Security in the 21st century: US and European responses to global terrorism

Master's Thesis 2004 55 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Peace and Conflict Studies, Security





1. Risks and Strategies in the Post-Cold War Era
1.1 Post-Cold War Security
1.2 The ‘War Fighting’ Approach
1.3 The ‘Crime Fighting’ Approach

2. The US Response – An Outward Oriented Approach?
2.1 The National Security Strategy of the United States
2.2 Donald Rumsfeld’s Defence Vision
2.3 Homeland Security

3. The European Response – An Inward Oriented Approach?
3.1 Justice and Home Affairs
3.2 Exporting the European Experience
3.3 Diplomacy and Development

4. War Fighting or Crime Fighting or Another Way?
4.1 Reasons for the Differences
4.2 Effectiveness
4.3 Alternatives




The outcome [of the war on terror] is, to say the least, quite uncertain.[1]

Global terrorism is not a new phenomenon, yet it has come to tragic prominence since September 11, 2001. While it is clear that fighting terrorism should be a priority for every government on the globe that believes in individual liberty and freedom, there still exists dispute over the optimal strategy. Yet, the means one chooses to fight an enemy reflect the values, norms and principles one stands for, and, particularly in the fight against terrorism, have become more important than the end itself.

The idea for this dissertation emerged when the transatlantic relationship was in ruins over the war on Iraq. The world was, once more, divided by ideological differences. This time it was not democracy vs. communism, but the Kantian world view of ‘old Europe’ vs. the Hobbesian understanding of world affairs of the United States and the members of the alliance of the willing. While the US thought it possible to achieve absolute security by forcing its values on every state of the world, Europe dreamt about a world beyond power that would, just as the European Union, be able to solve disputes by non- military means.

In the meantime, the war on Iraq is over and the Iraqi people have been liberated from Saddam Hussein. Yet, is the world a safer place now? The alleged danger posed to the world by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction has proven to be nonexistent. Despite the success of the US military to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, was able to strike spectacularly in Madrid and elsewhere, as if nothing could stop it, thus proving the war on terror ineffective.

The transatlantic relationship, however, appears to be reinstated regardless of the structural differences that still exist between the US and Europe. For the moment it seems the differences are set aside for cooperation and partnership to develop again. But will this new partnership be sustainable?

Writing an analysis of the international security environment in the current turbulent and uncertain times seems not a particular sensible enterprise, for it might rapidly lose its contemporary topicality. Nevertheless, I followed my initial plan to compare the counterterrorism strategies that have been introduced in the US and in Europe. If nothing else, this dissertation is a snapshot of the current attempts to fight global terrorism and a theoretical evaluation of their likely success.


We have learnt […] how different states and groups chose to respond to the global crisis. What we do not know, and cannot know, is how it will end. This is one of the most powerful lessons we should all take from the experience: September 11 should have taught us that we cannot assume, for the foreseeable future, that tomorrow will be like today. The global order is being recast, and the twists and turns will surprise us.[2]

With the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the international order has been changed forever. While traditional enemies have become economic and increasingly even political partners, at the same time, we have parted with the predictability of international affairs. The Soviet Union no longer represents the major threat to global security and the prospect of a nuclear war between the superpowers has vanished. Yet, although analysts saw a new and more peaceful international order emerge with the triumph of democracy over communism, today, a whole range of new risks[3] pose less costly but far more immanent threats to global peace and security. Since September 11, we finally have left the Cold War behind us and now have to come to terms with the threats terrorism poses to our security. With the terrorist attacks, the assumption that the gravest danger to national security originates in other states has become obsolete, as it has become evident, that “increasingly the enemies will not be states but other bodies like confrontational non-governmental organisations (NGOs), terrorist groups and militias.”[4]

Although the world stood united behind America when the dust of the collapsed twin towers of the World Trade Centre settled, differences between the United States and Europe soon became apparent. Europe might have supported the US in Afghanistan, both politically and militarily, but diverging interests already became apparent when the US sidelined NATO and preferred to lead ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ itself. The dispute escalated over the US plans to continue the war on terror in Iraq. Here, it emerged that the US and Europe do not share the same world view. While the US seem to perceive the world in Hobbesian terms, and believe that military strength is the only means to achieve security, Europe appears to understand security in the Kantian sense and believes that ‘perpetual peace’ can be achieved. The question that divided Europe and the US over Iraq then is more than a simple difference of opinion but reflects a deep philosophical division: Can global security be achieved by force or through sustained dedication to a set of normative principles implemented by the world community? Consequently, the counterterrorism strategies formulated in Europe and the US are of a fundamentally different nature, which cannot be explained merely by the discrepancy in military capabilities. If that would be the case, Europe would have begun to build up its military potential by now.

