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Old Friday, August 27, 2010
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Arrow The new terrorism


Mahdi Mohammad Nia∗


After the cold war, the world’s security perspective underwent a
major change from the seeming stability of the bi-polar power
balance to a situation in which sub-national groups and
organizations particularly terrorist groups became able to
acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Since the mid
1990s terrorism has transformed into an inherently new
structure with new characteristics and now presents markedly
different challenges than traditional state-to-state security
threats. The concept of “new terrorism” is being used to justify a
“new” counter-terrorism war initiated by the United States in
2001.The aim of this paper is to develop an understanding of the
changing nature of war, new terrorism and the US - post 9/11
counterterrorism strategy.

Keywords: international security, old terrorism, new terrorism,
motivation, territoriality and individualization.


he concept of threat is considered as one of the ambiguous
concepts of world politics which has been changing with the
changing international environment. With the end of the Cold
War, the world’s security perspective underwent a major change from
the seeming stability of the bi-polar power balance to a situation in
which not only any state, but even sub-national groups and
organizations may be able to acquire weapons of mass destruction
The traditional meaning of international security, which
dominated both the academic and the political worlds until the end of
the Cold War, remained focused on the use of force between states,
specially in the context of great powers’ military operations. In this
perspective, states as the main actors of world politics are both the cause
of the threat to security and what is threatened. But since the 1980s, this
picture has become increasingly questionable with regard to who should
be secured, the nature of international threats, and the kind of reactions
that were subsequently authorized to manage the contemporary threats.
International security which has long been challenged by wars and
conflict between states is presently jeopardized by an unknown,
complex, and unconventional force so called "new terrorism". Terrorism
is certainly not a new phenomenon. The terrorist attacks on the World
Trade Center and Pentagon in September 2001 brought it to prominent
attention in the United States and many other countries. In this regard,
the September 11 attacks have not only altered how one defines security
but also disclosed the true nature of new terrorism as the current threat
to world peace. It can be said that this event undoubtedly marked a
turning point in the nature of terrorist activities. Terrorist groups
operate in secrecy, often blending in with civilians, and typically attack
using means other than large formations of conventionally armed
soldiers. Therefore, it is more difficult to detect in advance their
readiness for a terrorist attack. New terrorists, unlike guerrilla armies or
traditional insurgencies, do not control territory and they have no
population to defend. This is making terrorist invasion more difficult to
deter by the threat of counterattack.
Nowadays, "A terrorist operation carried out in the United States
can be orchestrated from the Middle East or Southeast Asia. Such an
incident could even involve the use of weapons of mass destruction, such
as a suitcase containing a nuclear device or Anthrax spores". The
growing risk of linkages between terrorism and weapons of mass
destruction has become an acute international security concern.

Contemporary terrorism, with possibility of using chemical, biological,
or nuclear weapons, poses serious challenges to the global security.5
Of course, the contemporary terrorists threatened not only the
security of the United States, but also of many countries, especially the
US allies in South Asia (Pakistan and India). In the case of Pakistan,
according to Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), only in 2009, 87
suicide attacks occurred in this country (32 per cent higher than the
previous year) killing 1,299 persons and injuring 3,633.6 In the case of
Pakistan, the global security concerns arise from the country's instability
and the much hyped perception that its nuclear weapons might fall in
the hands of terror organizations like the al-Qaeda and Taliban.

War and Conflict in a Changing World

The nature of conflicts has continuously evolved and changed. The
traditional formulation of international security apparently faced the
problems raised by the narrow definitions of threats. The major problem
refers to concentrating on the state as the unit of analysis and the main
referent in the context of security. This has changed after the end of the
Cold War and particularly since 9/11. There has been a significant shift
from state to non-state actors especially the "new generation" of terrorist
groups. Traditional methods have proved to be insufficient to fight these
new threats. This transformation has created a new kind of threat which
is called "asymmetrical threat". This concept "implies the superiority of
the attackers against its target despite the terrorists' relative weakness."
In reality, since the terrorist attacks in September 2001, many
countries have begun to look at international security in a much broader
context than was the case during the bi-polar Cold War conflict. The
events of 9/11 served as a wake-up call to the world that international
terrorism poses grave dangers to civilian and military populations alike.

