Academic journal article Military Review

NATO Special Operations Forces, Counterterrorism, and the Resurgence of Terrorism in Europe

Academic journal article Military Review

NATO Special Operations Forces, Counterterrorism, and the Resurgence of Terrorism in Europe

Article excerpt

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The rise of violent extremism and the recent terrorist attacks show we are dealing with a qualitatively new challenge.

--NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

The Islamic State (IS) has expanded into the realm of international terrorism, with the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai in October 2015, suicide bombings in Turkey in 2015 and 2016, and attacks in Paris in November 2015. (1) Consequently, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states, overwhelmed by the magnitude of a foreign-directed threat, could invoke Article 5 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty for collective defense in Europe. (2) Article 5 states that the signatories "agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all" (3) This principle of collective defense recognizes that terrorism is a threat to the NATO alliance.

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In the weeks that followed the 2015 attacks in Paris, there was significant discussion of whether France would invoke Article 5. (4) France chose not to. In fact, the al-Qaida attack against the United States on 11 September 2001 is the only case of an allied nation invoking Article 5 in an effort "to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area" (5) In less than twenty-four hours following 9/11, the NATO alliance determined that the United States was the object of an armed attack and that the attack had been foreign directed. Subsequently, NATO assisted the United States with seven NATO airborne warning and control system aircraft, conducting more than 360 sorties in U.S. airspace as well as supporting maritime operations in the Mediterranean. (6)

Need for NATO Special Operations Forces

Notwithstanding a clear and demonstrated cross-border terrorist threat to NATO as a whole, whether through a failure of politics or a rejection of reality, counterterrorism (CT) is not yet a principle mission of NATO special operations forces (SOF). As a result, without a doctrinal CT mission, it is likely NATO SOF will formally, or informally, be supplanted by a member state's national SOF CT units in the event of a large-scale terror crisis, a much less effective approach to dealing with a collective problem. Consequently, in light of the rapid expansion of IS and the increasing threat of terrorism in Europe, it is time for NATO SOF to establish CT as a principle mission.

NATO's website makes it clear that NATO SOF are ready to deploy to Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, but it also acknowledges that its SOF maybe required to operate in Europe as it adapts to new threats. (7) Although France chose not to invoke Article 5 in the latest terrorist event, it is not inconceivable that one or more member states that possess less robust SOF capability than France could be overwhelmed by a large-scale terrorist attack similar to 9/11 or, more likely, a series of complex attacks similar to the attacks in Mumbai and Paris. (8) Many of the NATO signatories that joined after the fall of the Soviet Union simply do not have the organic capability to deal with foreign-directed and well-resourced terror networks operating in or between European countries. Any member state with underdeveloped law enforcement CT or SOF CT capabilities is more likely to invoke Article 5, thus obliging allied nations to take "such actions, as it deems necessary" intended to "restore and maintain security" (9) Therefore, NATO SOF should be the NATO element capable of providing CT support to these younger member states.

On 29 September 2015, Hungary's prime minister warned that mass migration from countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Libya risked destabilizing Europe. (10) Germany alone expected to receive eight hundred thousand to one million refugees by the end of 2015. Some of these are believed to have traveled on fake Syrian passports. …

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