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Home Politics International Politics US Counter-Terrorism Strategy at the International Level Pre-and Post-9/11

US Counter-Terrorism Strategy at the International Level Pre-and Post-9/11

A major policy issue affecting the US over the past 10 years has been the War on Terrorism and the most effective ways to reduce terrorism at the international level. Because of events such as the 9/11 Attacks and the growing threat posed by terrorist groups, global terrorism became a key public policy concern in the US and formed the overall basis of US foreign policy. The start of the war on terrorism has also necessitated a change in US policy at the international level towards terrorism and highlighted the need for a comprehensive global strategy to fight terrorism. A comprehensive approach to preventing and fighting against global terrorism is the most efficient way to discourage potential attacks because it allows countries to more effectively find and defeat terrorist groups and implement policies that discourage terrorist groups from gaining support. Additionally, recent terror attacks highlight the influence that global terrorist organizations have and show that past policies towards terrorism are less efficient in an increasingly globalized world.

The purpose of this article is to explore the evolution in the approaches to global terrorism by the US in the years before and after the 9/11 Attacks. Additionally, this paper seeks to examine the overall effectiveness of both the pre-and post-911 policies and to propose additional steps that the US can take to create a more efficient strategy to address the threat of terrorism at the international level. The topic was identified in the 9/11 Commission Report (2004), which recommends a comprehensive US strategy at the international level to fight against terrorism based on cooperation between the US and other countries. The topic of the US policy advocated in the international arena against terrorism is important because it underscores the significance of international cooperation in the fight against terrorism and the need for unity in the primary goals of the principal countries involved in the War on Terrorism.

US Policy to Terrorism at the International Level Prior to 9/11
The threat of terrorism has long been a policy concern for the US government and the need for a comprehensive strategy has been proposed at various times. For example, Leich (1984) refers to President Ronald Reagan proposed a series of policy proposals in 1984 to create a more efficient response mechanism to the growing threat of terrorism. In his speech before Congress, President Reagan noted that over the past decade, terrorism had become a “frightening challenge to the tranquility and political stability of the US and its allies” and that efforts against terrorism required close cooperation between the US and other governments. Additionally, President Reagan highlighted the growing concern with state-sponsored terrorism, in particular, the direct use of terrorism by states and training, financing, and logistical support to terrorists by individual states. Two of the four policy proposals were the implementation of international conventions on terrorism, whereas the next two were legislative proposals.

Leich (1984) then mentions the policies proposals of Reagan. The first two proposals were the Aircraft Sabotage Act and the Act for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Hostage-Taking. The goal of the Aircraft Sabotage Act was to make the US a party to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation, in which the member-states agree to prohibit and punish any behavior which may threaten the safety of civil aviation. The Act for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Hostage-Taking was legislation meant to implement the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages. The next two proposals were the Act for Rewards for Information Concerning Terrorist Acts and Prohibition Against the Training or Support of Terrorist Organizations Act of 1984 The laws were meant to increase incentives for people to report any information regarding potential attacks. In addition, the laws gave the Justice Department the power to prosecute individuals involved in support of terrorist activities and to sanction states using terrorism. Such legislative proposals show that the concern with terrorism was growing in the years preceding 9/11 and the fact that international cooperation between the US and its allies is necessary to create an effective response to terrorism.

The role of the US in addressing terrorism through its capacity as a member of the UN Security Council is another important point concerning the evolution of US counter-terrorism policies in the years preceding 9/11. Kramer and Yetiv (2007) refer to the fact that prior to the 9/11 Attacks, only 13 resolutions by the UN Security Council dealt with the issue of terrorism, and only 2 of the 13 recommendations dealt with terrorism in more general terms. Additionally, most decisions dealt with terrorism for more practical purposes and very few terrorist attacks were referred the Security Council before 9/11. Since 9/11, the tools available in the fight against terrorism have changed as well. Before 9/11, sanctions remained the primary instrument available to the Security Council to respond to terrorism and were used three times in the 1990s against Libya, Sudan, and Afghanistan. The US was the driving force behind the implementation of the sanctions regimes implemented during the 1990s and used its role on the security council to enforce such policies. Even though the use of sanctions had mixed results overall, they helped to consolidate a growing consensus that terrorism was an illegal tactic that needed to be addressed through international cooperation.

