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Towards a Global Counter-terrorism Architecture

By Wyn Rees

Contemporary terrorism represents a global security challenge. To address this threat, the international community requires a global framework of counter-terrorism measures to prevent an adversary thriving in, what FBI Director Robert Mueller described as, the ‘seams of our jurisdictions’. Some analysts have called for such a world-wide institutional architecture to be created, yet they appreciate that such a goal is still a long way off. What exists presently is more of a patchwork of counter-terrorism governance embodied in a variety of settings and operating at a relatively embryonic stage. No dedicated international organisation has emerged in this field with an all-embracing body of rules.

The absence of a more comprehensive international counter-terrorism framework reflects the particularities of the problem. Terrorism remains a contested subject on which there is no universal agreement. It has traditionally been a national phenomenon and efforts to counteract it have been designed by individual states. As a result, bilateralism has been at the heart of cooperative efforts in which intelligence agencies, police forces and judiciaries have struggled to find ways of working together. Much of this cooperation remains informal and opportunistic, and relies on the forging of personal relationships between the security authorities of each side. The vital ingredient is trust, built up over time, between security professionals.

This is not to deny that regional cooperation has emerged in places, reflecting the shared priorities of groups of states. Various regional organisations have incorporated counter-terrorism provisions within their terms of reference, including the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the African Union (AU), the Organization of American States (OAS) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The patterns of cooperation are often unambitious as their members exhibit a reluctance to move beyond the realms of inter-governmental cooperation and assertions of sovereignty. States often have different experiences of terrorism and are unwilling to invest effort and resources to fight the phenomenon. The only regional organisation that has taken substantive steps towards counter-terrorism action has been the European Union. This is testament to its unique character and the unprecedented levels of integration that it has attained including in Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and in Justice, Liberty and Security (JLS).

At the global level, key western countries, led by the United States, have dominated efforts to mobilise international action. Within the United Nations, the events of 9/11 paved the way for UN Security Council Resolutions 1373 and 1540. These resolutions declared terrorism to be a threat to international peace and security, focused on financial reporting and reducing the spread of nuclear materials and established a Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) to monitor state compliance. Critics have noted that momentum has rapidly drained away from such initiatives as states turned their interest to more immediate concerns.

One forum that frequently gets overlooked is the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrial countries. It is an example of how governance structures designed for one purpose, namely the targeting of money laundering from the drugs trade, have been adapted to the needs of counter-terrorism. The G-8’s Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has been re-focused on terrorist financing and ‘Financial Intelligence Units’ (FIUs) have been set up in over 120 countries to maintain oversight of banks and other institutions as well as reporting points for suspicious financial transactions.

Nevertheless, in the face of the global challenge presented by transnational terrorism, these examples of multilateral cooperation are few and far between. There remains an absence of a more systematic global architecture that could bind states into a set of agreed counter-terrorism norms and practices. What currently exists is a messy patchwork of organisational frameworks and a range of norms that are adhered to by some, but not all, states. This is unlikely to change in the near future.

For a more detailed discussion of this subject, see:

Rees, W. (2014) ‘Counter-terrorism, in Sperling, J. (ed) Handbook of Governance and Security, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.

Image credit: Wikipedia Commons

Published inConflict & SecurityIntelligenceinternational securitySecret Intelligence and Covert Action

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