How the West Counters Terrorism

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 4, 2007 | Go to article overview

How the West Counters Terrorism


In How States Fight Terrorism: Policy Dynamics in the West (Lynne Rienner Publishers, $49.95, 261 pages) edited by Doron Zimmermann and Andreas Wenger, counterterrorism policies by several Western governments have been assembled as a series of case studies.

The volume's chapters were originally presented at meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, in March 2004, at which this reviewer participated as one of the discussants. The co-editors had convened the meeting and they wrote the volume's introductory overview and concluding chapters. The case studies have been updated (although, in some cases, not completely) to reflect new developments since the 2004 meeting.

The book is not intended to be a comprehensive examination of the Western approach to countering terrorism, but to examine the policies of six Western governments: Britain, Germany, Norway, Canada, the United States and Israel. The seventh case study is more general, focusing on combating al Qaeda and its associated groups.

One may despair of such incompleteness because France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, which are not included, face serious terrorist threats from radical Muslim elements within their societies and should have been given serious discussion.

Moreover, since both editors are Swiss (they are affiliated with the prestigious Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich), their intimate knowledge of their own government's policies to counter terrorism would have greatly contributed to our understanding of how a neutral state manages such threats. This is especially pertinent because in recent years Swiss authorities have rounded up terrorist suspects and shut down charities linked to Middle Eastern terrorist groups.

As set out by the editors, each case study is supposed to examine a country's internal and external security concerns, legal, political and military countermeasures, and political debates over security and civil liberty issues. The objective is to see if an integrated approach to counterterrorism against local and transnational terrorist groups is possible that balances efficiency and legitimacy.

The book's strongest chapters (on Canada, Germany, Norway and the United States) follow these guidelines, while its weakest chapters (on Israel, Britain and the response to al Qaeda and its affiliates) do not.

In a well informed discussion of Germany's antiterrorism policy, Victor Mauer, a scholar at ETH Zurich, points out that it is difficult to measure success in this area because no Islamist attacks, at least so far, have taken place in Germany, although many arrests have been made and terrorist funds blocked.

Instead, he focuses on how the terrorist threat has evolved in Germany from the left-wing Red Army Faction (RAF), which was active in the 1970s and 1980s, to today's al Qaeda-affiliated radical Islamists, who played a leading role in mounting the September 11 attacks against the United States.

Domestically, Germany's response has ranged from investigations and arrests of suspected Islamic extremists to a series of anti-terrorism legislative packages. Internationally, German troops are part of NATO's stabilization force in Afghanistan. Germany has treaded carefully in applying coercion in its anti-terrorism measures because of its commitment, to the extent possible, of preserving its citizens' civil liberties.

Norway's experience in antiterrorism is different from Germany's, according to Tore Nyhamar, a senior analyst with the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment. Few radical Islamists live in Norway and the country has never been physically threatened by terrorism internally. On a few occasions, al Qaeda's leaders have included Norway in their publicly announced list of targeted countries, and the controversy over the Danish cartoons led to the torching of Norway's embassy in Damascus, Syria. …

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