The European Union: Measuring Counterterrorism Cooperation

Article excerpt

Key Points

The United States and European Union (EU) are natural partners in the global war on terror, but cooperation, although absolutely necessary, is inherently difficult. Primary responsibility for most European counterterrorism policies remains with the separate governments of the 27 EU countries, which has presented coordination problems both within the EU and between the United States and European Union. Asymmetries in capacities and perceived vulnerabilities affect how different member states address counterterrorism. Institutional dynamics--not only among the various EU institutions but also between the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)--influence the degree of cooperation as well.

The EU has made progress generally as a result of the shock of actual or attempted terrorist attacks. Because Europe has been both a terrorist launch pad and a target in its own right, EU governments tend to focus on preventing terrorist attacks at home rather than fighting terrorists abroad.

Nevertheless, over the past 6 years, the United States and European Union--despite different historical traditions, legal approaches, and capabilities--have demonstrated an ability to work together. The key is to remain cognizant of the different dimensions (such as military, diplomatic, and financial) related to countering terrorism, as well as the time horizons. The tactical-operational considerations should not impede the longer-term strategic goal of delegitimizing terrorism as an instrument for political change.

One of the major concerns is that the threat crosses not only borders but also sectors. To date, the major terrorist attacks in Europe have been against soft-target transportation infrastructure, but critical information systems, energy distribution networks, and food supplies also are vulnerable.

A multilevel, multisectored approach may represent one answer to this situation. The United States should continue to pursue avenues of cooperation where appropriate at the national, EU, and NATO levels. Dialogue has the potential of building trust among stakeholders, which is the key to taking effective actions against terrorists.

Natural Partners?

The United States and European Union (EU) are natural partners in the global war on terror, but bureaucratic, cultural, and tactical differences threaten to hinder progress. Multilateral counterterrorism cooperation is inherently difficult because the degree of threat perception and capabilities to fight terrorism vary significantly among the different actors. Even if Americans and Europeans agree on the need to fight global terrorism, especially after clear evidence (for example, the 9/11, 3/11, and 7/7 terrorist attacks), there may be a lack of consensus on the mix of causal or aggravating factors, as well as what steps to take to overcome those factors. One thing that everyone does seem to agree on is that this is a fight no country can undertake alone.

The United States recognizes the challenge ahead and is working with partners, including the European Union (member states and institutions), in all areas of counterterrorism. As then--Coordinator for Counterterrorism Henry Crumpton told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 2006, "Dealing with the threat from violent extremism ... requires that we and our partners wage a traditional campaign using our judicial, law enforcement, financial, military, and diplomatic resources." He went on to say that this effort would not be easy or quick or one in which the United States could succeed on its own: "Countering violent extremism involves a world-wide effort. It will last decades, if not longer." (1)

Legacies of the Past

Europeans are quick to note that they had been dealing with terrorism long before September 11, 2001. The British confronted the Irish Republican Army, the Spanish fought the Basque separatists, and Germans struggled with the Baader Meinhof gang, to mention just a few of the more famous examples. …