International Terrorism

By Zunes, Stephen | Foreign Policy in Focus, September 30, 2001 | Go to article overview
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International Terrorism

Zunes, Stephen, Foreign Policy in Focus

Key Points

* The massive terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001, have placed
the threat of terrorism on the front
burner and have exposed the failure
of the U.S. government to protect its

* The U.S. is using the threat of
terrorism to justify a series of
controversial policies, including
tougher immigration laws, high
military and intelligence budgets, and
restrictions on civil liberties.

* Terrorism is rooted in political
problems requiring political solutions
and necessitating a major
reevaluation of U.S. foreign policy as
a whole.

Recent U.S. presidents have claimed that international terrorism is a major threat to this country's national security and that the war against terrorism should be a major focus of U.S. foreign policy. This appeared to many observers to be hyperbole until the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

Despite a great deal of attention from the highest levels of government in recent years, when the attacks occurred, Washington was not ready, and there appeared to be little coherency in actual policy. As recently as 1998, Richard Davis of the General Accounting Office reported, "There does not seem to be any overall strategy to guide how we're spending money on counterterrorism" and, despite congressional eagerness to fund such efforts, there seems to be "no oversight, no priorities, no strategy, and much duplication." The multibillion-dollar blank check given to the Bush administration to combat terrorism in the wake of the September 11 catastrophe raises fresh questions about how wisely such resources will be spent. Indeed, the fight against terrorism has been the justification for a series of controversial policies, including tougher immigration laws, high military and intelligence budgets, restrictions on civil liberties, sanctions against "rogue" states suspected of harboring terrorists, and arms shipments and training programs for repressive governments abroad.

Successive U.S. administrations have been criticized for using an overly narrow definition of terrorism--the killing of noncombatants by individuals or small groups of irregulars--while ignoring the usually more widespread killings of equally innocent people by sanctioned organs of recognized states. Indeed, the U.S. has supported and continues to support governments that have engaged in widespread terrorism against their own populations. Furthermore, the U.S. has refused to cooperate fully in efforts to prosecute state terrorists--such as Chilean General Augusto Pinochet--when attempts are made to bring them to justice, and the Bush administration has opposed creation of the International Criminal Court.

Even using the more restricted definition of the term, however, the U.S.

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