One of the main difficulties of this paper is the fact that Europe is still far from speaking with a unified voice. While the September 11 attacks have lead to increased efforts within the EU to cooperate more closely, the UK, for example, can be seen as closer to the US than to the rest of Europe. Nevertheless, the European approach to terrorism remains distinct enough from the US strategy to make a comparison worthwhile.

Acknowledging that “terrorism has become one of the most pressing political problems,”[5] the aim of this paper is to compare the US and the European approach to global terrorism, establish reasons for the differences and evaluate which approach might be more effective. In chapter one, this paper will discuss the impact of terrorism on the post-Cold War security agenda and look at the theoretical background of the ‘war fighting’ approach to terrorism as proposed by the US and the ‘crime fighting’ approach favoured by Europe. Chapters two and three will look in detail at the US and the European counterterrorism strategies respectively and discuss their merits and shortcomings. Chapter four then will evaluate the effectiveness of both approaches by establishing criteria to measure success. It will argue that neither approach is an ideal strategy and thus also examine alternatives.

As September 11, has changed our perception of security by demonstrating that even the US is, despite its unrivalled military superiority, vulnerable to attack, carried out by just 19 men armed with cardboard cutters, we should remain aware that the responses we chose to these attacks reflect our dedication to human rights, the rule of law and indeed freedom. Relying on military strength is easier than to acknowledge that terrorism is caused by a fundamentally unjust economical and political world order that markedly favours the West, yet it might ultimately prove to become more dangerous than terrorism itself, as it does nothing to resolve the problem but reinforces the world order that is the cause of the problem.

1. Risks and Strategies in the Post-Cold War Era

As we painfully learned on September 11, the challenges of the new century are not nearly as predictable as were those of the last.[6]

While the end of the Cold War could have brought a new era of international peace and stability, we witnessed instead the rise of a number of new risks to our security. With the end of superpower confrontation the danger of a nuclear or major conventional war between the United States and the Soviet Union might have diminished, but the world today is by no means more secure than during the second half of the twentieth century. Among these new challenges, terrorism is certainly not the only and perhaps not even the most dangerous threat[7], yet with the attacks of September 11, the agenda has been set and for the foreseeable future, the world will focus its efforts on counterterrorist activities.

Undisputedly, terrorism does pose a major security risk, which has risen steadily since the end of the Cold War and needs to be dealt with. In fact, Coker observed that “between 1968 and 1989 the rate of terrorist incidents was 1,673 per year. Between 1990 and 1996 there was an increase in 162% on the Cold War years (4,389 a year). […] More alarming is that new terrorism is primarily conducted against citizens, not governments.”[8] Although the terrorist activity increased considerably over the past decade, governments did not place it on top of the security agenda. “While terrorism is not a new phenomenon, there was little identification that bin Laden rather than Beijing, terrorism rather than Taiwan, would come to dominate international politics in the way that they have.”[9]

Even if one does not believe that September 11 has changed everything, one thing is certain: terrorism has – rightly or not – now been identified as the most dangerous threat to global security, which needs undivided attention. Three years into the acclaimed ‘war on terror’ two distinct counterterrorism strategies can be identified. These can be summarised as the ‘war fighting’ approach and the ‘crime fighting’ approach. Although both approaches seek to eliminate terrorism, neither strategy seems to be a miracle cure and both have particular problems and shortcomings.

Before focusing on the underlying theoretical difference between these two approaches and examine their main strategic implications, this chapter will firstly look at the post-Cold War security situation in general and identify the impact of global terrorism. This chapter will also establish that choosing either the ‘war fighting’ or the ‘crime fighting’ approach is not a matter of preference but is determined by a specific set of interests and values, which are embedded in the security paradigm a state holds. Having discussed the main counterterrorism strategies in theory, the following two chapters will use the United States and Europe as examples to represent how the two approaches work in practice.

1.1 Post-Cold War Security

With the end of the Cold War, it was assumed, a new world order would be established and a more peaceful era would begin. Yet, the decade after the fall of the Soviet Union was wasted and found its tragic end in the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001. By now, it has become clear that “the Cold War dichotomy of freedom versus communism has been replaced by a new organising principle: order versus disorder.”[10] While the danger of a major war has faded, it is widely acknowledged that “it is highly unlikely that in the near future advanced states will fight one another”[11], the break-up of the bipolar world order of the Cold War has increased the number of unconventional, but by no means less deadly, conflicts. “The end of the Cold War has loosened the international system. It makes new kinds of war possible and has changed the balance of military power.”[12]

