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Is Terrorism a Serious Threat to International and National Security?

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The threat of international terrorism has affected global security in different ways as scholars and governments have responded to the challenge by taking concrete steps to conceptualize and ultimately securitize it with a view to providing an appropriate response to the problem. Krieger and Meierrieks (2011) argues that the beginning of the phenomenon could empirically be explained and factored through politico-institutional or socio-demographic angles. Thus, the events of 911 sparked debates whether international terrorism is a serious threat to national and international security since its perpetrators are motivated by fanaticism while the security architecture of countries are remodeled and huge resources diverted to countering it. Attempts are made to know whether terrorism is a new phenomenon or an old issue re-invented to justify certain actions by governments. It is contended that portrayal of terrorism as an existential threat may not be convincing because other factors are equally huge threats. The question is how serious is the threat, is it exaggerated, a myth or is it one of several threats and are there other issues that threaten global security other than international terrorism?  This work presents two opposing debates and posits that international terrorism is not a serious threat because the unnecessary hysteria about its threat which gave rise to the war on terror is an end that does not justify the means.

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International terrorism currently represents a new form, a thesis that stems from religious inclination, maximum impact attacks, horizontal and sophisticated networks capable of annihilating human beings.  The qualitative and empirical evidence indicates that from history they have achieved limited success and are positioned to do more harm to the world.  For instance, the security of some nation states was seriously challenged by terrorism where fascists and nazists operated especially in Italy and Germany. Also, the same methods were adopted by liberation movements in Algeria, Ireland, Jewish Palestine, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Turkey and British colonialism (Lutz, Lutz and Lustick in Jackson and Sinclair (eds.), 2012: 61-2, Gupta, 2008: 33). Notwithstanding, modern technology has increased the reach, capacity and level of destruction posed by terrorists (Silverstone 2007). Terrorists are expanding their asymmetric arsenal and tactics in a cyber warfare to attack critical infrastructure whose soft belly many governments have not assessed or are now awake and grappling with the threat in recent time (Maloney,2007).

The authors Simon and Benjamin (2000:66) also expatiates on the ‘increasing technological and operational competence of terrorists’, adoption of non-conventional war (Ramakrishna and Tan 2002: 9; Masters 2008: 398), or effective and deep impact (Ramakrishna and Tan 2002:7, Barton 2002).  It is recalled that ISIS whose cyber army have tech experts from the Saddam era have developed cyber capabilities and would leverage on modern technology to inflict infrastructural damage in the future (Conway 2014). These scholars posit that previous discourses about terrorism represents a marked departure from current realities since the threat has altered political systems in a way that addressing the issues becomes inevitable by governments. Thus, the magnitude of the threat has forced nations to commit considerable resources fighting it and ironically dialogue with terrorists which in some climes confers semblance of legitimacy to their causes (Elshtain, 2004: 96). Consequently, their laws have been amended to encompass the shifting types of activities or crimes by terror groups (Napoleoni, 2004: 70). These realities have heightened threat levels and its perception which in turn forces governments to infuse authoritarian actions alongside democratic methods in addressing the problems (Lutz, Lutz and Lustick in Jackson and Sinclair (eds.), 2012: 65).

Rightly, the threat represented ISIS and Al Qaeda gave rise to the war on terror. These groups conduct targeted and indiscriminate attacks in their asymmetric warfare as part of a political strategy and enhanced terror climates in democratic states (Fotion, 2007: 77, Wilfred 1962)).   Consequently, the war on terror has been militarized and dominated debates among political leaders and academics who have given it a classification as being existential arguing that terrorism has the potential to destroy society (Cronin 2003,   Goldstein 2004: 179).  Even if the threat is manageable and contained at the moment, the likelihood that it would rise in the future remains high. It is against this background as espoused by these scholars that the threat of terrorism can be understood. However, the rationality behind these claims would be juxtaposed with an opposing view of other scholars.

For the fact that the threat of terrorism cannot be dismissed, its perception as being serious has been countered by Jessica Wolfendale who believes that the

“narrative of terrorism as an existential threat does not reflect the reality of terrorism, and furthermore, it plays a significant role in legitimizing political, legal and military responses to terrorism that have serious negative long-term consequences on the lives and well-being of thousands of individuals and communities” Wolfendale, J. (2007, 2012).

