G8 On Terrorism: Stay the Course!

by Steven R. Corman

Yesterday the G8 Summit released its Leaders Statement on Counter-Terrorism. Let’s have a look, shall we?

The “guiding principles” behind the statement are:  (a) Terrorism is bad, (b) suicide bombing is despicable, (c) kidnapping is repugnant, (d) bad social conditions are no excuse, and (e) terrorism will not be tolerated.

Based on these principles, there are six action items:

  1. Urge member states to implement UN’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
  2. Strengthen cooperation between G8 and UN, and between regional entities.
  3. Reinforce effort to “tackle a wide array of threats.”
  4. Strengthen efforts to combat terrorist financing.
  5. Continue to develop counter-radicalization efforts.
  6. Further coordinate effortswith respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’m no old hand at reading these UN statements or anything, but I’m guessing that this one did not require a lot of touchy diplomatic maneuvering to work out.  The guiding principles, perhaps with the exception of item (b), could have been written in the 1970s.  Perhaps they were.  More to the point they contain no assessment of the current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats related to counter-terrorism efforts.  Isn’t that, rather than a list of tired adages, what you would want to inform the adoption of action items?

As for the action items, the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy is almost two years old now.  It’s hard to believe that any member state that hasn’t done so already will willingly implement it.   Supposedly one of the greatest problems in counter-terrorism is existence of safe havens.  If the G8 is serious about promoting adoption, why did they decide against more aggressive measures, like sanctions for example,  as a tool to help “urge” recalcitrant states to adopt the plan?

The rest of the items are strictly more-of-the-same recommendations:  Strengthen this, reinforce that, continue the other thing.  Based on this the G8 must believe that it has the optimal counter-terrorism strategy already, and that it only needs to step on the gas a little harder.

This is kind of hard to square with (for example) the strategic assessment in latest US Country Reports on Terrorism published just three months ago.  It says that al Qaeda has

reconstituted some of its pre-9/11 operational capabilities through the exploitation of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), replacement of captured or killed operational lieutenants, and the restoration of some central control by its top leadership, in particular Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Some other nuggets from the report:

  •  Afghanistan remained threatened by Taliban and other insurgent groups and criminal gangs, some of whom were linked to AQ and terrorist sponsors outside the country.
  • State sponsorship of terrorism continued to undermine efforts to eliminate terrorism.
  • The ongoing political stalemate in Lebanon has contributed to enabling suspected foreign extremist militants to set up operational cells within the Palestinian refugee camps.
  • Radicalization of immigrant populations, youth and alienated minorities in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa continued.

I haven’t looked at reports from the other G8 members, but it’s a safe bet that they are no more sanguine.  In such a threat environment, how can a stay-the-course strategy be the best course?

UPDATE:

Michael Kraft at the CT Blog was more impressed by the statement than I was, referring to it as a “major statement” and a “useful reaffirmation of goals.”  He also says the statement on the repuganancy of kidnapping has some bearing on current events in Israel and Lebanon.  Perhaps, but was there really any doubt that G8 members disapproved of kidnapping before this statement?  I stand by my assessment.