Global Efforts to Reduce Terrorism and Political Violence Been Effective in the Past Decade?
Conceptualizing Political Violence and Terrorism
Terrorism does not have an assigned definition. As a matter of fact, "few terms or concepts in contemporary political discourse have proved as hard to define as terrorism" (Weinberg, Pedahzur, and Hirsch-Hoefler, 2004). The authors further point out that from as early as the 1960s and 1970s, when terrorism as a subject first appeared (or made a reappearance), various professional commentators have fund it quite challenging to come up with an articulate definition of the term that could gain acceptance across the board. Essentially, terrorism is a contemporary form of political violence. Indeed, terrorism as Gurr (as cited in Ortlung and Makarychev, 2006) points out, it is a subset of political violence. For purposes of this discussion, the definition (and interpretation) RAND assigns to terrorism will be adopted. This definition will be critical in as far as assessing the impact of global efforts to reduce terrorism and political violence is concerned: it will act as a limiter, confining and tying this discussion to the subject matter. The definition will also be important so as to distinguish terrorism and political violence from other criminal acts. According to RAND:
Terrorism is violence, or the threat of violence, calculated to create an atmosphere of fear and alarm…. The motives of all terrorists are political, and terrorist actions are generally carried out in a way that will achieve maximum publicity. Unlike other criminal acts, terrorists often claim credit for their acts. Finally, terrorist acts are intended to produce effects beyond the immediate physical damage of the cause, having long-term psychological repercussions on a particular target audience. The fear created by terrorists may be intended to cause people to exaggerate the strengths of the terrorist and the importance of the cause, to provoke government overreaction, to discourage dissent, or simply to intimidate and thereby enforce compliance with their demands (RAND - as cited in Ortlung and Makarychev, p. 22).
As per the definition above, terrorism could be applied or peddled by various actors, from states to organized groups to clandestine individuals. It is also important to note that on this front, victims of terror fall into two main categories. These are, i) opportunistic targets -- those that are chosen randomly, and ii) symbolic targets -- those that are chosen selectively (Weinberg, Pedahzur, and Hirsch-Hoefler, 2004).
Terrorism and Political Violence: The Last one Decade (2004 -- 2014)
The United States, and pretty much the entire world, has upped its game in the war against terror since the 9/11 terror attacks. Regardless of these efforts, there are still terror networks that continue to thrive across the world. The most consequential groups or terror formations include, but they are not limited to al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, and numerous variations of al-Shabaab. These are the groups that, in a large way, continue to pose the greatest terror threats. State sponsors of terror, at least according to the U.S. Department of State include "Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria" (Maras, 2013, p. 31).
During the past one decade, many countries from across the world, and most particularly the United States, have been engaged in what could be referred to as a diplomatic and military offensive against terror, all in an attempt to pacify terrorist networks. As a matter of fact, unlike was the case a decade ago, many countries today have in place new legal frameworks and legislation to combat acts of terror. In addition, many countries have allocated significant resources to their security agencies including prison services, intelligence agencies, police, and the military. It should also be noted that in addition to adopting new strategies, nations from across the world have also created new agencies and departments, all in an attempt to further strengthen counter-terrorism undertakings.
War on Terror: Are We Winning or Loosing?
With the al-Qaeda terror formation still regarded potent and with Afghanistan still greatly insecure, the war on terror is far from being won. One does not need to look far to realize that global terror and political violence is headed in an even worse direction. Indeed, looking at the various news headlines, it is clear that the people on the opposite end of the spectrum in the war against terror -- the terrorists, are gaining momentum. According to a recent report by the Rand Corporation, Salafi-jihadist groups are on the increase (Jones, 2014). For instance, while there were only 28 such groups in the year 2007, this number had increased to 49 as of the year 2013. According to the same report, while these jihadist formations launched 100 attacks in 2007, last year (i.e. 2013) saw the attacks launched by the said formations increase to 950 - a massive 1,938% increment (Jones, 2014). Even more rattling is the admission by the U.S. Department of State (2013) that terrorism and associated violence has been on an upward trend. According to the State Department, the number of terror related attacks across the world experienced almost a 50% increase last year, i.e. from 6,700 to 9,700 (U.S. Department of State, 2013).
Although the U.S. Department of State report praises allied forces for their efforts towards the pacification of al-Qaeda, the said reports also makes a startling remark: that groups affiliated to al-Qaeda are becoming stronger, and perhaps more dangerous. In seeking to expound on this assertion, the U.S. Department of State (2013) takes note of Syria's foreign extremists and the threat they pose. Revelations that a suicide bomber who blew himself up in Syria earlier this year was indeed an American is a clear indication that the threat is not only real but also serious. A quick check on recent terror developments also reveals that the French suspect linked to the Brussels' Jewish Museum shootings did indeed spend some time in Syria -- with Jihadist fighters. This has led to what Penketh (2014) refers to as "European fears of spillover from the Syrian war…" There is, therefore, high likelihood that some of those who return home from Syria will be the new threats as far as terror and political violence is concerned. This situation is pretty much similar to the period when jihadists, among them Osama bin Laden -- the future leader of al-Qaeda, were trained for the convenience of war in the 1980s Russia-Afghanistan conflict.
Last month alone, we had numerous instances of terror attacks from across the world -- from the Karachi International Airport attack, to the bomb attacks in Baluchistan, to Bombings in Baghdad. In total, these events left more than 108 people dead, and numerous others badly injured. This represents only a fraction of the successful terrorist attacks carried out across the world.
For purposes of this discussion, it would be prudent to take a more detailed look closer home. As per the RAND report, Jones (2014) points out that 'near abroad' attacks have significantly increased in the recent past. On the other hand, however, the 'far abroad' attacks have been on a downward spiral (Jones, 2014). What this essentially means is that the various fragmented, decentralized formations present minimal risk to the U.S. homeland. It is also important to note that as the spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State observes, successful attacks against Americans have reduced significantly (U.S. Department of State, 2013). This information is largely welcome. It is, however, important to note that as welcome as these trends may seem, there is no reason to celebrate as yet. Lest we forget that by allocating so much focus on these appealing statistics, we run the risk of turning a blind eye on emerging threats, further afield.
The claim that the threats to the homeland have reduced does not necessarily mean that global terrorism is on its deathbed. Further, as this text points out, there are numerous emerging threats that cannot be simply ignored. The situation in Syria presents a perfect example. The emergence of Salafi-jihadist groups is a real future threat. In Iraq, there is also a presently emerging threat as far as global terrorism is concerned. A group going by the acronym ISIS recently took control of a significant portion of Mosul. Of key importance in this case is that the said group is seen as having matured in Syria, during the conflict. In the final analysis, therefore, global efforts to reduce terrorism have not been effective as they should have been -- which is to say that the war against global terror is far from being won.
Putting the War on Terror into Perspective
There is the prominent military approach in which case the military has been used to pacify terror cells in the past. In the Western context, this approach has been dubbed the 'Bush doctrine,' whereby America and its allies reserve the right to launch attacks against jurisdictions believed to be supportive of terrorists who wield a real threat to the United States and its allies. This has, in some quarters, been referred to as…