Europe After Paris: Making the EU’s 9/11 Experiences a Global Affair

“This mass terrorism is the new evil in our world today[…], and we, the democracies of this world, are going to have to come together and fight it together,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on the evening of the September 11 attacks on the United States. That was more than ten years ago, and since then, “togetherness” has been reiterated often within the European Union and by world leaders. However, in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, one cannot help but wonder: “Has progress actually been made?” If terrorist threats are to be effectively countered, the EU and its Member States must acknowledge their inherent transnational nature that calls for robust transnational management, whether in the form of European or global governance.

Admittedly, since 2001 the EU has adopted some 239 counter-terrorism measures; they include the European Arrest Warrant (2004), the common Counter-Terrorism Strategy (2005), the Internal Security Strategy (2010), and the decision to make Europol the official EU law enforcement agency (2010). So far so good. Nevertheless, public concern about terrorism has increased steeply among EU citizens (by 17% compared to 2014), while policymakers declare a “war on terror,” and the media regularly describe attacks on European soil as European 9/11 equivalents.  Examples include, to name but a few, the 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London bombings, the 2010 bombings in Stockholm, the 2011 Norway attacks, and most recently the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the November attacks in Paris. In the aftermath of these terrorist attacks, public discourse reported widely on the “national trauma” of, respectively, each of these country’s own 9/11 experiences.

While the perceived spread of terror and fear within Europe is perhaps a natural consequence of such violent attacks, Europe remains among the more resilient parts of the world. The Global Terrorism Index 2015 observes, for instance, that the 290 terrorist attacks and 31 deaths in Europe in 2014 stand in stark contrast to Sub-Saharan Africa (1,626 attacks/10,915 deaths) and the MENA region (5,580/13,426). Numbers like these underline the need for boosting global counterterrorism capacity to target terrorism in its hotbeds. Global governance has, not for nothing, been called “[…] the most effective antidote against terror.”

Indeed, much more emphasis needs to be dedicated to using and strengthening global counterterrorism measures. From a range of possible measures, capacity-building—especially in the Global South—is, arguably, one of the most important. In particular, improving global development—essentially through various kinds of technical, policy advisory, and small grant assistance to developing countries—can indirectly bolster global counterterrorism efforts. New technical and financial resources could be deployed to invest in and support backchannel diplomacy, mediation and reconciliation efforts, law enforcement training and operations, and economic sanctions. Afghanistan—where counterterrorism measures mainly rely on military means—illustrates the need for more comprehensive approaches, including by privileging political reconciliation work through discussions between the Afghan High Peace Council and the Taliban.

Additionally, international frameworks would benefit from a stronger global counterterrorism capacity. For instance, the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) could be invigorated to enhance its capacity to monitor standards and detect deficiencies, such as insufficient border security. In light of the differences in legal, administrative, and executive capacities of states, a stronger role for the CTC and the UN Secretariat, in both monitoring standards and providing technical support, could enhance substantially national and thereby global counterterrorism governance. However, the CTC’s ability to ensure national implementation—for instance, the establishment of internal enforcement mechanisms or legal prosecution mechanisms—remains limited and depends on the political will of its member governments. A further capacity boost for the CTC could be achieved through inter-institutional cooperation, as the CTC still has to come a long way to effectively coordinate with other organizations fighting terrorism. While it frequently works together with international organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund regarding money laundering and terrorist financing, its potential for engaging regional bodies is under-developed. Teaming up with entities, such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), could inform a combination of global, regional, and local anti-terrorism strategies through, for example, information exchange and impact evaluation.

Improved cross-border counterterrorism cooperation after Paris could represent an important stepping stone for global governance. To these ends, the European Union and its efforts to manage its Member State’s “9/11-like experiences” provide important momentum to revitalize the international system for counterterrorism. Counterterrorism efforts and crisis management can no longer be viewed as exclusively national, so it should not come as a surprise that past measures, largely at the national level, have not been able to prevent future terrorist attacks, whether in Europe or elsewhere. What current and emerging transnational threats call for is nothing short of far more extensive intergovernmental coordination and cooperation, to respond more effectively to international terrorism, characterized as the “dark side” of globalization. By contrast, if governments within and beyond Europe fail to get this message, we  face the possibility of a perpetual crisis in the not-so-distant future.

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