The proponents of this existential and unprecedented threat (Neuman 2009) especially the media and political leaders believe that only through expanded counterterrorism measures including war, unethical interrogation techniques, torture or curtailing civil liberties that the threat could be addressed. Thus, the portrayal of the threat is overestimated (Lutz, Lutz and Lustick in Jackson and Sinclair (eds.), 2012: 66). For instance, post 911 descriptions of the threat by US and Australian leaders stated that it is a full form of warfare (Michaelson,2010) and no civilized country is immune from the threat of terrorism (De Castella and McGarty 2011: 185). Similarly, scholars have assessed the threat is destructive to humanity (Goldstein 2004: 179) as the acquisition of any weapon of mass destruction by terrorists possess the biggest threat to the US (quoted in Enemark 2011: 384). Therefore, the need for extra ordinary measures to address the threat no matter how small becomes imperative (Crawford in Rosenthal and Barry (eds.), 2009: 41). Thus, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are justifiably because such territories allowed terrorists to operate on its soil (Frum and Perle, 2004: 118).

However, it has been claimed too that the handling of the threat by some leaders could be their disposition to achieve political gains. In this context, the commitment of huge resources to prosecute the war by Western leaders may be a hidden agenda to redirect and dominate world affairs, promote democracy and deepen globalization (Chan: 2012). Meanwhile, this threat described as myth by some scholars succeeds as a narrative pursued by western governments who depict terrorists as sophisticated networks that attack indiscriminately, disregard universal values and norms, without any clear agenda and intent to cause mass murder (Jackson,et al: 2011). It is to be noted that the advocates of counterterrorism measures defend their argument that pre-emptive action (Jackson 2015: 35) and no-negotiations (Jackson 2005: 139) remains the best way to tackle religious fanatics and extremists whom the judicial process can neither prosecute nor reform (Luban 2002: 12) before they destroy western civilization (Mustapha 2011:494). Therefore, the level of threat necessitates the option of war, non-adherence to international law and the infringement on human rights Ip 2009: 39).  On the other hand, some scholars have contended that the effort by the terrorism establishment alongside her Washington allies is a waste of resources which allows governments to yield to the terrorists.  Arguably, empirical evidence has shown that the risks posed by terrorism falls within the realm of a false narratives (Jackson et al. 2011: Chapter 6; Michaelsen 2012; Mueller 2006; Mueller and Stewart 2012, 2016; Wolfendale 2007). For instance, terrorism has never destabilized the political and economic survival of any civilized state, even Israel that is in the midst of hostile neighbours (Wolfedale 2018).

The authors Brenda and Luttz have enumerated a number of terrorist tactics that have challenged state authority over time and succeeded in Algeria, Cyprus and Palestine (Lutz, Lutz and Lustick in Jackson and Sinclair (eds.), 2012: 76). However, it was discovered that that the cost and benefit of such occupation by colonial masters remaining in such countries was not profitable hence their withdrawal. This is buttressed by Cronin (2009) and Hoffman (2006) who sees victories in such era as dictated by the nature of colonial situations. From the Middle East to Africa, right wing and left-wing groups have threatened state security and achieved relative successes which justifies the assertion that terrorism is a serious threat to national and international security. Contrastingly, this justification fails in the face of time especially when Nigeria is contextualized. This is because, currently terrorism is no longer the major threat to the country as it has been reduced to a manageable level notwithstanding pockets of opportunistic attacks. The incidence of Farmer-Fulani herder conflicts, banditry, kidnappings have assumed high priority in the threat assessment index as a result of struggle for resource-based needs and the devastating effect of climate change.

Evidently, studies reveal that in 2015, 28,352 people were killed from terrorism globally, (Jones 2016), whereas climate change is linked to the death of 400,000 people each year (Leber 2015), with armed violence, 535,000 (Small Arms Survey 2017)) and 22,000 children to die from poverty each year (Ulrich 2013). In dissimilarity, this shows that  terrorism kills far less numbers of people whereas drugs (UNODC 2017) malnutrition, fire arms, mix-migration crisis, organized crime, civil war and diseases have fundamentally threatened security worldwide.

