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Toward Multipolar Counter-Terrorism

Apr 25 , 2013

On Monday, April 15, 2013, the crowded finish line of the Boston Marathon turned into a nightmare as bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring more than 280 others.

“We strongly condemn such an act of terror targeted at innocent civilians,” said China’s new ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, afterwards. “We are ready to further our cooperation with the United States in fighting terror.”

If Washington and Beijing could find a common ground in dealing with the global threat of terrorism, much more would follow.

Legacy of terror

All major advanced economies share a recent history of terrorist escalation. Only hours after the Boston massacre, the annual simulation exercise by the special EU police units began across Europe. Meanwhile, the risks of extremism in the region are escalating, thanks to worsening economy, rising anti-immigration sentiment and failure to designate terrorist organizations.

In Japan, terrorism was seen as a Western dilemma until the hijacking of a Japan Airlines flight by a Japanese Red Army Faction and other terrorist attacks in the 1970s. The mid-1990s witnessed the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. After two lost decades, both right- and left-wing extremism is increasing in Japan.

Further, the large emerging economies are in no way immune to terrorism.

Only two days after the Boston marathon bombings, 16 people were injured in the latest Bangalore blast right outside the office of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the leading Indian opposition party.  In the past two months, this blast has been preceded by a series of attacks in Srinagar, Hyberabad and Pune. In the multiethnic India, terrorism is recognized as a significant threat to the state.

In Russia, the republic of Chechnya has waged two wars with Moscow’s security forces since the end of the Cold War. Meanwhile, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and a splinter group, the Islamic Jihad Union, continue to recruit zealots to fight against U.S. forces in Asia. In Russia, terrorism is considered a major threat to national security.

On April 24, a violent clash between authorities and assailants described as terrorists left 21 people dead outside the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang. In China, counter-terrorism often focuses on extremist violence in Xinjiang, which the authorities attribute to Uyghur activists.

As Brazil is preparing for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic games, the country lacks specific anti-terrorism legislation. Meanwhile, leaked reports suggest that two dozen extremists connected to Al-Qae

da and other terrorist groups are already using Brazil as a base to hide, raise money or plan attacks.

In the United States, challenging divisions about ethnic, racial and religious differences, even about the nation itself, have witnessed terrorism, from political assassinations to external terrorist attacks, especially after the end of the Cold War.

Today, the concern over terrorism is the lowest common denominator uniting both major advanced economies and large emerging nations.

From global terrorism to U.S.-Chinese counter-terrorist cooperation

Since the 1980s, global economic integration, boosted by Washington Consensus in the West and China’s economic reforms and opening-up in the East, accelerated growth prospects worldwide, until the great recession of 2008.

However, the same decades also saw a dramatic escalation of terrorism, which has been supported by the technology revolution that speeds up the diffusion of innovations globally. Typically, the kind of “pressure cookers” that were deployed in Boston were introduced in the 2010 feature “How to Make Bomb in Kitchen of Mom,” by the first issue of Al Qaeda’s English-language online magazine Inspire.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, many presumed that violence could be contained by the insulation of America, closed borders and “preemptive” wars. In reality, these policies alienated the United States from the international community.

Initially, 9/11 led to efforts of U.S.-Chinese counter-terrorist cooperation as the Bush White House sought Beijing’s cooperation in the anti-terrorism struggle against Al Qaeda and support for the U.S.-led “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

Meanwhile, Washington designated the “East Turkistan Islamic Movement” (ETIM) as a terrorist organization in August 2002. Reportedly, ETIM had committed over 200 acts of terrorism in the previous decade, resulting in over 160 deaths. Taking shelter under Taliban Afghanistan, ETIM leaders had met with Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda leaders, and other Islamic radicals to coordinate actions.

However, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) did not participate in the counter-terrorist coalition, and the initial U.S.-Chinese cooperation proved limited, even it contributed to a closer bilateral relationship.

Along with Washington’s unipolar security policies, U.S. war against Iraq, under the pretext of the threat of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction), contributed to the erosion of counter-terrorism effort.

Toward the next decade of multipolar counter-terrorism

While the past decade of nascent bilateral counter-terrorist cooperation did not go far enough, multipolar counter-terrorism initiatives could.

Neither Washington, with all of its military muscle and more than 40 percent of annual military expenditures worldwide, nor China, with its rising economic clout and military modernization, can contain globalized terrorism. But together, the two countries could rally the international community into effective counter-terrorism.

What is needed is effective action by leading advanced economies and large emerging nations, in which the cooperation of Washington and Beijing would have a great and even inspiring demonstration effect, through three vital initiatives.

•  Enlist the full support of advanced economies, via the G-7 nations, and the full support   of large emerging economies, via the BRICS.  

As the economic, political and military leaders of the advanced economies, the G-7 nations could rally the United States, Europe’s core economies, and Japan. Further, as the largest economic powers among the major emerging economies, the BRICS would represent the backing of India, Russia, Brazil, and South Africa, hopefully with the support of Indonesia, Mexico, and Turkey.

•  Develop a multipolar counter-terrorist platform. 

The strategic goal of these nations should not be overshadowed by old unipolar objectives or targeting of any one national, ethnic, racial or religious group (e.g., “Islamist” terrorism). Violent fundamentalism comes in all creeds.  The shared platform must be adequately broad to enlist all multipolar economies and sufficiently specific to be effective.

•  Develop an ongoing negotiating mechanism for shared disagreements.

Any united front is only as effective as its weakest link. Thus, it is important to identify the disagreements, agree to disagree, and to launch a continuing negotiating mechanism to build consensus approaches that truly serve multipolar counter-terrorist goals – not this-or-that nation’s unilateral interests.

After half a decade of stagnation in the U.S., recessions and downturns in Europe, two lost decades in Japan, as well as reduced growth prospects in the large emerging economies, the risk of destructive terrorism, its technological potential and global impact is greater than ever in history.

Within a decade, the odds are greater for than against a major ‘dirty bomb’ attack, biochemical horror or nuclear terrorism. We are running out of time. 

Dr. Dan Steinbock is Research Director of International Business at India China and America Institute (USA) and Visiting Fellow at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China) and the EU Center (Singapore).

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