Terrorism is a broad phenomenon which can have many subjective interpretations. Even if its definitions vary widely, it is well known that terrorism relies on the use of violence and it can be seen as a result of bargaining failure. Terrorist actions are carried out by non-state actors and are designed to achieve specific political changes. In order to achieve their objectives, terrorists are looking for different targets which, hit, assure not only a considerable loss, but also a psychological impact on public opinion, endangering human lives, values systems, standards and political systems. As terrorism became a global issue, states adopted different strategies such as defensive measures, preemption, or negotiation and compromise in order to prevent and fight against it.
In this essay I will analyze one of the strategies mentioned above, the strategy of preemption against terrorism and I will examine its costs and benefits. In the first part of my essay I will present this strategy in detail, explaining what it represents and how it can be adopted. In the second part of this essay I will emphasize the costs and the benefits of this strategy, giving certain examples. I will also try to explain in what sense it can increase support for groups who are using terrorist strategies. In the end, I will state my conclusion, based on arguments.
The strategy of preemption is based on taking the initiative and destroy terrorist networks before they attack. This strategy can be applied by destroying terrorist camps or their hiding places, or by assasinating them. This was the most outstanding strategy adopted by the Bush administration as a response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. In September 2002, the President George Bush emphasised the need of using this strategy in order to preempt attacks from states which may posses weapons of mass destruction. Both wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were justified by the President of the U.S. as ways of preventing terrorism.(Haynes, Jeffrey. World Politics. Harlow: Longman/Pearson, 2011. Print) As it has recentely been adopted by the U.S, terrorism preemption could be defined as “those offensive military and associated actions by the services and other appropriate agencies that are initiated against terrorists, their organizations, supporters,and sponsor states to prevent or deter acts or campaigns of terrorism directed against US citizens and interests.”( Sloan, Stephen 2000:39 )
The terrorist attacks on 9/11 had a great impact not only in U.S., but also on the whole international security context. Before these events, the imbalance and balance between the states represented a normal geopolitical framework, but which was seriously affected because of the emergence and development of civil, nongovernmental and transnational organizations which took the shape of terrorist organizations. Washington is dealing with actions carried out by terrorist organizations including Al-Qaeda, which is the most important. European Union may be destabilized quite seriously, if it will not manage effectively with the fate of millions of Islamists whose political culture is totally different from the liberal democratic system. There is emphasized the idea that the destabilization of the current world order has its roots in Washington’s failure in Iraq. Also, it is quite certain that it could reach the same result even if the U.S. intervened elsewhere than in Iraq or Afghanistan. It could reach the same result even if it did not intervene at all, anywhere, because the danger comes from non-state actors, who are determined to end the existence of states, civilizations and cultures that seem to be in conflict with their religious believes. (Amoore, Louise, and Marieke De Goede. Risk and the War on Terror. London: Routledge, 2008. Print.), (Baylis, John, Steve Smith, and Patricia Owens. The Globalization of World Politics: an Introduction to International Relations. New York, NY: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.), (Chomsky Noam, Hegemonie sau supravieA?uire. America in cA?utarea dominaA?iei globale, BucureAYti, Ed. Antet, 2003)
Fighting against terrorism represents a war, strategies made in detail, not only large-scale actions such as the counterblast of the U.S and their allies in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a conflict that depends on political decisions, information technology and on the capability of mobilizing the resources. The year 2003 represented an important moment during this fight against terrorism, even from its beginning, when in March, the war started in Iraq. The campaign from Iraq is unique, characterized by shock, by the precise usage of the ammunition which occurred at a scale as has never been, and also by the use of overwhelming forces. Using well prepared strategies, allowed the execution of the operation in a sustained manner and minimized the collateral damage. (Amoore, Louise, and Marieke De Goede. Risk and the War on Terror. London: Routledge, 2008. Print.)
This brings me to the second part of this essay. Even if the good strategies used during the war minimized the loss, the strategy of preemption remains very costly in many ways. First of all, surveillance must be continuous; otherwise it will be impossible to prevent all the terrorist attacks. Secondly, tracking all the possible terrorist activities is also a hard and costly activity. More than these, surveillance can violate the civil liberties of innocent citizens. Accomplishing all of these, an important amount of financial and human resources are needed. The key to an effective fight against terrorism is the accountability of the democratic states, a process of strengthening their institutional instruments, in order to apply better and strictly impose the law. In the same time, the democratic states have to be trained in an international cooperation of preventing and fighting against terrorism from a political, economical, social and military perspective. The international cooperation is essential for an efficient monitoring system of the terrorist threat.( Andreescu, Anghel, and Nicolae Radu. OrganizaA?iile Teroriste Conceptualizarea Terorii vs Securitatea EuropeanA?. Bucuresti: M.I.R.A, 2008. Print.)