Parker and Stern (2007) argue that the lack of a unified approach to global terrorism by the US was a contributing factor that reduced the overall response to the 9/11 attacks. Even though the motives of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda were well-known to policy-makers at both the national and international level, little was done to formulate an adequate response to terrorism. The lack of a strong response to terrorism resulted from several different factors. The first factor was that the US and other countries did not fully understand the threat posed by global terrorist organizations and continued to rely on inefficient methods to fight against terrorism. The second factor is that there was a lack of unity between countries with regards to their efforts in implementing counter-terrorism policies. This lack of cooperation was caused by differences in policies and goals and an overall lack of concern about the threat of terrorism. Because of such factors, US policy towards terrorism at the international level remained relatively weak before the 9/11 Attacks and the start of the War on Terrorism.

US Policy to Terrorism at the International Level After 9/11
In response to the 9/11 Attacks, the US began to rethink its policy towards terrorism and sought to look towards different methods to implement a more effective counter-terrorism policy. At the federal level, several different and controversial changes were implemented with the goal of reducing the threat of terrorism and increasing national security with the goal of discouraging future attacks. In addition, the US also looked to alter its policy at the international level to terrorism. Some of the policy changes proposed by the US include a revised national security policy and further cooperation with other countries to devise new policies against terrorism. Despite its sweeping policy changes, the overall record of the US in implementing anti-terrorism policies at the international level has been mixed.

Sanjay Gupta (2004) argues that it would be beneficial for the US to follow a comprehensive, multilateral approach to counter-terrorism. Such an approach would consist of the US working closely with other countries with similar goals to fight against and reduce the spread of terrorism worldwide. A multilateral approach to the threat of global terrorism would be practical for several reasons. The first factor is that a multilateral approach would allow for a more unified approach to global terrorism. A unified approach to terrorism would be effective because it would enable countries with common goals to join to develop stronger responses to terrorism and helps to frame terrorism as a global issue affecting all countries as opposed to only the US. Moreover, a multilateral approach would create more efficient responses to terrorism and allow countries to recover more quickly from any attacks that do occur. The final reason why a unified approach to terrorism would be successful is that it would lead to uniformity in responses to terrorism. A critical issue in many of the responses to terrorism in both the US and other countries is a lack of consistency. Increased uniformity would create a model of the proper responses to terrorist attacks and overall serve to strengthen responses to any attacks.

Peter Romaniuk (2010) explores some of the reason a multilateral approach has not been fully implemented and argues that the high level of variation in the institutionalization of counter-terrorism policies at the international level prevents such an approach from emerging. The variation often stems from the role that formal institutions play in fighting terrorism. Institutions often play a role in counter-terrorism only when they are backed by powerful countries such as the US. Thus, the stronger countries often view international institutions as a way in which they can exercise a level of influence over weaker countries. Additionally, both powerful and weaker countries are sensitive to the both the political and economic costs of cooperation in the fight against terrorism. The fact that they are sensitive to the costs causes variations in how they view international efforts against terrorism. Countries such as the US also tend to rely on other countries, both weak and powerful, in the fight against terrorism and uses its power to convince them to follow a specific course of action (p. 597) Because of such factors, there exists much variation between counter-terrorism efforts, which prevents countries such as the US from responding adequately to the threat of terrorism.

Another factor influencing the effectiveness of the US strategy against terrorism post-9/11 is the changes in US defense policy implemented over the past few years, as described by Laurence Korb (2008). For example, President George W. Bush executed a new defense policy in 2002 through The National Security Strategy of the United States. The new policy proposal stated that the US would not hesitate to take pre-emptive actions to defend itself from potential terrorist attacks and to protect its national security. Additionally, this policy called for the US government to take unilateral action if it was deemed necessary to defeat terrorist groups and to protect the American people from further terrorist activities. Because of its language, the 2002 National Security Strategy raised some concerns among the allies of the US. One such concern of was that the strategy was a violation of international law through its advocacy of pre-emptive strikes to protect the US from future attacks. Additionally, another concern was that the strategy put in place by the US government disregarded the international consensus for global cooperation in the face of emerging threats. The implementation of such policies has further influences the overall effectiveness of US policies in the realm of counter-terrorism.

