September 11 has become a day of remembrance for all victims of terrorism and a poignant reminder of the constant threat posed by all those that would use terrorist tactics in the furtherance of their ambitions, their ideologies, or their political or religious goals. It is also a day for reflection on the progress made, and the steps that still must be taken, to quell international terrorism.
Since 9/11, we have remained relatively safe within our own national borders. Yet hardly a day passes without some roadside explosion, suicide bombing, or other terrorist attack elsewhere in the world. And we all recognize that we cannot let our own guard down even for a second. So while we have accomplished much, so much remains to be done.
The United States has been among the most active venues for ferreting out international terrorists, and those that finance them. In order to protect our national security and our citizens, we have passed legislation that extends well beyond our borders, and we have used our extensive leverage over international financial institutions to dissuade them from providing a conduit for terrorist funding.
But outside the United States, the EU, and a limited number of other counties, the situation remains quite different. There, the human, social, and economic costs of terrorism remain staggering. A recent US National Counter-Terrorism Center report indicates that there were more than 11,500 terrorist incidents last year alone, resulting in more than 13,000 deaths, 30,000 wounded and 6,000 hostages. While many of these terrorist attacks were concentrated in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, terrorist incidents were also reported in more than 70 other countries.
We must face up to the fact that it is still not viewed as illegal in many countries to provide funding to terrorist organizations, even to groups that might be linked to al Qaeda. And terrorist organizations continue to rely heavily on financial and material support from such countries, and from entities and individuals that condone and support their cause. Such is the case today with Iran and Syria, which continue to actively support terrorist groups carrying out their bidding; or Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States that allow their nationals to provide stipends to the families of suicide bombers.
The biggest remaining loophole in the international structure to combat terrorism is the fact that there is still no agreed definition of what constitutes terrorism. And, beyond the UN’s relatively short (and outdated) consolidated list of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders there is still no real international consensus as to who are terrorists. It is still left up to each country to make that determination for itself. The result is an unending flow of funds to groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, or even to the Taliban, which reportedly received some $105 million last year from contributors in South Asia and the Gulf Countries.
Last June the UN General Assembly General Assembly renewed its commitment to strengthening its 2006 Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy
against terrorism and terrorism financing. Yet efforts to conclude a Comprehensive Convention Against International Terrorism
, which was to be one of the centerpieces of this strategy
, have been all but abandoned. That Convention was supposed to provide a usable definition of terrorism that would be binding for all countries. But negotiations on this Convention have been shelved largely because the Organization of the Islamic Conference (or OIC) continues to insist on an exemption
for those organizations that claim to be struggling for “liberation and self determination.”
Many pundits have written off the possibility of coming up with a universal definition of terrorism that can capture all its elements and/or satisfy all those charged with its application. But such precision is not really necessary for international counter-terrorism purposes. However, it is critical that the counter-terrorism norms provided to the international community by the United Nations contain sufficient criteria describing the elements of terrorism to provide some standard by which to hold all countries equally accountable.
Victor Comras is the Author of Flawed Diplomacy: The United Nations and the War on Terrorism (Potomac Books).
No positions in stocks mentioned.