These attacks were distinct in several ways. First, the deaths associated
with the 9/11 terrorist attacks were unprecedented: the human casualties
were equal to the number of deaths from international terrorism since
the 1980s to the end of 2000. Second, 9/11 showed that everyday objects
(jetliners) could be turned into deadly weapons with catastrophic
consequences. Third, the event showed that the goals of today’s
terrorists were to seek maximum destruction and induce widespread
panic as against the predominantly left-wing terrorist campaigns of the
1970s and 1980s that sought to win over constituencies. Finally, 9/11
mobilized a huge reallocation of resources to US homeland security.
Since 2002, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget has
increased by over 69 per cent to $36.2 billion for the fiscal year 2004 and
$40.2 billion for 2005. A little over 60 per cent of DHS’s budget was
spent on counterterrorism programmes on the US soil. These
expenditures are small compared to the so-called preemptive actions
taken in fighting the “war on terror,” including the US wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. According to a new report from the Government
Accountability Office (GAO), the US Congress has provided the
Department of Defense (DOD) with about $808 billion in supplemental
and annual appropriations since 2001, primarily for military campaigns
in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Still other proactive
spending involves improving intelligence, tracking terrorist assets, and
fostering cooperative linkages with other states.
Generally, in the contemporary era, the nature of war and conflict
has undergone some major transformations:
1. Crises in the 1990s and 2000s have intensified a trend that
started during the Cold War—the shift from war between
states to war within states. Many wars and conflicts during
and after the Cold War were often between warring parties
and non-state actors within national borders. Some scholars
believe that the violence and civil conflict in countries like
Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Liberia, and Rwanda
have features which are qualitatively different from previous
conflicts. In reality, contrary to conventional wars, the
"war on terror" is an asymmetric war in which instead of
asking “where is the enemy?” the first question asked is,
“who is the enemy?”. The enemy in an asymmetric war does
not wear a uniform and is part of a civilian population, and
thus it is not always obvious who it is. Moreover, the
adversary can be “both” an ordinary civilian during the day
and a terrorist at night.
2. Non-state organizations, such as guerrilla groups, terrorist
networks, and paramilitaries (unofficial armies especially in
Iraq) are increasingly organized along ethnic or religious
lines. These actors have reach beyond their national borders.
Nowadays, terrorist groups often attack outside the
boundaries of their own country, whereas most terrorist
attacks in the past occurred within countries or sometimes in
neighbouring countries.
3. The primary victims and majority of casualties are now
civilians, while military deaths are on the decline. In Iraq for
example, it is estimated that more than 30,000 civilians have
died, well below the 5,000 U.S. soldiers killed there.
According to NCTC (National Counter Terrorism Center)
there was an uneven upward trend from 1982 to 2003 in the
numbers killed and injured in international terrorist attacks
each year. The 2004 casualty toll (includes those wounded)
was nearly 9,000, double that of 2003.14 At the beginning of
the twentieth century, “the ratio of military to civilian
victims was about nine to one, while during the Second
World War, the ratio was about even. By the end of the
century, the ratio had been completely turned upside down
as nine civilian deaths occurred for every one military
death.”15 Today, victims of war cover all sections of the
population regardless of gender or age. Nowadays, the
ongoing human suffering comes from the imposed conflicts
in Angola, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Colombia, Sudan, the
Great Lakes region of Africa, Palestine, West Africa, Rwanda
and Srebrenica.

The New Terrorism: Contemporary Challenge to Global

What is Terrorism?

Essentially, terrorism is a vaguely defined term. The political and
ideological nature of terrorism renders it difficult to define. Moreover,
“terrorism” is a pejorative term; most terrorist groups do not like to call
themselves such."16 While terrorism has existed in one form or another
for centuries (if not millennia), no international and comprehensive
definition has been accepted.
In fact, the term terrorism carries ideological baggage. The cliché
that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is critically
significant. In fact, the nature of "conflict" is one of the significant
contextual elements when examining terrorism. The nature of conflict is
definitely a distinguishing factor in classifying an act as terrorism,
freedom fighting, insurgency, or guerilla war. The boundary between
them is muddled. Moreover, in examining terrorism, the role of the
media should not be ignored. The media exploits the term terrorism in
order to sell the story by sensationalizing it. In fact the media can
sensationalize any number of activities as a terrorism act.17
Scholars and political organizations have formulated various
definitions of terrorism. The difficulty encountered when trying to
define terrorism is connected directly to the source of the definition. In
other words, the group or organization defining terrorism will normally
determine its meaning. Schmidt and Youngman, the authors of Political
Terrorism, identified 109 different definitions. Many efforts to define
terrorism as an international legally binding instrument were
unsuccessful. Jonathan White proposes that terrorism must be examined
through the contextual elements of history, conflict, political power,
repression, media, crime, religion, and specific forms of terrorism.18
Bruce Hoffman offers the following definition of terror: “Violence—or,
equally important, the threat of violence—used and directed in pursuit
of, or in service of, a political aim.”19 Walter Enders and Todd Sandler
define terrorism as “The premeditated use or threat to use violence by
individuals or sub-national groups in order to obtain a political or social
objective through the intimidation of a large audience beyond that of the
immediate victims.”20 According to Caroline Kennedy-Pipe, “terrorism
may be defined as the use of violent or intimidating methods to coerce a
government or community—a phenomenon noticeable throughout
modern history.”21 The United Nations defined terrorism (not officially
accepted) as follows: “The act of destroying or injuring civilian lives or
the act of destroying or damaging civilian or government property
without the expressly chartered permission of a specific government, this
by individuals or groups acting independently... in the attempt to effect
some political goal.” The UN definition also considers all war crimes as
acts of terrorism. However, attacks on military installations, bases, and
personnel are not considered acts of terrorism. The UN definition of
terrorism does not include state-sponsored terrorism. At the present,
there is no commonly accepted definition of terrorism within the US
The FBI defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and
violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a
government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in
furtherance of political or social objectives.”
Surprisingly, even two departments of the US government—the
leader in the global war on terrorism—do not have a single
comprehensive definition of what constitutes terrorism. The US State
Department, for example, defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically
motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets, i.e., in
addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident
are unarmed or not on duty, by sub-national groups or clandestine
agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” This definition
characterizes the victims as “noncombatant” and further states “the term
‘noncombatant’ is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians,
military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or
not on duty.” The US Department of Defence characterizes terrorism
as “the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to inculcate fear;
intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the
pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” The DOD definition of terrorism is distinguished from the definition of
the Department of State in three main elements. First, the threat, not the
use of violence, is now included. Second, the noncombatant distinction is
ignored, so that the roadside bombing of a US military convoy in Iraq
would be terrorism. Third, religious and ideological incentives are
explicitly identified. Nevertheless, both definitions share five minimalist
elements: violence, political motivation, perpetrator, victim, and
A very different definition was coined at the fifth Islamic summit that
was convened under the aegis of the United Nations in order to discuss
the subject of international terrorism, which is as follows:
"Terrorism is an act carried out to achieve an inhuman and corrupt
(mufsid) objective, and involving threat to security of any kind, and
violation of rights acknowledged by religion and mankind." In this
definition there is no reference to the nation-states, something that in the
West would be essential to any understanding of terrorism. The
following elements were excluded from this definition:
a. "Acts of national resistance exercised against occupying
forces, colonizers and usurpers;
b. Resistance of peoples against cliques imposed on them by the
force of arms;
c. Rejection of dictatorships and other forms of despotism and
efforts to undermine their institution;
d. Resistance against racial discrimination and attacks on the
latter's strongholds;
e. Retaliation against any aggression if there is no other
Thus, these discussions clearly show the ideological nature of
defining terrorism which makes it difficult to arrive at a comprehensive

