Center for Strategic Decision Research


If International Mass Terrorism Is the Problem, Then Multilateral Cooperation Is the Solution

Ingénieur Général de l'Armement Robert Ranquet
Deputy Director of Strategic Affairs, French Ministry of Defense

A report recently released by the Al Qaeda monitoring team at the U.N. related that the team had not been able to find any evidence of Al Qaeda training camps in Iraq. This should not come as too great a surprise, since a lot of evidence seems to be rather elusive these days. But a more important statement in the report related that "Al Qaeda may be down, but it is not out." The statement goes on to draw a rather worrisome picture of a new generation of Al Qaeda terrorist operatives, like those responsible for the bombing in Casablanca, who have not been trained in Afghanistan. To continue a metaphor made in an earlier speech, we have given Al Qaeda "a good kick in the swamp," but that has just made the bugs more angry at us. 


Today, international terrorism is largely perceived as the most significant threat to our democracies; this has been repeatedly stated throughout the international community-by the U.N., by the EU, by NATO, and even, very recently, by the G8 summit in Evian, France-especially since the dreadful events of September 11, 2001. This threat is particularly worrisome because international terrorism is potentially linked to the trafficking and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Fortunately, until today, this link has never manifested itself on a large scale: the most devastating terrorist attacks have thus far been carried out using very conventional means, albeit sometimes in an unconventional manner. 

The issue on which I would like to concentrate today is the extent to which the use of conventional military force is relevant to deterring and fighting international terrorism, and whether or not there is a more efficient capability.  

Around the world it is clearly recognized that economic development and education are the best ways to prevent terrorism. They are worldwide priorities. As French President Jacques Chirac stated before a UNESCO meeting: "We must be mobilized to fight against poverty and to promote education all around the world.It is a reasonable behavior. It would be wrong and dangerous to say that there is a direct link between terrorism and poverty. But it is obvious that there is a link between terrorism and fanaticism, and fanaticism grows on the soil of ignorance, humiliation, frustration, and poverty." 

International terrorism is not a conventional threat to our security. International terrorism has no territory, no army, no organizational chart, no government. It is not a movement nor a party: it is a tactic. Even more, since September 11, it is a tactic that has been upgraded to the level of a global strategy.  

A broader, indirect strategic framework has been the result of this transition from guerrilla-type terrorism to mass terrorism. Now the goal is to shake the legitimacy of our states and nations, indeed our very values and societies. The globalization of terrorism is not only a matter of where terrorism will strike, but also a matter of ideological, financial, and human roots. Countering it requires a deliberate and coordinated response at the strategic level, both by nations and international organizations. 


The usual operational response to the threat of terrorism (based on intelligence and protection) is no longer valid: we must now go to a global response at the same strategic level. This calls for an even greater emphasis on intelligence, which must no longer be limited to the tactical level but must aim at a global understanding of the phenomenon. 

International terrorism is not a proper target for military forces, which are designed to confront other military forces, including asymmetric forces. This type of terrorism must be confronted on its own ground: our own networks. Like some deadly disease, it lives on the vital processes of its victim: the unlimited flow of people, goods, energy, wealth, and information that moves across countries every day through ever more sophisticated and complex networks. The work of Al Qaeda has brought special attention to some of the most active global economic hubs, including the financial institutions of London and Hamburg. 

Controlling and limiting the flow of people and goods to reduce avenues for terrorism may not be a good idea. The experiences of less liberal societies have shown that restricting individual liberties takes a real toll on democracy and economies but does not really encumber terrorism. We should remember that, as necessary as restricting liberties may seem during difficult circumstances, resorting to it would give terrorism its first victory. 

So, what means should we use to thwart terrorism? The events of September 11 have indicated that it may be more efficient to work on rather trivial domestic issues, such as better controlling what happens in our flight academies and in our airports, than considering using military force or developing sophisticated preemptive weapons. Now by saying "trivial" I do not mean that these issues are simple: they require coordinated efforts between different departments in our different governments, including the armed forces. This can be difficult because, depending on the country, the armed forces may not have the constitutional legitimacy to act domestically, as civilian institutions do. Yet we must recognize that, faced with mass terrorism, only the armed forces usually have the capability to develop a "mass response." 


Afghanistan was a case study for military intervention. It was a case in which a specific state was caught red-handed harboring and, to some extent, feeding an international terrorist organization. Evidence was there from the beginning, although it was largely ignored before September 11. 

Support for intervention by the international community was immediate and massive. While the operations were to some extent limited, they were effective, and the Taliban regime was toppled. But was the terrorist organization dismantled, or only left in disarray? Nobody knows for sure. The threat is apparently still there. 

Another point to consider is that while the process is in place to establish a new and robust democratic regime, it seems rather chaotic. This reinforces the point that when we consider military intervention, we must seriously mind the aftermath. Reconstructing a country is not an easy job. 

We have, therefore, some rather mixed results: Al Qaeda has been seriously affected, this is certain, but it is still around and threatening. And we have a new problem: dealing over the long term with a seriously disrupted post-war Afghanistan. 

This is where the support of the international community, specifically the U.N., comes in. Rebuilding a country requires a balanced mix of very specific expertise in very different fields: administration, judiciary, police, the economy, commerce, energy, education, and so on. This is definitively not a job for the armed forces. I do not know any single country that would be able or willing to take on such a burden over a long period. Only the international community as a whole can do it, whether it is the U.N., the EU, or other multilateral bodies. 


Multilateral institutions should not be confined to a role of damage mitigation after military intervention. As I said earlier, the global character of the threat calls for a global response at the strategic level. We must confront terrorism on its own ground, and begin by undercutting its ability to use our networks, specifically our information and financial networks. Cooperating on intelligence, on police work, and on judicial issues is critical to mastering this threat. Only multilateral bodies can achieve such cooperation on the scale needed and with the efficiency required. 

Much has already been achieved in this area, through such cooperative efforts as: 

  • U.N. resolutions 1373 and 1377, which set the basis for the necessary reinforcement of the international fight against terrorism and its financial aspects. 
  • The steps recently taken by the EU: the decision to crack down on financing (February 2002); the establishment of the European search warrant (June 2002); the EU-U.S. agreement on exchange of police information (December 2002); and the establishment of Europol and Eurojust. 
  • The Séville summit (June 2002), which stated the contribution of PESC (including PESD) to the fight against terrorism. This opened the way for a real EU capacity to launch military operations against terrorism; an EU defense capacity is currently and steadily taking form. EU High Representative Javier Solana also proposed recently a European security strategy that does not exclude the use of military force as a very last resort. 
  • The June 2003 G8 summit in Evian, which decided to put together a specific task force on terrorism. 

We should also give credit to NATO for its intense diplomatic and cooperative work through different partnership initiatives: the PfP, the Southeast Europe Initiative, the NATO-Russia Council, the Mediterranean Dialogue. All of these are extremely useful confidence-building initiatives. NATO has also shown itself very helpful in providing key military assets, including air surveillance assistance (AWACS) and naval forces for maritime surveillance (Operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean). 

All of the above institutions-the U.N., the EU, the NATO alliance-provide essential capabilities to the fight against terrorism, depending on the perspective they come from and the different types of capabilities they have developed. In the last few years, each of them has initiated significant transformation processes to better adapt to the new challenges we face. 


As other speakers have stated, the visibility and credibility large multilateral organizations have brought to the fight against terrorism may well be the best way to deter non-state actors-if they are to be deterred by anything. Faced with the new threat of mass global terrorism, only these institutions have the legitimacy and, over the long term, the capability to build a safer future. 


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