chapter  2
32 Pages

Multilateral counter-terrorism and the United Nations, 1945–2001

With the League of Nations having failed to prevent the outbreak of World War II, the allied states redesigned the institutions of global governance, founding the United Nations in October 1945. Although terrorism had attracted the attention of the League, it was not a significant concern for the new organization, which faced a range of emerging challenges, not least the onset of the Cold War. While the first reference to terrorism in the Security Council occurred in 1948 (in a resolution condemning the assassination of the UN mediator in Palestine, Count Folke Bernadotte, by Jewish extremists), there was only scant attention to terrorism in UN fora in the first 20 years of its existence. In the 1950s, passing references to terrorism were made in the Draft Code on Offences against the Peace and Security of Mankind, prepared by the International Law Commission, and in debates surrounding the definition of “aggression,” which began at that time. In the 1960s, terrorism was raised briefly in the context of the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States, finally approved by the General Assembly in resolution 2625 (XXV) (24 October 1970).1 But it was only late in that decade that terrorism reappeared on the international agenda, as a consequence of an increase in aircraft hijackings. Over the next three-plus decades (that is, prior to 9/11) there were something in the order of 100,000 terrorist attacks across the world.2

These attacks utilized diverse and often innovative tactics, as terrorists took advantage of technological advances in planning and executing acts of violence. These attacks were motivated by a variety of causes and this period spans the “anti-colonial,” “new left” and “religious” waves of terrorism, as summarized by Rapoport.3 They also prompted a diverse range of responses from states, who evolved a means of cooperating against terrorism in spite of their disagreements on fundamental issues, such as whether political violence could be justified

under certain circumstances and, in turn, how to define “terrorism.” The UN was integral to these developments. Its organs were the fora in which the views of states frequently clashed and, less frequently, coalesced. The UN-or, more correctly, the officials and bodies that comprise the UN system-were also important as actors in this period, prompting and facilitating negotiations. This chapter recounts the pattern of multilateral counter-terrorism

within the UN system prior to 9/11. Once again, my approach is chronological, but I draw attention to four key themes. First, the enduring attribute of counter-terrorism cooperation in this period was the failure to achieve a definition of terrorism and, in turn, the inability of states to achieve broad-based cooperation. Still, the broader trajectory was towards increasing (even if incremental) levels of cooperation over time. This was especially so towards the end of, and after, the Cold War. As this suggests, the structure of international relations exerted a broad constraint on counter-terrorism cooperation. But more immediately determinative of outcomes-and the issue on which Cold War rivalry rather piggy-backed for a time-was the politics of the Middle East. For much of this period, outcomes reflected entrenched positions either in support of Israel, or sympathetic to the various Palestinian groups that utilized violence. Second, when cooperation occurred, the form that it took was dis-

tinctive. In short, being unable to achieve broad-based cooperation without a definition of terrorism, a “piecemeal approach” evolved, whereby states agreed that certain terroristic acts (hijacking, hostagetaking, bombing, etc.) should be subject to prohibitions. The main contribution of UN bodies to counter-terrorism during this period was the conclusion of 12 international instruments (summarized in Appendix A), which cover a range of specific acts and manifest the piecemeal approach. Third, a further consequence of the failure to define terrorism was a “spillover effect,” whereby states sought to engage regional organizations, as well as other bodies outside of the UN system, to advance cooperation. Indeed, as if underscoring the limitations of multilateral approaches, and continuing a historical trend, the preference for many states was to cooperate against terrorism using bilateral or minilateral mechanisms primarily. Finally, in spite of the constraints, I argue that patterns of cooperation

in the pre-9/11 period were a key factor in determining the approach of states after those attacks. While the volume of multilateral activity against terrorism increased dramatically after 9/11, there is a sense in which later developments are “path dependent,” in that their form and content is contingent upon pre-9/11 measures.4 The signature achievements

of the UN in the post-9/11 period-including Security Council resolution 1373 (28 September 2001), the General Assembly’s 2006 “Global Counter-terrorism Strategy” and the proliferation of new rules and norms through specialized bodies within the UN system-have their roots in the pre-9/11 era. I develop this claim more fully in Chapter 3, but suffice it to note here that any attempt to explain the evolution of the UN’s response to 9/11 requires an account of what came before.