Basic Characteristics of Terrorism

Actually many definitions of terrorism hinge on five determinant
a. Violence—without violence or threat of violence, terrorists
cannot compel a political decision maker to respond to their
demands. Violence is used to achieve goals.
b. Perpetrator—the perpetrator aspect is controversial. If a state
or government uses violence and terror tactics against its
own citizens (in dictatorial states such as Stalinist Russia), is
this counted as a terrorist act? In such cases, the literature
usually speaks of state terror, though not necessarily
terrorism. In cases where states support sub-national terrorist
groups by providing safe havens, funding, weapons,
intelligence, training, or other means, we can speak of statesponsored
terrorism. Libya’s purported sponsoring of the
downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on
21 December 1988 is one such example.
c. Motive—the type of motivation determines the type of
terrorism. In the absence of a political/social motive, a
violent act is typically labeled a crime rather than a terrorist
act. Contrary to rational-choice theorists who assume that
human beings are motivated only by self-utility, some
scholars argue that terrorism is ultimately an altruistic act in
the eyes of its perpetrators. For example, suicide terrorists
are willing to sacrifice themselves for a better future for their
loved ones and posterity. According to Bruce Hoffman,
“the terrorist is fundamentally an altruist: he is serving a
“good” cause designed to achieve a greater good for a wider
constituency—whether real or imagined—that the terrorist
and his organization represent.” The clear example is
Pakistan which has fallen victim to terrorist activities
especially suicide attacks since September 11, 2001 when
Pakistan chose to be a frontline state in the US-led global
“war on terrorism”. Just within two years (2007-2008) there
were 115 suicide attacks in Pakistan in which 1611 people
were killed and over 3500 persons injured.31 Most of these
suicide bombers have hit the North-West Frontier Province
and tribal areas. In 2009 Pakistan topped the list of countries
in number of suicide bombing deaths so that it left
Afghanistan and Iraq behind.32
d. Victims—the victim identity is the most controversial. There
is some confusion as to what is meant by the term “victims.”
Actually, all mentioned definitions consider terrorist assault
against civilians as terrorism. However, the main question is
this: Is an assault against a passive military target or a UN
peacekeeper a terrorist act? The Israelis recognize an attack
against a passive military target as a terrorist act, whereas
other states may not when the military person is part of an
occupying force. The data set “International Terrorism:
Attributes of Terrorist Events” (ITERATE: a project to
quantify data on transnational terrorism) considers terrorist
actions against peacekeepers, but not against an occupying
military force, as a terrorist act.33 Another discussion
regarding the nature of victim refers to the issue of
“property”. Thus, contrary to FBI definition, most
definitions of terrorism fail to consider attacks directed
against property as acts of terrorism. Based on FBI
definition, for example "the bombing of a governmental
computer database center containing vital national security
information or the destruction of a pipeline providing muchneeded
natural gas to a particular region of the United States
can also be considered acts of terrorism depending upon the
motive". Whereas, according to these definitions, damage to
property caused by "non-violent action" - such as electronic
interference to disrupt computer systems or wireless
communication - because of the lack of violence is not
considered as a terrorist act.
e. Audience— Terrorism relies on the psychological effect more
than the physical, and needs an audience. Audience refers to
the population that the terrorist act intends to intimidate.
For instance, a terrorist bomb in a commuter train is meant
to cause widespread social anxiety, because such bombs can
occur in any train or public place. Examples include suicide
bombings in Iraq and Pakistan and shootings and explosions
in Indian railway stations (especially the recent attacks in
Mumbai of 26 November 2008). Thus, the audience broadens
beyond the immediate victims of the assault. Regarding the
9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda’s audience was, on at least some level,
everyone everywhere, not just the immediate victims
associated with the four hijackings or the US government.
Therefore, terrorists are willing to extend their audience
beyond their immediate victims by making their actions
appear to be random, so that those far from the event feel
insecurity and anxiety. In fact, by intimidating a target
population, terrorists intend that the victims will apply
pressure on policymakers to concede to their demands.35

