Terrorism and the UN: Before and after September 11

Terrorism and the UN: Before and after September 11


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How has the United Nations dealt with the question of terrorism before and after September 11? What does it mean that the UN itself has become a target of terrorism? Terrorism and the UN analyzes how the UN’s role in dealing with terrorism has been shaped over the years by the international system, and how events such as September 11 and the American intervention in Iraq have reoriented its approach to terrorism. The first half of the book addresses the international context. Chapters in this part consider the impact of September 11 on the UN’s concern for the rights and security of states relative to those of individuals, as well as the changing attitudes of various Western powers toward multilateral vs. unilateral approaches to international problems.

The second half of the book focuses more closely on the UN, its values, mechanisms, and history and its future role in preventing and reacting to terrorism. The Security Council’s position on and reactions to terrorist activities are contrasted with the General Assembly’s approach to these issues. What role the UN might play in suppressing the political economy of terrorism is considered. A concluding chapter looks at broader, more proactive strategies for addressing the root causes of terrorism, with an emphasis on social justice as a key to conflict prevention, a primary concern of the UN, particularly the General Assembly, before September 11.

Contributors are Jane Boulden, Chantal de Jonge Oudraat (Georgetown University), Edward C. Luck (Columbia University), S. Neil MacFarlane (University of Oxford), Rama Mani (Geneva Centre for Security Policy), M. J. Peterson (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), Nico Schrijver (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam), Mónica Serrano (Colegio de México and University of Oxford), Thierry Tardy (Geneva Centre for Security Policy), Karin von Hippel (King’s College, London), and Thomas G. Weiss.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253216625
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 03/16/2004
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

Jane Boulden is MacArthur Research Fellow at the Centre for International Studies, University of Oxford. She resides in Oxford, England.

Thomas G. Weiss is Presidential Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and Director of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, where he is also co-director of the United Nations Intellectual History Project. He resides in New York City.

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Terrorism and the UN

Before and After September 11

By Jane Boulden, Thomas G. Weiss

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2004 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-34384-0


Whither Terrorism and the United Nations?

Jane Boulden and Thomas G. Weiss

Terrorism is a global menace. It calls for a united, global response. To defeat it, all nations must take counsel together, and act in unison. That is why we have the United Nations.

— Kofi A. Annan, September 2001

The fight against terrorism cannot be used as an excuse for slackening efforts to put an end to conflicts and defeat poverty and disease. Nor can it be an excuse for undermining the bases of the rule of law — good governance, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The long-term war on terrorism requires us to fight on all these fronts. Indeed, the best defense against these despicable acts is the establishment of a global society based on common values of solidarity, social justice and respect for human rights.

— Kofi A. Annan, October 2001

This volume explores the situation of the United Nations in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, and international responses to them. On that basis, it looks ahead to possible problems and issues for the world organization in its continuing attempts to counter terrorism. To this end, two interrelated analytical frameworks are used. The first addresses the issue of whether or not the UN now finds itself in a new international environment. In the immediate aftermath of September 11, it was commonplace to hear that the world had changed irrevocably, that a paradigm shift had occurred. Is that the case? If so, why and how is this manifested? If not, why not?

The second analytical framework looks directly at the specific role of the UN as both an arena where governments make decisions and as an independent operational actor in its own right. How has the UN dealt with the question of terrorism, both before and after September 11? Two different approaches are used within this framework. One examines the specifics of various measures debated and taken by the two main organs, the Security Council and the General Assembly. The other is issue-oriented, detailing the world organization's efforts to deal with terrorism through its perceived sources and resources. This second analytical framework thus complements the first by highlighting the extent to which international thinking on terrorism at the United Nations is as much a product of past experience as it is a product of September 2001.

Two points of clarification are necessary. First, the attacks of September 11 may be characterized as acts of terrorism and evidence of trends in terrorism, but they are considered separately from the concept of terrorism itself. From the vantage point of the UN, the events of September 11 and terrorism as an international phenomenon have different sets of implications and impacts, so they are treated accordingly. Second, this is a book that is primarily about the United Nations. It is not an analysis of terrorism per se. The starting point for the analysis is the question of how the world organization has sought to deal with terrorism.

The fact that the UN has taken action against terrorism, even while not being able to agree on how to define the phenomenon, is an important part of the story. The lack of consensus — many observers point to the aphorism that "my freedom fighter is your terrorist" — exposes the depth of the problem terrorism poses for the world organization. The conclusion of one group of practitioners about this lacuna is noteworthy: "Action in the absence of an agreed-upon definition exposes the United Nations to the charge of double standards, thus undermining the very legitimacy and universality that are among its most precious assets." In recognition of the extent to which efforts to define terrorism are part and parcel of the analysis, this volume does not put forward its own definition of terrorism, even though the absence of such a definition is a persistent theme in this book specifically and in international relations more generally. The essays in this collection explore how the United Nations and the community of states generally have sought to deal with terrorism (including the struggle to define it), how the dramatic events of September 2001 have affected those efforts, and what all of that says about how we deal with international security in the twenty-first century.