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Evaluating the argument that terrorists could use WMD becomes less convincing because studies have shown that they lack the sophistication often ascribed to them. Similarly, their success rate in all operational attacks is remote due to fear, limited time to plot, lack of skill and state surveillance against them (Jackson et al. 2011). Apparently, the 911 hijackers were not part of a radical Islamic terror network but right-wing extremists who were acting alone (Gida 2017). Mueller and Mueler (2015) argues that the prospects of a WMD attack is little because states would not submit such weapons to terrorists even if those states use them due to a boomerang effect. Therefore, manufacturing WMD takes time and sophistication not available to terrorists. Reportedly, terrorists have not launched any sophisticated cyber-attack with considerable damage on infrastructure, hence the chances for any are rare. Although, the resort to cyber-attack appears useful, it may not necessarily yield the desired ‘media effect’ long sought by terrorist groups (Cavelty 2018). Separately, the cost of counter terrorism has proved problematic but widely defended by governments and proponents of the real threat theory. It is argued that this has been counterproductive in cost, process and modus operandi. Accordingly, it is policies of states especially those fighting terrorism have created more casualties than those terrorists groups (Jackson 2011). First, consider the case of the US,

“the myth of the mastermind and chance that an American will be killed by a terrorist within the country is about one in four million per year under present conditions. However, poll data suggest that over a trillion dollars has been spent on domestic counterterrorism since 2001” (Mueller 2015).

Thus, resources are diverted to security rather than aspects of human security like health, economy, housing, research and critical infrastructure. In the US in 2016, about $36.6000, two third of the budget for Homeland Security was earmarked for disrupting terrorist networks (Boyd 2016) while overall defense budgets have doubled since 911 (Mueller and Stewart 2012.1).

Secondly, the ineffectiveness of counter terrorism sometimes compelled nations into negotiations with terrorists and paying ransom in some instances owing to intelligence failure and management. Many countries like the US, Israel and Nigeria have done this in the past. Also, huge resources put into mass surveillance and other tactics by governments have proved unproductive as it has prevented few terrorists’ plans. Thirdly, is the effect on human rights, privacy and movement. (Mueller and Stewart 2015). The legislation and physical measures have created a backlash like litigations for governments fighting this war on terror. There is an example of the FBI–Apple legal dispute over   privacy encryption in the US relating to a December 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. It is feared that the PATRIOT Act and CONTEST which are respective counter terrorism strategies of the US and UK could infringe on political freedoms of the citizens. Hence, “we should fear counterterrorism more than we fear terrorism” (Wolfendale 2007).

Military interventions in the name of fighting terror have resulted in several casualties, bloodshed and global outrage. From Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Nigeria, there has been bombing raids that led to collateral damage of people, infrastructure, agriculture and environment (Rogers 2016b, PCATI 2014, Human Rights Watch 2014, Iraq Body Count 2017, Breaking Times 2017). Similarly, some categories of groups have faced labelling, non-inclusiveness and new stereotypes. Islamophobia is one such example where Muslims are seen as potential terrorists (Mustapha 2011: 495, Gershman 2002:64) leading to deep divisions and a stigma difficult to erase. The effect is negative on national integration and patriotism in some countries.

In conclusion, globalization has led to multifaceted problems which has given rise to different methods of response. Thus, a new form of terrorism presented by proponents of the total war on terror indicates that the threat is real. However, the elevation of the threat which arguably is not justifiable to the near exclusion of other important threats makes the position less convincing. This exaggeration has led to huge financial cost, deaths, suppression of civil liberties and a diversion of resources into chasing fear. Therefore, terrorism does not constitute a serious threat to national and international security. In essence, there is the need to stop exaggerating an existential threat narrative built by the media and some governments as there are far greater threats confronting global security like disease, hunger, conflict, environment and climate. While it is obvious that the narratives by both sides are important in the study of international terrorism, it is pertinent to claim that international terrorism does not constitute a serious threat to national and international security rather it is a strategy and a social problem.

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