The Major Distinctions between Old and New Terrorism

Explaining the shift from “old” to “new” terrorism is fundamental to
understanding the changing nature of global security. The new and old
terrorism exhibit characteristics that contrast with each other.
Who are the "old" terrorists? Who are the “new” terrorists? The
new terrorism should be properly defined and its applicability to current
circumstances evaluated. The September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 have
completely transformed the perception of terrorism throughout the
world and required the redefinition of a long list of concerns regarding
international and national security. Of course, some scholars make a
distinction between transnational and international terrorism: “A
transnational terrorist organization is based in one country but operates
at times outside its territory. An international terrorist organization not
only operates outside a particular territory but is also based in several
countries and is comprised of members of different nationalities;” hence
“al-Qaeda is truly international.” In the post-Cold War era, particularly
after 9/11, the notion of a “strategic revolution” has been associated with
terrorism. Al-Qaeda was deemed an example of new terrorism, perhaps
even a “catastrophic terrorism,” and one at odds with the old lessons of
seemingly well-known phenomena. Bruce Hoffmann, a senior analyst
with RAND (a nonprofit global policy think tank), developed the most
plausible explanation regarding the emergence of the new terrorism in
the mid-1990s. He argued that terrorism now included new adversaries,
new motivations, and new methods, all of which challenged many of the
most essential assumptions about terrorism and how it operated.
Hofmann argued that while terrorist attacks were declining, casualties
were increasing. The new religious terrorism was overturning the old
dictum that terrorists wanted only a few people dead, but many people
watching. The basic distinctions between old (traditional or nationalist)
terrorism and new (transnational) terrorism are as follows:


Terrorism is international and transnational when an event in one state
involves perpetrators, victims, organizations, governments, or people of
another country. If an event begins in one state but ends in another, then
it is a transnational terrorist incident, as is the case of a hijacking of a
plane in state A that is made to fly to state B. An attack against a
multilateral organization is a transnational event owing to its multicountry
effects, like 9/11, or even in the case of the suicide car bombing
of the UN headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August 2003. The destruction
of the WTO towers was a transnational event, because victims were
from ninety different states, the mission had been organized abroad, the
terrorists were foreigners, and the implications of the incident (for
example, financial repercussions) were global.
Old or traditional terrorism is homegrown and has consequences
for the host nation, its institutions, population, property, and policies. In
a domestic event, the perpetrators, victims, and audience are all from the
same country. With the old domestic terrorism, states were self-reliant if
they possessed sufficient resources. Therefore, antiterrorist strategies did
not involve other states, as neither the terrorist acts nor the
government’s reactions affected foreign interests. With the new
terrorism, states have to cooperate with other countries’ intelligence
agencies and security forces in order to address the root causes of
terrorism. Nowadays, the main challenge regarding the counterterrorism
activities refers to the difficulty of international intelligence cooperation
particularly when states and organizations deal with secret materials as
there are barriers to sharing information and other resources. In this
regard, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
launched its global technical cooperation programme on “strengthening
the legal regime against terrorism” in October 2002. The programme
supplies the framework for UNODC’s specialized assistance to countries
for ratifying and implementing the global conventions and protocols
associated with the prevention and suppression of international
terrorism and for setting effective mechanisms for global cooperation.
Traditional terrorist groups tended to have a particular
geographical focus for their political goals. Notable examples were the
Stern Gang in British Palestine (a Zionist extremist organization founded
by Avraham Stern in 1940 in order to gain political independence); the
Shining Path in Peru (the most formidable guerrilla force founded
1960s); the ETA in Spain (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, a Basque separatist
paramilitary organization); the Red Army Faction in Germany (an
extreme left–wing revolutionary movement); and the Tamil Tigers in Sri
Lanka (an ethnic-based militia striving for Tamil autonomy). The
perpetrators of traditional terrorism are individuals or groups with
strong nationalist ideas and goals. Sometimes they want to establish an
independent state, or abolish an entire political system and replace it
with another. Of course, the transnational terrorism is not an
unprecedented phenomenon. In this regard, the anarchist terrorists44 of
the late 19th early 20th century had also transnational goals; nevertheless,
they are distinguished from the new terrorists by two key features:
Firstly, they were using terror to “bring down” a government; whereas
new terrorists are using terrorism as a tool in persuading governments to
“change” behaviour. For new terrorists, the overthrow of a government
is not considered as an “immediate” goal. Secondly, anarchists were
"deliberately" selecting their victims and often attacking the leaders of
the corporations and heads of State (although they began to target
civilians in opera houses, stations, town halls). Whereas, victims of new
terrorism are generally chosen "randomly". In fact, the victims are used
to manipulate the main target (audiences). Nowadays, many terrorist
groups lack delimited borders and do not operate in particular states.
They are increasingly moving toward becoming a borderless
phenomenon and trying to create and develop international networks.
Nevertheless, the role of nationalist terrorists in some states should not
be ignored. Nationalist terrorists try to achieve self-determination in
some form, which may range from obtaining greater autonomy to
establishing a completely independent, national state (separatism). The
Yishuv, Hagnah and Jabotinsky are also good examples of national
terrorist groups which are defined by ethnicity (racial or cultural
background), language and religion.