The purpose of this first chapter is to outline the framework and substance of the volume as a whole and to draw conclusions based on the information and analysis in the chapters that follow. The first section situates the contents of the book in relationship to existing literature. The next two sections of the chapter focus on the two analytical frameworks that form the basis of the book — the shape of the so-called new international arena and how the UN responds to terrorism — drawing on the main issues and themes raised by the contributors to discuss what they tell us about the nature of the international environment and the future role of the world organization on this issue.

This first chapter, therefore, acts as both a conclusion as well as an introduction to the volume. We conclude with a short summary of the individual chapters so that readers can then pursue the individual chapters with an overview in mind.

The Literature

Academic literature about the world organization and terrorism has been at best sporadic and at worst simply nonexistent. This state of affairs is due, in part, to the fact that activities at the UN on this issue were few and far between and because specialized analyses in the literature on terrorism generally ignored the role of the world body. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, the issue was largely peripheral to mainstream analyses of either UN affairs or U.S. foreign policy until the events of September 2001. The present volume seeks to contribute to filling the significant void in the existing literature.

The academic literature on terrorism most relevant to this discussion includes cross-cutting work that derives from the disciplines of international law and political science. Each has its own particular focus, but they are joined by the most consistent element found in all of the terrorism literature — the need to define and conceptualize the phenomenon.

A great deal of terrorism-related work has been done with reference to specific historical examples. For example, over the years a large body of work has developed on the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and other groups in Ireland, on the Shining Path in Peru, and on a number of Middle Eastern examples. Perhaps the largest body of such writing relates to the ethics and politics of self-determination struggles, which led to the widespread debate about what to call a freedom fighter. Indeed, commentators often overlook the fact that human rights, and especially the right of self-determination, can serve as a justification for terror. Much of the anti-colonial struggle — in India, Algeria, and Vietnam, to cite the most obvious examples — justified terror as a means. The Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka and the Palestinians are the most recent manifestations of this phenomenon. Much of this literature remains in the realm of case studies.

Moreover, much of this debate is simplistic. Framing terrorism in terms of self-determination confuses human rights justifications, in which the loss of civilian life cannot be condoned, and the laws of war, in which attacks on civilians are strictly regulated. It also ignores that time and again civilian deaths are not a last but a first option for much terrorist violence — for example, by Basques and Irish nationalists. Rather than good-faith efforts to pursue political action, violence is a shortcut. Killing civilians gets the world to take notice and provides the other side with the option of retaliation. A downward spiral of repression then ensues, resulting in increased delegitimacy for the authorities that retaliate.

Attempts have been made to conceptualize terrorism by looking at the motives and methods of terrorist groups in order to identify common themes and practices and to generalize about the phenomenon, but these are relatively few in number. In contrast to this bottom-up approach, more theoretically driven groups exist who try to conceptualize terrorism by determining where it fits within the study of politics or how it relates to the evolution of warfare in the international system. A related area of scholarship looks at terrorism historically with a view to exploring whether or not it is its own phenomenon rather than one that is necessarily political or has developed within the last century. After the end of the Cold War, the conceptualization of terrorism was the subject of a spirited debate in relation to the possible development of a "new" terrorism. This debate was the product of a number of concurrent changes during the 1990s: the upsurge in terrorist incidents directed against the United States; fears associated with the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR) and the possibility that nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons were no longer under strict control; and the appearance of Osama bin Laden and his transnational network. The newness of this "new" terrorism was said to relate to the fact that some terrorist groups were religiously (rather than politically) motivated and that they were intent on inflicting harm on a massive scale.

One analyst points out that religion, certainly one of the factors motivating the terrorist attacks of September 11, was largely ignored by international relations scholars. This is perhaps the most glaring of shortcomings in previous scholarship; Al Qaeda's political theology challenges "the Westphalian synthesis, the fundamental authority structure of the international order."

Much of the international law literature on terrorism deals with the question of the legality or legal implications of the spectrum of responses to terrorism, especially in relation to the use of force and the laws of war. As with the rest of the terrorism literature, an increase in analytical attention follows closely on well-publicized and dramatic events. Thus, for example, there was an upsurge in attention to the issue in the aftermath of the 1983 attacks on the U.S. Marine barracks and the U.S. embassy in Beirut; the downing of Pan Am and UTA flights in the late 1980s; the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993; the attempted assassinations of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and former president George H. W. Bush; the bombings of a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan and of terrorist compounds in Afghanistan by the U.S. in response to the bombings outside American embassies in East Africa in 1998; and the attack on the USS Cole in Aden in 2000. In particular, there is a large body of work dealing with the Lockerbie bombing and the eventual successful prosecution of the two Libyan suspects in The Hague. To the extent that there is anything to be found on the United Nations and terrorism, it is most often within the international law literature because many of the existing international conventions on terrorism have been negotiated within the General Assembly's Sixth Committee (Legal). Even so, the discussion tends to be about the implications of the resulting conventions rather than on the UN's role as such — either as a norm-setter or an operational actor.

