III. Dimensions of Counter-Terrorism
Because terrorism is a highly complex phenomenon, a wide range of counter-terrorism strategies have been developed to deal with the causes and consequences of terrorist activity at the national and international level. Politically, counter-terrorism involves various measures taken by the governments of nation-states as well as by international governing bodies in which nation-states are represented. Such (inter)governmental responses to terrorism are historically most developed, dating back to at least the middle and latter half of the 19th century when governments in Europe sought to disrupt activities of political dissent that were aimed at overthrowing established regimes. In particular, surveillance systems were then set up to oversee and suppress politically suspect ideas, and international legal agreements were reached by intergovernmental accords. In 1898, for example, in the wake of the assassination of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth by an Italian anarchist, the governments of 21 countries agreed upon an international protocol to suppress the spread of anarchist violence. Although the protocol failed to be ratified by the participating states, similar initiatives would from time to time be taken. A first intergovernmental treaty specifically dealing with terrorism was drafted in 1937 in the form of an international Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Terrorism that was arranged by the League of Nations, the precursor of the United Nations. However, although the convention had been signed by 24 nations, it was ratified only by India.
During the 20th century, intergovernmental counterterrorism measures would develop in a piecemeal fashion to focus, not on terrorism as such, but on selected issues commonly associated with terrorist activity, such as hijackings and bombings. For example, the United Nations drafted various conventions to fight elements of terrorism, such as the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages (1979), the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997), and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999). Other international governing bodies, such as the Organization of American States and the Council of Europe, have likewise drafted international protocols to prevent and punish terrorist activity.
International agreements against terrorism have been complemented by similar legislative efforts at the level of individual nation-states. Especially in nations where terrorism has been a long-standing concern, such policies have been developed for a long time. Various nations in Europe, for instance, drafted counter-terrorist legislation throughout the 1970s, when extremist political organizations threatened to destabilize the political order. In the United States, the Act to Combat International Terrorism and the Omnibus Antiterrorism Act were passed in the late 1970s. Subsequently, the attacks that hit the United States in the 1990s, specifically the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, led to passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act during the Bill Clinton Presidency.
In the United States as well as in many other nations of the world, no historical event has had as much of an impact in steering the course of counter-terrorism policies as the attacks of September 11, 2001, when members of al-Qaeda deliberately crashed hijacked airplanes into the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C., with a fourth plane crashing into a field in the state of Pennsylvania. In the United States, a comprehensive USA PATRIOT Act (the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act) was passed to intensify surveillance against terrorist activity, create the Department of Homeland Security, and institute exceptional measures to detain and try terrorist suspects in military tribunals that lack many of the due process protections afforded in criminal courts. Political policies against terrorism also extended to military operations when the governments of the United States and other NATO countries decided to undertake armed operations against the Taliban government in Afghanistan. The international impact of the events of 9/11 took hold on the legal front as well. Since 2001, many nations across the world have considerably strengthened and expanded their measures against terrorism by means of formal legislative efforts. The focus on terrorism as a matter affecting the national security of states is additionally prevalent at the international level by means of various intergovernmental treaties oriented at fostering more effective methods of cooperation. International agreements against terrorism are often difficult to enforce, however, because of the differences that exist among the legal systems of the world’s nations and the different conceptions that exist regarding terrorism and counter-terrorism.
Although political and legal measures against terrorism have increased, they do not stand alone in the complex reality of counter-terrorism. On the contrary, counterterrorist measures involve a wide range of practices and institutions, including governmental bodies, military and intelligence forces, legal institutions, public security agencies, economic organizations, and cultural groups. Besides policy and law, counter-terrorism thus involves such varied actions as the efforts taken by businesses to thwart terrorist threats against private enterprise, the promotion of democratic ideas and peaceful means of protest, the actions taken by civil liberty groups to ensure an adequate balance between maintaining security and protecting rights, and the law enforcement efforts by national and international police organizations. The policing of terrorism is an element of counter-terrorism that, as a matter of social control, belongs very distinctly to the province of criminology, closely related to the criminological analysis of terrorism in terms of crime and deviance.