The "new" terrorists have no clear and concrete political goals and
simply seek to destroy societies and much of mankind. The goals of the
"new" terrorists are unlimited, while, the "old" terrorists have been
pragmatic in their goals. Their demands were negotiable and could be
44 Between 1890 and 1908 anarchists were responsible for killing the French
president, Spanish prime minister, Italian king and Russian head of state.
Anarchists were also active in the US between 1890 and 1910 setting off
bombs on Wall Street. The two most famous acts by anarchists were the
assassinations of President McKinley (1901) and Archduke Franz Ferdinand of
Austria (1914) which triggered World War I. They developed the concept of
“propaganda by the deed” - the idea that a mass uprising could be triggered by action.
met. The old terrorists had unambiguous "political" objectives and
tasks. They were often promising to stop terrorist attacks in exchange
for concrete political agreements. Traditional terrorists were mainly
motivated by left wing ideologies such as Marxism and Maoism, and also
nationalism and separatism.
According to Bruce Hoffmann, the “new terrorism” and the “new
generation” of terrorists are characterized by scattered structures and
goals that are religious rather than political, go far beyond the creation
of a theocracy, and include a strong embrace of mystical beliefs.46 For
example, according to Indian and Pakistani officials, many terrorist
attacks within the two countries derived from extreme religious groups
such as al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Terrorism has only recently
become religious. When the contemporary international terrorism first
emerged, none of the terrorist groups and organizations could be
classified as religious.47 However, not all new terrorists are motivated by
religious intentions. For instance, the category of "new" terrorists often
includes not only contemporary jihadi groups, but also Aum Shinrikyo,
the Japanese cult responsible for the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo
subways in 1995, and, most curiously, Timothy McVeigh, responsible
for the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995."48
Traditional terrorism had political roots, however; religion played a part
in some traditional forms of terrorism, for instance, the confrontation
between Catholics and Protestants in Ulster has religious roots. Of
course, for Islam’s more enthusiastic and/or dogmatic adherents, the
separation of politics and religion is completely unacceptable, since the
only truly ethical politics follows the revealed truths of religion. As
Duyvesteyn believes, the so-called “new terrorism” presents both
political and religious motivations which overlap together. Wilkinson
calls it “religio-political” terrorism. We can see these “religio-political”
terrorists in Pakistan. Their goals are political and they seek to force the
Pakistani government to change its policies about the war on terrorism.
However, these terrorist groups in Pakistan are using the name of
religion to recruit perpetrators.
Nevertheless, the new terrorism is not limited to radical Islamic
groups. The current trend of Western states to focus on the link between
Islam and terrorism is misleading because violent religion is not
supported by the text of the Quran, the holy book of Islam. Non-
Islamic terrorist groups such as right-wing Christian extremists also
exhibit many features of the new transnational terrorism.
Considering the possibility of “catastrophic” terrorist attack,
Nadine Gurr and Benjamin Cole describe nuclear-biological-chemical
(NBC) terrorism as the “third wave of vulnerability” experienced by the
United States beginning in 1995 (the first two waves were the Soviet test
of the atomic bomb in 1949, and the aggravating nuclear arms race that
followed). David Rapoport made a similar assessment by saying that
religiously motivated terrorism is the “fourth wave” in the evolution of
terrorism. Interestingly, warnings about non-traditional terrorism were
raised frequently before 2001. For example, Ashton Carter, John
Deutch, and Philip Zelikow declared in 1998 that a new threat of
“catastrophic” terrorism had appeared. Some analysts believe that
terror has evolved from being a means to an end, to becoming the end in
itself, and that many radical terrorist groups seek destruction and chaos
as ends in itself. R. James Woolsey, the former CIA Director, has been
quoted in the National Commission on Terrorism: “Today’s terrorists
don’t want a seat at the table; they want to destroy the table and
everyone sitting at it.”


