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The damaging effect of terrorism on modern society was brought to the world’s attention following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in September 2001. This acts by the Al-Qaeda terror network demonstrated that international terrorism has the power to disrupt social life even in the world’s super power.
Since then, a wide-ranging debate has developed about the level of threat that international terrorism poses to the global community. While some people regard international terrorism as a marginal threat, others see it as an existential threat to society.
This paper will argue that international terrorism is the main challenge facing the world in the context of international security and therefore, measures should be taken to address this issue and safeguard global security.
International Terrorism as a Global Challenge
International terrorism has become the greatest danger to world security, overtaking the threats of military confrontations from rival great powers. Stewart (2006) observes that the international security threat posed by military confrontations between rival great powers has reduced dramatically since the Second World War.
Most Western nations have formed alliances such as NATO, which makes it almost impossible for them to engage in aggressive military confrontation against each other. The possession of nuclear weapons by the major powers such as Russia and China acts as a deterrence from any major confrontation (Lutz & Brenda 2004).
Nations are therefore more likely to resort to diplomacy instead of risk military confrontation with each other. However, international terrorists attack nations without fear of retaliation since they do not have a well established base or economic resources that they hope to protect.
The activities of international terrorist organization have made the world unsafe. Terror activities have not been limited to US targets and the rest of the world has suffered from the actions of terrorists. The international terror organization, Al Qaeda did not limit its attacks to US targets and on March 11, 2004, it carried out the Madrid train bombings.
London also experienced terrorist attacks in July 2005 when the London Underground was bombed by Islamist extremists (UK Defence and Security Report 2010). Indonesia experienced terrorist attacks in 2002 that killed 202 people while a hotel in Jakarta was bombed in 2003 killing 12 people.
Thieux (2004) asserts that these attacks prove that international terrorism is a serious and potential threat not only for the United States but also for EU member states and the rest of the world.
International terrorism presents the most significant risk to global nuclear non-proliferation efforts. Presently, all functioning Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) including nuclear weapons are in the hands of legitimate governments.
However, intelligence reports indicate that terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda have made efforts to obtain WMDs especially from weak states such as Pakistan. Bowen and Cottee (2012) state that if international terrorists obtain WMDs, they will be able to inflict major damages to targets all over the world.
International terrorism has increased the vulnerability of nations to attacks from their own citizens. Thieux (2004) documents that in addition to the Islamic radicals who joined the Al Qaeda network in the past, this terror organization now attracts members who are well integrated in the society.
International terrorist organizations are able to radicalize citizens of a country leading to the development of home-grown terrorists. For example, individuals can access jihadi websites and obtain information on suicide bombing (The UK Defence & Security Report 2010). Tackling this threat has proved to be a major challenge for most nations.
Thieux (2004) notes that international terrorism has led to a blurring between foreign and domestic affairs as nations have to deal with issues such as home-grown terrorists and sleeper cells. The difficulty of identifying terrorists increases the risk that these elements pose to the global community.
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International terrorists are spread all over the world and it is difficult for law enforcement agencies to correctly identify all potential suspects. Stewart (2006) notes that unlike in a conventional war where the enemy combatants are easy to identify, the diverse pool of individuals involved in international terrorism makes the threat hard to identify.
International terrorism presents a major challenge since these actors do not follow any international laws of combat. There are well-established rules that can be used by nations when dealing with traditional security threats. These laws include rules of engagement that forbid soldiers from attacking unarmed civilians.
Diplomacy can also be used to resolve the differences between nations without resorting to armed confrontation. With international terrorism, there are no rules of engagement and terror organizations target civilians in order to spread fear (Engene 2004). The traditional tools of military deterrence and diplomacy are not effective in dealing with the threat of international terrorism.
International terrorism has led to the development of poor relationships between Western countries and the Arab world. Since most international terrorist organizations are operated by radical Islamists, the policies adopted by countries such as the US to counter them focus on these radical elements. The fight against terrorism has therefore focused on tackling the issue of Islamic extremism (Victoroff 2005).
This has proved to be problematic since terrorism organizations are not disparate and therefore cannot be handled using a uniform policy response. Hammond (2008) asserts that the overemphasis on Islamic extremism has led to the strengthening of the misperception especially in the Middle East that “the anti-terror campaign is actually a war on Islam” (p.220).
This situation has threatened to divide the world on religious basis. Hammond (2008) suggests that the division based on religious differences fostered by international terrorism is proving to be the greatest threat to international unity since the cold war.
International terrorism has contributed to the unpopularity of the US in many countries all over the world and the subsequent inclination of terrorists to attack US targets. Meyer (2009) states that terrorism threatens global security by disrupting the “peace of mind” of citizens and prompting aggressive retaliation by individual states.
Hammond (2008) reveals that following the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration engaged in controversial security policies and effectively declared that America was at war with international terrorists. Due to the Bush policies, the US carried out military activities against terrorists and their affiliates and used economic means to influence the behaviours or interests of nations that harbour terrorists.
Terrorism threatens to disrupt international relations among traditional allies. Due to globalization, the movement of people from country to country has increased. Many international companies have established themselves in foreign countries and global trade is at a high level. International terrorists target Western citizens in foreign countries leading to immense political and psychological impact.
Tan (2007) documents that in 2002, the Al Qaeda affiliated network in South East Asia, Jemmah Islamiah, planned to carry out a terror attack against American targets in Singapore. If this attack had succeeded, it would have deteriorated the good relationship between the US and Singapore and greatly contributed to the growth of insecurity in the region.
The relationship between Pakistan and the UK has suffered due to international terrorism. The UK has accused Pakistan of not doing enough to prevent terrorism. In 2009, the UK arrested 12 Pakistani students in UK on suspicion of involvement in terrorism (UK Defence and Security Report 2010).
International terrorism undermines the good relationships between nations, and without this amicable relationship, global peace and security cannot be achieved.
Discussion and Conclusion
The global community considers terrorism to be a significant threat to international peace. Following the events of 9/11, most nations, led by the US, have made a public declaration of war against international terrorism. The potential damages that international terrorists can cause, especially if they acquire WMD has led to arguments that terrorism is an “existential threat” for modern society (Meyer 2009).
With this realization, Western nations have tried to come up with a common and coordinated way of dealing with the threat of international terrorism. However, Thieux (2004) notes that the efforts have not been adequate and terrorism is still a major international threat.
This paper set out to demonstrate that international terrorism is the greatest threat to international security that the global community faces today. It begun by nothing that the global security threat posed by conventional military confrontations between nations is very low. However, the threat presented by international terrorism to global security is on the rise.
This threat has led to the deterioration of relationships especially between the West and Arab countries. The influence of terrorists has spread into many countries all over the world and various attacks have been carried out. For this reason, many countries view international terrorism as a threat to their security. Fighting global terrorism should therefore be a key priority for all nations.
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