Another problem of this policy is that preemption itself is illegal under the international law, which makes it impossible to finance it and to be supported by many countries. There is though an exception of this law, an exception which allows a strategy of preemption when it is known for sure that a state will be attacked. This law appeared right after the Second World War, and because of that it refers to a military threat from other states. Regarding the fact that terrorist networks act on their own, without asking approval from any state, the strategy of preemption can not be approved by the UN. (Shue, Henry, and David Rodin. Preemption: Military Action and Moral Justification. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.)
Of course, making public the adoption of such strategy of fighting against terrorism in certain areas, can draw the attention of the terrorist groups and they can use these information to prepare themselves. This will make defeating them much harder and will take much longer than expected. Using preemption as a long term strategy and by attacking all the people involved in terrorist activities, terrorists will be able to adapt themselves and be prepared for a war, knowing the strategies of the target country from previous attacks. This is why, from a practical perspective, this strategy can be used only on a short term. (Chomsky Noam, Hegemonie sau supravieA?uire. America in cA?utarea dominaA?iei globale, BucureAYti, Ed. Antet, 2003 )
The most important aspect is, when talking about a strategy of preemption, the amount of money spent on financing the war which will prevent a terrorist attack. Since the events on 9/11, the U.S. spent a huge amount of money in order to financially support the war of terror. The Americans invaded Iraq because, as Bush administration affirmed, it was financially supporting terrorism and was possessing weapons of mass destruction. This invasion caused instability in the U.S economy. The economist Joseph Stiglitz said in 2008 that the U.S adventure in Iraq is more expensive than any war that has ever been fought. More than that, 4.421 Americans died when the invasion started, in March 2003 and 32.000 were hurt during the attacks. Almost 100.000 of Iraqi citizens died during the war. In 2009, the U.S. military expenses numbered $663,3 mld, but according to the Congressional Research Service, the costs of the war will be around $802 mld at the and of 2011.
(Rosca, Cristina, and Andreea Neferu. “US Ended the War in Iraq.” Financial Newspaper 1 Sept. 2010. Print.) As it can be seen, the costs of a preemtive war are very high, and not only from a financial point of view. Besides the costly military operations and the suffering caused to civilians, the strategy of preemption also leads to a ruined infrastructure. After the terrorist threat will be removed, more funds will need to be allocated to pay for the reparations that the war caused.
Another fact that needs to be noticed when talking about preemption is that foreign countries may find this strategy a disproportionate response to the terrorist threat. Because, by definition, preemptive actions occures before a terrorist attack, the target countries may have good reasons to exaggerate the real threat . Also, because predictions can be sometimes deviant, other states may remain skeptical on this strategy when a country adoptes it. The decision that the Bush administration took regarding the invasion of Afghanistan was seen by many states necessary and totally justified after the attacks on 9/11. On the other hand, the decision of expanding the war from Afghanistan to Iraq, which was never linked with the terrorist attacks that took place on 9/11, excepting by the Bush administration, made people from all around the world to fear a possible invasion. Now, the countries worldwide were at risk of preemptive war if they were accused for terrorism actions or for financially supporting terrorism. Many foreign governments opposed to this actions which was seen by them as a violation of the sovereignty of a country.(Haynes, Jeffrey. World Politics. Harlow: Longman/Pearson, 2011. Print.)
Using the strategy of preemption, even for fighting against terrorism, can result in more support from the people for those who are carrying out the attacks. As I have mentioned above, preemptive actions can cause many damages in the states accused by terrorist actions. Ruining the infrastructure of a country, and more than that, causing suffering to innocent civilians will make the citizens of that country fight against the state that attacked them, and even support the terrorist networks. In the case of the U.S actions, even if they gained many allies to fight with against terrorism, the Americans also made many enemies in the countries they attacked.
When talking about preemption, some people sustain the idea of self-defence, justifying the actions that need to be taken according to this strategy. Other people, espacially those who opposed to the Iraq War, deny the fact that a preemptive action could be ever justified. (Shue, Henry, and David Rodin. Preemption: Military Action and Moral Justification. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.)
In conclusion, the strategy of preemption, used in fighting against terrorism is not totally effective. Even if it seems to remove the terrorist threat and it is seen in some countries as one of the best actions that a stat can adopt against terrorism, it can be very costly because of the military operations that it involves. On a first sight it seems to be working but, in order to state this sentance, the damages that it may cause need to be excluded. It can violate the civil rights, it seems to have a lack of legitimacy, creates suffering among civilians, can make more people suport the terrorist networks and, probably the most important aspect, it can not be adopted for a long term period.