The "new terrorism" is organizationally distinct from the "old
terrorism." The new terrorist groups have become more diffuse. The
structures of the “new terrorism” are far more difficult to grasp. In fact,
they are often explained as networks rather than as organizations. The
formal hierarchies have been replaced with personal and networked
relationships, "because, if one or even several of its constituent entities
are destroyed, the others carry on. A network, unlike a hierarchy,
cannot be destroyed by decapitation." The difficulty in tracing terrorist
attacks such as al-Qaeda’s bombings in Madrid, London, Afghanistan
and Pakistan, illustrates how terrorist group structures have become
more diffuse and decentralized. By contrast, old terrorist groups such as
Jewish terrorist group Irgun and the EOKA, and the Basque group ETA
enjoyed hierarchical organizational structure with clear lines of
command and control. Hence, "none of the cells could carry out a
bombing without the leadership’s knowledge and approval."
Thus, the new terrorism is decentralized and trying to become
more networked, inspiration-driven, and usually the groups are amateurs
and nonprofessional. Whereas, the old terrorism is centralized, top-down
skilled organizations. Because of the non-hierarchical leadership, security
services of nation-states are having difficulty penetrating these cells and
networks; whereas, old terrorism often had identifiable operational
leaders such as Baader-Meinhof for Red Army Faction or Abimael
Guzman for the Shining Path. Thus, contrary to common perception, it
seems that terrorist cells nowadays operate with much greater
independence from the headquarters, like March 2003 Madrid bombing
in Spain which was perpetrated by relatively independent al-Qaeda cells
operating in some European countries. Some scholars assert "that the
amateur terrorist is a manifestation of a new network structure that is
facilitated by the emergence of new advanced telecommunications
technology." Each group within this network is relatively autonomous,
yet it is linked by sophisticated communication and shares a common
goal. The information revolution, by lowering the cost of
communication, allows organizations to push functions outside a
controlling hierarchical structure. They thereby are more flexible than
old terrorists.
The different entities of new terrorists " making up terrorist
networks might also be large, more formal, even hierarchical
organizations that work together without any common hierarchy or
central commanding authority between them". Of course it is not true to say that there is no structure to today's terrorism. But the point is that old terrorism is "more" centralized than
new terrorism. Some scholars criticize the hierarchical organizational
structure and decentralization of respectively old and new terrorism. For
example, the West German terrorists of the '70s and '80s were composed
of different groups often with varying political aims or European
anarchist terrorists of the late 19th century were already not a
centralized organization and were operating in dispersed, loosely
organized international networks. "They formed a transnational
conspiracy that acted on inspiration and shared ideology, not on the
basis of direct orders given from the top of an organization." According
to them "the original al-Qaeda operation was a top-down structure. It
came into being because Bin Laden kept a list of mujahidin who had
fought in Afghanistan. Certainly, the operations of Zarkawi in Iraq are
organised in terms of cells. There is central direction".


In the contemporary terrorist attacks, victims are chosen for their
symbolic rather than their strategic value; whereas the victims of old
terrorism were not chosen at random. For example, in 1975 the terrorist
known as Carlos the Jackal (né Ilich Ramírez Sánchez), who attacked an
OPEC conference held in Vienna, took some 70 hostages, and killed
three. In this case, the victims were targeted for their symbolic value and
the terrorist had an elaborate escape plan that worked. Although, some
kinds of traditional terrorism have slipped into violence for the sake of
violence, this kind of terrorism usually targets individuals who are
symbols of what it is opposed to, such as heads of state, diplomats,
bankers, and so forth. On the contrary, the new terrorism seeks “bit by
bit” genocide and depersonalization of its targets. Suicide bombings in
Iraq since 2003, which have killed thousands of people, mostly Iraqi
innocent civilians, and the various explosions and shootings in Pakistan
and India, exemplify indiscriminate killing by the new terrorists. The
agents of new terrorism do not discriminate between individual
members of their target groups. “Not only are civilian men, women, and
children indiscriminately killed if they are perceived to belong to an
enemy state, nation, or ethnic or otherwise identified group (“apostates,”
Jews, US citizens, Westerners), but recent incidents have shown that the
boundaries of nationality are also becoming irrelevant and that even the
remotest connection with the “enemy,” such as working for the UN or
the Red Cross in Iraq, qualifies one as a potential target.”
Patterson, Kretzmann, and Smith, characterize the new terrorism
with five points. First, the new terrorism makes use of high technology
(military, intelligence, communication) to assault targets anywhere in the
world seen to conflict with its trans-boundary aims. This is an invariable
consequence of globalization. Second, new ideological commitments are
the source of catastrophic fanatical streaks in the new terrorism. “This
shift in ideology sees terror at least in part as an end in itself rather than
just a tactic to achieve a political end.” Third, contemporary terrorists
have a new range of targets. The new “targets are often chosen to
maximize destruction and for the amount of press and global attention as
illustrated by attacks of September 11 and activities of Al Qaeda.”
Fourth, globalization and the information technology revolution have
allowed terrorists to overcome large distances with relative anonymity.
Moreover, the possibility of access to biological, chemical and nuclear
weapons has also increased. Fifth, terrorist groups tend to adopt a less
hierarchical and more networked form. There are fewer chains of
command and fewer instructions given from a centralized leader. Because
of the non-hierarchical nature of command, the security services of
nation-states cannot penetrate these cells and networks easily.
Traditional terrorism often had identifiable operational leaders such as
Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof (Red Army Faction) or Abimael
Guzman (Shining Path). Contrary to common perceptions, terrorist cells
operate nowadays with much greater independence from their
headquarters. The March 2004 Madrid train bombings were perpetrated
by relatively independent al Qaeda cells operating in various European
According to Russell Howard, “new terrorism” is clearly different
from “old terrorism” in six very distinguishable ways. First, new
terrorism is more violent. Terrorists previously wanted attention, not
mass casualties. Now terrorists want both. In fact, the most critical
element of the new threat is the nature of violence, which is extreme,
and does not discriminate between military and civilian. Second, old
terrorism was mainly directed at effecting change in local politics, but
new terrorism is “transnational,” perpetrated by non-state actors
operating internationally to destroy the West and all Islamic secular state
systems. Third, new terrorism is much better financed than earlier
terrorism, using not only legitimate but also illegitimate income sources
to finance its operations. The contemporary terrorist threat relies either
on self-financing or individual supporters and in both cases is supported
by the convenience of the modern international financial system and
technology to transfer funds.66 Fourth, new terrorism’s forces are better
trained in the black arts of war than previous “old” terrorists. For
example, al-Qaeda uses various camps and training centers in many
countries, and especially in Afghanistan. Fifth, because of the level of
fraternization involved, the new terrorist threat, especially the religious
extremist one, is more difficult to penetrate than prior terrorist
networks. The uses of networked, cellular command structures by al-
Qaeda pose serious security challenges to the US and its allies. Sixth, the
potential availability of weapons of mass destruction to current terrorists
creates cataclysmic threats. Old terrorism up to the 1980s was
characterized by the use of small arms, plastic explosives, rocketpropelled
grenades, and anti-aircraft missiles.

