Current and Future Trends in Domestic and International Terrorism: Implications for Democratic Government and the International Community

By Wilkinson, Paul | Strategic Review for Southern Africa, November 2001 | Go to article overview

Current and Future Trends in Domestic and International Terrorism: Implications for Democratic Government and the International Community


Wilkinson, Paul, Strategic Review for Southern Africa


Director: Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence

University of St Andrews, United Kingdom (*)

ABSTRACT

This article distinguishes terrorism from other forms of violence and identifies the main types of terrorism in the contemporary international system. The major current trends in International and Domestic Terrorism are then briefly outlined. The article emphasises the key role of government response and argues that although democracies are inherently vulnerable to terrorist activity their popular legitimacy gives them an inner resilience to prevent terrorists from attaining their strategic goals. The value of prophylactic political, diplomatic and other socio-economic measures in helping to prevent the escalation of conflicts, which spawn terrorism is also emphasised. In conclusion, some of the key components of an effective counter-terrorism strategy are identified, drawing from the recent history of democratic responses. These include enhanced law-enforcement and criminal justice measures to combat organised crime, enhanced counter-terrorism intelligence and international intelligence co-operation, enhance d aviation security, and measures to combat terrorist fund raising.

1. CONCEPT AND TYPOLOGY

Terrorism is a special form of political violence. It is not a philosophy or a political movement. Terrorism is a weapon or a method, which has been used throughout history by both state and sub-state organisations for a whole variety of political causes or purposes. This special form of political violence has five major characteristics.

-- It is premeditated and aims to create a climate of extreme fear or terror;

-- it is directed at a wider audience or target than the immediate victims of the violence;

-- it inherently involves attacks on random and symbolic targets, including civilians;

-- the acts of violence committed are seen by the society in which they occur as extra-normal, in the literal sense that they breach the social norms, thus causing a sense of outrage; and

-- terrorism is generally used to try to influence political behaviour in some way: for example to force opponents into conceding some or all of the perpetrators demands, to provoke an over reaction, to serve as a catalyst for more general conflict or to publicise a political or religious cause, to inspire followers to emulate violent attacks, to give vent to deep hatred and the thirst for revenge, and to help undermine governments and institutions designated as enemies by the terrorists.

Terrorism is a very broad concept. (1) The role of typology is to sub-divide the field into categories, which are more manageable for research and analysis. One basic distinction is between state and factional terror. There is of course a very considerable historical and social science literature on aspects of state terror. (2) In view of the sheer scale of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and mass terror that have been and are being committed by regimes, this is a more severe and intractable problem for humanity than the containment and reduction of factional terror by often very tiny groups. It is also important to observe that historically state terror has often been an antecedent to, and, to varying degrees, a contributory cause of, campaigns of sub-state terrorism. Once regimes come to assume that their ends justify the means they tend to get locked into a spiral of terror and counter-terror against their adversaries.

Another important distinction is between international terrorism, involving the citizens of two or more states, and domestic or internal terrorism, which confines it's activities within the borders of a specific state or province. Terrorism analysis based entirely on international incident statistics cannot provide an accurate picture of world trends in terrorism because it excludes well over 90 per cent of terrorist activity around the globe. …

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