be reeducated, but they can’t be allowed to simply return to their home countries and roam freely until they commit a crime.
Muslim leaders in Europe must do more than join sympathy marches.Tweet This
Muslim leaders in Europe have to do more than join sympathy marches. They must cooperate with law enforcement agencies to root out extremists and must not allow them to exploit any sympathy for terrorism they may have based on Muslim alienation.
Governments have to take longer-term actions to integrate immigrant communities, including by dismantling their ghettoization. Dispersal into smaller, mixed communities should be the goal, rather than sealing off immigrants from broader society.
Finally, immigrants, especially the young, must be given economic opportunities. Europe’s continuing economic stagnation is a real national security danger, and governments must make aggressive efforts to address youth unemployment. While there are no quick fixes, democracies are better equipped to deal with terrorism than authoritarian systems.
Europe can be better prepared to face the threat of terrorism and to respond to it more adequately. But it would be naive to believe that terrorism will ever be entirely eradicated. The Paris attacks on January 7–9 have focused the West’s attention on members or affiliates of radical extremist Islamic groups that are seen as the prime source of the terrorist threat.
It would be naive to believe that #terrorism will ever be eradicated.Tweet This
Terrorists motivated by radical Islam are difficult enough to isolate and neutralize, but they are by no means the sole source of terrorism in Europe. After all, the most deadly act of terror on European soil in recent years was conducted by Anders Breivik, a white Christian who murdered 77 people, many of them members of a Socialist youth organization.
Modern technology and the Internet make access to instruments of terror easier, while the flip side of globalization is the spread of radical ideologies. It is therefore likely that the number of individuals willing to conduct terrorist acts will rather grow than diminish. Establishing a new European counterterrorism agency would not stop this process, nor would this likely be an effective instrument of prevention.
As of now, EU member states do not cooperate effectively on fighting terrorism but jealously guard their national competences. Strengthening member-state cooperation should therefore be the first step in developing a new EU counterterrorism strategy.
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