Countering the New Terrorism: Implications for the US

After the September 11 attacks, the United States developed a
preemptive national strategy for combating new terrorism, which
outlined the policy framework for coordinated actions to prevent
terrorist attacks against itself, its citizens, its interests, and its friends
throughout the world.67 According to the administration, the 9/11
attacks demonstrated the decreased efficacy of nuclear deterrence.
The following three assumptions can develop an understanding of
the link between new threats and the US preemptive strategy:
1. First and foremost is that there is a growing link between
transnational terrorism and WMD proliferation, making the
potential of a 9/11-like attack using nuclear, biological, or
chemical weapons quite likely.
(67 In truth, preemption as the US post 9/11 strategy began with a small group of foreign policy specialists serving in the first Bush Administration. They drafted a Defense Planning Guidance which asserted that since the United States was the sole superpower in the post-Cold War world, it should
implement a strategy of preemption. When President Clinton took over the
presidency, these advisors (such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul
Wolfowitz) collaborated on the “Project for the New American Century” and
published “Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources
for a New Century,” whose provisions were outlined in the Bush's
preemptive doctrine after many of the authors became policy advisors and
cabinet members of the Bush administration. See Adam Lichtenheld, “The
Practicality of Pre-emption in United States Foreign Policy”, Journal of
Politics, no.1, (Spring 2006): 13-14; and Hammond, John, “The Bush Doctrine,
Preventive War, and International Law,” The Philosophical Forum 36, no.1,
(Spring 2005))
2. Second, there is a growing pessimism about deterrence and
its applicability to non-state threats; the argument being that
“deterring terrorists” is an oxymoron, and that, in the case of
terrorists and WMD, possession guarantees use. Most
analysts contend that terrorist groups, which lack
populations to protect or territory to safeguard and whose
operatives may be willing to die for their objectives, cannot
be deterred. At least, such groups are very difficult to deter
given contemporary international standards and political
norms, such as the unacceptability of reprisals against
innocent civilians.68
3. The third assumption is that if deterrence fails, defences will
never be perfect. Despite some defensive tools and measures,
such as ballistic missile defence, cruise missile and other air
defences, civil defence, detection, vaccines, port/border
checks, and so forth, these measures would not be 100 per
cent effective against WMD challenges.69
The apparent success of nuclear deterrence before 9/11 was
conditioned by two major factors:
First, “it was directed against the “use” of nuclear weapons by
states possessing such weapons. Nuclear deterrence did not seek to
prevent states from “acquiring” nuclear weapons—it sought instead to
prevent their use by holding hostage the enemy state’s targetable
territory, leadership, industry, military forces, and cities. Nuclear
deterrence, moreover, did not have to concern itself with threats posed
by non-state actors armed with weapons of mass destruction.”

(68 Former Vice President Dick Cheney argued that “In the days of the Cold
War, we were able to manage the threat with summit meetings; arms control
treaties, and strategies of deterrence and containment. But there is no way to
deter enemies who have no country to defend. And containment is not
possible when dictators obtain weapons of mass destruction and have missiles
to deliver them, or provide them in secret to a shadowy terror network.”
19.html (accessed January 12, 2009))