Todd Sandler (2005) looks at the fact that the lack of coordination at the global level has also defined US policy towards international terrorism since 9/11. Coordination of anti-terrorism efforts in the international arena is often difficult to achieve due to the overall scope of counter-terrorism measures and stems from several different factors. The first factor is that terrorist organizations are often nonhierarchical, with loosely tied networks of terrorist groups that work independently of each other. The nonhierarchical nature of terrorist groups makes it so that captured terrorist leaders can provide only limited intelligence to international organizations. The overall structure of governments such as the US also reduces the effectiveness of consistent international efforts against terrorism. For example, the structure of the federal bureaucracy and governmental agencies often reduces the effectiveness in waging an anti-terrorism campaign and gives terrorist groups more potential targets to attack. The final factor that reduces the efficiency of concerted counter-terrorism efforts is the fact that countries often have different views on the definition of terrorism and which groups can be considered as terrorist organizations. Policies to combat terrorism may also be short-lived depending on the political realities within a country and often change due to shifts in who is leading government at a certain point in time. Because of such factors, concerted international efforts against terrorism are difficult to implement, and countries such as the US instead turn to unilateral counter-terrorism approaches.

In conclusion, the threat posed by global terrorist organizations has been a major policy concern within the US in recent years. Because of events such as the 9/11 Attacks and the subsequent start of the War on Terrorism, policy makers in the US began to realize that global terrorism was an increasingly growing problem and that there needed to be change in both domestic and international policies to address such challenges more accurately. Additionally, US policy towards international terrorism has changed over the past few decades. Before 9/11, the US government did not view terrorism as a major issue and did not have any particularly strong counter-terrorism policies in place. Moreover, the international community did not recognize the need for uniform and cooperative approaches to fighting terrorism and reduce the reach of global terrorist organizations. In contrast, the US began to develop more effective counter-terrorism policies after 9/11 and looked to establish more uniformity in its response. Overall, the polices implemented by the US at the international level since the 9/11 Attacks have had mixed results and did not lead to an entirely cooperative and uniform approach on the international scale against terrorism.


Gupta, S. (2004). The Changing Dimensions of International Terrorism and the Role of the United States: A comprehensive and Multilateral Approach to Combat Global Terrorism. The Indian Journal of Political Science, 65(4), 556-587. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41856077

Korb, L. (2008). U.S. defense policy. Great Decisions, 53-64. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43683058

Kramer, H., & Yetiv, S. (2007). The UN Security Council’s Response to Terrorism: Before and after September 11, 2001. Political Science Quarterly, 122(3), 409-432. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20202886

Leich, M. (1984). Four Bills Proposed by President Reagan to Counter Terrorism. The American Journal of International Law, 78(4), 915-928. doi:1. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2202214 doi:1

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States., Kean, T. H., & Hamilton, L. (2004). The 9/11 Commission report: Final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. Washington, D.C.: National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States.

Parker, C., & Stern, E. (2002). Blindsided? September 11 and the Origins of Strategic Surprise. Political Psychology, 23(3), 601-630. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3792594

Romaniuk, P. (2010). Institutions as swords and shields: Multilateral counter-terrorism since 9/11. Review of International Studies, 36(3), 591-613. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40783287

Sandler, T. (2005). Collective versus Unilateral Responses to Terrorism. Public Choice, 124(1/2), 75-93. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30026704

Matthew Rosehttp://ourpolitics.net
Matt studies and analyzes politics at all levels. He is the creator of OurPolitics.net, a scholarly resource exploring political trends, political theory, political economy, philosophy, and more. He hopes that his articles can encourage more people to gain knowledge about politics and understand the impact that public policy decisions have on their lives. Matt is also involved in the preservation of recorded sound through IASA International Bibliography of Discographies, and is an avid record collector.



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