Counter-Terrorism: An Impossible Cooperation?

The time has come to give the United Nations more prerogatives in order to coordinate efforts and address the issue of terrorism from a global and more benevolent angle, Valdai Club expert Youssef Cherif believes.

Terrorism is an existential threat to most states, but not on the same level. Moreover, the reasons for countering terrorism (CT) differ from one state to another. For some political regimes, terrorism is sometimes even beneficial. Accordingly, coordinating efforts to stop this phenomenon proved difficult in the past, and will be difficult in the future, as long as states do not give up some of their prerogatives to a higher authority autonomous from the world’s centers of power.

In democracies, for instance, it is mandatory for the ruling political party to defeat terrorism in order to win elections. These regimes would therefore prefer short-term solutions, as well as quick wins. Hence they strike deals with corrupt dictatorial regimes in their peripheries, whose policies actually fuel extremism. They sometimes even get into agreements – often through intermediaries from the dictatorships mentioned above – with terrorist groups to secure temporary ceasefires. Furthermore, as election dates differ from one country to another, the timing of prioritizing CT is not the same for everyone.

War of Civilizations: Can Terror Be Stopped in Western Europe? Gábor Stier
Terror in Western Europe has already become a part of everyday life. Nobody feels safe. This means that the terrorists have reached their main symbolic goal - to sow terror in rich countries of the Western Europe. It was not so difficult, because the Muslim population lives compactly there, which is easier to be radicalized, especially the young people.

The threat of terrorism, on the other hand, can also provide an excuse for stronger states to project their power abroad. Less than two decades ago, it was through the War on Terror that the United States of America deployed its military from the borders of Europe to those of China. It is also telling that Russia’s most important show of force since the end of the Cold War was in the name of CT in Syria. CT has actually transformed several Arab countries into quasi protectorates of stronger nations.

As for dictatorships, where the political regime and the state are interconnected, threats such as terrorism can be a source of legitimacy. They work on weakening it, but they often try to keep it alive. The first example that comes to mind is the pre-2011 Arab political system (which is being perpetuated today), whose different dictators relied upon the perils of extremism and terrorism to position themselves as the only alternatives their population and the international community can count on.

As stated above, different priorities and visions among nations make CT cooperation difficult to achieve. There is moreover a lack of trust between states and armies, sometimes in the same alliance. In NATO for instance, Turkey was suspected by its allies of encouraging the rise of the Islamic State, while Turkish leaders believe that a number of their NATO allies (chiefly the United States) were involved in the failed coup of 2016.

This fragmentation in tackling the problem, along with the more localized issues that beget terrorism, will allow it to haunt our world for years. Furthermore, as a multipolar world is gradually coming to existence, it will be difficult for any nation to claim a leadership role in anti-terrorist cooperation.

The time is perhaps suitable to give the supra-institution that is the United Nations (UN) more prerogatives in order to coordinate efforts and address the issue from a global and more benevolent angle. Institutions exist inside the UN, they only need reforms and commitments. This would be better than the openly anti-Iranian CT initiatives that Washington and its Muslim allies are inaugurating in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, or the largely anti-Western CT actions that Russia or Iran are conducting in Syria and Iraq.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.