Overall, the literature is limited, indeed, when considered in the context of academic research and writing on international relations generally. In the scheme of things, terrorism was a relatively lower-level concern when measured against the security issues generated by the Cold War and subsequently by the security concerns resulting from the breakup of the Soviet Union. Academic fashions, along with governmental and foundation research funding, inevitably reflect such perceived priorities.

Perceptions and priorities underwent an instantaneous and fundamental change after September 2001. Since then, the issue of terrorism has dominated the academic and policy literatures. The question of how to define terrorism is on the back burner, while studies of the Al Qaeda movement and Osama bin Laden, who are accepted as the epitome of terrorism, have taken center stage.

Considerable attention has been given to the question of how best to respond to September 11 from national and international perspectives. For instance, intelligence-gathering and the tracking of human rights (national and international), along with the related question of the status of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, have generated heated debates about both human rights and the laws of war, raising the question of where terrorism fits in a state-based system. Also new are examinations of actors other than the traditional ones fighting terrorism (that is, military strategists, police, intelligence analysts, and political leaders). As William O'Neill points out, "New allies in the struggle include financial analysts, bankers, arms control experts, educators, communications specialists, development planners and religious leaders." This theme is a prominent one in this volume as well.

The UN featured briefly in the initial debate about the nature of the international response to September 11. The Security Council took note of Washington's reaction of self-defense, thereby effectively opting out of subsequent decision-making and leaving the military response to the United States. Article 51 of the UN Charter authorizes self-defense only until the Security Council takes action; this provision is made moot, however, when the council does not take such action or blesses self-defense. As a consequence, the studies and discussions produced in the immediate aftermath of September 11 focus on issues associated with the war on Afghanistan, U.S. policy, and whether or not this kind of response is appropriate to confront terrorism. The role of the United Nations, in either decision-making or in operational terms, is rarely visible.

The academic literature, therefore, has given little attention to the UN and terrorism, both before and after September 2001. This book is intended to fill that gap. Why is it important to do so? As the organization with the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, the UN should be at the forefront of the international response to terrorism. The fact that it has not been deserves attention and explanation. To what extent is terrorism, and particularly the attacks of September 11, an indication of a fundamental change in the international environment in which the UN operates? What, exactly, was the world organization doing about terrorism before and after September 2001? Together, what does all of this tell us about what form future UN efforts should take and whether it can and should be at the forefront of international efforts — normative and operational — to deal with terrorism in the future?

As this volume goes to press, the war in Iraq and its immediate aftermath are dominating the international agenda. Deliberations among the permanent members of the Security Council about the text of a resolution authorizing force against Iraq were front-page news on an ongoing basis until Washington and London's decision to withdraw their draft resolution and go to war without a Security Council authorization.

For us the question of how the United Nations deals with Iraq is only loosely connected with terrorism and more particularly with the American "war on terrorism." The events surrounding Iraq are quite separate from an examination of the UN's role in fighting terrorism. Nonetheless, politics intrudes into this analytical reality because of President George W. Bush's linkage of Iraq and terrorism. Although the editors and contributors see only tenuous linkages between Iraq and terrorism, Washington's framing of the debate in this way necessarily intrudes into our discussion about the nature of the international arena and the role of the United Nations. The struggle over resolutions in the Security Council, the use of force without its authorization, and the achievement of the declared goal of "regime change" in Iraq are all important aspects of the debate about the extent to which world politics have changed in the aftermath of September 11.

One direct implication arises from unease on both sides of the Atlantic regarding tactics and goals. Robert Kagan's caricature that "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus" can be dismissed as simplistic pop punditry. But clearly, the politics of the "coalition" response to Iraq, like the politics of the war on terrorism, have opened fissures in trans-Atlantic relationships. On the one hand, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) appears more publicly divided than it has since the administration of Ronald Reagan. On the other hand, the alliance and U.S.-European relations have weathered similar strains — disagreements over Vietnam, de Gaulle's withdrawal from the integrated command, and the basing of Pershing missiles on the continent, for example. As in the earlier disagreements, part of an explanation for the charged debate is a fundamental imbalance in power and argument about whether Europeans should be expected to follow Washington's leadership — which can also be translated into several European languages as "merely accede to American policy."


Excerpted from Terrorism and the UN by Jane Boulden, Thomas G. Weiss. Copyright © 2004 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

Framing the Debate

1. Whither Terrorism and the United Nations?
Jane Boulden and Thomas G. Weiss
2. Charter Values and the Response to Terrorism
S. Neil MacFarlane

The "New" International Arena

3. September 11th and Challenges to International Law
Nico Schrijver
4. The U.S., Counter-Terrorism, and the Prospects for a Multilateral Alternative
Edward C. Luck
5. Improving the International Response to the Transnational Terrorist Threat
Karin von Hippel
6. The Inherent Difficulties of Inter-institutional Cooperation in Fighting Terrorism
Thierry Tardy

The World Organization Responds to Terrorism

7. The Role of the Security Council
Chantal de Jonge Oudraat
8. Using the General Assembly
M. J. Peterson
9. Pulling the Plug: The Political Economy of Terrorism
Mónica Serrano
10. The Root Causes of Terrorism and Conflict Prevention
Rama Mani

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