The security agenda of the post-Cold War era is instead dominated by a number of less costly but far more immanent threats to our security. The question what represents a danger to our security shifts from ‘ which state might pose a threat’ to ‘ what might threaten us’. According to Rogers, there are three dominate drivers for conflict and insecurity in the near future: ‘socioeconomic division’, ‘environmental constraints’ and the ‘proliferation of military technology’.[13] The ‘socioeconomic division’ refers to the ever growing gap between rich and poor[14], which has been accelerated by demographic factors during the 1980s and 1990s. Rogers sees “a form of economic apartheid”[15] emerging on a global scale, which could lead to a „revolution of frustrated expectations“[16], fuelled by increased primary education and communication, which results in an awareness of marginalisation. ‘Environmental constraints’ are already felt by many, primarily African, nations as conflicts over resources, water in particular. “In the longer term, though, certain global environmental impacts are likely to be even more significant.”[17] The combination of these two factors has, according to Rogers, the potential to develop into the main threat to international security and stability over the next few decades. Furthermore, the fact that military technology is available increasingly to sub-state actors, further contributes to the formation of insurgency groups willing to cause mass casualties.

None of these threats is likely to be contained or deterred by the methods and strategies developed during the Cold War, which were designed for a security environment that no longer exists. The security paradigm the West has developed during the second half of the twentieth century, seems no longer applicable.

Yet, the September 11 attacks have not been carried out by a group of marginalised poor, but by relatively wealthy members of the middle-class who have profited by the effects of globalisation as most people in the Western world do. So what is the relevance of global terrorism to the security environment of the twenty-first century? Firstly, the attacks demonstrated that the unrivalled military supremacy of the United States could not stop a group of nineteen men causing terrible destruction and mass casualty. The attacks “had the effect of making over 280 million American citizen feel vulnerable.”[18] As a consequence, the US now has to come to terms with the dichotomy of being the strongest military power in the world, while at the same time being immensely vulnerable to low-tech terrorism. But perhaps more important is the US reaction to the attacks, which reflects not a concern for the reasons of the strength of al Qaeda or the underlying issues and causes of terrorism, but is an attempt to re-establish security and order by enormous military power, following the Cold War security paradigm.

In fact, Brown observes that there is a trend in US foreign policy to use military force more frequently in recent years, most notably in Kosovo and Somalia. “U.S. government officials have been exhibiting a surprising willingness to use military force as an instrument of foreign policy.”[19] The problem is that it is uncertain whether the use of military force is an effective way to achieve stability in the security environment of the twenty-first century, or whether it creates merely an illusion of control.

In the years ahead resorting to force may often seem to be a reliable way to establish control over a disorderly world and situations that threaten U.S. interests around the globe. But to expect to gain and maintain control through military prowess and muscle flexing could turn to be a dangerous illusion.[20]

Having briefly looked at the security environment of the twenty-first century and having established that US willingness to use military force also extends to the fight against global terrorism, it seems thus appropriate to focus on the ‘war fighting’ approach against terrorism.

1.2 The ‘War Fighting’ Approach

The attacks of September 11 have been identified, particularly by the US government, as acts of war against the United States, or even against the Western world. Indeed, the invocation of NATO’s Article 5[21] suggests that not only the US government considered the terrorist attacks of September 11 to be of an unprecedented scale and equal to an ‘armed attack’. Identifying an act of terrorism as a war-like situation has of course specific consequences for the way one deals with those responsible for the attacks in particular and terrorism in general.

Firstly, the military and other defence institutions will be in charge for counterterrorist actions, not the police and judicial institutions. And secondly, by using the terminology of war, one subscribes to a set of principles, values, norms and traditions associated with war. These principles and norms derive from a time when the enemy was almost always another state and war fighting happened between armies and thus apply to and regulate confrontations between armies.

The role of the military is providing defence and creating security against an external enemy. The military does not project its force towards the inside of the state but abroad. Therefore, the ‘war fighting’ approach can be labelled as an ‘outward’ looking approach. The military does not search for suspects inside the boundaries of the state but takes the battle outside the territory and to the enemy. This practice is fairly obvious when applied in a traditional war when it is clear which state launched an attack. In the war against terrorism, however, the principle cannot be applied as easily. Terrorists are not permanently linked to a certain territory and have no intention to defend their position, but rather move to another area when attacked. Perhaps this practice does work to a certain extend when states harbour large numbers of terrorists on their territory, like in Afghanistan, but generally speaking terrorism seems to be rather immune against military force.[22]

The fact that in the war against terrorism, the enemy is largely invisible, not necessarily linked to a particular territory and certainly not a state, inevitably causes ambiguity and uncertainty. Terrorism might eventually change the rationale of warfighting. Firstly, “in a traditional war, victory is assured by the occupying of ground; in a global war against terrorism not only has territory to be occupied in some sense globally, but also hearts and minds have to be won over.”[23] Yet more importantly: the enemy is not likely to obey the rules of war set up by states to regulate inter-state war. Hence, by choosing the ‘war fighting’ approach against an enemy that does not recognise the same rules, states are prone to work outside the rule of law as well. Asymmetric conflict, especially when conducted over a long period of time, is widely acknowledged to have negative effects on states’ willingness to follow international law and thus undermines state legitimacy.

