More than a decade after the 9/11 attacks, the world seems unable to come up with an effective anti-terror mechanism.
Marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Photo: Reuters
The history of global cooperation on fighting international terrorism since 9/11 has mostly been one of disappointment. It took us twelve short years to make the transition from almost global unity in the fight against terrorists to a situation where the United States is forced to weigh the pros and cons of supporting Syrian opposition groups linked to the international Al-Qaeda network.
Looking back, it’s striking how naïve we all were -- including leaders of both the U.S. and Russia - as we hoped for a new international consensus.
Why exactly this happened is open to discussion, yet one thing is worth noting: Despite a high level of political priority of the issue, not even a minimal level of institution building has been achieved. Neither an Interpol-like entity geared towards fighting terrorists or potentially terrorist organizations, nor new international laws have emerged.
Remarkably, the absolute majority of international legal documents dealing with the fight against terrorism were adopted before 9/11. Its aftermath has only seen a handful of political declarations and the 2006 United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which is so toothless as to border on meaningless.
Countering international terrorism has remained a domain of national policy for individual states and a function of their national approach to international law and democratic norms. Guantanamo and the potential presence of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe have become a glaring example of a narrowly defined national approach to fighting terrorism and political extremism.
International cooperation on fighting terrorism in the framework of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) has become a positive exception of sorts – but it’s just that, an exception. Plus, even in this case, a full-fledged institutionalization of the system is still far away.
Granted, international channels for exchanging intelligence on fighting terrorism do exist. However, can those channels and this intelligence be trusted in light of the ‘Snowden Affair’ and the willful falsification of information on the situation in Syria and, before that, in Iraq?
Can we trust intelligence provided by special services that are working side by side with Al-Qaeda in Syria, perhaps preparing a new chemical attack? No government in its right mind is ever going to rely on intelligence obtained from such sources, and will never use such channels to transmit any important data.
It’s hard to shake off the impression that the decision to frame the fight against terrorism as a matter of national policy was made on purpose by a certain group of countries, above all by the United States. Indeed, for the United States, leadership in the war on international terror was not only a challenge, but also a dangerous endeavor from the geopolitical perspective.
It would involve a revision of relations with a number of allies that are openly flirting with extremists and terrorists, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Pakistan, just to mention just a few. It would necessitate intelligence sharing, exposing erstwhile CIA links to “freedom fighters.”
It would involve acknowledging their own mistakes and breaking the well-tuned machine of foreign policy propaganda.
It was a challenge that the prior US Administration was unable to meet. As a result, a “window of opportunity” for establishing a truly international system for countering international terrorism was shut, and the entire history of international struggle against terrorism since 2003 – including the invasion of Iraq – is a sluggish process of dismantling the mechanisms of cooperation on fighting terrorism that had been created in 2001 and 2002.
Unfortunately, global cooperation on fighting international terrorism has finally moved from the realm of real policy to the realm of propaganda.
This is a very sad story, the moral of which is, that for many countries -- not only the United States -- a short-term tactical gain proved much more valuable than long-term strategic leadership in fighting international terrorism. And the culprit is a messianic ideology stemming from exceptionalism, something Russian President Vladimir Putin characterized as extremely dangerous in his recent op-ed in The New York Times.
The global “anti-terrorism coalition” that was born in September 2001 is officially dead. The “Terrorist International,” on the other hand, is alive and kicking.
This dangerous situation will blow up sooner or later, perhaps with even worse consequences than 9/11. That’s when a new “window of opportunity” will open up for creating a renewed global anti-terrorist coalition. Here’s hoping that a new generation of American leaders will be more far-sighted than their predecessors, and won’t be held back – or stymied – as they were by the prejudices of the past.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.