Deterrence in this case means to induce at least one of the enemies
not to take a hostile action contrary to the interests of the other by
convincing the enemy that doing so would not be worth the effort.
Deterrence is an effort to manipulate the enemy’s motivation, to
challenge the status quo. Preemption is based on “imminent threat,” and like deterrence seeks to manipulate the motives of the opponent in
order to affect his behaviour; however unlike deterrence (which seeks to
convince the adversary not to take action) preemption is an attempt to
persuade the opponent to "change" his hostile behaviour. Deterrence is
successful when the adversary’s expected utility of inaction exceeds his
expected utility of action. Preemption is successful when the adversary’s
expected utility of changing his action exceeds his expected utility of
continuing his present course. Preemption occurs in the wake of failed
deterrence. Unlike deterrence, preemptive strategy requires the enemy to
make concessions or bear the consequences. “Deterrence occurs when a
“defender” tries to manipulate the expectations of a “challenger” such
that the challenger is deterred from taking an action contrary to the
interests of the defender.” Preemption occurs when a state manipulates
the expectations of another state or terrorist groups to change their
actions. Conventional wisdom holds that deterrence requires less
coercive effort than preemption, whereas preemption adheres to military
Jeffrey Record believes that substituting preemptive action for
deterrence ignores the fact that traditional nuclear deterrence was
directed at states already armed with nuclear weapons and aimed at
deterring their "use" in time of crisis or war, whereas preemption or
preventive war is enlisted as a means to prevent the “acquisition” of
nuclear weapons. Preemption is a unilateral US initiative aimed at
certain states or terrorist groups. In comparison, deterrence is bilateral or
The U.S. administration believes that terrorists and certain so-called
“rogue” states cannot be deterred or contained. Strategies based on
containment and deterrence are therefore inappropriate to ensure
security in the twenty-first century threat environment. The need to
prevent the proliferation of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons
was highlighted in the National Security Strategy of the United States of
America (issued in September 2002), which encouraged the
administration to adopt a preemptive strategy. George W. Bush
outlined this new war doctrine in his June 1, 2002, graduation speech at
West Point:
For much of the last century, America’s defense relied on the Cold
War doctrines of deterrence and containment … new threats also require
new thinking. Deterrence—the promise of massive retaliation against
nations—means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no
nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when
unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those
weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies… the war
on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to
the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they
emerge. In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path
of action. And this nation will act.
According to the National Security Strategy (NSS), “The United
States will, if necessary, act preemptively” to prevent rogue states or
terrorist groups from threatening or using WMD against the United
States or its allies. The National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass
Destruction calls for “capabilities to detect and destroy adversaries’
WMD assets before these weapons are used.” Thus, these three factors
shape the current U.S. strategy:
a) The inability to deter a potential attacker.
b) The immediacy of today's threats.
c) The magnitude of potential harm.
The United States identifies three main threat elements for US
security: first, terrorist organizations with global reach; second, weak
states that harbour and assist such terrorist organizations; and third,
rogue states. Al-Qaeda and Afghanistan during the Taliban regime cover
the first two elements. According to the US administration, rogue states
are defined as states that brutalize their own people, disregard
international law, threaten their neighbours, seek to acquire WMD for
purposes of aggression, sponsor terrorism around the world, reject
human rights, and hate the US and everything it stands for.
From the perspective of the US administration, “the war on
terrorism is really a counter-proliferation war—the use of force to
prevent the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, especially
nuclear weapons, by state and non-state entities hostile to the United
States. It was not just an act of terrorism that prompted a sea-change in
US security policy; it was also what George Bush called the “crossroads
of radicalism and technology.” Accordingly, the administration
recognized the threat of extremist groups or states and their
unprecedented destructive ability: “When the spread of chemical and
biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology…
occurs, even weak states and small groups can attain a catastrophic
power to strike great nations. Our enemies have declared this very
intention, and have been caught seeking these terrible weapons. They
want the capability to blackmail us, or to harm us, or to harm our
friends.” The former secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld stated,
“What’s new is the nexus between terrorist networks, terrorist states and
weapons of mass destruction that, when combined with missile
technology, can make mighty adversaries of small or impoverished
states, or even relatively small groups of individuals.” US current
strategy is focused on what I call the “Threat Triangle” of terrorist
groups or weak states, weapons of mass destruction (chemical/
biological/radioactive/nuclear weapons and technologies of ballistic
missiles), and radical religious fanaticism (sometimes with
fundamentalist, revolutionary, millenarian, messianic, or even nihilistic


The "new terrorism" has become increasingly more irrational in its
thought, more fanatical in its ideological manifestations, more
international in its reach, and more mass-casualty-causing in its tactics.
The categorical fanaticism that is apparent in terrorist groups across a
spectrum of belief systems is an important part of the new terrorism.
In the past, terrorist groups were more likely to be dominated by
pragmatic considerations of political and social change, public opinion,
and other such elements. Today, a phenomenon that was a rarity—
terrorists bent upon death and destruction for its own sake—has become
commonplace. The new terrorism involves different actors, motivations,
goals, tactics and actions, organizations compared to the old terrorism.
Besides, the statelessness of new terrorists removes crucial pressures that
once held the extreme terrorists in check or prevented them from
reaching top positions in their organizations. The new transformations
in the nature of war and threats and advent of new form of terrorism led
the United States to adopt new strategy based on preemptive military
action. This strategy is based on the argument that due to strategic
transformations in the nature of threats, the strategy of deterrence is
inadequate to contain terrorism. But, increase in terrorist attacks since
9/11 shows that this strategy has not been sufficient enough to prevent
terrorism. Actually, the preemptive military action can do little to
82 Donald Rumsfeld argued: “We must act to prevent a greater evil, even if that
act means war,” The Independent, September 8, 2002.
prevent terrorist attacks by “shadowy networks” of terrorists.
Therefore, to prevent terrorism, one should focus on the "root cause" of
terrorism which lies in the lack of education, poverty, ignorance, nontolerance
and especially the role of ideology. I believe that the best way
forward in combating terrorism lies in democratization and the growth
of democratic processes and economic development which can undercut
much of the support of radical religious terrorists and militants.
Try to give something to everyone out of whatever little you have.
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