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. Mr. Nyhamar’s chapter also provides an authoritative overview of the organizational infrastructure set up to manage Norway’s antiterrorism measures.
According to Margaret Purdy, a Canadian government terrorism analyst, September 11 served as a wake-up call to Canada’s concern about the terrorist threat posed by extremist Islamist elements within its territory. One of the problems Canada had to overcome, Ms. Purdy points out, was the perception that its liberal immigration policies were being exploited by foreign extremist elements to establish a safe haven in that country. Ms. Purdy authoritatively goes on to discuss the country’s perception of the threat, Canadian-U.S. security relations, the institutional mechanisms set up for antiterrorism and the balance between security measures and civil liberties.
William Rosenau’s insightful overview of U.S. counterterrorism policy traces its evolution before and after September 11 in terms of its military, intelligence, law enforcement, propaganda and political warfare, and curtailing funding components. Mr. Rosenau is a political scientist with the Rand Corporation. One may, however, disagree with his conclusion that the threat to the United States posed by al Qaeda is “overblown” by “apocalyptic hyperbole.” Such downgrading of the threat, however, runs the risk of being overtaken by a surprise operation planned over many years by a determined group such as al Qaeda and its affiliates.
Laura Donohue’s discussion of Britain’s counterterrorism policy is marred by an anti-British bias which runs through the chapter. As a result, she overemphasizes the coercive aspects of Britain’s response over the years, especially what she claims to be civil liberties abuses, while devoting too little attention to its conciliatory measures.
Such conciliation, for example, in cooperation with the Irish government, brought about the peaceful resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict in the late 1990s. Moreover, Britain’s intervention, together with the United States to eliminate al Qaeda’s threat in Afghanistan, is termed a “military aggression” against Afghanistan.
There is also no discussion by Ms. Donohue of the nature of Britain’s homegrown Islamic extremist threat, which led to the attacks against London’s transportation system in July 2005 and was followed by subsequent failed attacks and thwarted plots. Finally, little mention is made of the conciliatory components in Britain’s antiterrorism policy towards its Muslim community. Ms. Donohue is a fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.
Unlike the previously discussed chapters, which adhered to the editors’ conceptual guidelines, Hebrew University historian Martin van Creveld’s discussion of Israel’s counterterrorism policy is descriptive, not analytical.
As a historical narrative, it does not break down the different components of Israel’s combating terrorism campaign into separate sections, such as political, military, law enforcement and intelligence measures, including a discussion of the relationship between security and civil liberties, where, interestingly, the country’s high court’s decisions have affected counterterrorism. Finally, the enormously important issue of how Israel’s current policy of unilateral disengagement from West Bank and Gaza Strip territories links to the country’s overall combating terrorism policy is not adequately explained.
The book’s least scholarly chapter is Rohan Gunaratna’s discussion of combating al Qaeda and its associated groups. Mr. Gunaratna heads a terrorism research center at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore. His chapter is filled with unsubstantiated claims that are not documented, such as estimating al Qaeda’s membership in October 2001 at 4,000 members, that Western security services have thwarted more than 100 terrorist incidents since September 11 and that Iran cooperated with Jordan in apprehending the al-Zarqawi network.
Despite these reservations, this book is a significant contribution to understanding how Western governments take on the task of combating terrorism.
Joshua Sinai is a Program Manager for counterterrorism studies at The Analysis Corporation, in McLean, Va.