chapter  2
22 Pages

Terrorism and extremism

Terrorism was hardly the primary focus of the international security agenda before the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 on US targets. Years later, with other urgent security concerns on the agenda, including those generated by the “war against terrorism” in itself, why is terrorism considered a major security threat? In what way is this threat strategic in nature? First, in the age of information and mass communications, of critical importance is not just the real scale of armed violence and its direct human and material costs, but also, and increasingly so, its broader destabilizing effect on national, international, human and public security and its ability to affect politics. As demonstrated by 9/11 and the subsequent series of high-profile, masscasualty terrorist attacks in various parts of the world, it no longer takes hundreds of thousands of battle-related deaths to dramatically affect international security and significantly alter the security agenda at the national and international levels. While the 3,000, mostly civilian, fatalities of 9/11 are by no means comparable to the huge battle-related military and civilian death tolls of major post-World War II wars (such as Korea, Viet Nam or the Iran-Iraq war), the political impact of 9/11 and its repercussions for global security have been comparable with those events. This disproportionately destabilizing, politically manipulative effect is the main hallmark of terrorism and far exceeds its actual damage. The highly asymmetrical nature and effects of terrorism are one of the main explanations for why it is considered to pose a strategic threat for many individual states and societies, and for international security. Second, although due to the broader destabilizing effects of terrorism measurable parameters alone (incidents, casualties, etc.) do not suffice to show the real scale of the terrorist threat, terrorism has been on the rise even in terms of sheer numbers. In contrast to the downward trend in state-based armed conflicts, the annual totals of which declined by 40 percent since the early 1990s until the 2003 low,1 overall terrorist activity increased three-fold from 1998 to 2007.2 The situation has gravely deteriorated as a result of both 9/11 and its spurring effect on international terrorist activity, but also due to the way the post-9/11 “war on terrorism” was conducted: since 2001, terrorism has been most sharply on the rise in those regions – the broader Middle East, especially Iraq, and South Asia, including Afghanistan – that were primary targets of the “war on terrorism.”