Overall, the ‘war fighting’ approach against terrorism appears to bring more problems and difficulties as it resolves. It seems unsuitable against the threats posed by terrorism and could indeed do more harm to the state legitimacy and international law than even the most vicious terrorist network could do. Wallerstein even argues that a war against terrorism is impossible in principle.

Of course, one cannot conduct a war against terrorists. One can try to wipe them out, if one is strong enough. Given the loose and inclusive definition the US government is now giving the term ‘terrorism’, it seems highly improbable that this would be achieved.[24]

The main reason why states chose the ‘war fighting’ approach against terrorism after all, is certainly not simply preference. Rather it seems, that states relying on military capacity hold on to the security paradigm of the Cold War, and remain convinced that ultimately only military strength could offer protection against the enemy. They see the treatment of the symptoms as the priority and hope that the projection of strength can create fear in the enemy deterring him from further action. Although the clear cut division between ‘us vs. them’ is over, the US government seems to have re-interpreted ‘them’ as ‘terrorists’ enabling the use of conventional tactics.


[1] Immanuel Wallerstein, “Mr Bush’s War on Terrorism: How Certain is the Outcome?”, in: Ken Booth and Tim Dunne (eds.), Worlds in Collision: Terrorism and the Future of Global Order, Palgrave, Houndmills, 2002, pp.95-100, p.100

[2] Ken Booth and Tim Dunne (eds.), Worlds in Collision: Terrorism and the Future of Global Order, Palgrave, Houndmills, 2002, p.ix

[3] Most prominent among these risks are: environmental degradation, resource scarcity, demographic factors, nuclear proliferation, famines, HIV/Aids, etc.

[4] Paul Hirst, War and Power in the 21st Century: The State, Military Conflict and the International System, Polity, Cambridge, 2001, p.96

[5] David J. Whittaker (ed.), The Terrorism Reader, Routledge, London, 2001, p.vii

[6] Donald H. Rumsfeld, “Transforming the Military”, in: Foreign Affairs, Vol.81, No.3, 2002, pp.20-32, p.23

[7] In fact, there is little to suggest that terrorism is indeed more dangerous, at least in the long run, than for example global environmental problems, the growing socio-economic division between North and South, demographic changes, famines, the HIV/Aids pandemic, etc. Although terrorism has killed many thousand innocent people, the potential impact of other dangers might even be bigger. (see Paul Rogers and Malcolm Dando, A Violent Peace: Global Security After the Cold War, Brassey’s, London, 1992, p.153)

[8] Christopher Coker, Globalisation and Insecurity in the Twenty-First Century: NATO and the Management of Risk, OUP, Oxford, 2002, p.39

[9] Peter Shearman and Matthew Sussex, European Security After 9/11, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2004, p.3

[10] Marc Leonard, Re-Ordering the World: The Long-Term Implications of 11 September, Foreign Policy Centre, London, 2002, p.xi

[11] Paul Hirst, War and Power in the 21st Century: The State, Military Conflict and the International System, Polity, Cambridge, 2001, p.101

[12] ibid., p.79

[13] Paul Rogers, “Political Violence and Global Order”, in: Booth and Dunne (eds.), Worlds in Collision: Terrorism and the Future of Global Order, Palgrave, Houndmills, 2002, pp.215-225, p.216ff

[14] “In 1997 the share of GDP between countries was: richest 20% of countries – 80% of world GDP; middle 60% of countries – 13& of world GDP and poorest 20% of countries – 1% of world GDP.” (see: Hirst, op.cit., p.141)

[15] Rogers, op.cit., p.217

[16] ibid.

[17] ibid.

[18] Peter Shearman, “Reconceptualizing Security After 9/11”, in: Shearman and Sussex, op.cit., pp.11-27, p.17

[19] Seyom Brown, The Illusion of Control: Force and Foreign Policy in the 21st Century, Brookings Institution Press, Washington D.C., 2003, p.1

[20] ibid.

[21] Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty establishes that an “armed attack” against one member state “shall be considered an attack against them all”. The term ‘armed attack’ traditionally refers to an attack by another state and war.

[22] The US military operation against al Qaeda in Afghanistan immediately after the attacks of September 11, has so far not resulted in bin Laden being arrested or indeed in major damage being done to the network.

[23] Ken Booth and Tim Dunne, “Worlds in Collision”, in: Booth and Dunne, op.cit., pp.1-23, p.20

[24] Immanuel Wallerstein, “Mr Bush’s War on Terrorism: How Certain is the Outcome?”, in: Booth and Dunne, op.cit., pp.95-100, p.99


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Title: Security in the 21st century: US and European responses to global terrorism